What I Agree to When Fostering a Child

Sometimes when you’re trying to understand what someone else’s life is like, it’s cool to have a glimpse of their everyday activities.   Ever wonder what foster parents agree to do when they foster a child?  Read on.

We had two cutie pies stay with us for short-term respite care.  Now I need to return the paperwork that spells out who does what and why.

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There’s the foster care agreement.  This document says that the County and my family agree that we will provide foster care services to a specific child.  It also includes key principles such as “all children deserve a safe environment” and “children do best when raised in families.”

There’s a code of ethics that we agree to abide by.  Here are some of the ethics:

  • Provide a safe, secure, and stable family environment that is nurturing and free from corporal punishment and abuse and neglect
  • Support progress toward achieving the permanency goal identified for the child (that goal is either return to parents, return to extended family or adoption)
  • Promote self-respect by providing positive guidance and activities that respect culture, ethnicity, and spiritual preferences
  • Support the child in developing knowledge and skills to become a self sufficient and responsible adult

As the foster parents, we agree to:

  • Receive the named child
  • Agree to keep the County informed of the child’s development, behaviors, and activities
  • Agree to confidentiality
  • Agree that the child’s social worker can visit the child in our home
  • Agree to notify the County in case of a medical emergency

The County agrees to:

  • Provide counseling to the child
  • Provide consultation and support to the foster parents
  • Pay for the child’s health care
  • Pay a stipend to the foster parents to cover the cost of the child’s food, clothing, and personal care

There’s also a medical authorization form, which tells medical care providers that we are allowed to seek care for the specific child.  For routine care, we can take the child to the doctor or dentist just like you would any kid.  We can’t put on the kid on indefinite medication, especially psycho-active drugs (anti-depressent, anti-anxiety, ADHD, etc.). For that, the County and/or parents make the decision. For medical emergencies, we are to take the child to the emergency room right away, but let the County know as they might need a judge to authorize the emergency medical treatment. “Routine” emergencies like a broken arm don’t require a judge, but stuff like an amputation of an arm would require the judge to agree.

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All of the those papers are signed when the child is placed in our home. The last paper is where we state how long the child was staying with us. It’s only done after the child has left, because life happens and the child has either stayed longer or shorter than planned. There was a blizzard, so it wasn’t safe to travel. Or the regular foster parents came back early and pick up the child. Etcetera.

We keep a copy of all these papers for our records and send another copy to the County for their records and also to process the payment for the child’s food, clothing, and personal care.

And that’s it. Paper work done.

Starting a Birth Mom Search?

Today I started researching how to find Silent One’s birth family (aka first family). Man, it’s daunting.

Finding a birth mom seems like the proverbial needle in the haystack. Looking online, it seems there are some search services, but how do you know if they’re reputable? How much is a reasonable cost? What’s the likelihood of success?

More importantly, should I even be doing the search?

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In my mind’s eye, I envision handing a package to Silent One shortly after he turns 18. Inside, it contains his birth records and adoption papers. There’s a hand-written note, telling him that inside another envelope is information about what his birth family is doing now, who’s alive, and where they live. This note lets him know that he doesn’t have to open it. That he can save it for later. Or for never. That the love we have for him will always remain and that knowing or not knowing his birth family won’t change this fact.

But maybe this is a journey that adoptees need to undertake by themselves.

I don’t want Silent One to feel pushed.

But I also don’t want to wait until it’s too late, and the trail has grown cold. As time marches on, people pass away and documents get misplaced. Gathering the information now is a way to safeguard that treasure for him.

Still, so much was taken from Silent One when he was just a little boy. He had no choice in losing his first family and gaining a second.

Maybe the right thing to do is gather the information, but not share it unless he says he wants to look for his first mama?

Foster Care: Talking about Adoption 

How does the foster care system talk about adoption when the main goal is  NOT adoption, but rather to reunite kids with their birth families?

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Here’s what it looked like for us.

When we decided that we would like to become foster parents and provide a temporary home to children, the County required us to be trained as and approved as potential adoptive parents.  This dual licensing is required for all foster parents where I live, because so many foster parents end up wanting to adopt if the kids don’t go back home.

When our 11 year old foster daughter and 9 year old foster son joined our family, the County noted that their case could end with the children going home or going to a relative or being placed for adoption.

Months later, the County told us that a relative placement wouldn’t happen. So it was going home or adoption.

The children’s lawyer explained to us that she was going to request adoption as a concurrent goal. That means she asked the judge to tell the County to simultaneously pursue reunification and adoption. The judge agreed.

The judge was open in court, saying he would find in favor of adoption if dad didn’t take certain steps by a particular date.

