Should Survivors of Abuse be Foster Parents or Adoptive Parents?

Our social worker said that adult survivors of abuse, neglect, sexual assault and other forms of trauma often make the best foster/adoptive parents.  However, she said there is a big “but” that can disqualify people from adopting or becoming foster parents.  Read on…

Survivors Can Make Fantastic Parents – Adoptive or Foster

Empathy:  Adult survivors can truly empathize and understand what foster kids are going through.  They can easily love traumatized children as the child’s difficult circumstances don’t scare them away, and similar histories may actually be something that bonds them together as a family.  Survivors almost instinctually get that an outburst is due to fear of abandonment or that a tantrum is about anger over not having control of one’s life, which means these parents can see and address the root cause of their children’s less than desirable behaviors.  They may even have an innate sense of what to do to calm a child who’s acting out or feeling blue.

Vision:  These parents truly believe in a bright future for their hurt kids, even when those kids are struggling in school or are having a hard time making friends or even just being part of a family.  They know that hurt kids can heal and turn their lives around, because survivors know from their own experience of healing themselves that it can be done.

Dedication:  Parenting kids who may exhibit difficult behaviors can be exhausting.  Imagine handling a child who hits, who wets the bed, and yells a lot.  Now add time for doctor appointments, counseling sessions, teacher conferences, and visits with birth family.  And kids typically don’t thank parents.  Survivors can be tenacious, though, holding onto the vision of a healed child.  Perhaps they vowed that they wouldn’t give up on children like adults gave up on them when they were younger.  Perhaps they’ve vowed to make their own suffering mean something.  Perhaps they promised God that if God got them out of their previous bad situation, they would help others in the future.  Or maybe simply reflecting on how hard their journey of healing was will give them strength to stay the course.  Regardless, survivors tend to be dedicated to helping kids, even when the going gets tough.

Believing It:  Foster children’s stories can be horrific.  Their mother sold them to a pedophile in order to get drug money, their father tried to strangle them with a belt, or they have been eating carpet since their parents haven’t brought home food for weeks.  If you lived a typical childhood, it can be really hard to believe your new children’s stories of what happened.  You can be shocked by the tragedy and may have a hard time coping when your view of the world “as a good place” is turned upside down.  Survivors, however, know from experience that terrible things can and do happen; it’s not really that shocking when it happens to others, too.  Abused children benefit when parents validate their experiences, when parents trust that the children are telling the truth.  Traumatize children also benefit when their parents aren’t bowled over by their histories. They sense that their new parents are strong enough to handle their darkest experiences – giving them confidence that in time they will be able to cope, too.

When Survivors Should NOT Adopt or be Foster Parents

Triggers:  Your children’s troubles can trigger your own personal memories or emotional turmoil.  For example, imagine that your child reveals to you that he or she was sexually abused, and you were raped previously.  You may relive those experiences, and/or become sad, angry or depressed.  It’s already challenging to parent a traumatized child, but it can be incredibly tough to parent a child when you’re in your own emotional tailspin.  Will you still be able to work towards reuniting your foster kid with their family?  Will you have enough emotional energy to heal yourself and your children simultaneously?  If you haven’t healed from your trauma, now is not the time to take on responsibility for an abused or neglected child.

What’s Changed?:  Are those people who hurt you still in your life?  Sadly, the perpetrator who hurt you when you were younger may be a family member, such as a parent, aunt/uncle, or sibling.  You may have jumped from one bad previous relationship into another bad relationship.  How will you protect your children from abusive or neglectful relatives, significant others or friends?

How Social Workers Decide

Resolution? Counseling?:  Social workers will ask you about all of the losses in your life, how you handled them, and assess whether you seem to have resolved any trauma.  If you have gone through therapy and successfully addressed your own trauma, social workers will recognize this.  Be honest with them about what has happened in your life, and what you’ve done and continue to do to compensate.  For example, if you know bed wetting reminds you of being beaten as child and triggers big emotions, but you’ve made arrangements for your spouse to handle changing bed sheets if your child has an accident, then you’ve shown an understanding of yourself and the ability to handle that particular situation.  However, if social workers think you may have unresolved issues, they will ask you to seek counseling (on your dime) and then come back afterwards to finish your home study.  Your willingness to seek help will demonstrate to social workers that you’ll do what’s necessary to keep your family healthy.

Lifestyle:  Social workers use something called a genogram to dig through your family relationships.  In short, it maps out your relationships and acts as a guide for your social worker to talk with you about how well you get along with relatives.  If you had abusive or neglectful relatives, it gives you an opportunity to discuss how you’ve either resolved the situation, whether you have terminated the relationship, or how you would otherwise protect your foster or adoptive children.

Footnote

A 17 year old liked Should Foster Teens Seek Adoption?, so I checked out her site and saw a young woman in a lot of pain.  But I have faith that she can grow up to be a tremendous power for good.  (You can do it, C!)  She already inspired me to write this post (thanks, C!).  If you’re going through hell, keep going… and then consider how you can take something horrible and make it into something wonderful.

