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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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!

What I Agree to When Fostering a Child

Sometimes when you’re trying to understand what someone else’s life is like, it’s cool to have a glimpse of their everyday activities.   Ever wonder what foster parents agree to do when they foster a child?  Read on.

We had two cutie pies stay with us for short-term respite care.  Now I need to return the paperwork that spells out who does what and why.

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There’s the foster care agreement.  This document says that the County and my family agree that we will provide foster care services to a specific child.  It also includes key principles such as “all children deserve a safe environment” and “children do best when raised in families.”

There’s a code of ethics that we agree to abide by.  Here are some of the ethics:

  • Provide a safe, secure, and stable family environment that is nurturing and free from corporal punishment and abuse and neglect
  • Support progress toward achieving the permanency goal identified for the child (that goal is either return to parents, return to extended family or adoption)
  • Promote self-respect by providing positive guidance and activities that respect culture, ethnicity, and spiritual preferences
  • Support the child in developing knowledge and skills to become a self sufficient and responsible adult

As the foster parents, we agree to:

  • Receive the named child
  • Agree to keep the County informed of the child’s development, behaviors, and activities
  • Agree to confidentiality
  • Agree that the child’s social worker can visit the child in our home
  • Agree to notify the County in case of a medical emergency

The County agrees to:

  • Provide counseling to the child
  • Provide consultation and support to the foster parents
  • Pay for the child’s health care
  • Pay a stipend to the foster parents to cover the cost of the child’s food, clothing, and personal care

There’s also a medical authorization form, which tells medical care providers that we are allowed to seek care for the specific child.  For routine care, we can take the child to the doctor or dentist just like you would any kid.  We can’t put on the kid on indefinite medication, especially psycho-active drugs (anti-depressent, anti-anxiety, ADHD, etc.). For that, the County and/or parents make the decision. For medical emergencies, we are to take the child to the emergency room right away, but let the County know as they might need a judge to authorize the emergency medical treatment. “Routine” emergencies like a broken arm don’t require a judge, but stuff like an amputation of an arm would require the judge to agree.

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All of the those papers are signed when the child is placed in our home. The last paper is where we state how long the child was staying with us. It’s only done after the child has left, because life happens and the child has either stayed longer or shorter than planned. There was a blizzard, so it wasn’t safe to travel. Or the regular foster parents came back early and pick up the child. Etcetera.

We keep a copy of all these papers for our records and send another copy to the County for their records and also to process the payment for the child’s food, clothing, and personal care.

And that’s it. Paper work done.

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.

The Foster Care Village

One of my favorite things about foster care is the out pouring of support.  My friends, neighbors and fellow foster parents amaze me with their generosity.  Want to help kids in care, but not ready to be a foster parent?  Get inspired by these wonderful things people have done to make a difference.

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  • A couple of young boys came to our house and were disappointed by our toy selection.  I sent a text out and within two hours we had pull toys, play doh, cars and more dropped off at our house for short term borrowing.

 

  • My friends hung out with me in my drive way, chatting and drinking lemonade, while some very rambunctious little ones played outside.  My friends’ presence kept me sane as I dealt with tantrums, arguments, and reckless horseplay.

 

  • My neighbors send their kids over to welcome new kids in care.  Every kid loves to have instant new friends.

 

  • My in-laws invite us over for dinner, not batting an eye when we ask them to set another place or two or three. Even when it means feeding the bottomless pit of teenaged boys.  Even on major holidays.

 

  • My friends and neighbors offer up all their insider tips:  how to deal with special education at the elementary school, ideas for after school programs, where to shop for inexpensive but cool clothes, fun community events coming up, etc.  When you suddenly have a pre-schooler with speech delays or a 9 year old girl who doesn’t want to lose gymnastics along with everything else or a teen boy who must have the “in” shoes, it can be hard to figure how to get what they need.  So friends’ tips make life so much easier.

 

  • Knowing that the County’s stipend doesn’t cover all expenses, our friends have lent parking passes, gave tickets to the zoo, lent extra beds, lent snow pants, donated an old video console and games. The list keeps going on!

 

  • On Mother’s Day, friends put on a bagel and fruit smorgasbord at our house. This one really touched me as they wanted to do something special for me as a mom and understood that  the kids may be emotional about not being with their bio mom. So, kids stayed calm in the familiar environment of my dining room, I didn’t have to cook, and we had a great time hanging with friends.

Renew Foster Care License?

I opened up the mail today and received a request from the county to renew our foster care license.

A few thoughts ran through my head.

  • Yay! I love foster care and can’t wait to sign up for another three years!
  • Hmm. Do they really need me to re-up? I’ve been waiting for a child to be placed long-term in our home for four months.
  • Yikes! My work is looking at transferring me next summer. Is it responsible to accept a long-term placement if we’re not available for more than one year?

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If there’s anything learned in the past three years as a foster mom, it’s to accept that my feelings will always be all over the map when it comes to foster care.

There will be days when I want to do more than can humanly be done, saying yes to every request for volunteers for our foster parent association. And days I want to lay snuggled in my bed ignoring the paperwork that needs filing and the calls that need to be made.

There will be happy days when I am shocked and awed by the progress made by my foster children and their parents. And dark moments when despair creeps in and I doubt that difficult circumstances can be overcome.

There will be many wonderful memories of time spent with awesome kids picking apples or searching for fossils at the beach or hiking in the woods. And there will be tears when it’s time to say goodbye as they move back home.

But one thing is always constant. I love these kids. For their courage, their silliness, for just being them.

Guess it’s time to fill out that paperwork to renew our foster care license.