Sunday, May 24, 2015

my biggest pet peeve

When it comes to foster care, a lot of people tire of hearing phrases like, "I could never give them back." Or, "You're such a saint."

And while those phrases grate on me something fierce, I've decided that my least favorite phrase to hear from anyone surrounding my kids is:
I want to take him home with me.
Or the close cousin:
Do you want to come home with me?
Those phrases are hurtful. They undermine everything I'm doing. And if the child is old enough to understand what they're hearing, they're scary as Hell to the child!!

Think about it...

This child just lost EVERYTHING they knew! They were moved to a strange home. They're being cared for by new people. EVERYTHING looks different. Feels different. Smells different. Sounds different. Tastes different.

They have a new bed. They have new clothes. They're using different body care products. The people around them talk differently. The food they're eating is new and very different.

This is true in EVERY single foster child's life!!!!

Have I emphasized how EVERYTHING is different for this child enough yet?!

Yes. They should be safe from further abuse now. But that is not enough to offset how incredibly upside-down their world is. These kids, in most cases, WANT their family back. Of course they want their family and they want a life without neglect and abuse. But ultimately...they want their family back. They want their normal back.

The LAST THING they want to do is go to ANOTHER HOME!!

So Miss Lady at the Hair Cutting Salon...I know you meant well. I know you didn't mean to say that you'd love to become a foster parent and you're ready to take all the trainings, undergo the background checks, and open your entire life to the scrutiny of a licensing agency and/or the State. You just wanted to express how cute my kid is.

You're guilty too Miss Social Worker at the licensing agency. And Miss Check Out Clerk at the grocery store. And Miss Nurse at the doctor's office. (Different kids. Same story. My kids were cute and strangers offered to take them home with them.)

I've heard this phrase tooooooo many times!

Dear reader, if you are guilty of saying this to anyone else's child, please consider dropping it from your vocabulary. Even the most secure of children could be frightened of the thought of being sent to a stranger's home.

Tell me my child is cute. Tell me he looks like a fun child to care for. Tell me how lucky I am. But please, please, please, don't tell me you want to take my child home with you!

Friday, May 22, 2015

more reader questions answered

Russell is still asleep. TT and Bart are frying their brains watching TV. The house is reasonably clean and I don't have any freelancing that has to be done.

So I'll answer some more questions.  :)
Thank you for finding time to post so frequently and for answering questions and sharing your knowledge. To keep you going: what is Ricky planning for the next year? What new skills is Russell learning and working on. (This hopefully helps you see the HUGE progress he has made since his arrival at your home.) What are the major themes you plan on for the next 4 months of homeschool...... or activities TT&Bart will focus on for summer. How do you manage living in your climate in the summer. (I particularly wonder as just prior to WWII my parents lived there and there was no a/c and there were LOTS of .... insects with no controls. My mother, from the Pacific NW, was not entranced.)
What is Ricky planning for the next year?
Ricky was held back in 1st grade so even though he's 18 years old, Ricky has to finish high school. He'll be a senior next year. His time will be spent working at his job, competing with the swim team as a diver, and going to school. He'll come over to the house every now and then and I anticipate that he and Herman will remain friends. Basically, he'll get to be a normal kid and he won't have CPS breathing down his neck. He still lives with his godmother, Rebecca, and everything is going great there.

What new skills is Russell working on?
Russell has learned out to sit up with incredible ease. He goes from prone to sitting and the physical therapist said his transitions are excellent!! (She was surprised at how "normal" his transitions are!) We will continue working with everything we can to help Russell catch up to what his normal should be. (As a child with Down syndrome it is expected that he will be delayed.) We will continue to do exercises that strengthen his trunk and core muscles. We will help him learn to pull up and cruise. I'm looking forward to some progress with fine motor skills so he can do things like feed himself toddler foods.

What are we doing for homeschool this summer?
I've mentioned how my boys are going to go back to brick and mortar school next fall. To make a long story short, it's largely due to football. TT wants to play football and homeschooled kids aren't allowed to do any public school extracurriculars. And, there is no city-run football program after the 5th grade. TT starts 6th grade in the fall so if he wants to play sports, he has to go to public school. (And no, there is no homeschool program down here that offers football either.)
Bart doesn't "need" homeschool as much as TT does. It doesn't make sense to keep him home if I'm sending TT to middle school. Bart will go back to the elementary he attended for kindergarten and 1st grade. He'll be in 5th grade there.

