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Friday, January 30, 2015

Foster Care Cliche

I'm not even sure where to begin this post. My head is swimming from today's events. It started with a secretary at the new school telling me Stella was classified as "homeless with the district" while she was standing next to me. The day ended with us finding out Sheila (Bio Mom) is pregnant. 

The information came from the loose lipped investigator who was clearly on a power trip. She asked all sorts of questions that had nothing to do with Sheila's Domestic Violence incident and everything to do with the stability of the children's placement with us. It was totally wacky. I've since learned this investigator has a reputation for being especially demanding of foster parents and totally out of touch. Lovely.

I guess the actual interview was fine as Hubby was allowed to sit in. Our therapists tried hard to get this nonsense stopped but the meeting happened anyway. Like me, they felt it was unnecessary for the kids to get dragged into this event. We still don't know what happened but I was able to see Sheila was in court trying to take an order of protection out on someone. I believe it was denied.

As for the pregnancy, if it's true, I'm not all that surprised. This would make #7.  Since the kids were taken for neglect and there is another domestic violence incident it's possible the department will be following up on the baby. If the case is still open its possible the baby would be placed in foster care at birth. If her rights are terminated its also possible the state could move to terminate her rights on the grounds that her rights were involuntarily terminated for siblings of the child. This could mean she'll sign an identified surrender. It could also mean we may be asked to take the baby.

A baby was not on my radar. In fact, I was just coming to terms with the idea that I'm not meant to have a baby. I was letting go of that possibility and becoming settled in the knowledge I'm a Mom of 4. I'll have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th grader next year. A baby means starting over. A baby means diapers and no sleep. A baby also means more love, another beautiful sibling to my kids,a child who needs protecting (Sheila has not corrected the issues that brought her children into care 2 years ago or 5 years ago, or 10 years ago.)

They always tell you the bios start over when their rights are terminated. I guess I was hoping that she would really try to learn what choices she was making that put her in this predicament but that doesn't seem to be the case. After yesterday I'm even more certain that these kids need to be out of the system.




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Get Knocked Down

The range of emotions I experienced today was ridiculous. I have felt overwhelmed, excited, happy, annoyed, disappointed, overwhelmed and then devastated. At 7:00 pm when I arrived home, I wasn't sure how much more I could take. 

The answer is: apparently some more because then I received a message from DCFS that they were sitting in front of my house at 4:30 needing to see my children. 

This is not a phone call anyone wants to get but it's almost guaranteed as a foster parent. The investigation because of a spiteful bio parent or a comment a child made that wasn't clear and the next thing you know, your kids are removed and you license is up for grabs.

This was the last thing I needed in the middle of a move. In the middle of Grad School. In the middle of running a 1/2 marathon in 21 days. In the middle of transitioning 4 kids to yet another school.

Of course this particular investigator was very hard to understand. After a few minutes though, I figured out we were not under investigation. Sheila is. She was accused of domestic violence against someone else and because she mentioned her children and they are in the report they have to do a well being check.

So they haven't seen their mother for 3 weeks and had no contact. Their last visit was supervised. They have seen their case worker (from your office and agency), their CASA worker, and their therapists and you need to see them anyway? To ask them what exactly.

"No questions. I just need to see them."

Seriously? What.is.the.point.of.that? 

So because Bio Mom got arrested and said her children's names I have to drop everything and meet with DCFS (again) this month so they can not ask my children questions? 

I told her she could meet us at the therapists' office tomorrow evening as my kids have been traumatized by enough interviews. I also demanded that she contact the Case worker. Then I emailed the team about this nonsense and the comment that the investigator felt this might impact next week's visitation plan.

I feel like all the energy just left my body after I hung up that call. Then Smiley walked into the kitchen to handle a note about a project due Friday. Fantastic! 

So I checked Sheila's facebook. Sure enough, her cover photo is now an older photo of the kids. 

If you care so much, stop dragging them down with you. Let them be and quit causing them further stress and trauma. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Surrender

Its been a hectic and interesting week.  I'm busy with the move, grad school, and a lice infestation. (Seriously the grossest thing I've had to do as a mother.  I'll take stomach flu over lice any day.)  And of course this is the week that Caseworker #3 reaches out about Bio Dad possibly relinquishing his rights.  He wants to know if he did sign a surrender, would we still involve him in his children's lives and allow him to maintain a relationship with him.

