Thursday, August 30, 2018

Moves

Moves in foster care do permanent damage to the children.
Even the move away from their neglectful/abusive situation is damaging.

Now before y'all go and get your undies in a bunch - I do realize there are a SMALL PERCENTAGE of cases where kids NEED to be removed from their families.
  • Miss ArguePants & TurtleTurtle (sexual abuse)
  • Pumpkin (medical neglect, physical abuse & neglectful supervision of a child with severe special needs)
  • Daisy (abusive head trauma)
  • The Neverland Kids (murder of an infant in the home)
  • Russell (starvation, neglectful supervision, and severe physical abuse)
  • Whiz & Rex (domestic violence)
I get it.
I know there are kids that are being abused and if they don't get moved, they could die.
I get it.

Now...move on. Because MOST kids in foster care are NOT in life threatening situations.
  • Dude & Dolly (neglectful supervision due to drug use and poverty)
  • Ricky (CPS got on a power trip for no good reason)
  • Alex, Eddie, Joan & Bret (neglectful supervision due to drug use and poverty)
I even struggled with putting Whiz and Rex up in the first category. Domestic violence is serious stuff. And it is horrifically damaging to children to be a part of. The only reason they're in the top category though, as opposed to the second group of kids that I list off, is because there are NO good services for a woman experiencing domestic violence if she doesn't want to leave the violent situation. If, for any reason, Mom was willing to leave her abuser and get help, Whiz and Rex would have been better off staying with her.

My situation as a foster parent is unique. We have had more severe cases of abuse/neglect than most foster families see. I'm not advocating for children to stay in seriously damaging situations. But as a whole, we HAVE to start recognizing the damage that foster care is doing to children.

The rest of this post is about the Rockstars and how I feel their case could have been handled differently. I know that some of the things I wish were possible simply aren't possible. But until we see the wrongs in The System, we can't advocate for change.

The Rockstars have very young parents. Family Based Services (FBS...a division of CPS, in Texas) started getting involved with the family sometime during Alex's first year of life (give or take). I saw the full CPS history on the family. It's rather extensive. For about five years, Mom & Dad were told they needed to be doing things differently. They were given different levels of (IMO...superficial) support. Over those five years, I don't think Mom & Dad changed any of their behaviors.

When the infant sibling was born, early this year, their family got flagged by FBS again. Mom & Dad were given an opportunity to make some changes so their family could stay together.

On June 14th, they went to court. It was on this day that the judge ordered an immediate removal of the children with placement into foster care. If CPS had better supports they could have put into place, this removal would have been completely unnecessary. FBS, obviously, didn't work. I have had several kids come into my home where FBS had been involved first. I believe that decision makers need to recognize that FBS isn't being as successful as it could be and start making changes there first. We need to do MORE to keep families together prior to even thinking about removing children.

But that didn't happen. So, according to the judge, the Rockstars needed to enter formal foster care.

I believe that CPS should have had a foster family, kinship, or fictive-kin placement in line, prior to going to court, for these kids. They shouldn't have waited until the judge ordered removal to start trying to find a home. The removal was not an "emergency". They knew the hearing was coming for weeks. CPS could have been working ahead of time to have a viable placement option in place prior to the order for removal.

I know that's hard to do. But if CPS had done that kind of work ahead of time, maybe the Rockstars wouldn't have had to have been split up. Maybe a home could have been found for all five of the kids to be together.

Do not discount how traumatic it's been for the older kids to be separated from their infant brother.

CPS didn't have a home in place ahead of time, though. Four of the kids were placed with us. The infant went to a shelter that night. The infant stayed in the shelter for several weeks. Then he was moved to a foster home.

That foster home is a brand new one. This infant was their third placement. They were told that it would be a short stay. Due to incredibly unique situations with their first two placements, they honestly thought "short" meant a couple weeks. And now, since this foster family is about 45 minutes away from where the case originated, they're having a hard time transporting to visits. We have NO transportation services in our part of Texas. So, this foster family is disrupting because they don't want to drive 45 minutes, wait for two hours, and then drive home twice a week. I can't say that I blame them. But they committed to this child and now they're dumping him. It infuriates me.