This summer the boys are going to keep working on math and spelling. When we pulled TT out of the online charter school he was attending, I knew we needed to do math differently than how public school had been teaching it. I bought Math-U-See and started both boys with the level Gamma (multiplication). Last year they did both Gamma and Delta (division). This year the boys did Epsilon (fractions). Over the summer we will do Zeta (decimals and percents). That will give both boys a very solid base in math and neither should struggle with how the public schools present things to them when they go back. Bart will be well ahead of most students and TT should be right on target. They'll be missing a little bit of elementary geometry - but not enough where they'll struggle.

As for spelling...yikes! Bart has ADHD and can't spell to save his life. He reads several grade levels ahead of where he's at though so I'm not too worried. It will come. I couldn't spell either when I was a kid. Spell check is my very best friend and a synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the one you want.

TT has made improvements with his reading. He still has dyslexia - and he always will. I'm not sure how he's going to fare in public school long term. He needs help incredible help with spelling, writing and reading for comprehension. We'll keep reading all summer and I'm hoping by continuing on with spelling curriculum, he won't lose any of the progress we've made.

Overall though, we're a family that values learning. I actually have more of an "unschooling" attitude than I'd like to admit. The boys will invent games this summer. They'll build with their Legos. Bart is going to a science camp on South Padre Island again this year (TT is going on a B.A.C.A. camp-out with Mr. Amazing that same weekend.) We'll read books out loud. I'll encourage both boys to read on their own (Bart is a book worm - I have to push TT a bit). They'll learn a lot this summer just because that's how we do things.

How do I manage living in my climate during the summer?
This question made me laugh!!!!

It's easy to answer. Two words. Air conditioning!!

I praise God daily this time of year that our home has two A/C units and I can afford to pay our electric bill. We've got window darkening screens that help. And I don't run the A/C as cold as some of the others do down here. But I don't go outside much in the summer and I look forward to fall and winter a lot! (We're already up in the low 90s most of the time with nighttime lows in the mid to upper 70s. Won't be long til we're over 100 most days. It's hot down here!!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

the sisters

I had the monthly visit from Russell's CPS caseworker today. Other than how the appointment was scheduled, and the fact that the caseworker showed up 40 minutes later than she had already rescheduled, things went fine.

Russell's caseworker is attentive and took notes during the whole visit. She asked good questions and was very supportive of me. She made sure there was nothing I needed of her.

And right now - things are good. I didn't need Ms. Caseworker for anything other than permission to give Russell's hair a trim. She assured me she'll get permission from Bio Mom for that at tomorrow's visit.

While we were chatting, Ms. Caseworker asked me if I had any other foster kids in our home. I told her no. It's important for me to be able to meet all of Russell's needs and I couldn't do that and juggle another case at the same time. However, I did add, "I'm also keeping my home open in case the State needs to move Russell's sisters here."

Ms. Caseworker's ears perked immediately up.

She is very unhappy with the current relative placement the girls are in. Because yes, the State was able to get custody of baby Star recently as well. I guess Russell' sisters are with an aunt. I think there are as many as 11 children in the home. Ms. Caseworker does not like that adult/child ratio!

Nothing is going to happen right away. But yes, I did say that I'd take Violet (age 3) and Star (newborn). We've got the room and the ability to manage all three kids - especially since Russell is so incredibly easy to manage on a day to day basis. And because it'd just be one case, I wouldn't be dealing with a separate visit schedule (most likely) and court would happen all at the same time for all three kids. Multiple cases is crazy hard to manage. But three kids isn't as bad when they're all part of the same case.

We'll see what happens. Foster care is nothing if not an adventure!!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

the process of adoption through foster care

I think I've answered most of the other questions people asked when I put out the request for blog topics. This is the last one. A reader wants to know about the process of adoption through foster care. Specifically, when family has expressed interest, but not until adoption comes up.

I don't want to leave this reader hanging...but I really don't have much experience with this topic. The adoption of TT was anything but typical and the process was different from anyone else I've ever read about that adopted through foster care. TT's parents chose adoption for him by signing their rights away at the hospital. But they didn't go through an adoption agency or make any legal plans ahead of TT's birth so it went through the foster care system. We had to hire a lawyer and it functioned sort of like a domestic adoption with cheaper legal fees for us.

The process of adopting through foster care is also different if you're adopting a waiting child (one whose parents' rights have already been terminated). Last Mom and her husband adopted an older child and she writes about the experience with their daughter, Princess, on her blog.

As for fostering, and waiting for rights to be terminated, and then adopting because no family can be found...that seems to work differently for every single case. In some cases, TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) happens quickly. Some, like Rebecca at Fosterhood, wait for years just for the full TPR hearing to happen.