My head may spin off.  For real.

Not because of the question but because of the timing. 

PEOPLE LISTEN UP! I can't handle one more thing that requires concentration. Or thought. Or empathy.  My brain is mush and I have a Strengths Assessment from the folks over at Gallup that says empathy is not one of my strengths. Seriously out of 35 strengths, empathy doesn't make the top 30.

Something as important as the discussion of openness in adoption requires careful consideration.

Not seeing his Bio Dad again would crush Simon.

I met Bio Dad once when I picked the kids up from a visit.  We have a service that transports the kids to and from visits which are 45-60 minutes away from our house so run ins are rare.  (The kids get transported to a fast food place near Bio Dad. And I've said over and over we have one 10 minutes from our house and doesn't it make sense for the Bio Dad (who is supposed to be working towards getting his kids) to have to travel instead of the kids but that falls on deaf ears...) You either meet parents at court or case reviews.  Because we work and the case review is in the county handling the case for DCFS, and not the county where the children reside, we mostly do those and family meetings on the phone. Bio Dad has not been to court when I have been there.  We have not gone the last few hearings because they don't really pertain to the kids (these have been about scheduling the TPR Trial), court runs late, and the courthouse is 1 1/2 hours from our house. 

Bio Dad was nice.  He was dressed nice, he smiled, seemed happy to meet me and let me snap a few pictures of the kids with him.  Aside from his lack of consistency with the visits and non-compliance with the case plan, he has been appropriate with the kids.  He brings activities for them, provides meals, and sends gifts that are age appropriate.  He also sends shoes which is fantastic! Kids always need shoes.  (They do not need: candy, chips, nail polish, glitter make-up, or another doll that looks like she's dressed in lingerie. Seriously.  The kids came home with another of this same doll.  Now tell me she doesn't look like a hooker?)

All I know about this guy is that he beat up Bio Mom while she was pregnant with Sarah.  Got Bio Mom pregnant a second time, and then was sent to jail for beating her up again after breaking into her house. His kids really love spending time with him. He has at least one other child. And now, he would consider surrender if we'd be open to allowing him contact with his kids.

I'm sure I've got a very limited view here.  Similar to Maria, I can only see a very small window into this person. And now we've got to decide what a relationship would look like.

I started with asking Caseworker #3 what "involved" and "maintain a relationship" means to him.  I think at a very minimum, we would require some sort of meeting with the therapy team so that he can understand more about the mental health of the kids.  A lot of our decisions about contact are going to be based on where they are at emotionally with adoption and their mental health treatment plans.

Can he be respectful of boundaries we set up? Will he be sober? Does he understand everything will be supervised? Will he respect our role as the parents? Does he understand he won't get a voice in decision making pertaining to the kids?

Maybe he just doesn't want to lose track of them? Maybe a shared Facebook Page and a semi-annual visit plan would be enough?

Last month this wasn't something he was willing to consider.  Maybe his attorney advised him that he may have better access to the kids if he volunteers to sign the surrender.  (We never offered this, but its the logical conclusion.) Maybe his attorney told him he has no chance of keeping his rights in tact because he didn't work the case plan (again).  But I think it was the Christmas gift we sent.  A framed professional portrait of Simon and Sarah.  Their adorable dimples and huge grins in a blue frame that they lovingly picked out.  I also sent a copy of the photo and their school pictures.  Such an easy thing to do and it may be the olive branch that allows my kids to have less loss in their life.  Both kids told both Hubby and I separately that their Dad said he loved the photo and to thank us for sending.





 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Shared Children

As a foster/adoptive parent I have to share my children with others.  Others have loved them. Others have known them as well as I do. Others have made decisions about their lives.  As we head into our adoption (legally the case is pending TPR which still has not been scheduled) our therapy team has begun to talk a lot about claiming as part of attachment.  The kids need to claim us as their family and we have to claim them. (They/Us are not objects.  We are talking in an emotional sense.) I spent the past 48 hours "claiming my family as my own".  We took a break together in the midst of all the crazy that will happen in the next month. It was amazing and I feel re-charged and ready to claim our next chapter as we move as a family.