The licensing agency for this foster family is working to finalize the license for another home ASAP. They're going to move the infant to this brand new foster home. And since this move is taking place all under the umbrella of the same licensing agency, it's called a sub-move according to CPS. It's not taken quite as seriously. No one seems to care what this does to the child. It's just a sub-move that CPS will approve.

But it still means this baby is going to have yet another primary caregiver.

All the while, CPS is pushing through a home study on a fictive kin caregiver for all five children. This home study is now sitting on the program director's desk waiting for a signature. Once that signature happens, the kids will be moved.

NONE of the Rockstars know this caregiver. It will be another move to another stranger.

Said caregiver knows Mom. Thus the "fictive kin" status. Said caregiver says that they are willing to step up and care for all five Rockstars. I've heard that they'll move the four oldest kids first. Then, later, they'll place the baby with the fictive kin.

I asked CPS, last night, if they feel good about this caregiver. The answer I got back was, "On paper, they look great. And I've spoken with them three times. I've explained it's likely to be permanent. I asked them multiple times if they understand that it's five kids for the next 18 years."

And that is that. On paper it looks good. So this move will likely happen within the next couple weeks. As soon as the home study is signed by the program director, CPS wants the kids moved. They want to show "progress" to the judge before the next court hearing in October.

According to CPS, progress is another move. Not a step toward home with their parents. But a move to someone the State is now trying to push to take permanent guardianship.

I'm sick that the State is practically giving up on Mom & Dad. I'm sick that Mom & Dad don't realize the seriousness of their current situation. I'm sick that the fictive kin hasn't done anything to try and get to know the kids prior to the impending move. (I have been told that the caregiver is going to come to this Friday's family visit. That's slightly encouraging...I guess.)

There are so many times and places in this case where things could have gone differently. 

In the meantime, five children have been permanently hurt. CPS barely recognizes it. The worker was in my home last night for her monthly visit. She noticed that Alex seemed like he was in a bad mood. And ya know what? He was in a bad mood. He's six years old. He knew that we were talking about him and his parents. Everything about that home visit from CPS was a reminder of how stressful his life is now. I tried to explain to CPS that he's like that a lot. But it's not exactly a bad mood. It's a constant state of stress due to the fact that he's in foster care and he wants to be home with his parents. He's stuck in a state of fight/flight/freeze due to the stress that IS foster care.

I don't think people want to see that foster care does damage to kids. They want to think that just because we plucked these five kids out of poverty and put them in "loving homes" everything is OK now. And if Mom & Dad don't follow all the punitive steps they have to follow to get their kids back, giving someone else guardianship will be better for everyone. We've got to teach Mom & Dad a lesson you know and the kids will be better off as a result.

I shudder to think of how Alex, Eddie, Joan, and Bret are going to respond when they find out that CPS is seriously considering permanent guardianship for them. They will be devastated if they can't go home. 

The System is broken. Mom & Dad need REAL supports that can lift them out of the situation they're in. They need honest relationship to break the cycle and learn how to do things differently. This support could be given to them with their family intact. It could.

But it won't. These kinds of supports don't exist. 

And because of that, the Rockstars will suffer even more long-term damage. It's soul crushing to me. I can only imagine how they're going to feel.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

foster family group homes in Texas

In 2011, a lawsuit was filed against the State of Texas in regards to foster care.

This sparked the "foster care redesign" movement. Texas has tried several different things in order to improve The System.

One of the things they did was close all (or at least almost all) of the family group homes. No longer can foster homes have more than a total of six children - bio, adopted, or foster. Cut and dry. No more.

Now, I don't know the timeline, but at some point in time they made an exception. Homes could, under the most special of circumstances, have more than six children. If they did, though, they had to have 24/7 awake care.

Kids get abused in foster care all the time. In homes where there is inadequate supervision, they get abused even more frequently. I don't have stats to back this up. Nobody cares enough about foster kids to track how many are actually being abused IN foster care. Not really.

