Monday, April 27, 2015

I met the lawyer

Russell's lawyer, Ms. Lawson, took it upon herself to pop in the waiting room at the cardiologist this morning. She knew the appointment was scheduled and trusted that we would be there. She didn't call me ahead of time. I decided that I'm OK with that.

Ms. Lawson appears to be very vested in Russell's long-term care and safety. She asked good questions and assured me multiple times that she will help me with anything I might need in regards to Russell's care.

We talked for a bit about the case in general. She was rather forthcoming with how she feels about Bio Mom, CPS and The System in general. It was refreshing to sense the level of honesty she portrayed.

As the conversation wound down I told her I had one more question.

I asked, "Who is responsible for the policy of having to get permission to leave the county."

She stammered a bit and then literally said, "It's just always been done that way."

Then she started to say something about me, as a foster parent, being such an exception to the norm.

I thanked her and then handed her a printed copy of the State Minimum Standards outlining the travel requirements for foster children. I said, "All I want is blanket permission to be able to adhere to these standards."

She said, "I saw that you wanted to go out of town this past weekend. Did you get permission?"

I replied, "No. Russell's CPS worker never got back with me so I did not go."

Ms. Lawson seemed very surprised and somewhat frustrated. She asked if she could keep the copy of the standards. She then started typing away on her phone to someone.

I chatted a bit with Ms. Lawson about the types of events we would be traveling for - explaining B.A.C.A. to her and letting her know that I just want to be able to do things as a family as per the standards without having to waste everyone's time with little requests to travel over a weekend.

We wrapped up the conversation. I assured her that I'd keep her in the loop with Russell's care and she left. She said she would be emailing me some more of Russell's medical records for me to put with his files. Then she left and headed back to court.

Lets than 10 minutes later I got a text that read:
Please ask the pediatrician if we need a neurologist consult based on his numerous skull fractures. Also, he can be taken out of the area.
I'm less than impressed with CPS right now. But I can handle a crappy CPS worker if the lawyer is working hard to protect Russell. It's even better when the lawyer and I get along. Lawyers trump CPS every single time. I will not be asking for permission for any travel with Russell less than 72 hours long within the State of Texas again. Whoo hoo!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Traveling woes...part four million, five hundred sixty-seven thousand, three-hundred, twenty-nine.

Mr. Amazing and I are in the process of becoming members of B.A.C.A.




I just got my patches that prove I passed my background checks and that I'm safe to be around kids. I can now attend what are considered "child events" - things where B.A.C.A. kids are present.

As it turns out, there are two events in Central Texas this weekend. And since Russell doesn't have any appointments on the weekends, and the rest of the family's schedule is clear, we decided that we would all go up together. (Herman will be staying behind. He's not joining B.A.C.A. just yet as he doesn't ride a motorcycle...yet. And he doesn't want to go through the screening process to become a member until he can ride independently.) Mr. Amazing will ride his bike and the younger kids and I will follow behind in the "cage".

All that's left to do is get permission for Russell to travel with us.

I bet y'all know where this post is going...

The first thing I did was send a text message to Russell's CPS worker:
I know that minimum standards in Texas allow for me to travel with Russell for overnights less than 72 hours long in the state. Would I need extra permissions from you to take Russell anywhere on the weekends - for example, San Antonio, for a Saturday night?
She replied:
Yes ma'am. Just have your agency send me an email stating where you'll be going and staying. Dates and phone numbers. Purpose of trip.
I did that last night. This email went to our worker at our licensing agency:
We are going to go to San Antonio to a B.A.C.A. (Bikers Against Child Abuse) event this Saturday, April 25. We will be staying the night with B.A.C.A. members and children at the San Antonio Aquarium as part of an event called Sleeping with the Sharks. Every adult present will have gone through FBI fingerprinting (a requirement to be a B.A.C.A. member or prospect). We will return Sunday afternoon. Russell will not be missing any visits with his family or any other scheduled appointments. His CPS worker said all she needs from you is an email stating where I’m going, dates, phone numbers and the purpose of the trip.
Child: Russell
Foster Family: Mr. Amazing & Cherub Mamma
Date: Saturday, April 25 to Sunday, April 26, 2015
Location: 6320 Bandera Road, San Antonio, TX 78238
Phone Numbers: xxx-xxx-xxx
Purpose: family time at the aquarium and Sleeping with the Sharks B.A.C.A. event
Please let me know if you need anything else.
Thank you.
Cherub Mamma
I didn't hear anything from my agency worker so I called at about 11:15am. I was told she was in a meeting. I told the secretary I had sent an email this morning and that I needed an answer soon so I could confirm with the event coordinator. The secretary put me on hold briefly and then said that my agency worker was waiting to hear back from CPS.