But I'm struggling with something that happened this week and it occurred to me that those reading might have to endure or have endured a similar situation.  I know sometimes just knowing you aren't the only one is helpful. So I decided to share this particular issue.

One of the realities of sharing my children is that often others feel they know best. Bio parents, relatives, former foster parents.  We are all guilty of this, especially me.  I've written an entire blog worth of posts about how I knew what was best for the 8 children in my home over the course of 4 years. Of course we know best, we are the people who love and care for children! Of course we do the best we can, with what we've got, at any particular moment.  We are all praying for the best and try to make sound decisions, but we don't always get it right.  I myself, have been known to fail spectacularly.  Or be proven wrong. But I try my darndest.

Stella and Sarah's former foster Mom reached out this week.  I haven't shared the sordid details but I have shared my thoughts on my interactions with this person. Last year after the girls moved in we had scheduled sleep over visits to continue contact. We firmly believe that kids shouldn't loose people because they move, if those people are safe.   The week of the 2nd visit we were asked to not only extend the amount of time of the visit but also allow the Smiley and Simon to go on the visit.  We had plans and politely declined.  Then less than 24 hours later we received word that they were cancelling the visit and wanted no further contact because they just felt it was too hard on the girls.

I was floored.  Because to me, it seemed like a big old tantrum. I didn't get my way, so I'm going to take my ball and go home. It hurt my kids tremendously.  We were left to try and explain the unexplainable: These people say they love you but they hurt so much they don't want to see you. How do you explain that to kids? How do you explain that to foster kids, who are forced to see people that have hurt them on a weekly basis?

Then a few months later we were contacted and told they were moving out of state and could we let them see the girls to say goodbye? And we agreed because Stella was still struggling with no closure from her loss.  This was the 1st Mom who cared for her in a nurturing way.  We asked that the therapists assist with this goodbye and they did. Stella asked some tough questions like why did they make her move out of their house and why did they have to say goodbye.  We told her the judge was looking for a forever family for all four of the kids and the other family wasn't a forever family for them.  Blaming no contact on an out of state move was the simplest reason.

But as most things, it isn't enough for Miss Stella.  She always pushes her boundaries. Not in a defiant way. Rather, she really wants to understand the parameters she's being given. And even though she know something to be true or not true, she will insist on the opposite in hopes it will become true.  (For instance at least once a day she tells me we are going to Disney World in 2 years.  We have no such trip planned. We have not discussed this in any real way.  But she will tell you, as surely as she would tell you her name, we are going to Disney World in 2 years.) I think in her heart, Stella knows that the reasons she was given for the loss of contact don't really hold up.  And she would be right.  There was no reason that she should have lost contact.  But it wasn't her decision and it wasn't mine.

So this week FFM (Former Foster Mom), reached out through the other former foster Mom.  Apparently she has not moved and would like a second chance to form a relationship with us.  I'm annoyed by the way this information made its way to me.  I'm annoyed she put the other former foster mom in the middle.  I'm annoyed at the message that was shared and I'm annoyed that this woman is occupying any more of my mind.  (I'm also annoyed that the other former foster mom brought it up.  She didn't witness all that took place and she is coming from a view point that this situation is workable.)

My initial thought was what for? Its clear we don't like each other.  She is only doing this for her own heartache.  I totally get that.  I would be devastated if I could not see the Fab Four.  But then again, I worked really hard to ensure that I could see them by building a positive relationship with Maria. I have nothing to gain from a relationship with her.  When I could have used insight into the girls or Sheila's history, she refused to help me.

 But as her Mom, I always need to think about what's best for Stella. This person holds part of her history. This person cares for her, even if I think she had a funny way of showing it.  But the his person also hasn't been consistent in her follow through and she has failed to support Stella in her placement in our home. Right now on the cusp of changing schools and changing goals, we have to say no to this person coming back into her life.

As a foster Mom, this hurts me because it's so unnecessary. It didn't have to be this way. But as Stella's Mom, I have to protector her and I feel this is the right decision. I feel it's one of those decisions that looking back, she might question my motivations because it goes against my nature to be inclusive.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Individualized Education Plan or IEP

I went looking for the previous post I wrote about IEPs but it turns out I never published it because it was the week before the Fab Four went home.  It doesn't really talk about the IEP process itself but here it is:

4/3/2013 - Unpublished Post - Fake It Till You Make It
So we had Jelly Bean's IEP meeting today. Caseworker and Mom were there. I tried to stay upbeat an happy. Directing all questions to Mom. Making sure she understood exactly how behind JB is and how much she'll need her to fight to get the assistance in place.