I know a lot of people were upset about family group homes being closed. I, personally, don't have a problem with it at all.

However, I do believe that CPS/licensing/placing agencies should be able to work together under special circumstances like the one facing the Rockstars. Siblings belong together.

Texas made a policy change that went into effect just a couple weeks ago. Family foster homes could take 7-8 children under special circumstances. The additional children need to be part of a sibling group, fictive kin to the foster family, or being displaced due to natural disaster. So, apparently, the State of Texas agrees with me. Siblings belong together. Exceptions to the family group home rules should be made. They changed the minimum standards to allow for variances.

However, Texas did not agree with me enough to change the 24/7 awake care rule. According to the contract signed between child placing agencies and the State, the variance allowing a 7th or 8th child means that the provider must:
  • Complete an addendum on the family indicating how the caregiver will meet the additional children's needs including safety and supervision needs;
  • Submit the home study and the home study addendum to the CPS Director of Placement prior to the placement of the additional child(ren) into the foster home;
  • Submit a 24 hour supervision plan Form 2128; and
  • Obtain approval from CPS prior to the placement of any additional children.

This means that the infant brother to the Rockstars cannot move into our home. I am in no place to hire staff to stay in my house during the night. It's just not an option.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

more information

I told the worker at my licensing agency how wrong I thought the psychological evaluations were for the Rockstars. For example, I said nothing in any paperwork I had been given showed proof of physical abuse or even neglect.  She assured me that she would say something to the doctor.

To shut me up, she sent me the court affidavit for removal. This paperwork was seen by the doctor and was used when the psych evals were written.

Foster parents don't typically get ANY court documents where I'm at. We certainly aren't given affidavits for removal. I'm not sure how I feel about having it sent to me. Though, I will say that some of the info contained in that document would have been nice to know from the beginning.

As of today, the Rockstars have been in our home for four weeks. CPS does have proof that they have been neglected. I still see no proof in any of their records of physical abuse. But the situation they came from is more serious than any of the paperwork I had been given at placement led me to believe.

I'm not going to stop advocating for their parents, though. I still believe these kids need to be home as soon as possible. Of course, their parents need to make some significant changes in their lives. But I still believe they have the capacity to be a healthy family.

One of the ways I advocate is to show empathy when the situation is being discussed.

Along with the affidavit of removal, my licensing worker sent me a screen shot from the County website showing me all of Dad's criminal issues.

I laughed a little, via text, and told her I saw that information the minute I got the names of the parents. I do my research. NOT because I want to "do" anything about it. But because I like to understand as much of the full situation as I can. The records are public. I'm not doing anything wrong.

I don't know exactly how my worker felt about this. My gut says she wanted me to be upset by the criminal history. I get the impression she would prefer I villainize the family of origin. I imagine she wants me to trust that CPS always removes kids with good reason.

The criminal record that Dad holds does not warrant the removal of children. It was of little interest to me when I first saw it - except to know what the kids have likely been exposed to so I can be sensitive to their needs surrounding the criminal events.

Then my licensing worker mentioned something Mom put on her Facebook shortly after removal. I replied at the same time my worker was typing another text.
My response: But she's young. And most likely unemployed. She wanted to fill her time. I didn't fault her for that.
My worker's second text: I'm like yeah I would definitely be thinking about (doing XYZ activity) when my kids are being removed.
I sent another text.
I went under investigation and got my kids removed - we went to Sea World that weekend. It was gut wrenching. I had been caring for the kids for over a year. The investigation was bogus. (No citations. No disciplinary action. Nothing.) I felt weird going out. But staying home nearly killed me. All I could do was cry.
My licensing worker didn't reply. I guess she's not used to foster parents having any empathy for the parents of the kids they're caring for.

I don't know what the Rockstars' mom is feeling. But I'm not going to fault her for doing an enjoyable activity after her kids got removed. No one should expect her to just sit at home and cry. And it's not like she can force CPS to offer her all the services immediately. She's tied to their schedule - and their schedule moves slow.

As a foster parent I have little to no say over much of anything. But I can help try and shape other people's feelings.