< sigh >

So I sent a text message to the CPS worker:
Did you get the email from my agency this morning? I'd like to go to San Antonio this weekend for one night. I need to give the event coordinator a head count though. Is there a problem with Russell traveling with our family?
She responded:
I did let your agency know that we need at least 10 days notice because I have to get approval from Russell's attorney and then file it with the court to have the judge sign and approve. I'm going to do the advisement either way. I won't know until Friday if it got approved.
My response:
For a single night trip in the State?
CPS response:
Yes ma'am. Any time a child leaves the county the court needs to be notified. With the exception of (one county over). If you go to (two local attractions) just notify me. No court approval is needed.
My response:
I don't mean to be difficult. But that is much more restrictive than the State minimum standards. We are supposed to treat our foster children like members of our family and trips lasting less than 72 hours within the State do not require anyone's approval but yours.
At least that's what the standards say.
Do you think you'll know by Friday?
CPS response:
Let me ask my supervisor.
Me:
I didn't get a lot of notice for this event. I'm sorry if this is causing extra hassle for you!!
CPS:
Not a problem ma'am. Let me talk to my supervisor.
So...like always...this worker adheres to a set of rules that I can't find written down anywhere. These rules aren't fair to the foster parents or the foster children. If I had respite available I could easily dump Russell on them for Saturday night and no one would say a single thing. They would expect it.

But I want to include him?! That almost requires intervention from God, Himself.

I really wish I could have a sit-down with the judge on this topic. I have run into problems with travel entirely too many times. Trips have been cancelled and foster kids of mine have gone into unnecessary respite more times that I want to remember!! Why, oh why, oh why, do they have to make it even more difficult than the already in-place Minimum Standards?!

I don't always have 10 days notice for things. Sometimes the weather is right and the schedule is clear and we just want to go somewhere.

No...I would never leave overnight without getting permission. With my luck something would happen and I'd get caught.

So Russell and I won't go if I don't get permission to travel. Mr. Amazing will go to the events with TT and Bart alone. And yeah, I'll probably enjoy having the house to myself for a weekend. But dagnabit...I really want to go!

Hopefully I'll hear something soon.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Questions to ask a licensing agency

I got a question from a reader about choosing a licensing agency.
Okay so since I have officially stalked every one of your blog posts, I feel like I know you (and ALL of your cherubs)! My family is meeting with an agency this week to see if they are a good fit for us, and I would love your advice on which questions we should ask!
I don't really have a lot of advice here. Though, I haven't always been thrilled to death with my agency, so I do have a few things to think about. I'm hoping some other readers can chime in with advice and questions they'd ask as well.

One of the reasons I went with the agency we're with now is because of their size and the fact that they are faith based. My agency has several locations in Texas and also operates in a few other states as well. I had hoped that being this established that they would be organized and would operate with the mindset of someone that follows Christ.

I really liked the director of the agency that handled our initial trainings and got us licensed. She assured me that they were in the process of putting in an office closer to where we live. I was told repeatedly that we wouldn't have to travel almost an hour away for all of our training sessions.

Sadly, many of the things I thought to be true about my licensing agency simply were not. They've never established a satellite office. They're anything BUT organized. And, as a whole, they regularly function like a bureaucracy dealing with us as glorified babysitters and not as people trying to serve Christ by doing foster care. They've been through multiple directors since we've had our license and social workers come and go all the time!! But...I never would have known any of this because all of my questions were answered wonderfully when we signed up with this agency. And the first director was terrific. The atmosphere of the agency has changed with each new director. And honestly, each social worker has their own way of doing things too.

