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Friday, June 27, 2014

Final Four?

Last weekend marks the 4 year anniversary of our foster care journey. We still aren't close to adopting but we are at least participating in a case where it's likely to end that way. My Mom dubbed the Quartet, "The Final Four" last week but I can't be that optimistic. I feel like the moment I do, the rug will be pulled from underneath me.

Our system is so broken. I want to believe in it. But even with the Quartet, their family has been in and out of foster care for 11 years. How does that happen? And even now, we are still talking hypothetically about a goal change to termination in three more months. Stella will be almost 10 then. Sarah will be 8. And they switched DCFS offices and we've been out of the new office for 2 months and we are already on a 2nd case worker. Who I, of course, have not yet met or been given information to. All I know is she is bi-lingual and fresh off her internship. 

4 years of learning about this and I'm pretty skeptical that a fresh-faced caseworker is going to work to our benefit. Sheila is going to walk all over her. And a newbie means things may not be done the way they need to, which in my experience, means more delay. 

Once again, the kids in my home are stuck waiting around for the adults to get their act together. All I can do is forge ahead and hope that everyone else falls in line. Sadly, hope is not a strategy.

I put my foot down about Sheila trying to change the visit time without asking for our input. The next day she totally missed her standing call with the kids. She texted some story about her phone, which might be true. Who knows. I do know that the week before she told me she wasn't going to miss them anymore as she learned in her parenting class how important consistency is. 

I'm over trying to play along with the game.  I just want to end the standing calls. They stress me out. They are painful to listen to. They stress out the kids. She doesn't show up for 1/2 of them. It seems almost wrong to keep telling this woman she has a shot at getting her kids back if she works really hard. No one in their right mind would give this lady back her kids given the facts of this case. Except, they have. And they could. And that part drives me bonkers too!

I'm growing inpatient with the length of time the courts and laws says is acceptable and required for kids in care. I read statistic after statistic this week about the issues kids in care face. About teens who age out. It's really hard to watch other foster families in pain all the time. If not from trying to navigate the ridiculous requirements imposed seemingly on a whim, they are in pain as children the love are moved from their care or hurt further by the system.

I stepped back to assess how far we've come. I didn't freak out about the sparkler accident or the kid covered in blood from a tumble down the stairs at the visit. I instructed we were going out of town and didn't worry if they approved or not. The caseworker basically gave me 1 day she could meet this month (well she gave me a 5 day window but 2 of the days were a weekend and the other 2 the kids had a visit and therapy) and the CASA worker asked to come too. I told them they could come the same day. These are all things I would have gotten worked up about in the past. I'm saving the fight in me for the kids. 

Dear Mr. Mohawk

Dear MM,

Today you are 7. Happy, Happy Birthday. I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. I remember the year you turned 4 Jelly Bean insisted we have a birthday party for you because you came into foster care right after you turned 3. You probably don't remember the moon bounce or the presents. But I do. And your "Mom" before me was there with your former foster siblings. 

I know you don't think of me as "Mom" now. You call me by my first name until your sisters correct you. It's fine with me. You should not have to remember the time you were away from your mother. You should only remember you were loved every day, always. I realize as time goes by, you will forget more and more of your time with us. I keep it in my heart. Ready to share it with you whenever you ask. I'm sure someday you will.

You are turning into a handsome young man. Full of energy and fun. And I love your smile! I'm so glad to be a witness to your life. You have grown so far from the little boy who fell asleep in my arms. I love you forever.

Foster Mom R

Monday, June 23, 2014

Court

We had court last week. It was just a status hearing but the psych eval on Sheila and trauma assessments on the children were being admitted to the record. Sheila almost no showed again. If we had started on time she would have missed the hearing entirely. As it was, we started 45 minutes late and she was 5 minutes later than that, so she walked in before too much information was shared. 

The take away was that Bio Mom's prognosis is poor. According to the report, it is unlikely that she will be able to protect her children or stop being a victim of domestic violence and the recommendation was termination of parental rights. The judge once again said that there was no progress being made. 