I refuse to speak bad about these parents. Despite knowing more information about the removal, and better understanding that it was valid, it doesn't change the fact that kids need to be with their parents. Moms and Dads will be better parents if they don't use illegal substances. And sometimes Moms and Dads need parenting classes so they can better understand the impact of dangerous behaviors. But that doesn't mean that these parents don't love their kids and that their kids don't need THEM.

Just because I offer a clean, safe, home filled with all the things they need and many of the things they want - doesn't mean that the Rockstars don't BELONG HOME with their parents!

Hopefully their parents will actually work the service plan they've been given so the Rockstars can go home. I'm positive the case won't move as fast as I want it to. And I do believe that The System is not set up in a way to make the parents easily successful. Foster care is very punitive and the problems at hand are very generational.

Which takes me back to a statement I made on Facebook not too long ago.

If Foster Care actually worked...I don't think we'd see the generational cycles of repetition.

Foster care sucks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Pros and Cons of Early Evaluations

I AM NOT AN EXPERT. These are only my opinions.

Texas requires that every foster child have a CANS assessment done within the first 30 days after placement. In theory, I think this is an excellent idea. This is what DFPS has to say about the CANS assessment:
The Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment is a comprehensive trauma-informed behavioral health evaluation and communication tool. It is intended to prevent duplicate assessments by multiple parties, decrease unnecessary psychological testing, aid in identifying placement and treatment needs, and inform case planning decisions. CANS assessments help decision-making, drive service planning, facilitate quality improvement, and allow for outcomes monitoring.
DFPS uses CANS to gather information about the strengths and needs of a child to plan for services that will help the child and family reach their goals. 
The Texas version of CANS was developed for children in DFPS conservatorship. A credentialed, CANS-certified STAR Health clinician administers the assessment. Assessments for children placed in the Region 3B Community-Based Care catchment area can be administered by a CANS-certified provider affiliated with the child placing agency.
If this is truly how things worked, I would be in complete favor of assessing the children immediately after they enter Care. The sooner proper supports are put in place, the better.

In reality though, this is what happened with the Rockstars...
I was given a mountain of paperwork to fill out. I was supposed to assess whether or not I had observed hundreds of different behaviors for each child. The assessments I filled out included: the CAB (Clinical Assessment of Behavior) and the TSCYC (Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children).

I was very uncomfortable filling out these forms because some of the behaviors I had to assess would be COMPLETELY normal for children that had just been removed from their family of origin but not so "normal" for kids that had been in a stable environment for awhile. (And no, I don't know what "awhile" is. I'm not an expert. I just have gut feelings on all this.)

TWELVE DAYS after the Rockstars came to my home, we were instructed to drive to the CPS office - the same, exact office they lived in for an entire day when they were removed from their parents - the same, exact office that was filled with traumatic memories - to undergo testing by strangers.

The actual doctor did not do the testing. He was there, but the office assessments were performed by his assistant. Her title was "licensed psychological associate". She administered the RIAS (Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales) and the WRAT4 (Wide Range Achievement Test, Fourth Edition, Green Form) on Alex. The middle two had the RIAS and the ABAS-3 (Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, Third Edition). Bret had the DP-3 (Developmental Profile 3) test performed.

The three older children were taken, one by one, to go back to an office room with someone they had no reason to trust. I, literally, had to explain many times that even though we were going to the CPS office, no one was going to "take them" again. They were genuinely worried they were going to have to move from my house that morning.

This total stranger did little to alleviate any fears. They simply came to the waiting room and said the child's name. I stayed in the waiting room with the other three children while the child being tested was led away. I can only imagine the nervousness and possible fear they felt. I had done my best to prep the kids. But there's only so much you can do with kids so young.

When it came time to assess Bret Michaels, I was taken back to the office room with the LPA and Bret. She did a couple developmental tests and then, very quickly, interviewed me about Bret and the other three children. I did my best to be honest. Yes, the kids need line of sight care. But no, it's not because they've been horribly abused and neglected. It's probably because there are five kids, total, and they're all age six and under. Their parents are young. No, the parents aren't perfect. But the kids have been well cared for.

