Dear Foster Momma of a Stranger’s Child

I feel so incredibly inadequate so much of the time.  And when kids like Monkey get hurt because I couldn’t save them from the system, I really wonder if it is worth what all we’ve tried to do.  I cried through the beginning of this post by another blogger:

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child.

Rooting for the Kids!

“It is so kind and generous for you to share these pictures with the parents.”

I really don’t think I’m any different than most people in a lot of ways.  In the end, it is all about the kids for me.  And I truly believe that supporting the parents, even when it looks unlikely they will be able to have their children returned, even if they’ve already lost parental rights, is the right thing to do.

As readers may remember, I got three children about six weeks ago.  Professor is three.  Doc is two, and Little Lamb is four months.  There is a bunch of weirdness with this case.  Mostly, when everyone is looking long term, based on what has been seen so far (and this isn’t the family’s first case), it looks as if the parents aren’t able to function well enough and what they can do, they can’t continue long term.  Obviously, that isn’t the best situation for the children.  It isn’t that the parents don’t care or are unwilling to do right; they simply seem incapable.  It is expected that the children will need a forever home and people involved are making sure the children are in a pre-adoptive home so they won’t need another move down the line (hopefully).

It is a really weird feeling sometimes when we are helping and supporting the family while hoping these may be our forever children, finishing out our family.  if they can do this, it would be the BEST thing for the children.  Sure, we may be able to give the children more in terms of education and opportunity and a nice home.  And we’d adore them.  But children really do better with biological family IF at all possible.  And yet, if they simply are not capable of parenting, we would love to be best for them!

So by looking at photos with the kids and providing photos/updates for the parents, we are encouraging their bond.  By sharing photos, they see the children happy in a variety of activities.  The current photo album includes various dressed up shots, from a haircut (nails done too!), from at the park, rough-housing with my oldest son, from the sport I put them in, before/after surgery one had, etc.  On top of hopefully giving the parents peace about how their children are doing, it establishes a relationship between the parents and us.  We aren’t adversaries, but part of a team to make sure the right situation happens for the children.  And lastly, should they not be able to parent full-time, we have opened the door for an ongoing relationship as long as it is safe and healthy to do so.  We have shown that we are respectful of their relationship with the children.  They know the children are happy and healthy and safe with us.  They see that we are willing to give updates and photos (at least).

Again, it is just a weird situation.  I have found myself defending parents, pointing out strengths, hoping the best for them.  I have found myself extremely empathetic of what they have been through and are going through.  And yet, sometimes I get so angry at what they’ve done to their children, what their children are going through now (confusion, for example), etc.  And I doubt whether certain issues are things people can overcome.

Tug-o-war.  But regardless of who is “winning” moment to moment, I am rooting for the children.

In the end, my hope is that the children gain permanency.  I want them to get to where they will be FOREVER.  I want them to feel safe, secure, confident.  I want them to be happy and healthy.

 

 

I don’t want to….

“I don’t want to get beat.”

“I don’t want to get killed.”

That is what my little Professor told me when he knew I was angry.  I had tried to hide it.

“Professor, if you are going to poop on yourself, you’re going to have to clean it up.  Stand in the tub til you are clean.”  I handed him wipes and a Wal-Mart bag.  I walked out.  He cleaned up pretty well.  Of course, there was poo in a few places despite my trying to contain it.

“{Adult Daughter’s name}….argh.”

That is when he looked up at me, in the hallway, and said it.  It was so matter-of-fact.

ETA:  I thought maybe I should finish this story when I told hubby about it.  It might not surprise you that not long after all this, Professor pooped himself again (how come kids who don’t poop over-much generally can poop so much when they need it to say something?).  I put him him the tub with wipes and a Wal-Mart bag.  He “cleaned up.”  He had poop ALL over him.  I put him back in the bathroom and told him to clean up, giving him more wipes.  He comes back out clean-ish. I walk back to the bathroom to put him through a quick shower and saw it.  Poop smears all over the carpet.  Goodness.  My daughter steam cleaned the carpet.  I started him bathing.

