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.

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.

The Paid Foster Parent?

I wish I could be paid to be a foster mom.

Gasp! I said it out loud.

I want money to be a foster parent.

Clearly, I must hate all children and just want to take them into my home to make a buck.

No, actually. There’s nothing further from the truth.

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I simply want to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and care for children who need it the most.

Is that so wrong??

Culturally, I’m not sure why we feel it’s wrong to make ends meet while caring for someone else’s children. Why we assume that wanting to be a professional foster parent equals being a money grubbing, heartless fiend.

The other professionals working in foster care are paid – the social worker, therapist, school teacher, guardian ad litem (lawyer), family court judge, and police officer. It just seems natural that these experts are both paid to do their jobs AND that they care about the child in question.

After all, they have to eat, right?

Well, so do I and all my fellow foster parents.

But for some reason, we have to pay for the privilege of fostering.

Where I live, we apparently shell out $10,000+ for this privilege.***

No wonder there’s a shortage of foster parents.

No wonder foster parents mostly represent the upper middle class and don’t reflect the full diversity of our communities.

Not too many people can afford to pay ten grand to raise some stranger’s child.

Right now, there are empty bedrooms with empty beds in my house, when they could be filled with children who need a place to call home.

We had some unexpected expenses and are paying the bills off before we welcome more foster children. Because we can’t afford to do otherwise.

In the meantime, I know there are hurting children who are being sent to group homes and institutions due to a shortage of foster homes. There are no welcoming families waiting for them with open arms.

And it breaks my heart.

I’m here. And I’m willing.

But my bank account is holding us back.

If only I could be paid to be a foster parent, there’d be hurt children with a place to call home right now.

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*** My math is derived from the following. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates how much a person must earn in order to meet basic daily expenses like food, housing and transportation (http://livingwage.mit.edu). How minimum are we talking here? Well, the average cost per meal equals $2 per person. So, pretty basic.

Where I live, two adults living together need to earn $44,000 per year to scrape by. If you add a child, you need another $17,000 per year to put a roof over your head, food on the table, and wheels to get you to work. However, foster care pays $6,492 per year for one child. This means the foster family has to pay $10,616 for the privilege of caring for someone else’s child. ($17,000 – $6,492 = $10,508)


Read other great posts at the Adoption Talk link up.

No Bohns About It

Ask about Future Foster Child’s Ethnicity or Race

Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.

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Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.

To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.

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To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.

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To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.

To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.

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To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.

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Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!

Trip to the Doctor’s

I took 9-year-old Watchful to the doctor’s office.  Ever since he arrived at our house, we’ve been saying that he frequently skips meals when he’s upset. We shared his dad’s concerns about this weight loss.  Now that more than half a year has gone by, the County calls up and demands we immediately take him to the doctor.
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I’m on board with this and agree.  It’s been three months since he had his last check up, so it will be good to see how he’s doing.  The social worker had called Thursday night to make this request. The social worker calls me early Monday morning, demanding to know why I haven’t taken him to the doctor’s yet.  I explain that all day Friday was foster care hearings, the clinic was closed over the weekend, so this is my first chance to call.  I plan to take him in today.  The social worker says if I’m too busy to make the appointment, she can do it.  What????  Seriously?  They have ignored this issue for months and months, and suddenly they can’t wait one day??   But I take a deep breath.  I am glad that this new social worker really cares and doesn’t want issues to linger on the back burner.
 Any way, back to the doctor’s appointment.  Have you ever had to explain that you’ll need a doctor who is comfortable treating children who have been abused?  It’s awkward.  First, you tell the receptionist that you’ll need a longer appointment time.  Then, the receptionist transfers you to a nurse.  The nurse asks you tons of questions.  Then she says you need a special pediatrician who only works certain days.  Ok, so now you have an appointment.  You arrive at the doctor’s office.  The receptionist looks at you and looks at the child and realizes your skin tones don’t match.  This prompts her to ask you about your relationship.  You say foster mom. She asks if you have the right to seek medical care for your child.  Yes, it’s in your records.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says, oh yeah, you’re right.
The nurse calls you back, but then makes your child sit in the waiting room so she can grill you about foster care.  You explain, hoping that your foster kiddo is not freaking about being in the waiting room by himself.  The nurse calls him in -he’s looking a bit anxious.  The doctor arrives.  He sends your foster kid out again and grills you about foster care.  The doctor spends some time freaking out about the complexities of your child’s case.  Then the doctor calls your child back in, who is now looking decidedly upset.  The visit wraps up in two hours.  Yes, two hours.  Because everyone is just so worked up about the abuse history.  Any way, you’re supposed to take the kiddo to get blood work done at the lab.  However, this doesn’t happen because the kiddo is now in melt down city.
Luckily, the nearest pediatrician’s office that takes the State’s insurance is twenty minutes from home.  This is lucky, because your kiddo needs this time to switch gears from melt down mode to moderate anxiety.  Even twenty minutes later, kiddo still is too worked up to go to school, so the two of you head to the grocery store.  It’s actually kind of fun to try food samples together.  He gets to choose lots of the food for the family – broccoli, salmon, and even a huge danish for breakfast tomorrow.  You are both now in a happy place.  You drop him at school and go back home.  Once at the house, you dash off a quick email to update the social worker on the medical items.
The social worker somehow miraculously immediately reads your email and calls you to discuss.  You repeat what was in the email.  She proposes her own medical solutions that are different from the doctor’s.  You give her the doctor’s number to directly talk about her crazy ideas unique thoughts on treatment options.
You call your hubby and strategize how to get the blood work done.  You talk about different ways to reduce the anxiety levels so the kiddo can sit still enough for the blood to be drawn.  You come up with a plan to take him the next day.
Whew!  Doctor’s visit accomplished after just six short hours!

