The Foster Care Village

One of my favorite things about foster care is the out pouring of support.  My friends, neighbors and fellow foster parents amaze me with their generosity.  Want to help kids in care, but not ready to be a foster parent?  Get inspired by these wonderful things people have done to make a difference.

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  • A couple of young boys came to our house and were disappointed by our toy selection.  I sent a text out and within two hours we had pull toys, play doh, cars and more dropped off at our house for short term borrowing.

 

  • My friends hung out with me in my drive way, chatting and drinking lemonade, while some very rambunctious little ones played outside.  My friends’ presence kept me sane as I dealt with tantrums, arguments, and reckless horseplay.

 

  • My neighbors send their kids over to welcome new kids in care.  Every kid loves to have instant new friends.

 

  • My in-laws invite us over for dinner, not batting an eye when we ask them to set another place or two or three. Even when it means feeding the bottomless pit of teenaged boys.  Even on major holidays.

 

  • My friends and neighbors offer up all their insider tips:  how to deal with special education at the elementary school, ideas for after school programs, where to shop for inexpensive but cool clothes, fun community events coming up, etc.  When you suddenly have a pre-schooler with speech delays or a 9 year old girl who doesn’t want to lose gymnastics along with everything else or a teen boy who must have the “in” shoes, it can be hard to figure how to get what they need.  So friends’ tips make life so much easier.

 

  • Knowing that the County’s stipend doesn’t cover all expenses, our friends have lent parking passes, gave tickets to the zoo, lent extra beds, lent snow pants, donated an old video console and games. The list keeps going on!

 

  • On Mother’s Day, friends put on a bagel and fruit smorgasbord at our house. This one really touched me as they wanted to do something special for me as a mom and understood that  the kids may be emotional about not being with their bio mom. So, kids stayed calm in the familiar environment of my dining room, I didn’t have to cook, and we had a great time hanging with friends.

Renew Foster Care License?

I opened up the mail today and received a request from the county to renew our foster care license.

A few thoughts ran through my head.

  • Yay! I love foster care and can’t wait to sign up for another three years!
  • Hmm. Do they really need me to re-up? I’ve been waiting for a child to be placed long-term in our home for four months.
  • Yikes! My work is looking at transferring me next summer. Is it responsible to accept a long-term placement if we’re not available for more than one year?

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If there’s anything learned in the past three years as a foster mom, it’s to accept that my feelings will always be all over the map when it comes to foster care.

There will be days when I want to do more than can humanly be done, saying yes to every request for volunteers for our foster parent association. And days I want to lay snuggled in my bed ignoring the paperwork that needs filing and the calls that need to be made.

There will be happy days when I am shocked and awed by the progress made by my foster children and their parents. And dark moments when despair creeps in and I doubt that difficult circumstances can be overcome.

There will be many wonderful memories of time spent with awesome kids picking apples or searching for fossils at the beach or hiking in the woods. And there will be tears when it’s time to say goodbye as they move back home.

But one thing is always constant. I love these kids. For their courage, their silliness, for just being them.

Guess it’s time to fill out that paperwork to renew our foster care license.

If we only knew…

Brothers Helper (13 years) and Excited (8 years) are back with us again for the week. We are very happy to have them stay with us for a short bit, though it feels a little odd.

Last time they stayed with us, we offered to adopt them. Of course, they don’t know that. I’m not sure if the family who is actually adopting them knows that. We only told the social worker, saying that we would be thrilled to adopt them, but would give priority to the long-term foster family. And that other couple decided to make Helper and Excited their forever sons.

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It’s the right thing. The other family is wonderful and the boys have been with them a long time. Yet, I look at the boys’ smiling faces and think to myself “these darling boys almost were mine.” My heart shouts in my in mind – tell them you love them so much that you wanted to make them family members, that you never want to let go. But I don’t say a word about what almost was.

Instead I say “I love you” and “I’m so happy you get to visit again.” Instead, I let the love shine through my eyes. Instead, I make them their favorite homemade pizza.

Why not mention anything about adoption? Because they need to feel 100% committed to their new family and it could be confusing. In the heat of the moment, one of the boys could say they prefer us over the other family, wounding their mom- and dad-to-be.  Or they could feel torn, feeling they had to make a choice.  It’s best to stay in the wings as the other family that adores them, like an aunt and uncle.  The helper family.

It makes me wonder, though. How many people are out there deeply, truly loving you and me, who for one reason or another can’t tell us?

What to do if your kids are placed in foster care

I was hanging out at my sister’s house when a friend called frantically. Child Protective Services had taken her children and placed them into foster care.