Then we went to the park.

I had planned to write about something else today, but this made me cry.  I walked out the outside trash with his wipe bag and wondered if I can continue doing this.  How much more heartbreak for my kids can I handle?

How Busy Are We?

I lost  half of this post and now it has been three extra weeks so I’m going to try to write this another way. Hopefully it gives the information I want to give 🙂

So three weeks ago, we got new kiddos.   Their official blog/board names are Professor (the 3yo boy), Doc (the 2yo girl) and Little Lamb (who turns 4 months next week).  So what is it like at the beginning of a placement?

First, obviously you have the children.  These ones seem so young, but being advanced probably actually makes it harder for them.  Where preverbal trauma of being removed from mom and dad may be worse in some ways, especially long term, it seems that children like these struggle the most because they can understand some aspects, but not enough to make sense of it.  They tend to be more verbal about it, more questioning, more anxious.  Or maybe it just seems that way because they can verbalize it.  But behaviorally, these kids also tend to be a bit tougher.  At least that is my experience so far.  Obviously comforting the children, giving them what they need, helping them the best we can is duty number one.

But unfortunately, in the first days, there is a TON of work to be done.  Let me outline some of that.

First, I have to put together folders for each child for all their documentation.  I start with placement papers and medical consenters.  I got a few other documents with these kids.  Some kids come with a lot. For example, I had a whole folder worth with my (now adopted) children.  Some kids come with court papers.  Others come with nothing extra.

When children come with medication, that has to be dealt with also.  Medication logs are printed out and filled out with pertinent information.  All I have to do is initial and put the time for each date for each medication after the paperwork is set up.

Whether they come with any items or not, inventory needs to be taken.  Most of the time, that means going shopping in order to have the minimum requirements of things like socks and shirts and pajamas. When kids come with a bunch of mis-matched stuff that doesn’t fit, it makes it a little tougher because all that has to be documented but they still need the minimum requirements of what they *can* wear.  So right away, you’re trying to give them a wardrobe and document it.

We also have to have, posted, a schedule and home rules for each child.  Now, of course, we have general rules such as “respect property” and “respect others,” even more detailed such as “use polite words” or whatever.  But for each child, there has to be personalized rules.  Well, except you’ve known the kids 24 hours at this point.  How do I know whether we need to focus on polite words or keeping hands to self?

Then there are appointments:

  • Placement exams are scheduled as soon as possible.  In these children’s case, I needed in to see the doctor regarding the one immediately because I was worried she was eating and breathing well enough!  Turns out there was a lot regarding that but we did beautifully.  Also, one child needed a “sick child” exam right away.  
  • Dental exams are also scheduled as soon as possible.  The baby won’t get hers until 6 months old.  The 2yo will have one every 3 months.  The 3yo is on the regular every six month schedule.
  • The placement worker at the agency needs to come out immediately.
  • Our home’s agency worker needs to come out about day 7.
  • The CASA sets up an appointment to come out.
  • The children have a lawyer so needs to come out
  • ECI does evaluations for all children under 3 years old.
  • A psychologist does an evaluation for all children three years old and older.
  • Visits with parents start as soon as possible (investigators here are supposed to give the parents at least one visit and they often will do a second in order to make it easier for the regular worker after the 14 day hearing).
  • Any appointments that are child specific have to be taken care of.  This is where we got hit bad this time.  The baby already had a team of doctors and appointments set up.  Additionally, because the parents didn’t make their last visit, the surgical team set up a team meeting for us a few days into care so she would still be able to have surgery on time (next week).
  • We waited this time, but we ended up setting up play therapy also.  Oftentimes, I set up play therapy before the children even walk through the door though.

Add that we actually had 8 hours of training set up for the week the kids got here too.

I had to, also, do end of care documentation for the last set of kids since they left the same day these kids came.  For example, that meant I had SIX monthly reports to do (one for each of the three who had left and one for each of the new three).

