Posts Tagged 'foster care'

Was That It?

Like the three that came before, we didn’t plan these children.  And, like the others, we wanted them very much once we found out they would become part of our family.  The waiting was a little longer this time though; I could have had three more babies from the time our girls first came to live with us until the day their adoption became final.

While I gained the inevitable weight that comes with pregnancy, the journey this time through the famously flawed foster care system helped me to lose weight.  Of course I’m older now than I was when my boys were little, but I’ve learned that most kids in “the system” require a little more effort than the ones the stork brings.  You may have to “undo” some bad habits, teach things they should have learned long before, reassure them and comfort them above and beyond what your own newborn ever required.  In addition, you have many different appointments and visitations to cram into your schedule.  Neglected teeth may require extensive dental work; poor nutrition or general lack of health care may have you spending hours in doctors’ waiting rooms.  And unless they’re placed while very young, they almost always are referred for counseling.  These poor babies don’t understand why they’re separated from their families (even dysfunctional families are sorely missed by their children) and often they are moved several times from stranger to stranger, requiring them to adapt to new schools and different family rules.  Is it any wonder they act out in frustration and anger?  The kids can keep you jumping!  But they are the easy part in the equation.

Don’t consider fostering if you relish your privacy.  Just to be considered, every facet of your life will be pried into and investigated.  You will be asked where you resided and with whom you lived with for the past 30 years.  They will do a background check and fingerprint every person living in your home.  Each year they want copies of your pay stubs, W-2’s, car registrations, and home and auto insurance policies.  It’s amazing that an inappropriate foster parent slips through these rigorous background checks!

Once a child is placed, you can expect weekly home visits and phone calls from at least one caseworker.  We didn’t work directly with the county so we had our agency caseworker and a county caseworker.  They are supposed to be there not only to ensure the safety of the child, but to guide and help the foster parents.  Sadly, this is just a dream.  In our experience, most of the caseworkers knew less than we did.  At least we knew how to raise kids!  They often couldn’t even help us with the things we needed to know about the foster care rules–which was supposed to be their area of expertise.  Even the few who actually cared often gave us wrong information or didn’t know enough to guide us to resources that I somehow managed to find on my own through dumb luck or sheer desperation!  Yet we were expected to complete all of our paperwork and monthly trainings on time–while taking good care of our kids, getting them to bi-weekly family visitations an hour away, and breaking in brand-spanking new caseworkers every few months.

The adoption process was even more intense.  Even though our kids had lived with us pretty much for the past two-and-a-half years and we were currently approved foster parents, we had to get more references, more background checks and fingerprinted again.  We had home inspections requiring the craziest things (like all meds–even refrigerated Amoxicillin that the kids may be taking–had to be in a separate LOCKED container) and weekly visits with an adoption caseworker (thank goodness my agency found this wonderful knowledgeable woman they hired as an independent contractor who led us through this whole process because our agency didn’t know squat and we never saw or heard from our county worker). We waited…and waited…to get our adoption date after completing all the requirements.  We signed the papers at the attorneys office.  We waited some more–pretty much giving up on the hope that it would take place before the end of the year has it had been semi-promised.

We finally got the call in mid-December.  One week before Christmas (and five days after hubby’s knee replacement surgery) we took the hour drive with a borrowed Handicapped placard so I could park across the street from the courthouse and help Big Daddy hobble to the door with our girls in their pretty dresses and tights.  We signed some papers.  We each sat at the witness stand and answered some questions.  Bonus Child hugged and clung to me while we sat and listened to Big Daddy answer his questions.  A caseworker led Bonus Baby to a back room to color when she got too antsy to sit still.  We got some pictures with the judge.  And it was over.  Months of prep.  A half-hour in court.  The girls are legally ours!

Bonus Baby flashed the biggest smile when I told her she’d never have to see another caseworker.  And last week, when I called her my little friend, she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “I’m not your friend, I’m your daugh-ter”, dragging out the last word slowly and deliberately just in case her poor mommy was too dumb to understand.

