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!

Kids Have to Testify Against Parents

So we just learned that the kids will need to testify against their parents. We had been fighting against it, but we have lost that battle. Now, I need to figure out the least traumatizing path forward.

But let me back up for a moment and explain why we fought against 8 year old Watchful and 10 year old Joyful testifying and why we lost.

Testifying can wring you out emotionally. All eyes are on you as lawyers pepper you with questions, and complete strangers listen to you recount some of the most private, painful and embarrassing times in your life. All of these questions dredge up memories of the horrors you have lived through. It feels like you are reliving your worst nightmares. You want to answer correctly, but sometimes you doubt yourself, and you are not sure what the consequences will be because of your answers. The whole court process is strange, new, and scary to you.

Now imagine you are just an elementary school child, so young and vulnerable. Imagine that your testimony will help determine whether your parents go to jail. Whether you will ever get to live with them again. What a huge burden for an 8 and 10 year old to bear!!!

In our county, social services often does not agree to allow the defense lawyers to depose abused children as it is so traumatic, and the lawyers can use the transcript from the CPS worker’s interview of the children upon initial placement into foster care. Since lawyers do not like to put a witness on the stand when they don’t know what the witness will say, kids aren’t often called to court. However, in this case, the county prosecutor wants to interview the children, so social services will not contest it.

Back to the path forward. We need to first figure out how and when to break the news. Probably hubby and I will tell them one evening after summer camp. Do we have their GAL explain court or do we let the county prosecutor do that? On the one hand, the kids have met the GAL once before and she is experienced in working with kids. On the other hand, the county prosecutor would be one-stop shopping – get it all over with in one go.

Then, we need to talk with the therapist. Only Watchful has a therapist, so maybe I can use this as a prod to get Joyful into therapy, which has been slow to materialize. Hopefully, the therapist will have good insight into handling the emotional impact of helping to imprison one’s parents.

And we’ll need to begin lobbying the social worker and prosecutor to allow hubby and I to be present during the interview process. That probably means laying groundwork with the CASA and GAL to have allies for getting our request approved. If we’re there, we can provide emotional support to Joyful and Watchful, and pragmatically it would help keep us in the loop.

I also need to drop an FYI to our family’s social worker and to the kids’ brother’s foster family to keep folks up to speed. This helps our family’s worker be in a position to alert us to unforeseen issues. And we have an agreement with the other foster family to share info, which has proven invaluable in the past.

We’ll need to look for a date that works for the prosecutor, the kids’ social worker, the CASA, the kids and ourselves to do the interview. Ideally, this will be a different day than their visit with dad, therapy appointment and sibling visit. Too much on one day leads to massive melt downs.

We’ll be doing respite for their 4 year old brother Jumping Jack, so we’ll have to find county-approved child care or bring him along on the day of the interview.

All of this for what I think should be a straight forward case. Parents have already confessed. They have done this before. The injuries have been documented.

Guess I better get started on my to do list.

Parenting to Stop Self Harming Behavior

Ok.  I promised I’d tell you how Maude, Watchful’s new therapist, wants us to handle his self harming.  It seems pretty strange, but it’s working so far.

To recap, 8-year-old Watchful has been hitting himself, injuring himself by throwing himself against hard objects, and discussing his plans for killing himself.

Maude says we need to demonstrate to Watchful that we can keep him safe, even from himself.  Easier said than done, was my first thought, thinking of a panicking child who is intent on hurting himself.

But actually, her method isn’t super hard.

1)  Project Calm and Confident Vibes.  When Watchful is hurting himself, the first step is to avoid showing we’re upset, worried, scared, or angry.  We are to remain calm.  We are to project confidence that we will be able to keep Watchful safe, even from himself.  Being calmly confident is probably the hardest part, but Maude suggests that continuing to repeat confident statements (see #3) will help us develop that inner calm during the most tense moments.

2)  Do Not Verbalize Undesired Behaviors.  If Watchful is punching himself, we should NOT say “don’t hit yourself” or “don’t hurt yourself.”  Why?  When a child is an agitated mental state, hearing the word “hit” or “hurt” can trigger the child to continue doing that action.

3)  Confidently State What Behavior  You Expect to See.  If Watchful is bending his fingers backwards, we should say “I am waiting to see safe hands” or “I am confident you will start being kind to your hands.”  If Watchful says he will kill himself, we should say “I am here to help keep you safe and I know we are going to get through these big feelings safely” or “I am really good at keeping kids safe and I am confident that you will soon calm down and choose to be kind to your body.”

Three steps to reducing self-harm.  Seems quite doable.  And so far, we’ve had occasion to try it out twice and it’s worked both times.  Yay!