Additionally, supervision and discipline is a little different at the beginning of a placement as kids have to learn how we do things, we have to learn how they do, etc.  These kids didn’t listen AT ALL at first. They still often need you to be ready to help them comply (or at least pay attention so they can comply).  The older two put a LOT of things in their mouths A LOT.  The 2yo also puts stuff in every other “hole.”  We also have never had two kids bicker as much as these two do.  And then they weren’t potty trained so we had to do that which went really well until visit last week when Professor started having issues with it.

And of course, don’t forget we have a life.  I have two young adult children. I have six children under the age of 7.  We have to play a lot.  We homeschool.  We enjoy the park a lot and gymnastics.  We still have to cook and clean like anyone else (well, actually, I guess it is really more than most families, huh?).

And on top of all this, I got sick the weekend the kids got here.  Now, ideally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it has turned into one.  I am hoping that the doctor figures out what is wrong soon.  I actually do think I feel a little better this morning. I hope!  I did set up for Doc and Professor to go to another foster home for today.  I’m hoping that helps a little both during and after Little Lamb’s appointment. Maybe one more day of rest before I get on with our week will work well for me.

So I have a couple more partially written posts too.  Hopefully I’ll start getting them posted.

Another OB (with some commentary): TPR Trial

The following parts were originally written in November 2011, just after my children’s first parents’ TPR trial.  Obviously, things were considerably emotional.  The day of the trial, I wrote:

I am thrilled that the children finally are safe from their biological parents and have a chance for permanency.  I am thrilled that we’ll be able to pursue adoption.

However, today was NOT happy day.  Three beautiful, wonderful, special children lost what could have and should have been their most precious relationship as youngsters.  Two adults lost the relationship with three awesome, lovely, incredible kids.  Today’s decision will allow for some beautiful things to happen; but it also was the culmination of six years of neglect and abuse ending in yet another hurt for these very young children.  We would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t consider the gravity of the situation even though we are excited about the joy that will come from it.

So a couple things happened during the TPR trial that made me  feel good.

The first is that as I was walking off the stand, the children’s caseworker turned to her supervisor and said, “she is amazing.”  Okay, so I got the big head for a moment.  Of course, then I went straight to beating myself up over two things not mentioned, one of which could have opened the door to certain other discussions.  Obviously, it wasn’t a fatal error.

Second – Note to Defense Attorney:  Don’t mess with Mama.

I may not yet be the children’s legal mother, but I most certainly *am* their Mama.  Maybe the defense attorney missed that as he was preparing for this case?  I don’t see how.  Everything I say and do oozes love for these children.

So basically, my testimony was just to say the children are thriving, growing, and developing well since being put in my home.  I put hard numbers to prove the point.  I had clothing sizes, weights, heights, speech (and OT) evals broken down, a list of changed behaviors, a list of new abilities, a list of changed beliefs/feelings/thoughts, a list of new experiences, etc.

The defense attorney gets to me and says dismissively, “okay, [T-lo] has gained under a pound per month and [Swimmer] has gained just over a pound per month?”

Mama Bear was ready :)

“Sir, average growth for a 2-9year old child is 4-5 pounds per year.  [T-lo] has gained that much from April 13 to Oct 11th. [Swimmer] *doubled* that in the same six months. That is catch-up growth.”

Mess with me!

So this came about because the caseworker had called and asked me if I could *prove* the children were thriving in my home.  I said I could; but to be honest, I was a little worried about if I really could.  Everyone who has known these kids during those seven months (and in the case of some CPS workers, family members, and the like, it was five years) could see that the children had taken off.  But could I *prove* it in court acceptable ways?  And to be honest, I was also worried of offending anyone while doing it.  Honestly, a LOT of people had dropped the ball in terms of caring for these children.  The court gave them back to their first parents.  So did family after a “case closure” which was supposed to protect them from ever living with their parents again.  Foster parents and caseworkers hadn’t made sure that certain care was given to them. More importantly, these first parents had severely neglected and abused their children. How do I say what all we had done without offending all those who messed up?

