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.

The Paid Foster Parent?

I wish I could be paid to be a foster mom.

Gasp! I said it out loud.

I want money to be a foster parent.

Clearly, I must hate all children and just want to take them into my home to make a buck.

No, actually. There’s nothing further from the truth.

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I simply want to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and care for children who need it the most.

Is that so wrong??

Culturally, I’m not sure why we feel it’s wrong to make ends meet while caring for someone else’s children. Why we assume that wanting to be a professional foster parent equals being a money grubbing, heartless fiend.

The other professionals working in foster care are paid – the social worker, therapist, school teacher, guardian ad litem (lawyer), family court judge, and police officer. It just seems natural that these experts are both paid to do their jobs AND that they care about the child in question.

After all, they have to eat, right?

Well, so do I and all my fellow foster parents.

But for some reason, we have to pay for the privilege of fostering.

Where I live, we apparently shell out $10,000+ for this privilege.***

No wonder there’s a shortage of foster parents.

No wonder foster parents mostly represent the upper middle class and don’t reflect the full diversity of our communities.

Not too many people can afford to pay ten grand to raise some stranger’s child.

Right now, there are empty bedrooms with empty beds in my house, when they could be filled with children who need a place to call home.

We had some unexpected expenses and are paying the bills off before we welcome more foster children. Because we can’t afford to do otherwise.

In the meantime, I know there are hurting children who are being sent to group homes and institutions due to a shortage of foster homes. There are no welcoming families waiting for them with open arms.

And it breaks my heart.

I’m here. And I’m willing.

But my bank account is holding us back.

If only I could be paid to be a foster parent, there’d be hurt children with a place to call home right now.

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*** My math is derived from the following. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates how much a person must earn in order to meet basic daily expenses like food, housing and transportation (http://livingwage.mit.edu). How minimum are we talking here? Well, the average cost per meal equals $2 per person. So, pretty basic.

Where I live, two adults living together need to earn $44,000 per year to scrape by. If you add a child, you need another $17,000 per year to put a roof over your head, food on the table, and wheels to get you to work. However, foster care pays $6,492 per year for one child. This means the foster family has to pay $10,616 for the privilege of caring for someone else’s child. ($17,000 – $6,492 = $10,508)


Read other great posts at the Adoption Talk link up.

No Bohns About It

Judge: Reunify or Adoption?

A few months ago, we all went to court. Would the judge send our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful and 9-year-old foster son Watchful back to live with their dad? Or would the judge decide that the kids should be adopted by a non-relative?

The judge opened up the hearing, stating that he had read five very interesting reports. One from the Department of Family Services. One from the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Another from the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) – the children’s lawyer. And one each from mom’s lawyer and dad’s lawyer. Each presented a different perspective.

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In our county, usually the CASA and GAL are in agreement with Family Services. But this time, Family Services was petitioning to return the kids, while the CASA and GAL raised major concerns with reunifying the family.

From Family Service’s perspective, dad has participated in all court-order services and was not the abusive parent. The CASA and GAL agree with those facts, but add more. Dad was still blaming the kids for the abuse and denying the severity of the abuse’s impact. They also noted that dad complied with all services last time the kids were in foster care, kids were sent home, and then dad let the kids be abused by their mom for another two years.

The judge gave dad another five months to get things together. But he also added another permanency goal for the children. Now the primary goal is return home, and the concurrent goal is adoption.

The GAL thinks that it will be very difficult to get the family to where they need to be three months from now in order for the judge to rule a return home. Essentially, the kids need to be living at home on a trial basis or nearly to that point. Currently, they visit for several hours a week under the supervision of a therapist. She also thinks that if the judge rules that the final decision is adoption, that dad will likely appeal. If dad appeals, it will be another 6-18 months for the appeals process.

And this is how kids can end up in foster care for years.

Disrupt? Find a Solution?

We’ve hit a snag, that if not resolved, could result in us asking for our two foster kids to be removed. Yeah, I know. That’s pretty major!  I can’t believe hubby and I are at this point. Here’s what’s going on.