The County, the lawyer (GAL), and CASA were all open in asking us if we were interested in adopting. They didn’t know if they’d ask us to adopt just the two children who lived with us or their little brother, too.

The foster family for the little brother frankly shared with us that they could adopt the one child they had, but didn’t feel they could take on all three children.

We adamantly assured the kids’ dad that our first goal was returning the children back to him. But if that couldn’t happen, we would consider adopting and would like him to be part of their lives going forward.

He made sure we knew that what he really wanted was his children returned home.

No one told the kids that adoption was being considered. The idea is to not confuse the kids and only cross that bridge after the decision is made.  Ultimately, the kids returned to their dad.

How does it feel to talk about adoption as a back-up plan?  It’s weird. You’re pulled in different directions, wanting both outcomes.  Or neither. Or see sawing between one and the other. You feel more attached, because these could be your forever children.  But overall, it feels good to know that the children will find a permanent, loving solution no matter what.

This posting is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out what other people have to say about “Talking about Adoption.”

No Bohns About It

Ask about Future Foster Child’s Ethnicity or Race

Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.

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Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.

To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.

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To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.

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To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.

To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.

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To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.

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Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!

Adoption is Second Best Choice

Wow. With a title like “Adoption is Second Best Choice,” I’m sure many readers are riled up. But let me explain.

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Child birth, adoption, or foster care are all equally wonderful, fulfilling ways of becoming a parent. The children are equally wonderful, regardless of how they joined your family. I know, because I’m the mother of a biological daughter, adopted son, a foster daughter, and foster son.

Soon, a judge will decide whether our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful and 9-year-old foster son Watchful will be reunited with their bio dad, or whether his rights will be terminated and the children become available for adoption.

Joyful and Watchful’s bio dad has made a lot of progress in making his home the safest, healthiest option for his children. While there’s been ups and downs, hopes and doubts over the past year, we have been cheering him on. We hope he’s able to take the final needed steps and bring Joyful and Watchful home.

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In this process, one thing has become very clear to me. When birth parents want to parent, society should help them fix whatever problems are preventing them from meeting their children’s needs. Hooked on drugs? Support parents in detox. Suffering from mental illness? Give them counseling or medical treatment.

But what if Joyful and Watchful’s dad can’t or doesn’t make the last few final changes? The children should not be stuck in foster care limbo indefinitely – they’ll have been in foster care 18 months by the time the judge rules. They need a permanent home with permanent parents. They need permanent love and permanent safety.

If birth parents are given help, but still can’t fix the problems that endanger children’s health and well-being, well then adoption is the best route.

This makes reuniting with birthparents the first choice and adoption the second best option.

It makes me feel a little funny to think of adoption as a “second best” option.  After all, we adopted Silent One when he was six, and he brings so much joy to our lives.

I only met Silent One’s birth mother once, but she clearly let me know that she chose adoption because her country did not have social programs to help guarantee her (our) son’s safety. Every day, I am grateful that she put Silent One’s well being before all else. But I am also saddened that her country didn’t have welfare, counseling, and other such services. I love Silent One with my whole heart. He loves me with his whole heart. But losing his birth family colors his world view about relationships, his identity and his sense of self worth. He shouldn’t have had to lose a mother who loved him and wanted to parent him.

No Bohns About It

This post is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.

Going Home TODAY v. NEVER

Today, we are going to court again and here’s what I want to do. I want to run over to the kids’ dad and blurt out that we don’t want to steal his children away from him. But that would be awkward.

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Dad thinks the judge will order his children 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful to go home to him today. Like pack up your bags and sleep at dad’s tonight. The State, the CASA, and GAL all agree that going home today is a non-starter. And if it was just a matter that dad has to wait awhile longer before he gets his kids back, well that would be one thing. However, there’s a real chance that the judge will tell dad that if he doesn’t have his act together in six more months, the judge will terminate parental rights and order the children to be adopted by a non-relative family.

I can only imagine dad’s eyes swiveling to us in that moment, his heart broken. I can imagine him wondering if we are hoping he will fail, so we can adopt his children. But we’re not. We’re really, honestly not.

We didn’t get into foster care to adopt. We were very happy with the number of kids we have. We got into foster care, because we want to help families stay together.

Yet when the Department of Family Services calls us up and asks us if we would be willing to adopt the kids if they can’t go home, would we turn them away? The children have lived with us for nearly a year. We are attached to each other. They are lovely, wonderful young people that anyone would be honored to call daughter and son. Yet… there’s a real chance that we’d be facing years of very chaotic home life, that I wouldn’t be able to retire when I had planned, that we wouldn’t have the money to send our original two children and two more children to college, that we would be signing up for years and years of therapy, that we’d be agreeing to make a highly dysfunctional family part of our extended family.