We were in and out of the CPS office in about 1.5 hours. But the actual assessment time with each child was probably less than 10-15 minutes total.

This is where I have a problem...
Absolutely NO additional services are offered to kids based on their Level of Care (LOC). I have cared for kids that were basic, moderate, and specialized. Kids at all levels can receive play or talk therapy. Kids at all levels can have PT, OT, and ST, if necessary. Kids at all levels qualify for the care they need.

Sill, the CANS assessment "leveled' EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE ROCKSTARS as "moderate". They were given official DSM-5 Diagnostic Impressions that include (I'm not revealing what child received what Dx...only the list of Dx):
  1. Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct
  2. Child Physical Abuse
  3. Child Neglect
  4. Adjustment Disorder, Unspecified
  5. Global Developmental Delay
From everything I can tell, these kids haven't suffered any physical abuse. Yes, they have said they've been spanked before. But, in my opinion, it's been nothing more than discipline. Maybe not the best discipline, but not abuse.

These kids like to play "house" with our pretend kitchen, table, and chairs. They act out taking care of each other. Sometimes they're "mommy and daddy" sometimes they're "brothers and sister". But always, they are kind when they're actually playing. They are polite. They take turns. They even say please and thank you. Never have they reenacted anything that gives me concern. In fact, it's quite the opposite...because kids won't show in their play things that haven't been modeled for them.

But now they have "physical abuse" as part of their permanent record. This isn't good for the kids nor can it be good for the parents.

I'm not sure I can tell where these assessments could have determined that the kids have suffered neglect.

One of the children has a note with the diagnoses that says to "rule out" Global Developmental Delay. This child meets or exceeds developmental milestones according to everything I've seen and forms I've had to fill out at the pediatrician. I have to assume this child wouldn't "perform" for the clinical assessment in the CPS office. And now they've got this in their permanent file.

There were so many things listed in all four psychological evaluations that concern me. Things that seem almost like outright lies. There are assessments that are completely wrong and actually contradict things I filled out in the paperwork that I submitted. (There are more contradictions and concerns above what I've mentioned. But this post is long enough.)

It's almost like CPS needs these psych evals to back them up - to prove these kids need to be in foster care.
And along with all that, ALL I would have to do is make my behavior reports mirror these psychological reports and these kids would honestly be leveled up to "moderate". I'd get more money - taken from an already broke System - and the kids would get nothing additional. Other foster parents might start looking at the kids in their care under a different lens. They might believe the negative things in the reports rather than what they're seeing with their own eyes. They might blow normal behavior out of proportion.

I fear for what these reports can do to their parents and the outcome of this case. I fear for what these reports could mean to the kids should they go home and then ever come back into foster care later. This shit has a doctor's seal of approval on it so the judge is going to believe it.

Conclusion...
While I believe that children need to be assessed when they enter foster care so the State can be forced to step up and provide ALL the services these kids need, I'm not convinced it's being done correctly in my part of Texas. These early assessments on young children can easily be skewed by foster parents and how they report things. Testing kids in the way the Rockstars were tested wasn't fair to them in any way. They had no reason to trust anyone in the building the day they were assessed so any assessment is skewed by possible fear.

I sent a message to my licensing worker about how wrong I feel the psych evals are for the Rockstars. I can't tell their CPS worker because she is on vacation and I can't get the supervisor to respond to even more pressing concerns. (I need someone to get me permission from the judge for Eddie to have sedated dental treatment on Friday.) If the C.A.S.A. does their job and contacts me, I'll tell them, of course.

But I have no faith that anything in the permanent record will change. Like I said, this shit has a doctor's seal of approval and I'm just the foster parent. Nobody gives a damn about what I have to say.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Trust is Earned

All children in foster care have been failed by at least one adult in their life. Sometimes it's someone in their family of origin. Sometimes it's the person that called the hotline instead of trying to actually help the family. Sometimes it's an overzealous investigator or social worker.

Children in foster care should never be expected to just automatically trust the people that are now caring for them. They have zero reason to do so.

