Have the Kids Been Abused?

Listening to kids disclose abuse is hard. However, we’ve been fostering for more than three years and are not new to kids sharing their traumatic histories with us.  In the past, I’ve listened to kids describe how they were choked, beaten with hangers, witnessed violent deaths or left with no food. So I’m kinda surprised that I am finding the revelations of Sweetness and Bold to be tough.

It’s not that I’m now some battle-hardened foster mom whose heart no longer breaks for each child’s unique experience of trauma. Hearing kids talk about abuse or neglect is always hard. But Sweetness and Bold are kind of revealing abuse and kind of not. I think it’s that ambiguity that’s putting me on edge.

See, they’ve been hinting at abuse. Saying things suggestive of abuse. And then saying that they’re just joking.

triple_filter

I really want them to come out and say it, so we can move on to healing from abuse. Or to be clear that nothing’s happened and stop dropping hints.

With this in-between, I am constantly on alert, wondering if they are about to drop another hint. Trying to imagine in my head how I’ll respond so that they feel free to open up.

It’s hard not to obsess as I imagine what to say, as the little voice in my head keeps telling me what to do. Remember to not become upset. Assure them it’s not their fault. Avoid leading questions.

Oh, I really hope that what Sweetness and Bold might be hinting at is not what’s actually happened.

New Kids Join Our Foster Family; A Tale of Socks

Exciting times – this week two new children have joined our foster family for what will likely be a long stay.   Sweetness is the older sister and has a gentle, caring nature (8 years old).  Bold is the younger brother and he’s the type to dive right into any new adventure (6 years old).  My heart is already captivated by them.

Today we were sorting through the items they brought with them, and it was like an archaeological dig into their lives’ history.  Sometimes we uncovered items that made us scratch our head: a pair of pliers, a ball of blue yarn, and a kitchen spoon.    I imagined their previous care taker trying to quickly pack and the kids “helping,” resulting in a hodgepodge of things.  Other items point to a history of moving from home to home: homework from three schools ago, items belonging to children two homes ago.

And then we got to the socks.

1035638

Mostly the socks were without mates – but hey, everyone’s wash machine eats socks, so not much of a story there.  However, there were little bitty newborn socks.  Oh these are way too small for you, I say.  That’s my baby brother’s socks, Sweetness says.  These socks seem kinda small, too, I say.  Boldness tries to put them on his feet, but Sweetness swipes them away declaring them to belong to their other younger brother.  There is one giant, lonely athletic sock.  Does this belong to your dad, I ask.  Sweetness and Bold giggle.  Nope, we haven’t seen our daddy in a very long time, they explain.  Maybe baby brother’s dad or maybe younger brother’s dad, they guess, or maybe the boyfriend of the last caretaker.  Or the caretaker before that.  Next we unearth some ladies socks and Sweetness clearly knows which ones belong to mom and which to the last caretaker.  In the end, Sweetness has two pairs of ruffled socks and Bold has just the mismatched pair on his feet.
 
While the social worker promised to bring more of the children’s belongings in a week or so, clearly, they cannot live on that few socks.  Well, they could, but we’d have some stinky feet in the house.  So it’s off to Target

The Christmas Surprise – Foster Care Style

The great Christmas pie mishap of 2017 was the most wonderful disaster.

On Christmas Eve I was falling behind in Christmas cooking, so I bought a pre-baked pie crust and I prepped the pie filling, deciding I’d finish it off on Christmas morning before heading to Grandma’s for the big meal.
decoracion-de-navidad-en-un-fondo-de-oro-brillante_1048-3614

Christmas morning I popped the pie crust out of the freezer and the pie filling out of the fridge, and poured one into the other. The instructions on the frozen crust had said to set it on a pre-heated cookie sheet. But in my rush I had forgotten to stick the cookie sheet in the pre-heating oven. With a shrug of my shoulders, I slid the pie directly onto the oven rack and set the timer.

The Interlude

Then we rushed around the house in a cleaning frenzy. We scouted out all breakable items and set them on high shelves or counters. We swept and vacuumed and scrubbed the floor until it was clean enough to eat off of. And we straightened up the guest bedroom, emptying the trash, and tidying the beds.

Back to the Pie

The oven timer went off. Time to take out the pie. I grabbed the handle on the oven door and much to my surprise, it came off in my hand. Quick, husband to the rescue. He applied some glue and screwed the handle back on. I open up the oven and snatch the pie. Unfortunately, the pie was not fully baked and half of the filling sloshed over the edge of the crust, splashing and scalding my arm, coating the oven door, and puddling in the bottom of the oven.

While I ran cold water over my burn, I pondered what to do with the pie. If I put it into the oven, the spilled filling would burn and the smoke would make the pie taste funny. If I transported it to Grandma’s, how would I keep it from sloshing around in the car? Once again I called in my hubby to engineer a solution – this time a slosh-proof transportation device.

enhanced-14611-1422297863-1

On to Grandma’s with a half-baked pie. Once there, Grandma graciously made room in her oven for my sorry half-empty pie. We had dinner and shockingly, the pie was still quite tasty. Then for a little bit of socializing.

The Surprise
“How old is the baby?” Grandma asks.
“Just old enough to crawl,” I answer.
“How long will he be with you?” Aunt asks.
“Only for a handful of days,” I respond.
“When does he arrive?” Grandpa asks.
“In just a few hours, which is why we were in such a rush,” I explain.

Yes, we welcomed a baby on Christmas Day into our home. Typically, people mean this metaphorically, referring to baby Jesus’ birth. But for us, it was a real-life baby in foster care who needed a home for a few short days. And I don’t mind for even one minute that the baby’s unexpected arrival had me off my rhythm as we prepared for Christmas. I don’t mind the burn on my arm. For the cutest little guy has brightened our lives and we hope he can find his way home to his family very soon!

Up, Down, Up, Down – A Foster Care Placement Roller Coaster

We’ve been open for a long-term foster care placement since this spring. During the summer, it was dead silent, but over the past six we’ve been called quite a few times.  We keep getting our hopes up, but then being let down.

up-down-angry-dog

The County asked us to take a young teen who was being sexually abused by a relative.  We said yes, but she ended up not coming into care as her friend’s family decided to let her stay with them.  The next call was regarding a teenaged girl and her newborn, and we quickly said yes, but a family friend ended up agreeing to care for her.  We came very, very close to having an elementary-aged boy, but when the County went to pick him up and bring him to our house, he was no longer living at that address.  Around 1:00 a.m. one night we received an emergency call to place a boy, but we said no as his behaviors might be risky for our children.  We said yes to two toddlers, but the County found a foster home closer to their neighborhood.  We said no to a 9-year old girl as we felt we would need to devote at least 20 hours a week to help her address her significant needs, and our work schedules wouldn’t allow that.  And last week, we said yes to 10 and 12-year-old siblings, but a foster family who had a pre-existing relationship with the brother changed their minds and welcomed the siblings.

We received a huge shock when the County asked us to adopt a sibling group that we know.  After a whole lot of deliberation, we said no, which just about tore me apart. These are great kids and I’d highly recommend them to prospective parents, but they just weren’t a good match for us.  Even writing this makes me want to cry, though I know these kids deserve a family that better fits their personalities, likes, and needs.

So, our house remains empty for now. And my hand remains wrapped around my iPhone waiting for the next call.

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.

1448877143-family-hands-heart

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.

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.