Our foster children, 9-year-old Watchful and 10-year-old Joyful, have serious issues with women, because their mom physically and emotionally abused them for all their life. They have been ganging up on our biological daughter, 14-year-old Sassy. To make matters worse, they’ve been recruiting our 16-year-old adoptive son, Silent One, in ostracizing her. The ring leader is Joyful, who loves to wreak havoc and turn people against each other.

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(Photo not of our actual children.)

Sassy started boarding school this year, so she’s not living at home. (The local public schools couldn’t meet her educational needs.) She is already struggling with fitting in at her new school. The ostracizing is making her feel like she no longer belongs in our family and that she was “sent away,” because she was unwanted. When she comes home on weekends and holidays, the kids don’t play with her and say mean things.

Sassy is trying hard. She bakes them cookies and makes them meals. She offers to play board games and watch movies with them. She’s given Joyful many of her possessions, like furniture and favorite clothes. Don’t get me wrong. Sassy is a dramatic teenaged girl, and can try people’s patience, like teenagers are famous for doing. She’s not perfect, but she doesn’t deserve to be rejected and belittled. No one deserves that.

Intellectually, I can understand that Joyful and Watchful don’t trust women, because women in their mind equal horrible abuse. Intellectually, I can understand that since their birth family dynamic included a golden child, a middle child, and a scape goat, they are trying to recreate that in our home. I get that Joyful fears that, if she becomes the child on the bottom, she will be severely abused. So she is trying to force someone else into that role in order to protect herself.

But our line in fostering has always been that we will not allow our permanent children to be hurt.

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I can’t imagine putting Joyful and Watchful through the pain of a disrupted foster care placement. I can’t imagine letting our daughter be scarred by them as they ridicule her and emotionally push her out of our family.

This issue really came to a head over the past week and our home-based therapist has some good insights. We’ve got some things we might be able to try. We really want to make this work for everyone. But ultimately? If Joyful can’t turn it around pretty quickly, we might have to make a heart wrenching decision.

Whatever it is that you do – prayers, thoughts, good vibes, nice comments – please keep us in mind. We need as much support as possible to get through this – all of us!!!

2016: Reuniting or Terminating?

The first few days of the New Year are supposed to be for setting goals, but all I can think about is termination of parental rights (TPR).

Where we live, the Department of Family Services generally gives parents one year to remedy whatever caused their children to enter foster care. If parents are successful, kiddos go home. If parents have made some progress, but need more time, they’ll get another six months to fix things. If the Department determines that the parents have not been making progress or does not think the parents will be able to successfully solve what needs to be solved, then parental rights will be terminated and the kiddos will either go to other relatives or be placed for adoption.

Early 2016 will be a year for 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful. What will the Department decide for them?

In January, the Department will hold meetings to start assessing progress. One big area for assessment is whether dad can meet the kids’ emotional and psychological needs. I really have no idea where the Department will come down on that issue.

Personally, I am very conflicted about his abilities. I see how he comes faithfully to every visit and hear him express concern for his children in group meetings. I also hear him say that the kids made up the allegations and deny that their behaviors are a result of trauma. And there is a lot that I wouldn’t know anything about – like any personal therapy, parenting classes, or interactions inside the visitation rooms. God, I really want dad to be able to meet the kids needs so the kids can go home!!

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The debate rages on in my head. The physical danger has been removed, so the kids will go home. The emotional care won’t be sufficient, so it’ll be TPR. The academic aspect of parenting is there, so the kids will go home. The financial support isn’t happening, so it’ll be TPR. He obviously loves his kids, so they’ll go home. He loves his kids, but misunderstands parenting, so it’s TPR.

What I want is just not to think about it. But it keeps creeping up on me.

My sister wants to know who all will be coming for summer vacation. The kids display a certain behavior, and I wonder how their dad would handle it. People outright ask me how long the kids will be with us.