Trust takes time to be earned.

One of the fastest ways to earn trust is to always tell the truth. Children are capable of hearing, learning about, and understanding truths in their lives. We don't have to lie to them in order to spare them trauma.

When a child goes to the doctor or the dentist, it is a perfect opportunity to practice this. Often times there are things that happen at the doctor or dentist that are uncomfortable or even painful.

Do not lie to your children and tell them they are OK when they most certainly aren't.

Yesterday was Alex's (age 6) first trip to the dentist, ever. I didn't think they were going to actually do treatment services at this visit. So I prepped him for an examination and a cleaning. I told him they will use a small mirror on the end of a stick to look in his mouth. I told him they would probably stick other things in his mouth. We talked about the special toothbrush the dentist would use. I said it would be weird. It might be uncomfortable, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

Alex was rightfully nervous when they did the x-rays. He got tense when the doctor came in to examine him. I didn't just automatically tell him he was OK. I validated how he was feeling.

The dentist decided that the level of treatment needed wasn't so bad that they couldn't attempt to fix his teeth that very day. He sent us back out into the waiting room so they could prep a different room for the treatments needed.

I now had to get Alex ready for actually getting his teeth fixed. We had talked about it some in the days leading up to this appointment, but I went over all the details again. I told him how they would put a mask over his face and he would breathe in something special that would help him feel better and not feel things as much. I got very playful as we practiced a large mask covering his whole face and a roomful of people telling him to breathe. I talked to him about the tools they would use. I said they would make a loud noise in his ears. I said they would be super weird and uncomfortable. I tried to assure him that it shouldn't hurt too bad.

I did not lie and tell him everything was going to be OK.

When we got called back to the treatment room, we had to wait some more. I took this opportunity to show him some of the guns filled with different compounds and glues. I showed him all the silver caps in a row and told him they were going to have to find the perfect cap for each tooth and they weren't quite sure what size they would need. I compared his decayed teeth to a banana with a bad spot in it. We talked about how when you peel a banana and see a bad spot, you cut off the bad spot with a knife and you can still eat the good banana. I told him his cavities are like bad spots in his teeth and the dentist will use special tools to get the bad part off and that it might be scary. But it's the best way to take care of him so he can keep the good parts of his teeth. The silver cap is like a permanent bandaid to keep his tooth safe.

Alex did awesome when the dental assistant cleaned his teeth. The wait for the doctor was long. But he didn't get all worked up worrying about what was going to happen.

When the dentist got started, it was scary. The suction tube and tongue positioner they used was uncomfortable and awkward. I sat next to him and held his hands. I reassured him as best as I could.

Just like I said would happen, lots of different things were put in Alex's mouth. At one point in time during the treatment, I said that to him. I couldn't see Alex's eyes to know how he was feeling right then. But I believe so strong in speaking truth to kids I pointed out how the things I said would happen were actually happening so he could make those connections on his own.

The dentist felt the need to look up from doing the treatment to express his displeasure with my statement. He said that parents make their kids more scared by telling them what's going to happen. He told me that a six year old, that's never been to the dentist before, would be better served not being told anything.

I maintained my composure...but this is where I wanted to throat punch the dentist.

After a small bit of back and forth I finally said, "I've cared for lots of children through this process. Telling the truth helps."

He replied, "You may have cared for lots of kids, but you don't know dentistry."

I don't give a rip how many letters you have in the title after your name. I may not have a title other than "mom". But I know kids. I have educated myself on trauma. And this dentist could not be more wrong.

Thankfully, he didn't exactly argue with me. He didn't exactly get unprofessional. He stated what he believes are truths. I will not, in any way, change how I handle preparing my kids for the dentist.

I can GUARANTEE the ONLY reason Alex was able to get a cleaning, three caps, and a couple cavities filled was because I am nothing but honest with him at all times. I told him what to expect. And while it's only been two weeks, he is starting to trust me because I don't lie to him. He trusted that the dentist was going to take care of him because I told him what was going to happen. If I had not, I can guarantee that Alex would have likely have had a tantrum and I would have an appointment on my calendar for sedated dental treatment in the future.

