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.

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.

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“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.

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!

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.

Foster Care: Talking about Adoption 

How does the foster care system talk about adoption when the main goal is  NOT adoption, but rather to reunite kids with their birth families?

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Here’s what it looked like for us.

When we decided that we would like to become foster parents and provide a temporary home to children, the County required us to be trained as and approved as potential adoptive parents.  This dual licensing is required for all foster parents where I live, because so many foster parents end up wanting to adopt if the kids don’t go back home.

When our 11 year old foster daughter and 9 year old foster son joined our family, the County noted that their case could end with the children going home or going to a relative or being placed for adoption.

Months later, the County told us that a relative placement wouldn’t happen. So it was going home or adoption.

The children’s lawyer explained to us that she was going to request adoption as a concurrent goal. That means she asked the judge to tell the County to simultaneously pursue reunification and adoption. The judge agreed.

The judge was open in court, saying he would find in favor of adoption if dad didn’t take certain steps by a particular date.

The County, the lawyer (GAL), and CASA were all open in asking us if we were interested in adopting. They didn’t know if they’d ask us to adopt just the two children who lived with us or their little brother, too.

The foster family for the little brother frankly shared with us that they could adopt the one child they had, but didn’t feel they could take on all three children.

We adamantly assured the kids’ dad that our first goal was returning the children back to him. But if that couldn’t happen, we would consider adopting and would like him to be part of their lives going forward.

He made sure we knew that what he really wanted was his children returned home.

No one told the kids that adoption was being considered. The idea is to not confuse the kids and only cross that bridge after the decision is made.  Ultimately, the kids returned to their dad.

How does it feel to talk about adoption as a back-up plan?  It’s weird. You’re pulled in different directions, wanting both outcomes.  Or neither. Or see sawing between one and the other. You feel more attached, because these could be your forever children.  But overall, it feels good to know that the children will find a permanent, loving solution no matter what.

This posting is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out what other people have to say about “Talking about Adoption.”

No Bohns About It