Kids Have to Testify Against Parents

So we just learned that the kids will need to testify against their parents. We had been fighting against it, but we have lost that battle. Now, I need to figure out the least traumatizing path forward.

But let me back up for a moment and explain why we fought against 8 year old Watchful and 10 year old Joyful testifying and why we lost.

Testifying can wring you out emotionally. All eyes are on you as lawyers pepper you with questions, and complete strangers listen to you recount some of the most private, painful and embarrassing times in your life. All of these questions dredge up memories of the horrors you have lived through. It feels like you are reliving your worst nightmares. You want to answer correctly, but sometimes you doubt yourself, and you are not sure what the consequences will be because of your answers. The whole court process is strange, new, and scary to you.

Now imagine you are just an elementary school child, so young and vulnerable. Imagine that your testimony will help determine whether your parents go to jail. Whether you will ever get to live with them again. What a huge burden for an 8 and 10 year old to bear!!!

In our county, social services often does not agree to allow the defense lawyers to depose abused children as it is so traumatic, and the lawyers can use the transcript from the CPS worker’s interview of the children upon initial placement into foster care. Since lawyers do not like to put a witness on the stand when they don’t know what the witness will say, kids aren’t often called to court. However, in this case, the county prosecutor wants to interview the children, so social services will not contest it.

Back to the path forward. We need to first figure out how and when to break the news. Probably hubby and I will tell them one evening after summer camp. Do we have their GAL explain court or do we let the county prosecutor do that? On the one hand, the kids have met the GAL once before and she is experienced in working with kids. On the other hand, the county prosecutor would be one-stop shopping – get it all over with in one go.

Then, we need to talk with the therapist. Only Watchful has a therapist, so maybe I can use this as a prod to get Joyful into therapy, which has been slow to materialize. Hopefully, the therapist will have good insight into handling the emotional impact of helping to imprison one’s parents.

And we’ll need to begin lobbying the social worker and prosecutor to allow hubby and I to be present during the interview process. That probably means laying groundwork with the CASA and GAL to have allies for getting our request approved. If we’re there, we can provide emotional support to Joyful and Watchful, and pragmatically it would help keep us in the loop.

I also need to drop an FYI to our family’s social worker and to the kids’ brother’s foster family to keep folks up to speed. This helps our family’s worker be in a position to alert us to unforeseen issues. And we have an agreement with the other foster family to share info, which has proven invaluable in the past.

We’ll need to look for a date that works for the prosecutor, the kids’ social worker, the CASA, the kids and ourselves to do the interview. Ideally, this will be a different day than their visit with dad, therapy appointment and sibling visit. Too much on one day leads to massive melt downs.

We’ll be doing respite for their 4 year old brother Jumping Jack, so we’ll have to find county-approved child care or bring him along on the day of the interview.

All of this for what I think should be a straight forward case. Parents have already confessed. They have done this before. The injuries have been documented.

Guess I better get started on my to do list.

When Kid’s Good Coping Skills Spell Trouble

It’s pretty obvious that 8-year-old Watchful is struggling with his traumatic past: self harming, refusing to eat, panic attacks, a very negative perspective on the world, etc.  But sometimes it seems his 10-year-old sister Joyful is “punished” for coping well.

Joyful was the victim of trauma and neglect, too, and she’s what psychologists deem “resilient.”  She has good social skills, is generally happy, and does well academically.  Her behaviors are quite mild in comparison to Watchful.  She gets loud and laughs a lot when nervous.  She asks a lot of questions, pretending not to understand when you ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do.  She has a combative attitude towards her bio family.

And she lies.  A lot.  Crazy lying that is so obviously not true.  She’ll spin out three whoppers in one breath and that all contradict each other.  Like, “Watchful spilled the milk because he never wants to drink anything,” “the dog (who is just slightly larger than a Chihuahua) bumped the (very heavy wooden) table and spilled the milk,” and “there was no milk in the glass, someone must have missed the glass when they were pouring the milk and got it all over the table.”  Clearly, not all three statements could be true.  And really, we all know that she somehow spilled the milk and doesn’t want to own up to it, because in the past she would have gotten beaten for spilling milk.

From a social worker’s and therapist’s point of view, lying about spilled milk just doesn’t stack up to repeatedly injuring yourself until you bleed.  And I get that.

But does good coping skills mean a child doesn’t deserve therapy?

Some of my friends would say, “why try to fix what’s not broken?”

I’d say that Joyful needs help in understanding why a trusted adult repeatedly abused her.  That she deserves to be taught that it’s wrong and that she didn’t deserve to be hurt.  That there are better, more loving ways for adults to interact with children.  This is what therapy does.

Yet, every time one of the county workers checks in on our family, they zero in on Watchful’s scary behaviors and overlook Joyful’s needs.  Got any advice for me?  I’m all ears on how to make sure Joyful gets the help she needs, too.