So say a little prayer with me that no matter what happens in 2016, Joyful and Watchful will be safe.

Win or Lose in Court?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was going to testify in court.  I’ve been trying to figure out if we won or lost.  Tell me what you think.

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The Victim Services advocate greeted my husband and me as we entered the county court house.  She led us to a tiny witness waiting room.  It contained a small table, four chairs and that’s it.  No art on the walls.  No windows.  I sat in a plastic chair, nervously going over the notes I had jotted down for my testimony.  My job was to tell the judge how the abuse has impacted the 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) arrived.  Then the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) showed up with a GAL-in-training.  We made small talk as we waited for our trial to begin.

A lady walked into the foyer outside the courtroom.  I greeted her and she noted that she was there to be a support the kids’ mom, who was up on criminal charges.  My guess was that she was a Christian who befriended people in jail.  Over the next hour, mom’s family members trickled in to show their support.

The kids’ dad showed up next.  I walked over to him to apologize that I was going to have say some very difficult things when I testified.  He said he understood.

Our case was called.  We all filed in, with those supporting mom sitting on the right-hand side and those for the children sitting on the left-hand side.  It made me feel so sad that there wasn’t a place to sit to signify you are for both.

The judge decided to disallow all other testimony except mine and mom’s.  Awkward!!

The state lawyer called me up on the witness stand.  As I sat perched in front of everyone, my stomach flip flopped.  Please God let me say what needs to be said, I silently prayed.  The state lawyer asked me about the impact of mom’s actions and I listed all of the major symptoms the children have displayed while living in our home for the past nine months.  Just the facts, no judgement value, but I gave examples.  It was a long and heart-breaking list.  Many people in the court room started to cry.

Mom made her statement.  By and large she took responsibility for her actions, expressed remorse, and said the sort of things that would help the children heal if they ever read the testimony once they are old enough.

The state attorney had thought the sentence would be in the 2 year range and had asked me to testify to support his request to the judge to pass a longer sentence.  Mom got 8 years.

So, the kids are safe for the next 8 years.  But their family is fractured beyond repair.  Win or Loss?

Mom Pleading Guilty?

So Joyful’s and Watchful’s mom has changed her mind and is going to plead guilty to criminal charges of child abuse.  So they say.  I want it to be true, but we can’t know for sure until she actually goes before the judge and enters her plea.  We’ve got a little less than two weeks until she does so.

Why am I skeptical?  Well, she originally confessed to the police and social workers.  Then she changed her mind and decided to plead not guilty – despite her confession, despite physical evidence, despite having a record of child abuse, etc.  At the last hearing in the child custody/foster care case,  she was seeking to get the children back by alleging that signing up for parenting classes should suffice (not actually taking the classes, just signing up).  It doesn’t seem that her approach to both her criminal and civil court cases follow logic.

The good news is that if mom pleads guilty to child abuse, 10-year-old Joyful and 8-year-old Watchful won’t need to testify in court.  (Backstory on this at: Kids have to testify against parents.)  They have the option of writing a victim impact statement, that would be read at sentencing.  The statement helps the judge get a sense of how severely hurt the children were by their mom’s actions, which he can weigh into decisions on how long her jail time will be.

People involved in the kids’ case have varying thoughts about the children providing victim impact statements.  Some feel that it would be damaging to the children in the long run – when they grow up they may realize that they had a part in putting mom behind bars and suffer feelings of guilt.  Some feel it would be healing -the kids have been powerless to stop the abuse previously and now they could be empowered to help put an end to it.

As for my husband and I as foster parents?  We really don’t get much of a say.  We push back where we can where we feel it’s in the kids’ best interests.  We tell the social workers, the GAL, the CASA, and the therapists how the children react to being asked to testify, or their strong desire for them mom to be behind bars forever, or their terror that in a year or two she will be out and able to hurt them again.  We are speaking for the children who cannot speak for themselves, and as I type this, I realize that that really does count from something.