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.

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.

Are You Somebody?

Have you ever read one of those stories about the toddler who was critically dehydrated after being left alone in a crib for days, crying while her mother got high?  Or the one about the eight year old boy who was hospitalized after being beaten by his father with a baseball bat?  Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

Did you find yourself outraged after reading a story about a child being taken from their family on trumped up charges?   Did you wonder why someone doesn’t help grown ups deal with addiction or mental illness so that their children could live safely with them?

What about that story about how the foster care system is filled with cold, uncaring social workers who lose track of where children are placed? Or about the greedy foster parents who spend the foster stipend money on themselves while feeding the kids just once a day? Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

I read these stories.  I was outraged.  I thought somebody should do something.  Then, I realized that I am somebody.  I became a foster parent.  A good one (or least to the best of my ability).  I love the children, care for them, advocate for them at their schools or therapist’s office or in the courts.  I advocate for their biological parents, too, helping them get their voices heard, their needs met, and have a real chance at getting their children back.  I volunteer to help out the foster care agency and help train new foster parents.

You could do this, too.  All you have to do is Be Somebody.

If you want child abuse to end.  If you want families going through hard times to be given a fair chance.  If you want the “system” to work as well as it can.

All you have to do is Be Somebody, the somebody who steps forward to be a foster parent.

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This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up on the topic of foster care / adoption memes.  Check out the link for other great voices on foster care and adoption!

10 Foster Kids and Counting!

We’ve seen 10 kids come and go since we started our journey as a foster family in 2013. Some have stayed with us for nearly a year and a half, others just a handful of days. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. I love being a foster parent!

I love cuddling the ones open to a hug. I love playing in the sand at the beach with them. I love teaching them how to cook, how to use a bicycle pump, or how to dust the furniture.

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When kids in care are in our home, there’s a hustle and bustle that energizes me. Is there a family visit, a social worker dropping by, a sporting event, school science night? Have the children been bathed, is it time for homework, time for meds, oops ran out of milk let’s’s run to the store?

There’s the thrill of meeting of a child and learning his or her distinct personality, likes, dislikes, needs, and rhythms. Joyful loves spaghetti and would eat mounds of it, but Turkey doesn’t care for pasta. Helper wants to say bed time prayers every night with us, but Jumping Jack doesn’t believe in God and is weirded out by the whole concept of religion. Watchful calms down best when left alone in his “safe place” for a few minutes, but Explorer wants to have his back rubbed. Excited and Watchful are both early risers, but while Excited wakes up in a sunny, bouncy mood, Watchful needs the quiet routine of setting the table before engaging with others.

When you have foster kids in your home, there’s the joy of watching them overcome the trauma in their lives. Joyful stopped burying her nose in a book all day long and was willing to reach out to make friends. Harry Potter started using words to encourage his brother, rather than constantly insult him. Another learned that bed wetting as a pre-teen happens to some people and that wearing appropriate undergarments is not a big deal.

I love watching my husband and permanent children develop even greater kindness, empathy, and understanding as they are confronted by our foster children’s more challenging behaviors. My husband searched out the recipe, got special ingredients, and cooked a Filipino dish to help comfort Big Ben with a familiar, favorite food. Sassy willingly worked out differences with another child who was being aggressive. Silent One has learned to be unruffled by tantrums.

Last weekend, we said goodbye to Harry Potter and Explorer. We’ve been asked to take two brothers for two weeks in August, which we’re debating as the timing is not great for our family and we would prefer a long-term placement. We were asked about a four year old girl, but luckily her grandparents have stepped up and she won’t be coming into care. We talked with our social worker today, who asked us if we’ll be home over Memorial Day weekend in case there are any emergency placements.

But at the moment, it’s quiet. I’m seated on my sofa, sipping tea, with my dog beside me. And while that’s nice, I can’t wait to see who will walk in the door next, get to know them, care for them, and watch them transform their inner hurts.

Of course there are days when I wonder “why the heck did I sign up for this,” but all in all….Life as a foster parent is a joy and a privilege!

Why we adopted, fostered, birthed our children

I’m a mom three ways – through adoption, by foster care and via my own pregnancy.  Depending upon which kid I’m with or talking about, it will come up how that child joined our family.

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When I say we adopted Silent One, a common question is why did you adopt?  Did you have problems conceiving?  Did your insurance not cover fertility treatments?

When I say we fostered Watchful or Joyful or one of the other eight delightful children we’ve welcomed into our home, a common question is why do you foster?  Isn’t too hard to “give the kids back”?

When I say Savvy is my biological daughter, the common question is how old is she?  Unless they know that we have adopted / fostered, and then they ask if we conceived her after adopting.

The answer to why we have adopted, fostered, and birthed our children is pretty straight forward.  Because we love children and believe they should have families that love them.

No real mystery here, folks.  Having kids in your life is great.  End of story.

This blog is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out the other great blogs – they’re worth a read!

No Bohns About It

A Hard Foster Placement

Over the years, we’ve fostered children with many challenging behaviors. But an upcoming placement has given us pause.

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We’ve said yes to kids who self harm, have medical issues, are depressed, lack empathy, wet the bed, tantrum, refuse to eat, disassociate, and more.

But we just said yes to two boys who can’t have pets in the house. And we almost said no.

I am embarrassed to say that trying to parent kids without our trusty, loving dog around just sounds really hard.

The thing is, our puppy is always eager to love on us. She’s quick to forgive. She always there with a cuddle when you’re feeling down.

God knows when you foster, this kind of unwavering support can be in short supply.

So, for the limited time that the next two boys are with us, our dog will be vacationing with a friend.

And we’ll have to rely upon our all too human selves to muddle through.