Monday, December 28, 2015

Exclusion - Segregation - Integration - Inclusion

I have a bunch of different blog posts running around in my head. I keep meaning to write. And it keeps not happening. Life has been pretty busy lately I guess. Actually, more than that, I don't know where to start since it's been so long since I've written.

So I'm just going to jump into things.

I've been OBSESSING lately about Russell and his future schooling. Obsessing.

I know what I want for Russell. But sadly, I don't think it's available where we live.

I keep going 'round and 'round and 'round in my mind.

It's not exactly something I can put off either. I know he's only 28 months old. But he'll be 30 months old on February 4. And when that happens, ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) will begin to transfer Russell into the public school system for services. And because Russell is in foster care, the State of Texas requires that Russell start public school when he is three years old. That means that this fall, I will be required to put Russell in public preschool.

So as much as I want to stick my head in the sand, I can't. I've GOT to be ready for Russell's ARD meeting and his IEP. It will be happening in just a few months. And I have to be able to argue for what Russell is legally entitled to. And I'm going to have to fight if I want him fully included in a general education setting.

But this is where I go 'round and 'round and 'round....
Russell simply isn't ready for a general education setting.

Developmentally, Russell is only about one year old. At his recent evaluations, he was tested in each discipline.
For physical therapy his results were pretty good.
These are his developmental ages:
  • Stationary = 18 months
  • Locomotion = 14 months
  • Object Manipulation = 18 months
Occupational therapy showed more delays. His developmental ages were:
  • Grasping = 14 months
  • Visual-Motor Integration = 11 months
Speech shows the most delays with developmental ages of:
  • Receptive Language = 5 months
  • Expressive Language = 7 months
I can't imagine sending my baby to preschool. I just can't.

So I'm obsessing. I'm researching private preschools (there really aren't any - almost everything I'm finding is glorified day care). I've sent emails to a diagnostician in the special ed department. I'm asking questions. I'm researching things online. And I'm freaking out.

I want full inclusion for my son. I want full inclusion with an aid and modifications as necessary. I want him in with able-bodied peers. I do not want him segregated into a special classroom for "kids like him".
Full inclusion doesn't exist at the three year old preschool level in our district. I don't believe that Russell could even function in a Head Start classroom. (Definitely not the Head Start location Dude went to!) So, unless I get permission to "homeschool" Russell when he is three years old, he will be going to the segregated PPCD preschool.

Now, this might not be the end of the world. I KNOW I need to go visit this preschool before I completely freak out. But with the holidays and all that jazz, I haven't had time. I'm not sure how I'm going to visit the preschool anyway unless I happen to go on a Friday that Mr. Amazing has off or if I put the cherubs in daycare (shudder). (I like to avoid daycare whenever possible. The babies have gotten sick every single time they've gone.)

I'm also obsessing about HOW to best advocate for Russell in general. Where I live, parents simply aren't welcome in the schools. At least I haven't been. I know there are some PTA moms at Bart's elementary. But come Hell or high water...Russell will NOT be going to that elementary! I will open enroll him to another elementary if I'm forced to. The special ed department at Bart's elementary is horrible. I know this from personal experience with Pumpkin, who attended there a few years ago. At least the PPCD school is at a different campus. Anyway...I don't know how I'm going to be received. And because I'm "just the foster mom", I know I'm going to have an uphill battle no matter what.

I'm pretty sure I want to fight to "homeschool" Russell starting this fall. I want to maintain all the private therapies that Russell is receiving and do the bare minimum that the public school requires. I believe they do have home bound services. I can augment Russell's current therapies with ones offered by the public school and hold off on classroom time for another year.

That's what I would prefer to do I guess. But now that means that I've got to figure out how to convince the State of Texas to let me homeschool a foster kid.

I can't even write a decent blog post about all this stuff because my thoughts continue to swirl around in my head.

In a PERFECT world....
Russell would stay home with me for another year.
Then we would adopt Russell and Star.
A job would open up at the National Wildlife Refuge in my home town.
We would all move back to Iowa.
Russell would attend a public school where I know they practice full inclusion.

But that's my "perfect" world. That scenario is not going to happen. So I have to prepare for Russell in the environment we are in now. And because I feel so strongly about full inclusion, I have to figure out how I'm going to make it happen and what I will do if it's truly not available. I fear that if I don't make Russell's goals very clear in his first IEP, that getting to a place of inclusion will be nearly impossible. I've heard from other parents of children with special needs, that once the kids are in secluded special ed, it's hard to move them out and into the general education population.

For what it's worth, I worry and obsess about IEP goals in general. I remember Pumpkin's ARD meeting and the goals the school set for her. They were ALL goals that were to help her "pass the STAAR test"...something Pumpkin will NEVER be able to do. Still, all the goals were academic and all of them were completely unreasonable, and the things the special ed department did to fulfill those goals were ridiculous! (Think flashcards, puzzles, and worksheets that Pumpkin didn't even do herself.)

Maybe homeschooling would be better. I feel confident in my ability to teach Russell what he needs to know academically. But, when I think about homeschooling now, I think about homeschooling Russell all the way through high school. And honestly, that tangent scares me more than just a little.

And then there's the whole idea of committing to parenting Russell for the rest of his life.