Since I’ve been a foster mom to 10 kids, they asked me my advice. And I’m sharing it for any other parent who is going through this very painful and scary experience.

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Always remember that you want your kids back. This seems stupidly obvious, but you need to make getting your kids back your top priority and tell yourself over and over that you will do whatever it takes to have them living with you again, even all the things that you totally disagree with.

Here’s the top five things to do next:

1. Don’t do anything drastic
Parents are understandably very upset when their children are placed into care. It can be very tempting to let your emotions go crazy and do things you might regret later. You may want to scream at the social worker. You may feel so bad you just want to get drunk or high to make the bad feeling go away. You may have been struggling with depression or other mental illness and be tempted to stop taking your meds or attempt suicide.

Don’t. There is hope.

2. Go to every visit

Judges and social workers will look at how regularly you attended visits with your children. If you go to all or nearly all, this is evidence that you care and are trying to be a responsible parent. This is completely within your control, so go to every visit.

Some people may want to see their kids, but don’t feel motivated to go to the visits. It can be hard to be reunited only to have to say goodbye again. If you feel guilty, you may feel this more intensely when your kids ask to come home with you and you have to explain why they can’t. It may feel awkward to hang out with your kids when a social worker is present, observing your interactions. The process for getting your kids back can see unnecessarily bureaucratic and long, tempting you to give up. Don’t. Stick with it and go to every visit.

3. Express desire to get your kids back

It may seem very obvious to you that you want your kids back, but it may not be obvious to others. Tell the judge, social workers, lawyers, CASA (if one is assigned to your case), and foster parents that you want your children living with you again. Tell them about your concerns regarding the impact of living apart.

4. Do the things the judge says must be done.

The authorities will write a plan that lists the conditions which must be met in order for you to get your kids back. Ask to see this plan and make sure you understand what you need to do. Then do those things.

Psychological evaluations and substance abuse evaluations are common first steps. Some people don’t like to go through testing, especially if they don’t believe they have any mental health or drug/alcohol problems. Do them any way.

If you don’t do them, the authorities will think you are hiding something. If you do take the tests, it will show your willingness to do whatever it takes to get your kids back.

Your plan may also include parenting classes, therapy, anger management classes, or various treatments for mental illness, substance abuse, sexual abusing, etc.

I have seen cases where social workers and therapists didn’t think parents would be able to get their children back, and then parents worked really hard to do every item in their plan. They made positive changes in their lives and were successful in reuniting their family.

That could be you. You could be the parent that does whatever it takes and gets your kids back.

5. Ask relatives to raise your kids temporarily

Many parents feel uncomfortable having strangers raising their kids. This is 100% understandable.

You can ask relatives or close friends to act as foster parents while you work on meeting the requirements of your plan. They may need to take foster parent training.

Some people would prefer that family or friends not foster their children as they worry this may complicate their relationships. That’s ok, too.

However, if you do want someone you know to help out, it’s best to ask early as the vetting and training may take several months.

6. Befriend the foster parents

If you have non-related foster parents for your children, try to get to know them and have a positive relationship with them.

Some people may disagree with how the foster family is temporarily raising their children, wonder if the foster parents will judge them, or worry that they need to compete for their children’s affection.

However, keep in mind that foster parents want to help the parents and their children have healthy relationships and live together. This is why they became foster parents. Give them a chance.

When you befriend the foster parents, they are more likely to go the extra mile to help you stay connected with your kids and help you navigate the foster care system. You can ask them to send photos, facilitate phone calls/skype/email, or make reasonable changes to their parenting style. (Examples of reasonable changes could be how they dress your children, how they ensure your kids follow your religious beliefs, etc.).

If you are going through a hard time right now, my heart goes out to you. I hope whatever caused Child Protective Services to remove your children is resolved and you and your children can live together again soon.

Study on foster care – reuniting with parents

My county works hard to offer services to families so children don’t need to be removed from their homes. When the county does bring children into care, the social workers try very hard to help parents fix problems so kids can go home. I fully support that and am super glad they focus on helping the whole family.

However, there is something that does bug me.

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The social workers regularly talk about how reunification is best for children, even if their home life is not ideal. Then the social workers go on to talk about kids who age out being more likely to serve jail time, be homeless, have drug problems, etc.

Maybe it’s true that reunited kids have better outcomes, but it’s hard to have faith in these statements as there are holes in the logic. Some pieces of the puzzle are missing in the explanations.

When I ask them for the study that proves their statement, they look at me like I’m an alien.

I want to see a scientific study that compares life outcomes of kids who went back to their parents, kids who went to other relatives, kids who were adopted by non-relatives (such as foster parents), and kids who aged out.