Afterwards we met and discussed the post unification visits. We scheduled the first few including the kid's birthdays. I tried to let her lead and overall it was positive. She was ok with our plan for next week and gave me their address.

I tried to keep a positive, light attitude. I tried to seem happy. But I'm sad. And scared. And overwhelmed. And I don't think I've ever been this afraid of quiet in my life. I know I'm coming across as totally fine about this but in my car, at night, the tears come easily and often.

So ready for this to be over and at the same time I'm trying to hold onto every second.

Tonight we begin packing. The plan is for a Wednesday move if the judge grants custody on Monday.

****************************************************************************

Let me tell you, it is much easier to pack up 4 kids than it is to pack up an entire house you've been living in.....

So we had an IEP meeting for Smiley this week.  An IEP is a plan that the school puts in place in order for kids to receive special education services.  Students can qualify in several ways.  Jelly Bean qualified for her ADHD and her emotional diagnosis as these affected her ability to learn in the classroom without modification.

Smiley has a speech issue.  She does not articulate certain sounds correctly. Her S, Z, CH, and SH sound like mush when she says them.  When she first came to us she was very hard to understand at times.  (In addition, all of my kids tend to mumble and speak softly.  I'm constantly say "I can't hear you", "What?", "Are you talking to me?" Its super annoying.)  There are times when I have to asked her to phrase something differently because I can't understand her words.  Thus far, she doesn't seem to get too frustrated by this.  She is smart and above average in all of her comprehension and reading scores.  When she's not throwing a tantrum or being stubborn, she has this really sparkling happy personality.  I joke that one day she will use her powers for good vs. evil. She is always in the middle of the circle of girls!

But she is heading into 1st grade and that's when kids become mean.  I also want to make sure she isn't hindered in any way by an issue that can be fixed.  Luckily the speech teacher was willing to get the evaluations done quickly and get the paperwork signed before we have to negotiate the adoption subsidy and before we move. The IEP is supposed to follow students from school to school for continuity which should mean a seem less transition to the new school. (Hear the optimism? I've got just about 2 teaspoons of it left after this week.)


She starts this week working on her goals. I'm hoping she thinks this is fun....

 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday


Today was definitely Monday. It was one of those days where I did NOT have my act together and never recovered. Hence, I'm sitting on my couch watching crap TV in my pajamas waiting for the washing machine to finish so I can go to bed. I really should be packing. Or homework. Or checking homework. 

And it wasn't even a bad day because of the kids. The kids were great. It was all my own misses. Topped off with setting my GPS to the wrong destination and then getting stuck at a freight train crossing. I ended up being in the car for 2 additional hours tonight.

But it's fine we got the CASA and Caseworker #3 visit out of the way for the month. 

We were given the task of getting the kids fingerprinted. (I've been a foster mom for 4 years and never heard of this.) I understand why this should be done but shouldn't this be part of the intake? I haven't looked at the paperwork but I suspect I will have to prove their identity and I'm not sure how I will do that with anything but their Medical Cards. 

So ready for bed...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Not a Miss

So it turns out that the missed visit wasn't really a miss. The transportation/supervision group messed up and actually did hear from Bio Dad that he intended to have his visit. 

We got an email.

Hubby called: Hey did you see the email?
Me: No. What email?
Hubby: Bio Dad did confirm, they should have had a visit.
Me: Oh that's real nice. That doesn't help me kid with sky high anxiety now does it?
Hubby: Just reply back that this Sunday is fine. But don't be bitchy about it.
Me: You don't want me to reply how I want to reply then maybe you should reply.
Hubby: Ok

Light years people, light years from 4 years ago when it would have sent me into a fuming rant about incompetence  and further hurt to my children. I would have sent a terse email and called to complain.

Only a few more months....

Sunday, January 4, 2015

PHD in Google

I've long felt that I should be given an honorary PHD in Googling. I'm nosey, I'll admit it. And I'm always trying to understand and know things and the ease of the Internet search engine is really spectacular for someone like.  

Given that I live a large part of my life in the dark, because no one tells the foster parents anything, I've had to become resourceful at getting information.