So, what do you think? Should adult survivors of abuse or neglect be able to foster or adopt?

Oooooh, Pick Me! Pick Me!

Remember when we were little kids and we really, really wanted the teacher to choose us to answer a question or help her with some special task? Our arms were waving in the air, we could hardly keep our butts in our seats, our entire upper bodies were wiggling as an extension of those waving arms. “Pick me! Pick me!,” we called out.

That’s the feeling I’ve got right now. Hey, social worker – pick me! Choose our family! We’re ready to welcome a foster child.

As we get older, we learn to hide how much we want something. We’ll raise our hand quietly, if at all. Because who wants to be embarrassed and disappointed if we are not chosen?

But I want this. I really want this. So I emailed my social worker again – this time under the pretext that I forgot to mention that I’ll be a stay-at-home mom over Christmas break for two and half weeks. How perfect for respite care! I’ll be right here to actively care for any foster kids who need a place to stay over the holidays.

A battle rages on inside me. Part of me worries that the social worker is annoyed or amused by my emails. What if in a fit of pique she decides to skip over me, “that pesky” foster mama hopeful? Part of me confidently says advocating for children requires courage and a banishment of pride. My emails are crafted carefully: breezy, not desperate. I only email every 2-4 weeks. And the squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?

So I throw it out to you. How do you walk that fine line between reminding your social worker that you’re still there, waiting for a placement versus calling the social worker every five seconds?

Will the Grinch Steal Christmas??

My social worker Angel emailed yesterday.  Apparently, her supervisor moved our home study up in the approval process since we said we are willing to be respite parents over Christmas.  A lot of foster families want to travel over the holiday or have a break from fostering, so there’s a need for short-term fostering.  It’s kinda like babysitting for a few days up to a few weeks.

Imagine getting a kid…or two…or three for Christmas.  Sounds like the best present ever!  This was my initial thought.

Then I remembered that Silent One used to subconsciously sabotage every holiday.  As in throw himself to the ground screaming when we tried to open presents.  As in run out the door while I prepared the holiday ham.  Or say mean things to make his sister cry.  Ugh.  I don’t miss those days!

So have I just ruined Christmas?  Will we be doomed to tears instead of joy?  I hereby vow to not let bedwetting, pulling the dog’s tail, or any other mischief take the sparkle out of our merry making.  You are my witnesses – hold me to it.  We will find ways to be happy, come what may!!

“Choosing” our Foster Child

People always ask if we can choose which children will be placed in our home.  Sorta.  The county asked us about our preferences regarding children’s characteristics, experiences and behaviors.  Training helped us think through what to expect and our social worker talked through our rationale one-on-one.  Then she created our profile, which will be used when the matcher tries to find a good fit between children coming into care and our family.

Here’s the different things we had to think through in determining the “kind” of kid that we feel capable of parenting well.

Age

The county offers three age brackets: 0-4, 5-12, and 13-18.  You can be as specific as you like,  though (only 11-year-olds, for example).

Sassy, our daughter, would much rather have younger foster siblings.  And, frankly, hubby and I feel much more comfortable with our current kids being older than any foster kids.  Teenagers can get into bigger trouble than younger kids when they’re misbehaving (drugs, sex, alcohol, smoking, gangs versus tantrums, bed wetting, name calling, etc.), and we’d prefer not expose our kids to the risk of a teen foster kid role modeling that kind of behavior.  So that’s 12 years as the oldest.  I really like babies, but my husband and I both work.  We’ve told our social worker that age two is our lower limit, since we wouldn’t be able to stay home with them.  But, we’d likely stretch if they needed a home for a baby and the county was ok with that baby being in child care.

Gender

Yes, you can choose boy or girl.

We don’t care about gender.  Well, Sassy wants a girl, because most of her cousins are boys, and she’s tired of being the only girl at family events.  When we adopted Silent One, we specifically wanted a boy, because we know older boys have a harder time finding a permanent home.  But in this case, gender is not a major criteria for us.

Race / Ethnicity

Options are African American, Caucasian (White), Asian, Latino, Native American

Since Silent One is the only Latino in our family, we’re eager to welcome more Latinos into our home.  I was surprised and touched by Silent One’s opinion that any kid of any color is fine – if they need a family, that’s enough for him.  Sassy says she’d rather have another kid that looks like her (white), so people won’t ask her questions about how she could be related to someone that looks different.  So our preference is Latino and white, though open to others.

Religion

Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist are the main categories.

We would be willing to take foster kids of any religion to their religious services and find someone of their faith to help guide them as warranted.  We’re also comfortable with some minor changes in eating habits, like no pork, but not drastic changes like keeping kosher or halal.

Number of kids

If I recall correctly, the form listed 1, 2, or 3+ as the options.