Now...I do simply adore Rainbow. Her role has changed many times. First she was our social worker. Then she became the local recruiter for the agency. Now she serves as both the recruiter and the placing coordinator. She wears a lot of hats. And Rainbow has ALWAYS treated me fairly and with respect. It's largely because of her that I decided to stay with our agency when we decided to re-license after taking the hiatus over Christmas.

I don't really know what to tell you about choosing an agency though. It's important to know the role of the licensing agency in the area where you live. Some agencies handle visits. Some agencies even manage therapy sessions and doctor appointments.

Where I live, the role of the agency is to make sure that our home is in compliance with the Minimum Standards that Texas has in place for foster homes. They offer no transportation to anything. They have nothing to do with visits. And they do nothing more than locate a therapist for you if your child needs counseling - and that hasn't been true in every case I've had. Sometimes CPS coordinates counseling.

That said, figuring out how your agency handles what they are responsible for is the big thing. Do they allow online training? (My agency, in general, does not.) Do they come to you and train you in your home? Do they give you enough notice or are they always springing last minute training sessions on you?

What role do they serve in the children's lives? How often do they have to visit the home? How accommodating will they be with your schedule?

Most of my biggest complaints really have to do with the State of Texas anyway. They are the ones that determine what the Minimum Standards are. So it's not my fault if my agency has to have me fill out ridiculous amounts of paperwork for things that don't make sense. (Like a recreation schedule for an infant!) The agency has to do what the State tells them to do.

I don't regret choosing our agency. I would totally jump ship and go with a new one if I truly thought it would be better (more organized and the trainings closer to home). I don't honestly trust any of the closer agencies to be easier to work with though and I'm very established with ours now. I don't really want to go through the home study process again.

My biggest advice is to trust your gut! As calloused as it may seem to say, these agencies NEED foster homes. They do like to put on the pony show to make themselves sound wonderful. If something isn't sitting right with you, trust yourself and ask around. See if they'll let you talk with current families that are fostering in their agency.

Best of luck to you as you start out on this adventure!! Does anyone else have advice for this mom and how to choose an agency?

Monday, April 20, 2015

psychological evaluations

I've only got experience with foster children and psychological evaluations (psych evals) here in Texas. They aren't something I hear a lot of other foster moms talking about. With my licensing agency, they seem to be a pretty big deal.

Originally the evaluations were only for children age five or older. And with all my kids those ages, the psych evals happened within a few weeks of the kids coming to stay with me.

I load up the kid(s) and trek to our licensing agency just under an hour away from where I live. Once there I'm handed a stack of paperwork to fill out based on the child's age. I've found these forms very difficult to fill out as I typically don't have much information on the kids that soon into the case. For example, I had NO IDEA how incredibly difficult MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle were really going to be as I hadn't experienced the full realm of their behaviors yet.

While I'm filling out paperwork about their overall development and behaviors, the children are taken into a room with a psychologist. They are interviewed and given several different tests to complete. Older children have to take an IQ test even.

Last, I go into a room with the psychologist alone and I'm interviewed. The whole process takes about an hour or so (longer if they're behind schedule or only bring one professional to do all the evaluating).

The results from these psych evals are used to make sure that the appropriate services are put into place for the children. An overall picture of the child is given describing their development. If the testing official thinks the child needs special education services, it will be noted in the evaluation. They also make recommendations for therapies that are needed for the child. The psych evals also list a "level" appropriate for the child. These evaluations are submitted to the third-party company that determines the per diem level for all foster kids in Texas.

I'm in favor of these evaluations being done. They are a good way to make sure that appropriate services are put into place for the kids. They can also help foster parents get new services for their child if necessary. I really don't think these evals are a bad thing at all.

But when the Neverland Kids were placed with me I was told that ALL foster children needed a psych eval...even the baby, Tinkerbell.

Now, Captain was five years old. So, he did need the eval no matter what. And Pirate had displayed enough questionable behaviors that I was more than willing to participate in a psych eval with him. But Tinkerbell?! That just seemed stupid. Since I was going to my agency anyway though, I didn't fight it. I told the scheduling secretary that I thought it was stupid. But whether or not she was evaluated really didn't affect me at all.

Fast forward to last week.

I got a call telling me that Russell's psych eval was today (Monday the 20th) at 3:30pm. The scheduling secretary must be a little scared of me. She apologized before she told me about the appointment and she asked me to not shoot the messenger.