You'd be surprised how much stuff you can find on-line.  Most counties have their court records on-line to some degree. Some just have charges and dates others have summaries of what happened in a particular hearing and if fees have been paid in full.

I stumbled across Sheila's profile on a social media website this week. From there I found siblings and cousins and pictures. Pictures of my kids when they were little. You have no idea how excited I was.

I saved picture after picture. I looked at their adorable 2-5 year old faces. I have no idea who the adults were in some of the pictures but I assume they were family members.

From their I stumbled upon Sheila's Facebook page.  She uses a completely false name which is why I never found it before. It was an interesting peek at this woman that I share so much with but hardly know. Picture after picture of herself. Quote upon quote about men and relationships and only a handful of stuff about her 6 kids. 

I know from others that watching the newsfeed of a bio parent can be gut wrenching. And in fairness, Facebook is an edited version of everyone's life but  Agee months ago there was a post about how disappointed she was in her kids' father for never being there for them. 

I was flabbergasted. Umm- which father? Because there are 5 and how can you write that knowing that's none of the six kids has lived with you for 2 years. How about you start worrying about you being there for them?

That's when I stopped reading. I shut Facebook off. I gave some thought to how I felt about the kids being on her page with her 1000+ friends. I know this is a big source of tension for other adoptive families. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  For now, I'm grateful that I found the pictures for their  lifebooks (including pictures of their siblings) and names of family members in case the kids want to connect in the future. I also found a store that Stella talks about visiting with her Mom. Should we ever visit her birthplace, this will be a landmark to see.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Missed Visit

Simon had a rough weekend.  He was waiting for confirmation that he was going to have his visit Sunday with his (and Sarah's) Dad. He was sad and worried and basically chewed his fingers raw. At 6:30 pm Saturday, I finally got word that his Dad did not confirm, and therefore,there would be no visit this month. 

DCFS has been very clear. He misses 2 consecutive months and the visits will stop altogether. 

Simon came to me at bedtime and told me that he was ready to tell me why he looked sad earlier when I asked him what was wrong.  He said he was worried about his visit with his Dad, that it wouldn't take place.  I of course had to tell him that there would not be a visit.

His big brown eyes welled up with fat tears that rolled down his cherub-like cheeks. He tried so hard to hold it in. I scooped him up into my lap and rocked him for a long while. In the end, I was able to get him to giggle and give him extra hugs.

When I told Sarah she just kind of blinked at me and shrugged. 

Four years and eight kids and never have two of them reacted the same way to any one event! 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Minimum Parenting Standards- An Update

It looks like this post got some love this week in the Blog-o-sphere. I love when my old posts become new (to you) because it gives me a chance to go back and see how far we've come.

I write this blog with an honest voice: how I'm feeling at the time and what I've learned through this process. I often bristle at my own honesty and the post about Minimum Parenting Standards is no exception.  I was angry then. Angry that we had to participate in the excercise. Angry that the circus of 7 professionals made it our responsibility, and angry that the case was moving so slowly.

That post was written a year before the kids went home. And even the week they did go home, I was still unsure that Maria was going to be able to meet her kids' needs. The greatest lesson I learned was that I had to trust a broken system.

I like to think we helped in the end. In the post, I wrote I didn't want to help Maria. And I didn't then. But then it came down to: do I want to watch my kids get hurt again by failing or do I want to build them up by helping their family suceed? 

I don't think you can learn to love these kids and not pick the 2nd option. And a big piece that I was missing was that Maria really was working hard, I just didn't know any better.  She had a lot to overcome. I know that now and I tell her how proud of her I am each time we see her.

This past weekend as she sat in the passenger seat of my mini-van, she excitedly shared news of the progress on her passport, immigration paperwork, and driver's license appointment. When I wrote that post in May 2012, there was no way you could have convinced me that a trip to the movies (or away for the weekend) would be in our future. Or that I would truly be pleased for her progress or side with her on parenting decisions. "You're Mom is right" often comes out of my mouth when the kids are telling me stories.

I really wish we could get to a similar place with Sheila.  A positive, supportive relationship would be so much better for the kids.  Right now in the case, she isn't ready to view us in a positive way.  And I totally understand the point of view.  I just wish it were different and my hope is that with time, this too will change.