Tell your kids the truth.

Tell them the dentist is going to make them uncomfortable. Tell them that shots hurt. Tell them that foster care sucks. Give them permission to hate being in your house. You can do it. It's for the kids! It builds trust and will make things so much easier over time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I went to court today

Court was held today for Whiz and Rex. It was supposed to be a hearing where parental rights were terminated. Up until Friday of last week, all Auntie Carla had been told was that the State was going to push forward with terminating parental rights.

However, someone in CPS decided, on Friday, to change their minds. They had the caseworker send a text message to Auntie Carla to ask if she and her husband would take PMC instead of continuing forward with adoption. PMC is Permanent Managing Conservatorship. Basically...it's a form of legal guardianship.

Whiz and Rex's parents have been doing the absolute bare minimum toward their case plans. This is the second time their mother has been involved with CPS. (She already lost custody of her oldest three children that have a different father.) In defense of Mom and Dad, they did both recently complete rehab. This is good. But, little has been done to show that domestic violence is no longer an issue. The parents are also homeless and they are unemployed. It would not be in Whiz and Rex's best interests for them to return home for many reasons.

The State strong-armed Auntie Carla and her husband into agreeing to guardianship. Of this I am 100% positive. The made it sound like if AC didn't agree, the kids would be moved back to Texas and placed in some random foster home.

I'm not sure, exactly, how I feel about all this. I'm not sure, exactly, if adoption is absolutely necessary for this family. Auntie Carla and her husband have retained custody. The boys are out of foster care. AC doesn't need an adoption subsidy to continue to care for the children. But...I think the way the State went about this was all sorts of shady.

I mean...the caseworker looked me in the eye in the courtroom today and told me how grateful she is that Auntie Carla and her husband stepped up. She literally said that if they hadn't, this case would definitely be moving toward non-relative adoption. That means that if AC had told the State no to a PMC agreement, they would have had to have moved forward with TPR. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the State would have done something else. But I don't think so.

The boys aren't safe with their parents. Things are violent. There is drug and alcohol use. And despite many services being offered, not all were completed. The State knows this. They could have moved forward with TPR today. But because it's easier and cheaper, they pushed everyone into a guardianship situation.

This really breaks my heart on so many levels. It's very sad to me when it's obvious that parents can't have custody of their children. I'm really wrestling with what SHOULD have happened today, though. I want to say that adoption would have been best. But a small part of me knows that this family is still intact and the boys are safe. Their parents didn't have to lose all their rights in order to make this happen. And...if their parents can turn their lives around...they could, conceivably, get custody of their children back.

But I have a real problem with HOW the State went about all this.

They waited until the 11th hour to change the goal with the relative. This meant that Auntie Carla and her husband couldn't retain counsel and become party to the case. (Up until Friday, they were never given an indication that this would be necessary.) The State used fear to force this ending because it's cheaper and easier for them. They don't have to pay to terminate the rights of Mom and Dad. They don't have to pay any kind of a subsidy. They don't have to do anything else. After all the documents are filed, CPS is 100% done with the case.

They put some very unrealistic provisions into place as well. They're basically setting Mom and Dad up to fail completely. And then, if AC and her husband want to move forward with adoption, they will be able to do so easily. It will just have to come out of their pocketbooks in Family Court in California versus CPS finishing things up with TPR today.

Mom and Dad are homeless and have no money. Yet, if they want to visit their children, they have to get themselves to California on their own dime. Also, they now have rather hefty amounts of child support they are required to pay to AC monthly.

Again, I'm not sure how I feel about all this. It seems shady to me. I used to always think that adoption was definitely best in situations like this. Some very dear friends of mine, former foster youth, have taught me otherwise. Still...I struggle with HOW the State communicated with AC and the parents of Whiz and Rex. I feel like they hit the end of their timeline and just forced this ending onto everyone. Mom and Dad agreed that it would be best for AC to get guardianship. But I wonder how they were pressured on their end. CPS isn't supposed to pressure the parents into anything. But I know how they treated AC. I do not believe they treated the parents any better.