Again I told her how stupid I think this is. But I told her I'd play along if it's required and all.

I got an email this morning politely reminding me about our appointment this afternoon. Because I'm done following every rule blindly, I had already decided I was going to talk to someone in the office when I got there. Her reminder email gave me an opportunity to jump-start the conversation. I replied to her email with:
We will be there.
Can I ask…who is the person responsible for deciding WHICH children need psych evals? I have to assume this is a (licensing agency) decision as I don’t believe all foster children in the state are required to have these evals as such a young age. It concerns me greatly that infants are having to go through this process. It’s not going to identify anything on such a young child and it’s, in my opinion, a horrible use of resources that could be used to benefit other children. I’d like to speak to this decision maker if at all possible or at least send them a letter asking why it’s necessary to do evaluations on children that can’t even walk or talk yet.
Thank you.
Cherub Mamma
Interestingly enough, the director of our licensing agency called me about an hour later.

Interestingly enough, I don't have to take Russell for a psych eval today!! All I have to do is provide documentation from the medical professionals in Russell's life showing that he has been given a developmental evaluation. That's easy enough to provide! We just did an exam for very purpose last Friday. I'll get someone in the doctor's office to photocopy the forms I filled out last Friday and I'll submit them to my licensing agency.

I saved myself two hours in the car and a meal out for dinner. I probably saved my licensing agency a crap-ton of money. I'm quite confident these evaluations aren't cheap!!

Foster parenting definitely keeps me on my toes. I'm glad I played my cards the way I did. All along I said I'd comply. All I wanted to know was the name of the decision maker so I could express my frustrations with evaluating such young children for no good reason. I wonder how many other foster parents just simply packed their babies up and went through the motions on this like I did the first time around just two months ago.

I'm done blindly following rules.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

I can't do anything about it

This is a long post. Most of it is recap that I've blogged about before. If you know the back story of Daisy, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the new truths I learned yesterday.

Daisy came in to Care because she was beaten so badly her brain swelled. She was blinded. She had a broken rib. She ended up needing a shunt put in her skull.

The first foster family she was placed with was unable to meet her medical needs. She came to me several weeks later.

Daisy lived with us for 10 months. Those 10 months were filled with appointments with the neurologist, appointments with the neurosurgeon, two hospitalizations (one resulting in three burr holes being drilled in her head to drain the blood that was still pooling there), and weekly appointments with speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

When Daisy left she was starting to show signs of some language and she had taken her first steps. She was one day away from turning 18 months old.

Daisy went home to her mother.

There were court orders in place. Daisy's mother, Kori, was supposed to continue all therapies and keep all medical appointments. Under no circumstances was Daisy to have any contact with her father, the abuser.

Kori claimed that she was no longer in a relationship with Bio Dad.

Still, just a couple months after Daisy went home to Mom, Kori gave birth to another daughter. The father of this precious little girl, Dandelion, was the same man that nearly killed Daisy.

This, in and of itself, was not against "the rules". Kori is allowed to have as much contact with Bio Dad as she wants. Daisy is the only person prohibited from seeing Bio Dad.

The State tried to prove that Kori was allowing contact with Daisy while Daisy was in my care. They were unsuccessful. The State continued to try and prove this contact after Daisy went home.

Eventually, on February 24, the State had enough proof of there being contact between Daisy and Bio Dad to remove both Daisy and Dandelion from their mother's care.

The social worker called me to see if Daisy and Dandelion would be able to be placed in my home. We had recently taken custody of the Neverland Kids. My licensing agency would not allow us to disrupt that new placement in order to be able to meet the special needs of a child that we had known much longer.

The State worker assured me, as she placed these two babies in a local shelter, that she would connect me with the new foster family so I could pass along Daisy's full medical history.

Kori was very distraught and called me several times. She too wanted the girls with me.

Rainbow was upset as well. But she wasn't allowed to let me disrupt. She did tell me that the write-up on the State placing website was accurate when it came to describing Daisy's special needs.

I tried one time to contact the social worker to see about the Flower Girls. Her phone was disconnected or went straight to a generic voice mail. (I honestly don't remember which one happened - I just knew I couldn't call this worker again.)