But I’m so glad I did the work to show the children really were progressing so beautifully:

 I sat down with their folders (They each have three: one for school, one for history, and one with current case/health related items) and got the FACTS.  I then typed them up.  What I had was gold, hard proof my children were flourishing.  I think this was much more important than being able to put a lawyer in his place.  It allowed ME to see awesome progress.

One lesson that hubby and I learned is something we have to be reminded of many many times since that day in November 2011.  Here is how I wrote it the day after TPR:

Another big thing came from yesterday in Hubby’s and My hearts.  Sometimes 7 months seems like a short time and sometimes it feels like plenty long enough for certain changes in the children.  Yesterday, hubby and I learned why seven months is NOTHING and why it may take us a few years for certain things to happen for our Littles.  Those few years will probably be hard work for us in terms of attachment, teaching, and loving.  We are up for it :)

Yes, 7 months was nothing.  15 months wasn’t anything either.  Next week, we’ll be at 24 months.  Some days are still *really* hard.  Some issues come in waves.  Others slap us in the face because things were going so well just before the issue comes up again.  The “power of three” (I’ll write about that another time) drives me batty. Many days I’m scared for them.  Most days there is some hope though.  They’ve come so far.  They may or may not ever fully heal from what their first parents and the system did to them.  But we will be there every step of the way, here to love them, help them, and hope for them.  With God, all things are possible….in this system or the next 🙂

System Insanity

These are more thoughts I had as I was forming my first post in response to Cindy over at Recipe For a Family.

Sometimes, we need a bit of reality about fostering. Unfortunately, the reality isn’t just the awesome parts of parenting children.  I wish it were.  Can you imagine getting to experience first steps, first words, progress in speech or physical therapy, the funny things kids say and do, etc all the time?  And if you have a special age group you especially love, you can do it 20 or 60 times!  Seriously, if it was about loving, playing with, parenting children, fostering would be absolutely awesome a lot of the time (the other side of that coin may be another post because I do think it is important also).

However, not only is there the good (and bad) of parenting all these children, there is the system itself.

Since I just started my blog, there isn’t a ton on there about my Sweet Little M (there was more on the other blog).  Basically, we had her for 11½ months, being her fourth home.  She had attachment and developmental concerns when we got her as an infant!  We worked with her and still had some concerns, but she had progressed SO far.  M was the first child who we felt was OURS when the state had different plans. For 14 months, fictive kin (that can mean friends of the family, family by a marriage or two, etc) wanted to get her.  They weren’t very proactive and the cps worker made some mistake that cost everyone months.  Well, so once this toddler was bonded to us, developmentally on target with supports in place, etc, the state moved her to these people on the other side of the country.  This despite her needs being known, her doctor writing in her behalf, etc.  Fact is that the agency’s quotas, state’s statistics, and money were more important than the best interest of this little girl, my little girl.  And I couldn’t protect her.

Case ridiculousness –  Two little kids, a baby and a toddler.  Mom put the children in danger by refusing to stay away from their father during exchanges of custody.  Honestly, I’m not sure that warranted the children being taken when you consider how damaging removing a child from his mother is (remember, I read the case information.  Obviously, in some cases, it would most certainly be warranted). So these beautiful children went to a foster home.  A couple days later, they were moved to another foster home, mine.  Mom worked her plan as quickly as she could.  She never missed a visit.  I sent short letters and pictures to her which she greatly appreciated.  She wrote back the nicest notes.  CPS said she worked her plan too quickly.  SAY WHAT!?!?!  They made her wait and wait again.  The next time, the supervisor told me they were going to make her wait one more month.  Seriously?  They wanted to move the children to the aunt for the final month.  I thought that was a *really* bad idea.  You’re gonna move the kids just to give them back to their mother a month later? The only good part of that would have been that the mother could have seen them more. I offered to supervise a 2nd visit each month which we did gladly.  That was the best thing ever in such a dumb situation.  I was amazed at how the children were for her.  There was a special bond between them.  I’m so happy I got to experience that last month with their whole little family.  The day the judge granted her getting her kids back, I set it up for her to pick the kids up at our home.  Mama L came back to the house after strapping the children in the car to thank me yet again and hug me.

