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?

Trip to the Doctor’s

I took 9-year-old Watchful to the doctor’s office.  Ever since he arrived at our house, we’ve been saying that he frequently skips meals when he’s upset. We shared his dad’s concerns about this weight loss.  Now that more than half a year has gone by, the County calls up and demands we immediately take him to the doctor.
shutterstock_231218512
I’m on board with this and agree.  It’s been three months since he had his last check up, so it will be good to see how he’s doing.  The social worker had called Thursday night to make this request. The social worker calls me early Monday morning, demanding to know why I haven’t taken him to the doctor’s yet.  I explain that all day Friday was foster care hearings, the clinic was closed over the weekend, so this is my first chance to call.  I plan to take him in today.  The social worker says if I’m too busy to make the appointment, she can do it.  What????  Seriously?  They have ignored this issue for months and months, and suddenly they can’t wait one day??   But I take a deep breath.  I am glad that this new social worker really cares and doesn’t want issues to linger on the back burner.
 Any way, back to the doctor’s appointment.  Have you ever had to explain that you’ll need a doctor who is comfortable treating children who have been abused?  It’s awkward.  First, you tell the receptionist that you’ll need a longer appointment time.  Then, the receptionist transfers you to a nurse.  The nurse asks you tons of questions.  Then she says you need a special pediatrician who only works certain days.  Ok, so now you have an appointment.  You arrive at the doctor’s office.  The receptionist looks at you and looks at the child and realizes your skin tones don’t match.  This prompts her to ask you about your relationship.  You say foster mom. She asks if you have the right to seek medical care for your child.  Yes, it’s in your records.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says, oh yeah, you’re right.
The nurse calls you back, but then makes your child sit in the waiting room so she can grill you about foster care.  You explain, hoping that your foster kiddo is not freaking about being in the waiting room by himself.  The nurse calls him in -he’s looking a bit anxious.  The doctor arrives.  He sends your foster kid out again and grills you about foster care.  The doctor spends some time freaking out about the complexities of your child’s case.  Then the doctor calls your child back in, who is now looking decidedly upset.  The visit wraps up in two hours.  Yes, two hours.  Because everyone is just so worked up about the abuse history.  Any way, you’re supposed to take the kiddo to get blood work done at the lab.  However, this doesn’t happen because the kiddo is now in melt down city.
Luckily, the nearest pediatrician’s office that takes the State’s insurance is twenty minutes from home.  This is lucky, because your kiddo needs this time to switch gears from melt down mode to moderate anxiety.  Even twenty minutes later, kiddo still is too worked up to go to school, so the two of you head to the grocery store.  It’s actually kind of fun to try food samples together.  He gets to choose lots of the food for the family – broccoli, salmon, and even a huge danish for breakfast tomorrow.  You are both now in a happy place.  You drop him at school and go back home.  Once at the house, you dash off a quick email to update the social worker on the medical items.
The social worker somehow miraculously immediately reads your email and calls you to discuss.  You repeat what was in the email.  She proposes her own medical solutions that are different from the doctor’s.  You give her the doctor’s number to directly talk about her crazy ideas unique thoughts on treatment options.
You call your hubby and strategize how to get the blood work done.  You talk about different ways to reduce the anxiety levels so the kiddo can sit still enough for the blood to be drawn.  You come up with a plan to take him the next day.
Whew!  Doctor’s visit accomplished after just six short hours!