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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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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!!

Foster care and line of sight supervision

Two boys in foster care just visited our home to help prepare them to stay with us in about a week.  Harry Potter, age 6, and his little brother, Explorer, age 5, are pretty gosh darn adorable… and overflowing with energy!

These sweet boys have lived in four – yes four! – foster homes since they came into care just six months ago.  I’m sure their excessive energy, tantrums, and other behaviors have been challenging, but my guess is that the need for constant, line-of-sight supervision is what really tired out the foster parents.  We’re super happy that the current foster family has asked us to do respite so that they can re-charge their batteries and continue on with the placement.  These boys need stability in their lives!

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Children can need line-of-sight supervision for a variety of reasons.  They may get rowdy and knock over lamps, use the couch as a trampoline, and accidentally launch projectiles at the tv – in other words they have not yet developed safe indoor playing skills.  When toddlers engage in this behavior, it’s age appropriate and fairly easy to redirect.  My friend who has an older, developmentally-delayed son who gets too exuberant says she feels like they are always five minutes from an emergency room visit.  Whew!  Imagine constantly being on edge, feeling disaster is lurking just out of sight.

Other children need help with social skills and need adult intervention to help them have good interactions with other kids.  They might be prone to fighting or hitting or saying mean things when they get irritated.  As foster parents, our job is to see when a child is beginning to become agitated and either help them calm down, think through their actions, or remove them from situations.

Another reason for line-of-sight parenting is sexualized behavior, which can occur if a child has been sexually abused and hasn’t yet learned the rules of appropriate sexual behavior for children.  Children may masturbate or try to touch other children.  A child who is masturbating can be given a choice of going to their room as sexual self-touching is a private activity or the child can play in the living room without touching their privates.  A child who tries to touch another child is reminded to keep their hands to themselves.  The trick is to not shame them while ensuring no other kids are touched in appropriately.

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When we are parenting kids who need line-of-sight supervision, we use a tag team approach.  My hubby, teenaged kids, and I take turns watching the little ones and ensure the adults get some down time.  Why?  Frazzled parents have a harder time keeping calm and being a good role model.  We never have our teens watch more than one, and usually only if we’re near by.  For example, 15-year-old Savvy might do a craft project with a child while I prepare dinner.  If an issue comes up, I can easily intervene.  Such a method teaches the teens how to interact with others without putting too much responsibility on their shoulders.  At the same time, the little ones see a “cool,” older kid practicing good behavior and they naturally want to emulate them.

A Hard Foster Placement

Over the years, we’ve fostered children with many challenging behaviors. But an upcoming placement has given us pause.

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We’ve said yes to kids who self harm, have medical issues, are depressed, lack empathy, wet the bed, tantrum, refuse to eat, disassociate, and more.

But we just said yes to two boys who can’t have pets in the house. And we almost said no.

I am embarrassed to say that trying to parent kids without our trusty, loving dog around just sounds really hard.

The thing is, our puppy is always eager to love on us. She’s quick to forgive. She always there with a cuddle when you’re feeling down.

God knows when you foster, this kind of unwavering support can be in short supply.

So, for the limited time that the next two boys are with us, our dog will be vacationing with a friend.

And we’ll have to rely upon our all too human selves to muddle through.