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!

Fostering and Easter Basket Overload

Celebrating holidays with foster kids in the house can bring unexpected experiences.  Yes, there is the trauma sometimes, but that’s not what I’m talking about (this time).  Let me explain.

easter-basketHelper and Excited are staying with us over the Easter holiday.  These are the same guys who stayed with us over New Year’s, two delightful boys aged 13 and 7.  So, when I was at the store, I stocked up on some Easter basket treats.  Their regular foster mom asked that we make sure that Helper doesn’t eat chewy, sticky food, on account of his braces, so this year, I picked up individual serving size bags of chips, mini packets of crackers, and the like.

Their social worker wanted to stop by and see how the boys were doing.  Sure that sounds fine.  Ding dong.  There she is at the front door, holding a very large bag.  Inside?  Five Easter baskets filled with candy.  Yes, we have two kids in care and received five baskets!!  Two for the boys, two for our permanent kids, and one for my husband and I to share.

The regular foster mom asked that we take the Helper and Excited to a local Easter egg hunt.  Sure.  No problem.  Boys running around out in the fresh air sounds fabulous.  And they had a great time, finding lots and lots of eggs until their Easter baskets were near overflowing.  Guess what?  Every plastic egg was stuffed full of jelly beans.

The court appointed special advocate (CASA) called up.  She wanted to take the boys out to lunch. Yup.  I like that idea.  Having the a break for an hour sounds heavenly.  Come and pick them up.  The boys walk back into the house after their lunch, excitedly chatting to one another, each carrying another Easter basket!!

So these two boys now have a total of 8 Easter baskets between them.  Chocolates, marshmallows, chips, crackers, Nerds, Whoppers, Peeps, Mike & Ikes – the list of candy goes on and on.

Did I mention that the boys start going a bit crazy when they have sugar?  That’s why there foster mom suggested we don’t give them any.  Ah….  Well.

Now we’re off to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter lunch.  I sure hope there are no more baskets.

How to Make a Bed for Foster Children

Many things go into preparing to be foster parents. Having been a foster mom for a couple of years to eight different children, I recommend giving some thought to bedding for the new kiddos.

1. Waterproof Mattress Pad. A waterproof mattress pad is a foster family essential. Bedwetting is more common with foster kids, even into their teen years, because bedwetting can be aggravated by stress . Kids who didn’t get enough to eat may also hoard food in their rooms. Depending upon the food, you could end up with some gloppy messes. Protect that expensive mattress!

2. White Bed Sheets. Why white? You may want to bleach those bed sheets – see the reasons in #1 and in case of lice (happens to all kids). Boys and girls are equally fine with white. White is good for all ages – those super cute Elmo sheets are awesome to little kids, but the older set would be mortified. Kids may come with a favorite blanket and white will match it guaranteed. If every sheet is white, you can wash them all at once – no worrying about sorting lights, darks, and whites. And trust me, you’ll be doing enough laundry as it is.

3. Soft Blankets. A little extra comfort from a soft blanket can help ease a child’s troubles. Children in care have gone through trauma and night time can be particularly difficult for some. Perhaps the night was when bad things happened, like sexual assault or their parents reached maximum drunkenness or it was when they were left alone. Kids often keep themselves too busy in the day to think about the trauma, but the memories surface as they try to fall asleep. Kids can also be prone to bad dreams. A child can snuggle, pet or rub a plush blanket or one with a satin trim to help soothe themselves.

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4. Neutral Bed Spread. Again, neutrals work with both boys and girls of all ages. I like blue for a bedspread, but gray, green, and black could work, too. The right neutral can be mixed and matched with a variety of paint on the walls and other beds. Why is that important? Because you might need to reconfigure your bedroom set-ups if you take in more than one child. A sibling set of two could be one boy and one girl, meaning separate bedrooms. But it could be two girls (or two boys) and you want to put them together, so that when your family comes to visit you have a guest bedroom – or when their third sibling comes for respite.

5. Flare: Stuffed Animals and Throw Pillows. To rescue your foster child’s room from becoming too blah or too sterile, you can add easy-to-swap-out “flare.” I often put stuffed animals on the bed. Most kids like big stuffed dogs or teddy bears, though I’ve gotten some “older kid” items like animals or characters from popular video games. Throw pillows can do the same trick.

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6. Hypoallergenic Pillows. If you’re going to buy new pillows, play it safe and get hypoallergenic ones. Why run the risk of red eyes and runny noses if you don’t need to?

7. An Extra Throw. We do both long-term foster care and short-term, respite care. Some kids are used to cool bedrooms and others prefer warmer. The easiest solution is to provide an extra blanket folded on the end of the bed for them to use – or not. It can also add a bit more flare to your neutral bedspread.