Thankfully, the judge took the most important piece of the kids' trauma assessments and commented that they need permanency very soon. She said that it was clear from the reports that if a permanent solution is not found soon, the children will suffer further trauma and that isn't in their best interest. She also said that this case has been in her courtroom for 11 years and we are basically in the same spot we were in the 1st time. 

The States Attorney was speaking in "ifs". "The next permanency hearing is critical. If nothing is improved we will probably recommend a goal change of termination." And similar statements. She talked about a bunch of procedural stuff on the Dad's which makes me believe they are at the cross your t's, dot your I's stage.

Sheila ran out of court and briefly said hi passing us in the hall afterwards. The next day she called to set up a schedule for phone calls since she's been missing them. She even stated she wouldn't work that day so that she didn't miss the calls. She talked about focusing on her case and not on work. She talked about becoming an effective parent. It sounded like she was just mimicking the things she's been hearing at parenting class. (And I'm sorry but if you can't remember a 15 minute call with your kids once a week we have some bigger issues. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.)

She asked for our house rules and wrote them down at the suggestion of Stella. (And this is where I hope the person observing them at the parenting class was paying attention. The 9 year old suggested Mom adopt rules because no one was taking turns. Said rules were offered to Mom months ago.)

All great things. But sadly, too late. The time for this full court press was last year. And even so, like the judge pointed out, this family has a long history with the system.

I listened. I tried to support without being condescending. I very clearly restated how serious the kids' mental health issues are. She would agree and then contradict the statements she was making, confirming for me that she doesn't really understand. I was glad she made statements like "my kids deserve my best". It will make it easier when they ask me later on in life if their Mom tried to get better. Our intentions are to keep her a part of their life with us, so I also tried to keep that in mind as I listened to the excuses she was giving me. 

I'm still not ready to say we are for sure heading for adoption. I've heard too many stories of the goal not changing despite what everyone seemed to say. I'm just taking it one day at a time praying that the next three months don't contain a lot of drama. We have a lot of hard work to begin in therapy and my hope is that we get far enough along so that if the goal changes in the fall, the kids are better prepared. It is clear the Sheila has some major issues to work on and I don't see them getting resolved in three months. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

1/2 Marathon Complete, Now What?

Two weekends ago I ran a 1/2 marathon. We'll okay. I ran the first 8 miles of it. The last 5 were more walking fast. 13.1 miles is a long way. I set the goal in January as an outlet. A goal for me to have control over. Something noone else could dictate to me. We had so much of that last year and are starting to see it again with this case. (Evidenced by the email I got one Friday morning to "please make the children available for this appointment on Monday at 6PM".). 

It was a beautiful day for a race. The weather was perfect. The only drawback was it was in Bio Mom's town. I spent a lot more of the nearly four hours thinking about our journey and trying to keep her out of my head than I planned. I couldn't help but wonder where she was in relationship to me as I ran through the town.

I thought about the Fab Four and the Quartet. About all of the things we've overcome. I thought about the heartache and how my physical pain while training never came close to feeling that awful. I thought about the chemical pregnancies and the crushed hope of the positive pregnancy tests that two days later turned into a period. 

I reminded myself that I am strong. That my feet have not failed me. Nor has my heart. I have done some pretty amazing things in my life and even though every step of mile 12 was painful I was adding a 1/2 marathon to that list. I just had to keep going, a mantra I've been chanting for the past four years. 

As I rounded that last bend and I saw my Hubby, brother and sister-in-law cheering for me I got tearyeyed. That's how all big accomplishments should end. A cheering squad of people who love you. 

People always talk about how running allows you to clear your head and cleanse the mind. I've found that to be true. It's not the actual running I enjoy. It's the way it makes me feel when I'm done. It took me almost six months to consider myself a runner. I'm not fast. I'm not thin. (Although I'm several inches thinner than when I started.) But I showed up to the start line and crossed back over the finish just like everyone else.

