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.

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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.

Ask about Future Foster Child’s Ethnicity or Race

Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.

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Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.

To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.

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To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.

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To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.

To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.

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To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.

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Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!

New Placement of Siblings!! Meet Joyful and Watchful.

So, right after I posted that the three baby boys were not coming, we received another placement call!!  We said “yes” to two wonderful kiddos who arrived just one hour and 15 minutes after we agreed to be their foster family.  Here’s what the first night was like.

We received a call late in the day asking us if we were interested in becoming foster parents to Joyful*, a 10-year-old girl, and Watchful*, an 8-year-old boy.  The social worker mentioned that there was a 3-year-old sister, who was currently traveling with a relative.

The social worker was able to tell us that the children did not have special education plans, no known health problems, the reason why they were coming into care, their age, gender, and race.  This was an emergency removal, so that’s about all the info and it wasn’t entirely accurate.

It didn’t take us long to say yes.  Our main concern was the distance between their home/school and our home – a one hour drive!  We knew this would mean lots of time in the car for the kids and us as we would drive back and forth to school each day, to visits, etc.  We negotiated with the social worker that we’d say yes, but that the county would need to pay for transportation and after school care, if needed.  They readily agreed.

Then it was a race to beat the clock.  You’ll remember that we had planned on three babies, so we madly worked to remove the cribs, baby clothes, and other baby paraphernalia – rushing to get it all done before the kids showed up at our front door.  We had to reconfigure bedrooms, so we had to move the twin beds from upstairs to the room downstairs and bring the queen bed up.  What a work out!!  And an excellent way to work off nervous energy while we waited for their arrival.  Luckily we had just finished when the social worker pulled up into our driveway.

The Child Protective Services social worker stepped out and Joyful and Watchful bounded up our front steps.  The biggest surprise?  The kids were super smiley and super happy to become our foster children.  I was expecting sad, scared, angry and/or confused.  Happy was counterintuitive.  But it soon became apparent why they were laughing and bright-eyed.  Life at home was so difficult and the relationship with their mom was so contentious, that they were extremely relieved not to have to go home.

The kids arrived with the clothes on their backs and their homework.  That’s it.  Nothing else.

We welcomed Joyful and Watchful, introduced them to our family, and gave them a tour of the home.  We let them get to know our dog, who licked them and won the children over with her eager, wagging tail.  We let Watchful choose which twin bed would be his (he’s bunking with our son Silent One), and he chose the one closest to our pet gerbil.  🙂  Our two children Silent One and Sassy took them into the adjacent room and they all played video games together.  What a big hit!

While kids were busy racing cars on Mario Kart, we sat down with the social worker, who said the three-year-old sister was actually a five-year-old brother.  She let us know that if the younger brother is brought into care, they will ask us first if we would be willing to be his foster family, too. (The next day, we found out the five-year-old is actually just turned four.)  So our “yes” to two children may morph into “yes” to three.  *surprise*

Do you remember that during the placement call, the social worker said the kids were both healthy?  Well, the social worker who showed up at our house had new information that there was a health condition, but mom wasn’t telling anyone what it was.  *surprise again*

The social worker gave us paperwork naming us as the emergency foster parents, and another document authorizing us to obtain routine medical care for them.  The social worker gave more details about the reason for the emergency removal.  She authorized us to spend $100 per child for immediate clothing and toiletry needs, since they arrived with nothing.  After about half an hour, she left.

We had a quick dinner.  (Luckily, I had ordered pizza to be delivered and it arrived just before the kids did.)  Then we had to dash off to Target.  Let me just say that $100 does not go very far when you need socks, underwear, jackets, pants, shirts, pajamas, and hair brushes.  (I already had spare tooth brushes.)  We wrapped up shopping just before Target closed.

Then it was back home and bed for everyone.  Amazingly, there were no issues with getting on jammies, brushing teeth and getting into bed.  Even more amazingly, they slept well through the night.

Whew!  First few hours were successfully under our belts and our family of four had grown to include two more truly wonderful children.

*Not their real names.  Nicknames are used to protect their identity. 

Update: Said Yes to 3 Babies!!

Friday, the foster care agency asked us to take in three baby boys age 2 years, 1 year, and 4 months who might be entering into foster care this week (check out how that call went).

Yesterday, the social worker told us that we’d have to have 3 car seats, cribs, and some baby gates all in place when the babies were dropped off at our house – if the babies came into care.  (We need to prove we have safety items and she needs to see the bedrooms set up.)