8. Bed Furniture. If you need to buy more beds, but don’t have lots of money to spend, consider buying twin beds from a flea market or garage sale. A few quick coats of black, white or grey paint and they’ll all match each other. [Note: Don’t paint cribs as teething babies may chip off the paint and eat it.]

9. Bedrails. A twin bed can work for little ones if you add bedrails that keep them from falling out of the bed.  If you don’t what these are, Amazon has some examples, though you can easily get them at Walmart, Target, or other such stores.

So, now you’ve made a bed for a foster child.  Let’s hope the kiddos will make their bed, too. 😉

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

2016: Reuniting or Terminating?

The first few days of the New Year are supposed to be for setting goals, but all I can think about is termination of parental rights (TPR).

Where we live, the Department of Family Services generally gives parents one year to remedy whatever caused their children to enter foster care. If parents are successful, kiddos go home. If parents have made some progress, but need more time, they’ll get another six months to fix things. If the Department determines that the parents have not been making progress or does not think the parents will be able to successfully solve what needs to be solved, then parental rights will be terminated and the kiddos will either go to other relatives or be placed for adoption.

Early 2016 will be a year for 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful. What will the Department decide for them?

In January, the Department will hold meetings to start assessing progress. One big area for assessment is whether dad can meet the kids’ emotional and psychological needs. I really have no idea where the Department will come down on that issue.

Personally, I am very conflicted about his abilities. I see how he comes faithfully to every visit and hear him express concern for his children in group meetings. I also hear him say that the kids made up the allegations and deny that their behaviors are a result of trauma. And there is a lot that I wouldn’t know anything about – like any personal therapy, parenting classes, or interactions inside the visitation rooms. God, I really want dad to be able to meet the kids needs so the kids can go home!!

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The debate rages on in my head. The physical danger has been removed, so the kids will go home. The emotional care won’t be sufficient, so it’ll be TPR. The academic aspect of parenting is there, so the kids will go home. The financial support isn’t happening, so it’ll be TPR. He obviously loves his kids, so they’ll go home. He loves his kids, but misunderstands parenting, so it’s TPR.

What I want is just not to think about it. But it keeps creeping up on me.

My sister wants to know who all will be coming for summer vacation. The kids display a certain behavior, and I wonder how their dad would handle it. People outright ask me how long the kids will be with us.

So say a little prayer with me that no matter what happens in 2016, Joyful and Watchful will be safe.

The Foster Care Serenity Prayer

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God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the foster care bureaucracy I cannot change;
(So that I  don’t go crazy, banging my head against the weird foster care way of doing things)

The COURAGE to change the foster care shortcomings that I can;
(‘Cuz it takes a whole lot of backbone to face-off with the Agency)

And the WISDOM to know the difference.
(So I may give joy to the children entrusted in my care and help unite them with their families, while still enjoying my wonderful life.)

Major Court Drama

We walked into the court room, slipping into our seats behind Joyful and Watchful’s dad and lawyer. To our right, the GAL and county lawyer stood in the middle of the room. Furtherest away was their mom and her lawyer. Little did I know that drama was about to unfold.

The children’s lawyer (aka guardian ad litem or GAL) alleged that the county is not appropriately supervising visits, which has allowed horrible things such as emotional abuse, violations of court protective orders, and witness tampering to occur. Naturally, this pissed off the county lawyer who felt embarrassed and thrown under the bus in front of the judge. Apparently, she’s been telling the GAL this is a personnel issue that should be dealt with through human resources. The GAL countered that the county has had time to remedy the situation and has not, so it must be brought before the judge in order to best protect the children. So the county foster care agency was in hot water with the judge.

But they weren’t the only ones in the judge’s crosshairs. One of the parents was accused of taking advantage of the county’s missteps, and abusing/violating protective orders/tampering with witnesses when social workers were either not present or when a substitute social worker was supervising visits. Their lawyers alleged that this was a cultural misunderstanding, but I don’t think anyone’s buying that argument.

And the third party that the judge was angry with? The psychiatrist who evaluated the parents nearly four months, but hasn’t typed up and handed in reports to the county or the court.

We also learned that not a single one of the relatives that the county has approached have stepped forward as possible new homes for Watchful or Joyful. How could people walk away from their own family like that – these are little kids just 10, 8 and 4 years old!

The judge laid out a boat load of actions that must be taken within 10 days or various people will be held in contempt. He also has suspended all visits until further notice.

The upshot is that the foster parents of the kids involved (us + another family) are being called in as witnesses next week.

So, how does one keep a good working relationship with social workers if you’re being asked to testify about their negligence? How do you “bridge the gap” and maintain relationships with the parents if you’re testifying against them, too?

The GAL is coming to our house to chat in a few hours. This is all very bizarre.