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.

friends-helping-friends-4

  • 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?

license-registration

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.

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?

Where are the foster children?

The beds aren’t made. If these were my children’s beds or my own, this would truly be non-news. But these are the beds for future foster children.

And the house isn’t clean. There’s clutter everywhere, dishes in the sink, and laundry to be done. Prior to becoming a foster family, this wouldn’t have been news either.

Yet, these unkempt beds make me worried. Typically, the beds are always made with fresh white sheets, in case a social worker calls and asks us to welcome foster children into our home with very little advanced notice.

And the house is usually clean so that a social worker, or guardian ad litem (GAL) or court appointed special advocate (CASA) can visit at any point and I don’t feel embarrassed by the state of my home.

a288a744e3a67abcc5a674a1ca51051c-messy-bed-bohemian-bedrooms

I’m in no rush to make the beds or clean the house, because we won’t be welcoming kids to our home until August at the earliest. Although we’ve been open for new long-term placements for several months, we’ve only been officially contacted once and that child went to another foster family. And soon we’ll be going on vacation, so we would need to turn down placements until after we get back. So messy beds, messy house.

This long wait isn’t just a phenomena experienced by our family. And that’s what’s got me worried.

The number of children being brought into foster care has gone down dramatically in our county. Why? If the reason for this decrease is because the county is doing a better job of fixing what’s wrong with a family without removing kids, great. That’s awesome. I love it.

The rumor, though, is that there’s a new supervisor who is all about reducing the caseload. That he is directing staff to keep children in abusive or neglectful situations that would have previously resulted in a removal. Initially, I ignored this rumor, because, rumors are often wrong.

But then I learned of a case where a child was being sexually abused and originally the social workers were leaving the child in the home with the abuser, but with in-home services to “fix” the problem. Then the child ran away and the county brought the child into care.

Was there doubt if the child was truly being abused and that’s why she was left in the home with the abuser? Does the county feel that there is an effective treatment protocol wherein sex offenders and victims live together? Or is this the work of the supervisor who is making it extra hard to bring a child into care?

Roughly 88 children could be expected to enter into care each month in my country*. And yet, I know many foster parents whose homes have been empty for months and months. It wasn’t always like this. The numbers dropped off dramatically about nine months ago.

I pray that this change is because children are being helped in another, effective way.


 

* Wonder how I reached this number? Approximately 00.357% of American children enter foster care each year (yes, well below 1%), according to the 2010 census and the 2014 AFCARS report on U.S. foster care statistics. I used this national average and applied it to the number of children in my county. My county’s average intake could be higher or lower, but it shouldn’t deviate that dramatically from the national average.

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!

10 Foster Kids and Counting!

We’ve seen 10 kids come and go since we started our journey as a foster family in 2013. Some have stayed with us for nearly a year and a half, others just a handful of days. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. I love being a foster parent!

I love cuddling the ones open to a hug. I love playing in the sand at the beach with them. I love teaching them how to cook, how to use a bicycle pump, or how to dust the furniture.

maxresdefault

When kids in care are in our home, there’s a hustle and bustle that energizes me. Is there a family visit, a social worker dropping by, a sporting event, school science night? Have the children been bathed, is it time for homework, time for meds, oops ran out of milk let’s’s run to the store?

There’s the thrill of meeting of a child and learning his or her distinct personality, likes, dislikes, needs, and rhythms. Joyful loves spaghetti and would eat mounds of it, but Turkey doesn’t care for pasta. Helper wants to say bed time prayers every night with us, but Jumping Jack doesn’t believe in God and is weirded out by the whole concept of religion. Watchful calms down best when left alone in his “safe place” for a few minutes, but Explorer wants to have his back rubbed. Excited and Watchful are both early risers, but while Excited wakes up in a sunny, bouncy mood, Watchful needs the quiet routine of setting the table before engaging with others.

When you have foster kids in your home, there’s the joy of watching them overcome the trauma in their lives. Joyful stopped burying her nose in a book all day long and was willing to reach out to make friends. Harry Potter started using words to encourage his brother, rather than constantly insult him. Another learned that bed wetting as a pre-teen happens to some people and that wearing appropriate undergarments is not a big deal.

I love watching my husband and permanent children develop even greater kindness, empathy, and understanding as they are confronted by our foster children’s more challenging behaviors. My husband searched out the recipe, got special ingredients, and cooked a Filipino dish to help comfort Big Ben with a familiar, favorite food. Sassy willingly worked out differences with another child who was being aggressive. Silent One has learned to be unruffled by tantrums.

Last weekend, we said goodbye to Harry Potter and Explorer. We’ve been asked to take two brothers for two weeks in August, which we’re debating as the timing is not great for our family and we would prefer a long-term placement. We were asked about a four year old girl, but luckily her grandparents have stepped up and she won’t be coming into care. We talked with our social worker today, who asked us if we’ll be home over Memorial Day weekend in case there are any emergency placements.

But at the moment, it’s quiet. I’m seated on my sofa, sipping tea, with my dog beside me. And while that’s nice, I can’t wait to see who will walk in the door next, get to know them, care for them, and watch them transform their inner hurts.

Of course there are days when I wonder “why the heck did I sign up for this,” but all in all….Life as a foster parent is a joy and a privilege!

Prepping for New Foster Kids

Today we’re welcoming two energetic brothers to our home for a short while. We can’t wait until Harry Potter, age 6, and his little brother, Explorer, age 5, arrive. I’m attending a work conference today and am distracted, just wanting to get home and do some childproofing before they arrive. (Don’t worry. I’m not slacking. I’m writing this during our coffee break.)

Last weekend we rearranged bedrooms to meet the line of sight supervision and separate room requirements. Lots of lugging mattresses and washing sheets. Whew!

harry-potter-philosophers-stone

Since we were getting a little tired of having to disassemble bed frames and schlepping bedding, I broke down and got a new bed frame. But for free, so yay!

When the boys came for a pre-visit, they ran from room to room looking for toys. It became apparent that our toy assortment did not match their interests.

So this morning I sent out a message to my network of friends, asking for a short term lending of kid entertainment items. Cars, play dough, balls, and books are being dropped off as I type. What an outpouring of friendship!

The toys are so necessary as I’ve been requested to keep their tv/ video game time to just 15 minutes a day! And it’s predicted to rain for the next few days – meaning the boys will be cooped up inside. Please, weather gods, let there be some sun, so we can run the very active Harry Potter and Explorer around outside to burn off some of that excess energy.

When I get home, it will be a mad dash around the house to put up all the breakables. Then it’s a phone call for pizza delivery and hopefully a quick run to the grocery store for ice cream. Giving kids something they like upon arrival is a great way to make them feel welcome.

Ok. Gotta go welcome those boys!!