I will tell you this: being a foster parent is way harder than running 13.1 miles. That takes somewhere between 2 and 4 hours of a weekend. Foster parenting is every day. It's got bigger hills and harder road and takes way more fight and an even bigger heart. 

Just like foster parenting, I'm going to keep going. I'm registered for two more runs to continue to train for the Disney 1/2 marathon in February. I'm not going for a "goal change" now!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Permanency

Foster Care Land was a major thorn in my side this week. I had two last minute appointments that I really didn't have time for this week.

They were important meetings and needed to occur. Of course everyone is trying to cram everything in this week so that it gets into the report for court in two weeks. 

The first appointment were with the therapists, GAL, and new case worker to go over the trauma assessment for Stella and Sarah. For two hours we listened about the importance for permanency for these girls. We have official diagnoses of PTSD, Sever Depression, Anxiety, and potential ADHD. There are some major concerns for sexual abuse by a family member and we are right on the edge of Reactive Attachment Disorder. The kids have no connection to their Mom and dissociate when asked directly about her. They have not talked about her spontaneously and won't discuss visits.

It was hard to hear. Not because I'm worried about the work we have to do (although I probably should be). It was hard to hear how much they struggle, daily, and how it goes unnoticed by so many people. They are cute and smart and so many of their issues are overlooked because they appear like outgoing, happy kids. The problem is that the happiness is superficial and the outgoing personalities stem from uninhibited attachment due to multiple caregivers.

So when the case worker then asked us to squeeze her in so we could go over the Permanency Commitment form I couldn't say no. The form puts in writing our willingness to be the adoptive resource for the kids as DCFS starts to take the case to legal screening. If legal screening gives the go ahead they will go for a goal change of adoption. 

Officially, we will be in record as wanting to adopt these kids should the goal change. I'm a little overwhelmed by this new development. I'm having a hard time  believing that we are seriously discussing adopting a set of siblings after four years on this journey. I'm also trying not to get my hopes up in case this changes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

14 Kids on Vacation, Sure Why Not?

I.am.exhausted. We just got home from a weekend at the Waterpark resort with The Quartet, The Fab Four, and Simon and Smiley's former foster Mom who has 6 kids currently. 14 current or former foster children, ages 1-13. (Maria had to work.)

It was a great weekend. Pretty amazing when you think about how foster care normally works. Here were all these kids with former connections to other adults and kids who got to be all together again.    And the best part was they mostly got along. Mr. Mohawk and Simon looked like twins in their water wings battling the waves. Sarah and Jelly Bean were, of course, partners in crime. Stella and Gabby became pals and Smiley hung on Little Mama's every word. The big kids helped the littles and everyone survived.

Although, one of the kids (not with me) did let themselves out of the hotel room at 2 am and went missing for a few moments. Luckily, a security guard found the child (who was knocking on doors asking for food), and Hubby happened to hear them down the hall. This is a new placement and its clear that this child has some deep, deep trauma and neglect going on. No eye contact. No fear of others. Shaking the moment he was in trouble. Tantruming in public. Constantly hungry, terrible teeth, and craving sugar.

I have learned to not care why others think, but I was curious as to what was going through people's minds when we rolled into the pool with 14 kids: 8 Mexican, 6 African American, and three white parents. Only one person was brave enough to say anything. She remarked that we had a lot of kids to supervise and she thought 2 was hard. Lady, you don't know the half of it. If you heard the life stories of these children you would have signed up to give them an unforgettable weekend too. 

I got to connect with all of my kids this weekend. Even getting this letter from Gabby. She knows I love explaining how if you are getting hate mail, you are parenting the right way. Inside was a heart that said, "I will always love you."

We have come a long way in the last year. I continue to surprise myself with the fact that my heart just keeps growing bigger allowing more special people in. Never would I have though this annual trip would look like it did this weekend. Which is similar to last year when we spent the weekend with Maria and the Fab Four. I never imagined a family experience quite like this....this is way better.