After all, a CPS supervisor saw me sitting in the gallery and asked me if I was a foster parent. I said yes. She smiled and said she thought so as she had seen me before. She then looked at me and said, "At least you're sitting on the good side. You're not over there. You can almost feel the evil on that side of the room when you walk in here."

This supervisor was pointing to the side of the courtroom where the biological family sits and is tried.

Friday, April 20, 2018

breathing slowly

dys·reg·u·la·tion
ˌdisreɡ(y)əˈlāSHən/
noun
  1. abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a metabolic, physiological, or psychological process.
    "family dysfunction may contribute to emotional dysregulation"

    When we are dysregulated, one of the first things that typically happens is our breathing changes. The body literally changes by increasing our heart rate, tensing our muscles, and starting shallow, rapid breathing.

    This article describes it perfectly. The central nervous system adapts so that we can either fight off a dangerous threat or run away from it.

    The problem is - we sometimes have these responses to things that are perceived threats.
    When you tell your child they can't have a bag of chips 15 minutes before supper, sometimes they get angry. Their body responds like they are in physical danger. Even though you are cooking dinner right in front of them, the child can't "see" it. Instead...they start to get dysregulated.
    Or say your 10yo is walking past your 8yo and brushes against the younger one's shoulder. The sensation startles the younger one and they jump up to get even. Now both kids are tense. Their pupils are dilated and their breathing is short and quick.
    The fight or flight response is a vital self-defense mechanism. But kids that have experienced trauma, and often those that care for them, have an overly sensitive response.

    When you're in a funk (dysregulated) you have to learn how to respond the right way. The first thing I recommend is to calm your voice. Stop yelling (or don't start). Then you need to sit down. Then you need to breathe slowly.
    I use the term "square breathing" to create a visual for how I literally want to breathe to calm myself (or a child) down when they are dysregulated. I'm all about the visuals. In fact, if I'm trying to help a child breathe this way, I will grab any sort of a square that I can find to trace around the edge as we breathe together.

    It's simple. You draw in your breath for a count of four...then you hold it for a count of four...then release the breath for a count of four...then hold for a count of four. You can trace around the visual of a square when you do this.

    The long, slow deep breaths send a direct message to your brain that you are NOT in danger. In order to get out of a funk,  you have to remind yourself that you are safe because your body is responding, physically, like you are in a real honest-to-God dangerous situation.

    If you can do this slow, calculated breathing for several cycles, you will calm the fight or flight response. I'm not saying that you or the child won't still be dysregulated. But the long breaths will help your muscles un-tense and help you be able to stay centered in reality (for lack of a better way of describing things). 

    On this page in the book My Genius Sister and I put together, we also list a couple other things to help calm your breathing.
    - short meditation
    - long meditation
    - using a mirror to watch your face

    My Genius Sister likes to use guided meditations to help her relax. I, too, find them helpful, sometimes. (I especially like body scans that can put me to sleep at night.) I downloaded the Calm app and I use some of the free meditations on that. (The Calm app also has a visual for controlled breathing. Instead of a square, it's a circle. You can chose the speed and whether or not you hold  your breath between the inhale and the exhale or hold your breath only once.) I also utilize an app called Insight Timer. There are lots of different guided meditations available on YouTube and through different downloadable apps. These suggestions were put on this page in the book specifically for my sister and for Sparkler as this technique works for them.

    The mirror thing is something that can often help kids. They like to look at themselves. It's hard to stay angry when you're looking at your own face. It's not a strategy I'd use every time a kid is dysregulated. But the idea of getting a mirror out while they're breathing slowly isn't a bad idea. You can then transition into a quick, silly game of making faces in the mirror. Or, they can just watch their face and see if they can get all the muscles to relax. Anything to get the dysregulated person out of the intensity of the initial fight/flight response.

    If you'd like a copy of the simple book we put together, you can download one for free. All I ask is that you give credit if you're sharing it on social media. Feel free to print and use any of the pages that work for you and your kids.