This is where I take a deep breath.

One day at a time. Today, we continue to work towards reunifying Joyful and Watchful with their dad. Today and tomorrow, we continue to root for dad’s progress in making home a safe place. And regardless, we love these children with our whole hearts no matter what day it is.

This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out what others are saying about adoption.  You won’t regret it.

No Bohns About It

Recovering from disruption scare

My last post was about the possibility of disrupting our foster care placement.  10-year-old Joyful (foster daughter) is ostracizing 14-year-old Sassy (bio daughter) and getting the two boys to gang up on her.  The result is Sassy feeling unloved and unwelcome in her own home.  So now what?

The first step is realizing that we’ve got something seriously going wrong and knowing our boundaries. Before we started fostering, my hubby and I agreed that our existing children’s safety had to be our top priority.   We defined safety as both physical and emotional.  We committed ourselves upfront to put in the effort to make foster care work for our entire family.   However, we agreed we would take a break if something came up that was beyond our control and jeopardized our existing children’s well being – if that was the only way to protect our kids.
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The second step is marshaling resources to help fix the problem and help keep our whole family together.  We’ve heard a lot of war stories of foster parents who struggled alone and didn’t let people know how tough things were getting.  They feared that people would criticize them or take away their foster children.  Then they reached a point where they were so overwhelmed that they called up their agency and asked for the children in their care to be removed.  And I know where those people are coming from.  Heck, it’s hard just writing about our difficulties in my anonymous blog.  Imagine talking to your social worker, whose job is partly to keep an eye on you and make sure you’re being a good parent!!  But, good social workers understand that foster parenting is hard and they value the well-being of all the kids in your home.

 

I told our social worker that Joyful was taking out her fear of women on Sassy and trying to force Sassy out of the family, so Joyful could feel safe.  I explained how Sassy was being a dramatic teenager, and how her rambunctious behaviors could be triggering Joyful’s PTSD.  I said we want to work through the bullying that’s happening, but are not sure of the path forward.  Hallelujah the social worker was very understanding and simply asked us what we wanted to do.  I didn’t have an answer right then, but said we’d work with the therapists.

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And so we’ve been working with the therapists.  We’ve got a whole bucketload of them.  We’ve teamed up been with the therapists to address each child’s needs individually.  We’ve collaborated with the therapists about how to handle home life when Joyful starts acting nasty towards Sassy.  We had a therapist chat with Sassy to bolster her self esteem and explain how trauma was impacting Joyful.  Since we know that Joyful struggles in all of her relationships with females, we’ve gotten my hubby and our teenaged son Silent One to regularly verbalize to Joyful that it’s important to treat all members of the family respectfully.

 

The last step is continuing to be good parents and keeping an even keel despite feeling like the world is crashing down on our shoulders.  Wow, is that super hard!

 

This is where self care comes in.  You gotta get yourself right so you can be the mature adult.

 

Imagine, a child starts bullying your daughter, getting others to do mean things to her like locking her out of the house and laughing at her while she shivers in the below zero winter weather.  What do you really feel like doing?  For me, it was something like get the f**k out of my house, you horrible monster.  But what you need to do is stay calm and authoritatively, but kindly solve the problem without shaming anyone.

 

So what do you do with all that anger and fear and doubt?  It needs to go somewhere.
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On the day that this all peaked, I excused myself from parenting and let my husband take the reins.  I hopped in my car and escaped to the library to check out a couple of fabulous urban fantasies.   On the way home, I swung by Trader Joe’s and picked up my favorite chips and a bar of truly divine chocolate.  When I pulled into my driveway, I walked straight into my bedroom and dove under my down comforter.  Then I sent a text to my husband asking if he would bring me in a cup of tea.  (He’s such a good man!)  Wonderful hours of peace followed, with lots of delicious snacks.  At that point, I was no longer a blazing firestorm of emotions, just really upset.

 

That meant it was safe for me to interact with humans again, but not with the kids.  Stage two of self care is reaching out to others.  So I called my sister.  I called my friend in Oregon.  I called my friend in Michigan.  I called my friend in Florida.  Yes, I talked and talked and talked about anything and everything.  Then I put on my tennis shoes and went for a long walk.

 

I tag teamed with my husband, so he could take a break (for him, disappearing into video game playing and a trip to Home Depot).

 

We are now through the worst of it.  And we are still one family – all six of us learning day by day how to love each other no matter what life throws at us.