Then my father died. I was forced by my licensing agency to disrupt the placement of the Neverland Kids because they were unable to find emergency respite care for me.

When I got back from Iowa I sent a text to Kori. If the girls were still in the shelter I wanted her to know that I was home and that I would be able to take them. She assured me that the girls were together in a local foster home, that the foster mom was knowledgeable about special needs and that the girls would be going to a relative very soon.

It really isn't appropriate at all for me to initiate contact with Kori. I can't help her at all with the girls. I'm no longer involved in this case in any way shape or form. I wait for Kori to contact me.

Several weeks later Kori messaged me to tell me that the home the Flower Girls was in didn't speak any English. This infuriated me. This had to be stunting Daisy's development and growth. But there wasn't a thing I could do about it. Again, Kori insisted that her girls were going to be moving to this relative.

I even told Kori that we were considering taking a new placement, Russell, but that we'd keep our home open until after court...just in case she needed to tell CPS that she wants the girls moved to our home. She told me her girls were fine and she was confident they'd be at the relative's house within a few days.

YESTERDAY...

I took Russell to the doctor. I walked into the office and the PA, Betsy, took one look at me and said, "How come you don't have her?! You need to have her." She didn't tell me who. But I knew. Instantly, I knew.

Heartbroken, I gave Betsy a quick run-down of what I knew.

Betsy insisted that Daisy NEEDS to be with me. Then she said, "The foster mom didn't know anything about her. She was giving Daisy a bath and felt along her neck. She didn't know what she was feeling under the skin. I had to tell this foster mom about all that had happened to Daisy. She didn't know any of it."

Totally sickened, words failed me. This foster mom didn't even know that Daisy has a shunt and that what she was feeling under Daisy's skin is the tube that drains the fluid in Daisy brain into her belly.

Betsy went on to totally break HIPPA and told me that Daisy isn't the same little girl anymore. She's regressing. She's not happy and smiley. She's not doing well. Betsy said it too many times for my heart to hear, "She needs to be with you."

I cannot do anything with this information. All I can do is know in my heart that I did everything I could for this little girl. The System is horribly broken and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it. My agency wouldn't let me disrupt to take the Flower Girls when they first came back in to Care and CPS would NEVER allow a move now AND I've got Russell...who needs me too.

I can't do anything but word vomit this stuff out there and then let it go.

Either the foster mom didn't listen when her licensing agency called her about Daisy. Or her licensing agency lied to her about Daisy's needs in order to place Daisy in that home.

-----

I'm going to address a few points that are sure to come up:

No, I couldn't take care of Daisy, Dandelion, AND Russell. (Especially since there is the possibility of Russell's sisters Violet and Star possibly needing the safety of our home.)

Even if Russell wasn't in my home I couldn't do anything about getting Daisy and Dandelion. CPS would have to approve the move to our house and they simply wouldn't allow it.

No, I am not in a position to go above anyone's head about this. I'm technically not supposed to know ANY of this.

Maybe the Flower Girls are at the relative's house now anyway.

No, I'm not going to message Kori about any of this. I can't DO anything about any of this and it's all just plain weird. I don't pursue a relationship with Kori because it isn't healthy for me nor does it benefit Daisy (or her sister) at all at this point in time. They aren't in her care anymore. If Kori messages me, I message back. But I don't initiate anything.

Foster care sucks.

-----

Betsy was instantly smitten with Russell. He's such the charmer. I smiled and agreed with her. Half-jokingly I said, "He's so easy to love. He sleeps."

Betsy said, "Oh my. Daisy isn't sleeping AT ALL. The foster mom complained about it. Said that Daisy wakes up the whole house every night."

All I could was sigh and say, "Daisy needs a higher dose of Baclofen."

Betsy stopped and thought and said, "Hmmm. I don't think Daisy is even on that med anymore."

Of course she isn't! Kori didn't want Daisy on any meds. Kori never wanted to acknowledge that Daisy had any special needs. And since that med wasn't "required", I'm sure she took her off it immediately. Kori also co-slept with Daisy despite being busted by CPS multiple times for it and being told it wasn't allowed. I'm quite confident that Daisy isn't sleeping at all.