Since our preference is 5-12 year olds, we don’t own baby gear.  We were going to wait to beg, borrow and steal buy baby paraphernalia until we heard whether the babies were coming into care.  But if the judge decides kiddos should be in foster care, we could be welcoming babies into our home one hour after we’re notified.

See the logistical issue here?  If I get stuff beforehand, the boys might not come and I’d end up with a bunch of bottles, diapers, etc. collecting dust.  If I don’t have stuff on hand, I might not have time to run out and get it between the agency’s call and children showing up on our door step.

So.  I made a list of the very bare minimum: carseats, cribs, bedding, baby gates, bottles, and formula.  I found friends to lend me some things (and they provided some extra items, too) and bought other stuff, but kept receipts.

In going through the attic, my husband found a box of baby stuff that somehow escaped our attention before.  So I sorted through it and pulled out blankets and clothes in appropriate sizes.  Of course, having been tucked into a corner and forgotten for years, everything needed to be washed, so several rounds of laundry ensued.

Then, we had to disassemble some furniture to make room for the mounds of baby stuff.  And assemble a toddler bed.

Whew!

Now it’s more waiting.

Said Yes to 3 Babies!!

Ever wonder what it’s like when a social worker calls a foster family about a potential placement of children into their home?   Yesterday, the placement worker called us again, and this time we said yes!!  Here’s how the conversation went.

Me:  Hello?

Worker:  Hi.  This is [social worker] from foster agency.  We’re looking for a two-week respite placement for three children.  Would you be interested in hearing about them?

Me:  Sure!

Worker:  It’s three little babies – a two-year-old, a one-year-old, and a six-month-old.  They are all boys.

Me:  (laughing)  I can see why someone would need respite.  Three babies under the age of three!  [At this point, I am thinking another foster family needs to take a break from fostering these babies, as usually this is what respite means.]

Worker:  (laughing) Yes, that’s pretty much the response of everyone I’ve been calling today.

Me:  Tell me more.

Worker:  [She tells me boys’ birth dates and names.]  We are not sure if they will be coming into foster care.   A judge will decide in a few days.  If they do come into care, it will be on [certain day].   [She tells me why mom might not be able to take care of babies.]

[At this point, I figure out that this isn’t typical respite care, where you temporarily care for children while their regular foster family takes a break.  I switch gears mentally, thinking now more about situation leading to need for care.]

Me:  Do they have any health issues?

Worker:  They are healthy babies.  The middle baby has [one very minor health issue] and is treated by [treatment].

Me:  What is going on with dad?

Worker:  [Explains why dad is not available to take care of babies.]

Me:  Is there any history of abuse or neglect?

Worker:  No known abuse or neglect.

We talk a little bit more about why judge might decide that kids need to be in foster care.   Worker states that she has been working all day to find a home for these babies.

Me:  How will you make a decision about which family you place the babies with?

Worker:  We are hoping to find a foster family who can take all three babies.  We also are hoping the family will be able to keep the babies not just for the two weeks of respite, but for longer term, if needed.

[Did you see how she just slides in here that this placement could be longer than a two weeks respite?]

Me:  How long do you think this placement would be?

Worker:  We are looking for a two week emergency respite.  During this time, mom would still have legal custody and children would not be formally in foster care.  If mom isn’t ready to take the children back at the end of the two weeks, then the respite would convert into foster care.

[We talk about the technical differences between this emergency respite care and foster care.  For us as the foster family, it doesn’t sound like much of a difference.  It’s more about pots of money, administrative differences for social workers, and legal custody.]

Me:  Do you know their religion and race?

Worker:  I don’t know their religion.  They are biracial.

Me:  What else haven’t I asked about that I should know?  I mean, if you were me, what would you ask?

Worker:  I’d ask if they have any known behavior issues and about schooling.  But I don’t know of any behavior issues and I don’t think they have any schooling issues.

Me:  How far away does mom live from us?  What would visits look like?

Worker:  [Says where mom lives.]  We won’t know if visits with mom will be possible until after the judge makes the decision.   I see from your home study that you and husband both work full-time.  Will you need child care?

Me:  I am off work for the next three weeks, so I’ll be at home.  If the placement lasts longer than that, we’d need child care.  Are the babies in daycare currently?  Would we need to use their current daycare?