I feel super strongly about keeping siblings together, and it’s one of the major reasons why we decided to become a foster family.   We’re marked down as 2-4, I think, but with the caveat that we’re really interested in a sibling group rather than several unrelated children.

Health Issues

The county lists some common health issues: HIV, diabetes, sickle cell anemia.

Initially, we were fine with HIV positive kids, as we felt prepared to take appropriate precautions, administer meds, and take kids to doctor appointments. But since we want to be in a position to adopt if reunification isn’t an option, and, since we may have to transfer overseas in the future for my work, we reconsidered.  Many countries have restrictions on HIV positive people visiting.  Diabetes would be ok – we think we could get good health care in most countries.  Sickle cell anemia was a no.

Disabilities

The county asks if you are would be willing to parent a child with physical, mental, or learning disabilities.

Our house has a fair number of stairs, and we don’t have a lot of experience with physical handicaps, so we decided on mild physical disabilities.   Initially we were ok with low IQs or Downs Syndrome, but when we realized we could potentially be asked to adopt a kid after having them in our home for two years, we realized we were willing to make a short term commitment, but not a life time commitment to take care of someone who could not care for themselves.  We’re ok with mild learning disabilities as we have experience with dyslexia and memory deficits.

Mental Illness

You are asked about whether you would parent a child with mental illness or with a parent or family history of mental illness.

I’ll be frank.  Schizophrenia scares me.  I’ve met a fair number of inmates who committed crimes when their schizophrenia was not well treated.  It’s a tough disease.  Depression and anxiety seem pretty treatable.  We have experience with PTSD, generalized anxiety, and eating disorders.  Not sure how I’d feel about obsessive compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder.  We left this as “it depends.”

Physical Abuse / Neglect / Sexual Abuse

Do you feel capable of parenting a child who has been physically abused?  Neglected?  Sexually abused?

We have experience with traumatized kids.  We know sticking by a kid working through tough memories isn’t easy.  But we’re willing to give it a try.  We strongly believe in counseling and would be willing to participate in therapy as needed.

Acting Out Behaviors

The county provides a list of behaviors traumatized kids may engage in and asks whether it would be easy, moderate, or difficult for you to parent a child exhibiting such behaviors as bedwetting, crying, yelling, being quiet, lying, picky eating, smoking, and drugs.

Our social worker told us that every body has buttons that can be pushed and its best to know those buttons up front.  Tell me lies?  No biggie.  Getting up at night and washing wet bedsheets is not a big deal.  Smoking and drugs – not so keen as we’d be worried about Sassy and Silent One picking up these habits.  Yell at me?  Well, at least I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t feel like eating?  I’ll offer enough food variety over the week to get you the appropriate nutrition.  So what drives me batty?  Crying easily, uh, yeah that one’s tough for me.   Luckily, hubby isn’t phased and we can trade off.

So there you have it.  That’s how we “chose” which kids to welcome into our home.

Home Study: Can I Wiggle My Butt Yet?

I want to put my hands up in the air, like I just don’t care, and wiggle my butt around in a happy dance.  Except a 99.9% done home study is not a 100% done, and if the System bureaucracy has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no dancing until done is done.

Everyone always worries about the home study, because you have strangers asking all sorts of personal questions.  And that’s true.  “Do you feel like you have enough sex?”  (Huh?)  “What’s your spouse’s life motto (asked in front of your spouse,  so no pressure!)”  “Tell me about the most tragic thing that has ever happened to you.”  (Seriously uncomfortable)

But it’s the endless paperwork that can make you want to run away.

During PRIDE (foster care class), they handed us a huge stack of paperwork.  We researched our family trees, looked through our financial records, went to doctor appointments, and got fingerprinted at the police station in order to be able to fill out all the forms.  Proudly we turned them all in.  See, we can handle the bureaucracy.  Give us our gold star, please.

But wait.  There’s more.  The county forgot to ask for a fire escape plan.  Ok.  Do it, turn it in.  The county should have required medical exams for your kids.  Ok.  Do it, turn it in.   Uh, the medical should have included a TB test.  Ok.  Do it, turn it in.  The county has changed the foster care application form, so you’ll need to redo that ten-page document.  Ok.  The county wants to know about your retirement savings (really?  retirement is still like 20-30 years away).  But ok.  The county decided to add a new online test for mandated reporters (how to recognize signs of abuse and neglect).  Ok.

And now.  Now after months and months of the paperwork parade.  Now the social worker says the home study is done and just needs the supervisor’s signature.  That “done” word.  It sounds like time to break out the happy dance.  But I have learned.  Not yet.  Another request could still be made before they hand out the foster care license.

But as I think about it, we have passed the first test.  We can handle the craziness of the bureacracy.  We can calmly respond to invasive, difficult questions.   We take it in stride when a steady stream of strangers inspect our home, interview us, interview our kids.  A blizzard of forms can bury us again and again, but we will keep digging ourselves out.

Yes, we are prepared to be foster parents who can work the System.  Bring on the happy dance.