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.

image

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.

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.

il_340x270-1001348954_i3jm

“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.

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.

enhanced-buzz-4861-1366095741-3

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!

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.

boy's and girl's hands holding small teddy bear

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.

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.
child protection
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.

lucy20therapist
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.
trader-joes-buffalo-ny-1
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.

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.

ostracize

(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.

c26ec8662d7e5650c5c6bd7bd01aa9d9

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!!!

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.

courtroom006_16x9

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?