Ricky is the first teenager that we have fostered. I'm experiencing all that CPS has to offer with their "aging out" process. I'm trying not to judge the process. But it's going to be hard. I'm pretty sure every state in the union fails their foster kids that don't have permanency when they are 18 years old.
My first taste of the aging out process came this past Wednesday when I attended Ricky's "Circles of Support" meeting. It was held in the CPS office in a conference room.
Emilia (Ricky's CPS caseworker)
an SSW from our licensing agency
a CPS education specialist
a CPS employee that runs the Circles of Support meetings (Mr. Meeting Man)
several people from PAL (Preparation for Adult Living)
some people from CPS whose roles I didn't ever actually hear
Rebecca (Ricky's godmother)
Ricky's 8th grade science teacher - a person that has been a male mentor to him over the past 3 years
Ricky's (current) 10th grade art teacher
Ricky's older brother Peter had to work and could not bring Ricky's mom. (Ricky's mom will NOT do anything asked of her on her own. If Peter can't drive her, she doesn't come.)
Also, Ricky's lawyer (GAL) was invited. I even called and left a message asking for his attendance. He never acknowledged any of us.
The meeting is something that CPS does for every teen aged 16 and up in Care. When we went in for the "pre-meeting" they painted this experience as something custom and special for Ricky. The reality of it is quite different though. There is a very set order of discussion and all the professionals involved, the ones that do this all the time, seem to have a set script they follow when it comes to the discussion.
Ricky actually has a rather deep support system though so we all threw their discussion off a bit. Granted, there were only four of us on HIS side there (he has additional stable friends and family). But the four of us spoke with determination. In fact, the gentleman running the show said that in all his 22 years of doing this, he had only had one other teen show up with teachers from their school and he almost seemed surprised by what we had to say. And because Ricky's after-Care plans are solid, safe and stable, much of this meeting was pointless. Still, we had to play along.
For nearly 2 hours we covered the points in their cookie-cutter outline:
Hopes and Dreams
Fears, Needs and Concerns
CPS barely knew how to handle everyone saying so many positive things about Ricky. They didn't reject anything we had to say. But it seemed to stump them because they knew from the beginning that most of this meeting was completely pointless. When Ricky turns 18, that very day, he will walk away from Care and go back to a perfectly safe, perfectly supportive home that will treat him like a perfectly normal child and Ricky will have every opportunity to live a perfectly wonderful adult life.
Ricky did a wonderful job during the meeting. I had coached him, after getting advice from My Genius Sister (a former social worker that specialized in teens and aging out), to not get too emotional and to honestly not get hung up on the fact that he wants to go back to Rebecca. He was to follow their script and tell them his goals are to finish school and go to college. Only when asked was he to talk about Rebecca.
Of course, that was the biggest part of the meeting. When they got to "Permanency Goal" I nodded to Ricky that now was the time. When they asked where he wants to live, he was honest and said, "with Rebecca."
And this is where the meeting got awful.
Over and over and over and over Mr. Meeting Man (the CPS guy running the show) kept telling Ricky that CPS was bound by the law. That they HAVE to go by ONLY the OFFICIAL PLAN. Their plan sucks. They know their plan sucks. (More on that later.) But legally they kept saying they can't do anything about Ricky's current situation. Still, Mr. Meeting Man kept wanting to discuss where Ricky wants to live and what Ricky can do to get there. It was infuriating! It almost seemed like Mr. Meeting Man enjoyed shooting down everything Ricky, or any of his support system, had to say.
The OFFICIAL plan is:
1. reunification with bio mom
2. relative conservatorship
There is no part of any of the plan that allows for Ricky to go back to Rebecca. That would be called, if it were being considered, "kinship placement". That's not on the table at all right now.
When Ricky reminded everyone in attendance that his Bio Mom doesn't want him and is OK with him being adopted, Mr. Meeting Man practically choked. In the snottiest way ever he cut Ricky off and said that there's no way Ricky could ever be adopted.
I cut off Mr. Meeting Man and told him I knew of a family right here where we live that JUST adopted a teen boy literally a week before he turned 18. I said that my licensing agency made it happen from start to finish in about a month.
Mr. Meeting Man stumbled a bit and made sure to point out that the boy was already legally free for adoption.
Which brings us full circle back to Lola, Ricky's bio mom. She's WILLING to TPR (terminate parental rights) and sign Ricky over to Rebecca. She has said so to more than one person. Lola does not want to have anything to do with Ricky. She doesn't care if she parents him. And the State refuses to believe any of it or allow any of it to happen. The State could be done with Ricky in Care if they wanted. It is possible to let Bio Mom sign TPR papers and let Rebecca adopt Ricky. The State could step away and they wouldn't have to pay me a monthly per diem. But this option is not anything they will consider or even discuss.
So round and round we went. They kept asking Ricky where he wants to live in six months and then they kept telling him why it's not going to be possible. And since everyone knew he didn't need any of the other services this meeting was supposed to help put in to place, we got stuck in this loop of Care vs. Rebecca. They kept trying to say that Bio Mom is working her plan and has rights of her own. However, when I pointed out that Lola still tests positive for drugs and that she's not making all her visits, they glossed over things and tried to change the subject. Mr. Meeting Man refused to see that much of what he was saying didn't make sense.
Ricky was amazing. He took it all in stride.
My heart hurt so badly for him though. This is all so unfair.
The PAL coordinator had already contacted me prior to this meeting. We will be taking advantage of their services. If Ricky plays along and does a "training" with them, he will qualify for some financial aid (to help with housing and/or utilities) when he turns 18. He won't need that right when he turns 18 but I want him to have the option when he does move out on his own. He will also be able to obtain a fully funded college education (all the way up to a PHD if he wants) upon aging out. The PAL coordinator will help make sure that financial aid happens.
But Ricky doesn't need help figuring out WHERE he's going to live when he turns 18. He's not going to need to get his own apartment or figure out transportation options. He's healthy, so there are no medical issues to address. Ricky doesn't need CPS to make sure he learns how to take care of himself as an adult. All Ricky is going to need from this fiasco is help (from the PAL coordinator) to make sure he gets every single dime the State of Texas owes him for putting him through all of this.
It is unlikely that Ricky will go back to Rebecca at the next court hearing. I did learn during this meeting that Rebecca's home study is actually deemed "unfavorable" because she and several references state that the best place for Ricky is with Rebecca. That is not in line with the State's (very unrealistic but nevertheless legal) goal of reunification with Bio Mom. The State would have to do an addendum to the home study and Rebecca would have to completely change her tune in order for her to be considered for placement.
It's so very sad. Bio Mom is not going to get Ricky back. Rebecca is unlikely to get Ricky back before he turns 18. It looks like I'm going to be Ricky's mom until January 21, 2015. All I can do is try to get as many freedoms from CPS as I possibly can for Ricky.
Still, we are going to draft very well-worded letters and present them to Ricky's lawyers and to the judge. One letter is going to express why it is perfectly safe and necessary for Ricky to be allowed (legal) contact with Rebecca. The second letter will address why Rebecca is a safe and good place for Ricky to live while he remains in Care - despite what the State thinks the home study means.
That's all we got out of this meeting. Ricky can write some letters.
I'm not going to give up. We'll write those letters.
But I don't have a lot of hope.