Worker:  The babies currently are not in daycare, but it wouldn’t be a problem to arrange for daycare.  Do you have a daycare near you that you’d prefer to use?

Me:  We normally foster kids age 5-12.  I’d need to look into local daycare.  Ok.  I can’t think of any more questions right now.  I think we’ll say yes, but let me talk to my husband and call you back.  When do you need our answer?

Worker:  I will be going home in two hours.  If you need more time, that’s ok.  You can call me Monday morning, if you need to.  Also, feel free to call me if you have any more questions.  I’m happy to try to find answers.

We hang up.  My husband, son Silent One, daughter Sassy, and I sit down together and talk about the placement.  We talk about how our preferences were for older children and whether we can take on three babies.  Since the babies are healthy and we are one of the few homes that have room for three siblings, we decide we are ok with going outside our normal age range.  It’s really important to us to keep brothers and sisters together.  We make a list of additional questions and then call back the social worker.

Me:  Hi.  Me again.  We have a few more questions.  Did mom use drugs while pregnant?

Worker:  We don’t think so.  There hasn’t been anything that would indicate drug use while she was pregnant.

Me:  Can you tell us more about dad?  Does he currently have visits with babies?  Is he being considered for custody of the children?

Worker:  I can call and ask and get back to you.

We hang up.  About 20 minutes later, she calls back.

Worker:  Dad currently has weekly visits.  [Gives details on visit schedule, location.]  Dad won’t be able to take children for quite some time.  [After some back and forth, we figure out that the earliest babies could be reunited with dad is a year from now.]

Me:  What would be the soonest mom could be reunited with babies?

Worker:  It’s really up to the judge.  Mom has had to go to court before, but this is the first time we think there is a decent chance that the judge will put babies into emergency respite care.  We just won’t know until the day the judge decides.

Me:  Would the babies come to our house immediately after the judge decides, if the judge decides that they need to be in care?

Worker:  Maybe.  Judge could decide that they will come into care immediately or the judge could decide to give mom 24 hours before babies come into care, if the decision is for children to go into emergency respite.

[I look at my husband, who has been listening in to the phone call.  I give him a thumbs up.  He nods.]

Husband:  Ok.  We are are onboard with taking these three boys.

Worker:  You’ve made my day!  We didn’t think we’d be able to find a family to take all three of them.

Me:  We are not set up to take care of babies.  We don’t have cribs, car seats, and other baby stuff.  What would be the process for getting these items?

Worker:  We have a lending “library” of items that foster families can borrow.  I’ll give you the phone number on Monday.

Us:  Great!  Talk to you Monday!

Now, we wait to hear about the judge’s decision.  Just imagine – in a handful of days we could have three babies.  Or maybe none at all.  The next few days will be strange and long.  We can hardly stand not knowing!!

I hope this helps you envision how a call about placing foster children into a home might go.

Turning Down 2 More Placements

Timing can be everything in life.  We’ve been waiting for a placement for a while now, and we just had to turn down two separate placements.

Did you notice the three week pause since my last posting?  Here’s the story of what’s been going on.

My husband got a call from a social worker about a placement, which is slightly odd as the foster agency knows to call me on three different numbers before calling his mobile phone.  The social worker apologized for calling him, but noted she couldn’t get hold of me on any of my phones.

“Uh, my wife is in the middle of getting an MRI, because she’s going to have surgery in a few hours,” he explained.

“Well, I was calling about the placement of a darling boy, but it sounds like the timing is off,” she said.

Yes.  So true.

Fast forward 10 days.  The social worker calls again with a placement of two sisters, an 8-year-old and 6-year-old from a wealthy family.  The older girl had health issues and her speech was difficult to understand.  Were we interested?

I had only been home two days after a stint in the intensive care unit and several days in a regular hospital room, post-surgery.  I was mobile, but definitely still in recovery mode.  Though it broke my heart to do it, we turned down this referral, too.

Sigh.  When will the stars align?

Turned Down a Referral for Two Kids

Wow.  So our meeting at Child Protective Services took an unexpected twist.  We were asked about whether we would be interested in taking two children, age 14 and 7.  In the end, we decided we were not a right fit.  It’s really hard to say no.  So, so, so hard.  I am thinking of those two kids needing a home and feeling bad for not saying yes.  I know we made the right decision, but…  Hmm… more tomorrow.  I think I need to decompress right now.