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I’m Not Driving (Still)

The foster care system is the epitome of bureaucracy.  There are mountains of rules and regulations that must be followed–but in reality, these are mostly on paper.  Our agency (which is one of several that are contracted by the different county CYS departments to find screened suitable foster families) provides ongoing training which I do find helpful sometimes when dealing with disciplinary techniques.  These kids need a lot of structure and loving and firm discipline, and sometimes I can be a push-over, which was ok with my own boys, because they knew from the beginning from Big Daddy that they better not stray too far from the straight and narrow.  A lot of these kids, however, even if they are academically behind, can be very manipulative and street-smart.  I imagine these skills help them survive.

Although I haven’t really had problems with our agency, with the exception of the new caseworker who I’m more and more convinced exacerbated the respite problem because she wasn’t keen on having to drive the kids to the next county among other things, some of the trainings include typical foster care scenarios that are more fiction than fact.

One common proclamation of the foster care system is that “we are all important members of a team.”  This sounds really good…we all have our important part to play in the goal of getting these children back to a safe environment–preferably with their own families.  In reality, foster parents are often marginalized by the system.  Even though we often know these children better than their own parents (especially true of the younger kids) and we definitely know them better than the revolving-door supply of caseworkers who pass through, and the judges and supervisors who mostly know them through the paperwork in their files, our input and insight is rarely sought or valued.  We are the best resource they have for these kids; not only have a lot of us successfully raised kids of our own and picked up a few tips here and there, but we are the ones who tuck these kids in at night, hear their stories, and have a good sense of what these kids need, yet there is often the unspoken feeling that “they” are the experts and that we foster parents just need to do our job and mind our business.

Another thing that was frequently stressed is that it is highly recommended that we utilize the “respite system” and work with other families in the agency where the kids can spend some time away from us and widen their support network of caring families.  Supposedly this is good for the kids and for us.  The reality is that is almost impossible to forge any kind of relationship with a respite family because there really is not a great supply of them.  Our old caseworker was always very diligent about finding one when we really needed to get away for a night with adult friends or an important weekend event with our grown-up kids, but we rarely could use the same family more than once because they had gotten a foster child of their own and were no longer available or had decided foster care was not for them.

Foster parents are entitled to know all relevant information about the kids being placed in their homes.  This one kind of makes me roll my eyes.  Although everyone says we have the right to listen in on the hearings, we were pretty much relegated to sitting in the lobby of the courthouse every time we were asked to bring the kids, who sometimes got to speak to the judge, and other times just got to miss a day of school to hang out with the slew of caseworkers, county workers, foster kids, foster parents and bio parents.  One time even our agency caseworker was kept out of the hearing by the one very lazy clueless CYS caseworker we had last summer.  It’s kind of hard to make plans for kids when you don’t have the facts.  I often had to clue in the caseworker on things they should have had in their files about the kids’ siblings or former placements because luckily I had an older child who liked to share information with us.  Sometimes chatting with one of the other foster mothers at family visitation you might pick up another gem of information that would have been helpful to know.  And, sadly, sometimes information is intentionally withheld.  One adoptive foster mom, who is used to dealing with the more difficult children and actually seems to relish the challenge of helping them, claimed that even she would not have agreed to adopt her son had she seen all the stuff in his file that she was not given until the adoption papers were filed.  It did not turn out well.

Our agency also stressed that at anytime, if the placement was not working out, either for the kids or for the foster parents, other arrangements would be made.  Big Daddy and I, of course, had every intention of making it work from our end.  No matter how difficult, we wanted to provide a stable home and not contribute more rejection or instability.  But there are some deal breakers, and sad to say, at one very difficult point when we feared for the well-being of our family, we had explored the possibility of having Bonus Child placed elsewhere.  Bonus Child had been chafing mightily against our rules and fought bonding with us, saying often that she wanted to leave, especially since we had to clamp down on her for some very unacceptable behaviors.  Our agency said it wouldn’t be a problem.  The lazy clueless CYS worker said it wouldn’t be a problem.  We told them there was no need to hurry; we wanted her to be able to finish out the school year with her friends.  “No problem.  A done deal.”  These were the exact words out of lazy CYS worker’s mouth.