Such a scientific study should also look at variables such as the type, severity, and duration of abuse or neglect and see how that impacts outcomes for children who are reunited, adopted, or age out.

My guess is that kids who stayed in care and eventually aged out, suffered more abuse or more severe abuse – and that’s why they didn’t go back home. Kids with more issues are also less likely to be adopted. These two factors would then account for why their outcomes as adults are less ideal – or at least account for it in part.

It only makes sense that if some kids’ life circumstances were less ideal than other foster kids to begin with, that such kids would continue to have more difficulties as adults.

In other words, is reunification what really results in better outcomes?  Or is it less trauma that results in better out outcomes, and reunification only looks like the better method because the kids most likely to be reunited are the kids who have experienced less abuse?

Anyway, I would really love to see such a study to better understand what is and is not beneficial for children in care.

So if you know of one, please share!

Sent from my iPhone

Where are the foster children?

The beds aren’t made. If these were my children’s beds or my own, this would truly be non-news. But these are the beds for future foster children.

And the house isn’t clean. There’s clutter everywhere, dishes in the sink, and laundry to be done. Prior to becoming a foster family, this wouldn’t have been news either.

Yet, these unkempt beds make me worried. Typically, the beds are always made with fresh white sheets, in case a social worker calls and asks us to welcome foster children into our home with very little advanced notice.

And the house is usually clean so that a social worker, or guardian ad litem (GAL) or court appointed special advocate (CASA) can visit at any point and I don’t feel embarrassed by the state of my home.

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I’m in no rush to make the beds or clean the house, because we won’t be welcoming kids to our home until August at the earliest. Although we’ve been open for new long-term placements for several months, we’ve only been officially contacted once and that child went to another foster family. And soon we’ll be going on vacation, so we would need to turn down placements until after we get back. So messy beds, messy house.

This long wait isn’t just a phenomena experienced by our family. And that’s what’s got me worried.

The number of children being brought into foster care has gone down dramatically in our county. Why? If the reason for this decrease is because the county is doing a better job of fixing what’s wrong with a family without removing kids, great. That’s awesome. I love it.

The rumor, though, is that there’s a new supervisor who is all about reducing the caseload. That he is directing staff to keep children in abusive or neglectful situations that would have previously resulted in a removal. Initially, I ignored this rumor, because, rumors are often wrong.

But then I learned of a case where a child was being sexually abused and originally the social workers were leaving the child in the home with the abuser, but with in-home services to “fix” the problem. Then the child ran away and the county brought the child into care.

Was there doubt if the child was truly being abused and that’s why she was left in the home with the abuser? Does the county feel that there is an effective treatment protocol wherein sex offenders and victims live together? Or is this the work of the supervisor who is making it extra hard to bring a child into care?

Roughly 88 children could be expected to enter into care each month in my country*. And yet, I know many foster parents whose homes have been empty for months and months. It wasn’t always like this. The numbers dropped off dramatically about nine months ago.

I pray that this change is because children are being helped in another, effective way.


 

* Wonder how I reached this number? Approximately 00.357% of American children enter foster care each year (yes, well below 1%), according to the 2010 census and the 2014 AFCARS report on U.S. foster care statistics. I used this national average and applied it to the number of children in my county. My county’s average intake could be higher or lower, but it shouldn’t deviate that dramatically from the national average.

Can you welcome this 14 yr old girl?

We’ve gotten so close to new long-term placements of foster kids in our home. But as the saying goes, close only counts in horse shoes.

Today was particularly nerve wracking. My husband called me at work.

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“Are you sitting down?” he asked me. Then he launched into the details of a 14-year-old girl who needed an emergency placement.

He shared the details of the abuse and her homelessness. The social worker wanted to have New Girl in a home within 2-3 hours.

“Um, we have have two boys – Excited and Helper – arriving for the weekend in just a few hours.” I said.

“Yeah, New Girl could bunk with Sassy this weekend and then when the boys go home, New Girl could move into they’re using,” hubby said.

“Four teenagers and an eight year old??” Gulp.

Our permanent kids were onboard. I said yes., too. Hubby said he’d call me back. He also told me to hurry and wrap up things at work and come home.

Sassy was going full bore to clean her room to make it presentable for a roommate. Silent One went up into the attic to bring down the spare box spring. Hubby called friends to ask if we could borrow a twin-sized mattress again.

A bit later, hubby called me back. New Girl was being assigned to a social worker that we have decided not to work with. So, the placement worker and hubby agreed that New Girl would live with another foster family.

Sigh.

Waiting is really hard.