Readers...if you blog about foster care and adopting through The System...can you help me out? Please comment with a link to your blog. As comments come in, I'll also put links up on my FB page so people can click through and read your story.

Thank you!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

what we knew we could handle

I got asked this question on my FB page.
I'm new to fostering and I wondered if when you started you had a certain idea of how much/many you could handle/help and if that evolved or changed as you went on. And also for your husband were you guys on the same page? I'm thinking it was probably case by case, call by call... But wanted to check with you. We have had our first placement, a newborn I was blessed to pick up from the hospital in January, it's going great and I cant wait for our next call! My husband is more on the fence its all going so well he's nervous to "rock the boat" in the end I feel if it's meant to be it will happen, but I wanted your thoughts on your experience. Thanks!
It has been case by case and call by call for the most part.
I'll give you our story and try to answer your questions.

We got the "call" to foster over a dozen years ago. Honestly, I can't exactly remember when it was that we finally decided it was something Mr. Amazing and I were supposed to commit to. We lived in Iowa. We had talked about it. Not to add to our family permanently per se. No. We wanted to foster. To help keep families together.

My Genius Sister was a social worker at that point in time. My Genius Mother taught preschool. My Genius Brother was going to med school. Hearing their stories from the front lines didn't scare me. In fact, we heard the things they had to say and it strengthened our resolve.

I don't remember when it all finally came together though. Mr. Amazing and I had been thinking about fostering. Praying about it. And everywhere we went it seemed there were messages about the need for foster parents. On billboards. On the radio. In church.

We signed up for the classes and took our required 12 hours. (Licensing has changed since then!) And yes, from the beginning, Mr. Amazing and I have been on the same page. I do know that's made this journey easier. We continually talk about our roles in this crazy. For example, he really steps up with taking care of TT and Bart in the evenings after work because he knows I've been busy handling a lot with all the kids all day long.

After taking the classes, things got a little messy in my family. My cousin, TreeTree, was making a lot of poor choices. Her parents talked with Mr. Amazing and I and we decided that maybe it would be helpful for my cousin to come move in with us for awhile. In a way, we became foster parents.

In the meantime, the State of Iowa lost our paperwork. The actual licensing process came to a halt. We were busy with TreeTree though and I didn't even think about chasing anyone down.

TreeTree moved on. I got a new job. Mr. Amazing graduated (as a non-trad student) from junior college. We sold our house and moved a couple hours north.

Once settled in our new home, I called the State and asked where we were at in the licensing process. They admitted to losing our paperwork and grandfathered us in on the training we had already done. They completed our home study and then we finally had to decide what kinds of kids would be best in our family.

I know we were more "cautious" back then (for lack of a better term). We were more concerned with birth order and things like that. Also, because I worked outside of the home, I knew we couldn't easily take on a huge sibling group at once. I honestly don't remember what we told anyone though. I think our license was for several children with the top age being around seven (the age Herman was at the time).

While in Iowa we only got called three times and we answered yes to two of those calls. We adopted TT at birth (our first call). And Jordan stayed with us for six months (our second call). Jordan was around 18 months old when he came. We knew his mother was pregnant as well. It was our intention to most likely care for Jordan's sister if/when she came in to Care as well.

Two weeks after Jordan came to our home, I found out I was pregnant with Bart. I did the math. There was NO way I'd be able to handle FOUR children ages two and under AND work full time outside the home AND freelance on the side. Everyone was saying that Jordan and his sister were going to be reunited prior to Bart's birth. But I didn't want to take any chances. We hadn't been fostering long but I knew better than that. DHS didn't have a problem with that and placed Jordan's sister in a different home. Both children were reunited in November. (Bart was born the day after Christmas that same year.)

About six months later Mr. Amazing and I started our adventures moving our family several times across the country. (Mr. Amazing went to North Dakota. We sold our house in Iowa. The kids and I went to Missouri. Mr. Amazing came to Missouri for about two months and then went to South Carolina. Then we all went to Utah together. Then to central Texas. Then back to Utah. And finally...all the way down here on the border of Mexico.)

When we decided to foster in Texas Mr. Amazing and I were on the same page again. I think he was possibly a little more adoption motivated that I was. But for the most part, we had our list of what we could handle and what we couldn't. We were open to three kids (the legal limit in Texas without being a group home). We knew we didn't want to foster any children that had known dangerous behaviors (fire starting, sexual acting out, animal cruelty, etc.). We didn't want to foster teen girls. (We are parenting a teen boy and we aren't stupid.) And we didn't want any children with extensive medical needs.