One major issue is children bounced around the system.  This is pretty normal actually. The children above….

  • Sweet Little M has now been in FIVE homes in less than 21 months.  Those first two years are soooo important for a child to learn to attach.  It would be better for a child to have one strong healthy attachment and have it broken than to have multiple short attachments, learning instead that adults are unpredictable and won’t be there tomorrow or next month.  Sweet Little M left eight days ago.  She thought she would be gone a couple hours just like she did to go to visits to see her biological parents.  Instead, she has not heard our voices, seen us, been held or comforted by us, had our family rituals, etc in eight days.  At 21 months old, she has lost FOUR sets of adults, including a family she loved and who adored her for 11½ months.  My heart aches for her.
  • The infant and toddler?  They were given to one couple.  A few days later, these people decided they couldn’t handle them; so we got them.  Now, there is no way for the system to know how long a parent is going to take to get their children back so I understand looking for kin.  This is probably best a lot of the time.  It certainly saves the state money and allows the child to have a family culture more similar to their own.  Many times, it also allows a parent to see the children more often (which can be good though it isn’t always).  Once the kids were with us for a few months, moving them when the plan was to move them home soon didn’t make as much sense.  Thankfully, CPS agreed with me and the family and mom did also. Otherwise, these children, who went home at 9 and 20 months would have had three placements during their short stint in care, a recipe for issues with children so young!
  • And my third example are my children.  My children came to me at almost 3, almost 4, and 5 years old.  We were their ninth home (we thought it was eighth until we learned of another placement).  Their parents were given way too many chances and each time they left the home, they went to another family.  There was six weeks between the final time they were taken and when we finally got them. I guess it wouldn’t surprise anyone that they have attachment issues, huh?

Unfortunately, I could continue on about foster parents rights being stomped upon (even those that keep us from advocating for the kids in our care), by the threats to keep us in line (yes, actually spoken ones), things like caseworkers not visiting the way they are supposed to, etc. What about child in a foster home for 15months, the case going to adoption, family having been ruled out, then the child being given to another adoptive couple?  What about corruption in a system of quotas, statistics, and $?

So why should we consider continuing to foster?  Why do I still suggest it to other people?  Because the system is so incredibly broken and so actively hurting children, there is a need for good people who can love the children, help them gain skills they need for a lifetime, to celebrate their progress and development, to be parents on a daily basis.  What we do counteracts all the baloney, maybe not perfectly, but a lot better than they could without all we give to them.

Well, and let’s be honest, there may be a few benefits for us too (but that can be another post – though there were a few hints in the first paragraph).

The Dance and My Baby

It is strange how songs somehow take on different meanings when you are in a situation where the words (mostly) make sense. I was bawling to this song earlier. I was so privileged and blessed to be Little M’s mama for 11½ months. I wish it had been forever. I am heartbroken for both her and us as well as worried about her. Could I saw I wish she had never come? Absolutely not! I wish it had not be NECESSARY for her to come; but since it was, I’m so incredibly glad I had the gift of being her mama.  I’m so thankful for the dances, looking at the stars, watching her grow and learn, serving my little royalty.  Holding her, I really did hold everything.  I love you so much Little M.  Your family in Texas will think of you every single day forever more.

Another Big Loss for M

M (20months) will be leaving our home soon, as per today’s court hearing.  She will go to her fifth home, fictive kin, halfway across the country. She will be losing the family of seven who have absolutely adored her for the past 11 months. Hopefully she’ll heal despite the concerns (attachment, particularly) she’s shown thus far. Though the first two years are critical for a child’s ability to bond and trust, hopefully, somehow, she’ll overcome this lesson – that adults, regardless of how they treat you, aren’t trustworthy and won’t stick around – sounded so firmly down into her by this awful broken foster care system.

I’m sad for myself and my family as we’re losing the little girl we love so dearly.
I’m absolutely devastated for my sweet little M.