All of these factors no doubt played a part in the disastrous scenario that happened five months later.  But things were very different then.  By the time those girls were sent to live with yet another household of strangers, we had become a family.  These kids were torn away from two families that loved them in their very young lives.

I’m Not Driving (The Beginning)

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I don’t know how it is with you, but things just seem to work out best when I’m not actively planning the outcome.  Don’t get me wrong…I try to be prepared for everything, but I don’t follow a rigid playbook.  I know quite a few people that need to be in control of every aspect of their lives, from the exact job and salary they require and the gender and spacing of their children, to the one and only acceptable shade of paint on their walls.  These people seem stressed out a lot.

Then there are people like Big Daddy.  He’s a good Catholic boy who goes to Church every Sunday, volunteers at the County Home for the aged, and thinks that there is a God up there that actually saved that prime parking spot on a busy Pittsburgh street just for him. 

I fall somewhere in between these two ways of thinking.  I’m happy to strive for something great, settle for something good enough, and work to make it better.  None of the things I would have wished for would have turned out as well as the surprises that have happened to me.  I do believe in the forces of good and evil, and I do believe these powers affect our lives.  I just don’t really think that God gives a flying fig whether we drive around the block 20 times in the pouring rain, although…

I know I’ve left you hanging for a while in my foster care saga of miscommunication.  Sometimes I forget that not all of my blog readers know me personally or see my Facebook status updates.  The perfect storm of miscommunication was countered with a freaky series of coincidences that may be indeed the work of Divine Providence.  I’ll let you decide.

We thought about the girls often while we were in California for my oldest son’s wedding, hoping that they were enjoying finally being in a home with their other siblings.  When we got home, we found a letter in the mailbox from Bonus Child with pages of colorful drawings for me and heartbreaking pleas to “Please write back Mom” and “I love you Les.”  It also included a phone number and return address, written no doubt by the foster mom, where we could reach her.  I had promised before I left to call Bonus Child at her new home as soon as I got back from my trip, and so I did.  Bonus Child seemed very quiet and withdrawn, but since I had never talked to her over the phone before, I figured perhaps this was just her normal phone etiquette.  I asked her if she was having fun playing with her brother and sisters, and then I almost threw up when she told me that she wasn’t there with them.  “What?” I inquired.  “Why not?  Where are you guys?”  I gasped, trying not to convey my panic and nausea.  We had finally come to grips with losing the girls, but only because we thought they were going to be together.  Worse yet, the girls had been led to believe they were leaving our home to go live where their brother was staying.  They believed us, they trusted us, and we were all lied to.  We had to get to the bottom of this!

After some sleuthing around on the internet, I realized that not only were the girls not at the home where they were supposedly being sent, it was not even in the same county.  I had at first thought that maybe they were transitioning her into the school district where she would end up staying (since missing 4 days of school was one of the reasons the county would not approve the respite that our new caseworker had found), but obviously, school was not a consideration at this juncture since Bonus Child had just been yanked out of a wonderful school with caring teachers and close friends into some totally strange school where she knew no one.  None of it made any sense.

Big Daddy went to our agency to find out what in the world was going on. They seemed to be as surprised as we were by this revelation although clearly at this point neither of us knew who to believe.  All we knew was the children were not with their bio family, and since they had been with us over 15 months and were thriving and firmly bonded with us, they belonged here until they could return home, if that time ever came.

I’m not going to lie.  After the stressful year we’d had, it was really nice being able to focus on ourselves.  We joined a gym, cleaned the house, slept in, got some big overdue projects done and went out to eat whenever we felt like it.  Our agency knew we were upset and said they understood if we wanted a break and would wait to call us.  Within a week, they were calling us with other kids needing a foster home.  Yeah, right.  Neither Big Daddy nor I were feeling the need to ever do this again.  We were emotionally drained.  We even thought how easy life was without the girls–even though we missed them terribly.  But the way it happened–allowing them to think we ditched them, lied to them, and abandoned them–gave us the drive to fight for them.  And we knew it would be an unfair uphill battle.

 


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