Almost every single placement has turned out to be something different that what we "agreed" to though. So as much as I had it in my mind of what we could handle, we've been pushed to handle so much more.

When we got the call for MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle we were told the girls had never been in foster care. We knew they had been seriously abused, but we had NO IDEA the incredible extent of abuse. And almost immediately we discovered that not only had they been abused in ways that made my skin crawl, but they had been in foster care almost their entire lives. Their behaviors were more than we could safely handle and we had to disrupt that placement. (Disruption sucks. But sometimes it's necessary.)

When we agreed to the placement of Pumpkin I was told that she had "some developmental delay and a limp". She was five and a half years old. But basically they dropped a 42 pound infant off at my home that day who couldn't talk, could barely walk, wasn't potty trained, and had untreated severe epilepsy.

I thought I had my questions down when we agreed to Dude and Dolly. I asked everything. I grilled them and my agency answered as many questions as possible. I was assured that they knew English. As I held two crying little children that night, I sent a text message to my agency director. "They lied!" was all I had to say. These kids did not speak English. They didn't even really speak Spanish!

Things were pretty up front about Daisy. But, she was being moved from one foster home to ours. That changes the information pathway some as our agency workers knew everything already and weren't relying on CPS to divulge all the information.

Quite a bit was held back when it came to Ricky's past. We lucked out though. He had honestly left that life behind and was super easy to take care of. 

With each placement we've taken, we've realized that we are capable of caring for kids with situations we probably never would have considered years ago. I mean...really...we weren't going to care for kids with special needs and we've had three with severe needs.

Basically, I guess what I've blabbered on about for too long is...
Make your list of questions. Talk about what behaviors/situations you think you can parent well and do try to stay within those parameters. But know that foster care IS going to push you. You WILL have to ride in that "rocked boat". But it's still all worth it.

I never would have wanted to agree to all that Pumpkin taught me. And damn...that girl HATED me. She was so challenging to care for. It was a very, very hard 21 months and I was so relieved when she finally got placed with her aunt and uncle.

But Pumpkin taught me about special needs. And because of that, I got to know Daisy. And even though I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for 10 months, I'm glad I got to know Daisy! And because of Daisy, I was comfortable saying "yes" to Russell. And oh my heavens...he is a dream child to care for. I kind of feel like your husband right now. I don't want to say "yes" to anyone else because I don't want to rock the boat!!

Monday, May 11, 2015

getting services started

Russell came to our home on Monday, April 6.

I took Russell to the doctor on Wednesday, April 8. The doctor did an exam and sent a referral, that day, to a local therapy company. Russell, due to his special needs, qualifies for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I explained to the doctor that Russell had been receiving these services while in the shelter in Central Texas.

The rehab company the doctor referred Russell to called me on Thursday, April 9. It wasn't the company I had asked the doctor to use. I decided to not rock the boat though. I explained to the company that I had to have in-home health services for Russell's PT, OT, and ST. (I will not go to the office for the quantity of services that Russell needs. I think it's incredibly important that I be an integral part of all of his therapies! Besides, I would go positively mad sitting in a waiting room that many hours every week!!) They said they would have to contact the doctor to get a new referral but that they'd handle it. I'm pretty sure I told the therapy company that Russell had been receiving these services while in the shelter and I just needed things transferred. Maybe I forgot that though.

On Thursday, April 16, the doctor's office called me and said that Medicaid required a specific kind of exam done on Russell in order to get services approved. Now, I'm quite confident that I told the person on the phone that Russell had already been receiving services. That didn't seem to matter. I was told that a specific developmental screening needed to be done.

Russell went back to the doctor on Friday, April 17, to get this special developmental screening taken care of. When I had to fill out the form for a typical developing 20 month old, I had to mark ZERO for absolutely every single skill. Obviously Russell qualifies for all three disciplines. Now it was officially official. I was told the doctor would be sending the paperwork off for Medicaid to approve.

Sometime the week of April 20, I called Medicaid myself. I was looking to see if Russell was going to have a specific Medicaid case manager. (Every special needs child I've ever had has had a case manager.) The person I got on the phone told me that Russell would and that they'd be calling me soon. (I've never had this much time pass between placement and the assignment of a case manager when it comes to my special needs kids.) The Medicaid lady told me that Russell hadn't been approved for therapies yet. I honestly don't remember what was the specific hold up but she seemed to think that things looked like they were in order and he'd be approved soon.