And because CPS never let me have any contact with the foster family, I couldn't pass along all of Daisy's medical information. I couldn't help them with this problem that was oh so awful when Daisy was with me.

-----

Foster care sucks!

-----

Feel free to vent away about this and share in my frustration. (I do love comments.) Or ask any questions. I pounded this one out rather quick...word vomit style. I might have left a detail or two off for people that don't know the full story.

-----

Damn. Foster care sucks!



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A big welcome to Russell

TT and Bart are displaying all sorts of anxious nervous behaviors. The non-stop chatter and nonsense gibber-gabber is almost enough to make me scream. But we'll get through this like we always do. It's never easy when a new member joins our family.

Russell came Monday night right after supper. The transition went quickly and smoothly for life in Foster Care Land.

Russell is a teeny-tiny 20 month old little boy. Not only is he recovering from some rather significant injuries, he is also diagnosed with failure to thrive (FTT) and Down's Syndrome (DS). A lot of people have asked questions and made comments on my FB page in regards to his size. I'll address some of those issues right now.

He is 27 inches long and, as of this morning, he weighs 16 pounds. Less than two months ago, he weighed in at only NINE pounds. Let me remind you...he is 20 months old!! He is incredibly tiny. I can put him in some 3-6 month clothes. All the new things I'm buying him are size 9 month and he's got plenty of grow room.

Yes, he is Hispanic. So yes, that can affect his overall size. No, I don't know how tall his biological parents are.

Yes, the Down's Syndrome can affect his height and overall growth curve. I know that his entire development is going to be behind. I plotted him on a DS growth curve this morning though and he's significantly below that (as in entirely off the chart by quite a bit).

He's growing now though like he should be. Russell came into Care February 12 after a stay in the hospital. No foster homes were open and willing to care for him at that time. Russell was moved to a shelter in Central Texas. Once in the shelter he started gaining almost a pound a week. That's pretty significant!!

Russell also suffered a tremendous amount of physical abuse. The cast is off his arm and the doctor told me this morning that we have to wait a few months for the body to, hopefully, realign the bones the way they should be.

He doesn't have cardiac problems that have been diagnosed. Still, the judge ordered him to see a cardiologist so an appointment has been made. We also have an appointment with an endocrinologist for a follow up. The pediatrician I took him to this morning didn't seem too concerned about the FTT. I've been given permission to take him off the Pediasure shakes he was on in the shelter and switch him to toddler formula. I've also been encouraged to feed him solids as much as possible. We have a follow-up in one month to see how he's progressing on the growth chart.

Russell has an older sister, age 3, who is placed with a relative. Russell's mom is also pregnant with a little girl and due to give birth in about two weeks.

As is typical for foster care, I'm sure this case is going to be quite the adventurous roller coaster ride. Bio Mom is in her very early 20's and speaks no English. Her boyfriend (not Russell's father) is in his late 30's and I have reason to believe he's not the kind of guy I want to associate with at all! (Ricky informed me that the gang signs in all the pictures on Boyfriend's FB page indicate that he is a member of a violent prison gang.) I have no idea what's going to happen to the new baby when she's born. Yes, we have room. But I'm not sure I'd be able to meet the needs of an addicted newborn (if she is...I do not know the status of Bio Mom's drug habits) AND all of Russell's needs AND all of the needs of my forever cherubs. I don't know if CPS is going to even remove the baby when she's born nor do I know if they're planning a kinship placement or foster care. We weren't told about the new baby when we accepted Russell so accepting her or not accepting her, if they ask, shouldn't affect his placement.

We don't have court again until sometime in June because all of the initial hearings happened when Russell was in the shelter. So basically I get to just go about getting all his services lined up. Doctor. Dentist. Specialists. Private therapies (PT, OT and ST). Early Childhood Intervention (ECI / Easter Seals). And because I've done this a few times now, I'm not nearly as thrown by all the steps involved to make this happen.

Got any questions?


Monday, March 30, 2015

We said "yes" again

Our official "yes" for Baby Boy (blog name to come) has been turned in to our agency. Rainbow has a message in to CPS. I'm sure we'll hear something tomorrow.

I'm as ready as I can be for another baby I guess.

I'll let y'all know what happens as soon as I hear anything.