The rehab company called me on Monday, May 4 to tell me that the doctor's office had neglected to send the paperwork Medicaid was requiring. They told me they had contacted the doctor to get it taken care of.

The rehab company called me today, May 11, to tell me that now Medicaid was holding things up because Russell had already been approved for therapies and that his case was open. However, Medicaid needed to know that it was OK to transfer Russell's therapies from the company in Central Texas (from when he was in the shelter) to this new, local company. The rehab company told me I should call Medicaid myself to tell them to make the transfer. Just in case, they faxed me a form to fill out indicating a transfer of services should be in order.

I called Medicaid. They told me that yes, indeed, Russell did have a case manager. They transferred me to said person. I got the case manager's voice mail.

Finally, Krista called me back.

< sigh >

Krista informed me that Russell's therapies could have been started down here almost immediately. He had already qualified. All Medicaid needed all along was a transfer of services form filled out.

< sigh >

However, *I* couldn't fax this form to Medicaid myself. No no no no. I had to fill out the form, fax it to the rehab company, and they had to fax it to Medicaid on Russell's behalf.

Supposedly services should be able to start for Russell even yet this week.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

what do we tell the kids

A friend of mine posted when I asked for blog topics:
Along the same lines as others as far as your much do you tell them about the cases? My parents tell me pretty much everything. Even when they've not told me certain things, workers have said those details right in front of me. I've sat in on meetings, I look over all the paperwork my mom gets, etc. I know a lot of it is because of my age/interest/and because I want to go into the field. But how much do you tell your kids? Also, how much do you tell family members? (Genius Siblings, your mom, in-laws...) I know some of them read the blog, but do you tell them more than what you blog about, or do you have family members that don't know about the blog and who you tell less than is on the blog? much do I tell my family?

My kids know pretty much everything. I really don't know how we'd be able to foster in any other way. I have to have conversations about the abuse with a multitude of professionals. In Russell's case, I believe that anyone providing ANY kind of care for him NEEDS to know that he has healing fractures. His left arm is noticeably crooked from the recent break. His pediatrician said that the body often realigns things on its own. We'll x-ray and consider surgery to correct in six months if necessary. The last thing I need in my life is some well-meaning person, over this six month wait, thinking *I* hurt Russell and starting an investigation against me because of well-placed concern. I think it's better that I inform care givers (day care, doctors, nurses, church nursery workers, etc.) that Russell has healing fractures.

I couldn't effectively have these conversations and keep my other kids uninformed. Secrets aren't safe and I don't keep secrets from my kids. They would know something was amiss if I had to step away to answer questions or if I wouldn't talk about Russell in front of them. It just wouldn't work.

Also, I needed to inform TT and Bart so that they would know WHY they can't rough-house with Russell the way they want to sometimes.

So if they know that, they might as well know everything.

I'm honest though. And I won't allow my kids to bash the bio family in any way. I continually remind them that we don't know who abused Russell and it's not our responsibility to try and figure it out. Our job is to love on Russell now and for as long as the State says he needs to be in our home.

I tell My Genius Mother, Brother, and Sister everything too.

And yes, I know that's against the rules.

But my mother helps me tremendously in understanding specific details in regards to child development. My sister is my personal therapist of sorts. She helps me deal with my own emotions regarding the case and my interactions with the bio family and all the professionals. And my brother has to know details so he can answer my medical questions.

As for extended family and friends...I probably tell more than I should. But I try a little harder to give only basic details.

Exactly what do I tell people that wonder why Russell is so small though? I know I'm not supposed to say a thing. And it's not like I'm out broadcasting that he was being starved. But dammit - Russell doesn't know the difference when I tell someone how badly he was hurt. And sometimes I think people need to see that foster kids are real. That abuse is real. And that it affects children in profound ways. Russell isn't just some news story that people see briefly and then forget. And my family doesn't have some strange agenda where we're trying to collect children or make money off the State.

Shoot - I tell y'all a LOT. And I bet quite a few of my readers have figured out who I am online IRL.

With any of the older children we've cared for I've been MUCH more selective about anything I say out in public. NO ONE needs to know that the big kids are foster kids. Please don't think I go around blabbing everything to anyone that I meet. But I'll be honest, it's hard to not say anything.

As far as family goes though, I need my kids to know most of the full story. It's the only way they can understand how the case is progressing and what to expect next. And I need the support of my mom, brother and sister a lot so they know everything. It is what it is. I don't know how I'd do this without telling people what's going on. It's too big of a weight for me to carry alone.