As I research the education side of things, I'm constantly reminded of the tremendous amount of advocating I'm going to have to do to help him and how that will never let up as he ages. It can be a bit overwhelming. I've got no problems parenting Russell right now. But the idea of parenting Russell 10-20-30 years from now is a bit daunting.

I'm not going to turn away. If this case really does move to adoption, we will adopt. I know we will.

But just the simple fact that we "could" turn away right now messes with my head sometimes.

I've joined several online support groups. They've been both helpful and frightening all at the same time. Most people that parent a child with severe special needs didn't "choose" to do so. Being put in a place to choose to do this is a little overwhelming.

But we will if the case comes to that. I can't imagine Russell going anywhere else. I'm madly in love with the kid. And will commit to raising him and caring for him for the rest of his life.

And with that, there is no ending to this blog post. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm not sure what will happen when I meet with the school officially. I'm scared to death to become the "troublemaker mom" because I WILL advocate for Russell's best interests. I will be the squeaky wheel. Or, I'll tuck tail and homeschool and avoid the whole mess. But that will mean getting permission from the State. And that freaks me out just a bit. Which one should I do first? Attend the ARD meeting and pray for the best? Or get permission to homeschool and have that in my back pocket at the ARD meeting? But would the State let me have permission to homeschool prior to the ARD meeting anyway? Who should I talk to? The lawyer? CPS? How do I explain all this to the people that make all the decisions in Russell's life without freaking them out?

I could go on and on with the stuff that's swirling in my brain.

Basically...foster care sucks. And special needs parenting is no easy picnic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"thank you for protecting children"

Our local B.A.C.A. chapter had another Level 1 "adoption" ceremony this past Sunday. The little girl that needs our support lives almost two hours away. Because TT had a major homework assignment he needed help with, I had to stay home to wrangle the kids. Mr. Amazing went on his motorcycle though and was a part of the process to empower this wounded child so she can testify against her abuser.

Following the Level 1 ceremony, a bunch of B.A.C.A. members went out to lunch together.

It's a unique experience going out in "public" as a large group of bikers. After all, "bikers" have a reputation and not everyone knows what B.A.C.A. stands for. All they see is a group of people wearing their cuts (vests) and they don't know any better. Sometimes it's a bit intimidating.

B.A.C.A. members are required to "look the part". Even though the entire organization is built on the idea of non-violence, we are supposed to look like bikers. Khakis, a polo, brown loafers, and a scooter won't cut it.
Mr. Amazing and another member of our chapter were sitting together at a table. While eating, a young girl approached them and said, "Thank you for protecting children." Everyone was quite touched. I believe they were able to give this girl a few temporary tattoos that said B.A.C.A. on them. (We often keep things like this in our vests to give to kids at Level 1 ceremonies and other "kid" events.) I got goosebumps when Mr. Amazing told me the story. I'm so proud to be a part of this organization!

The very next day, our chapter received a referral via the international B.A.C.A. website.

Apparently, the young girl that thanked my husband has a big sister that was with her that afternoon. When the young girl approached the B.A.C.A. members, all her big sister could do was sit back and cry.

According to the email that was sent in, the big sister has recently been abused. She's awaiting information on the trial that is to come. She's scared to death to have to testify. The child's parent asked if we, B.A.C.A., could go with her to court.

Our organization will now vet the situation. We require that anyone we help be involved in the legal system. We are not vigilantes. We work WITH the police and other law enforcement. We meet with the family and make sure our organization is a fit for what they need.

These are the kinds of kids we want to help though. Hopefully we will be able to bring her into our fold. We will help her see that we've got her back. We'll be a part of her life as long as she needs us and we will all show up in the courtroom when she has to testify.

I firmly believe God sent our B.A.C.A. chapter to that very restaurant at that very time so this connection could be made. That gives me goosebumps too.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

what I know about Dude and Dolly

Several people have asked me on this. I don't have much of an answer.

I've sent a text message to Great Grandma P. She told me she's trying to get ahold of some relative in the Dallas area that knows Bio Mom and Grandma N (who has Dude and Dolly). GGP hasn't messaged me again.

I sent a Facebook message to the one relative I "know" in the Dallas area. This is a maternal cousin to the kids. GGP had connected me to this person last year. She messaged me back and said she didn't know anything about the situation. It's obvious she has little to no contact with Dude and Dolly.

I continue to stalk Bio Mom's public Facebook page. This was her status yesterday:
I'm so blessed to have my family and my love ones back thru thick and thin ..I love u my kiddos I miss u too ...but today was a special day had a blazed......with (Grandma N) (Dolly) and (Dude), me my bby and hubby.......muahhh I love youuuuuuu?!!?????
SIDE NOTE: Bio Mom has had two babies after Dude and Dolly. Baby Zippy came in to Care when I still had Dude and Dolly but was placed with an aunt - sister to Bio Mom. Bio Mom is parenting her fourth child. The baby referenced in her post above is the one she has custody of. The "hubby" she mentions is of no relation to Dude and Dolly. Their bio dad is back in prison.

Bio Mom still lives in Houston. Her contact with Dude and Dolly is incredibly sporadic. I know that according to a FB status Bio Mom posted back in September that she didn't even know how to find Dude and Dolly in Dallas.

Apparently Grandma N is still alive. I know nothing of her health status. I have to assume that the children are still in her care and haven't been put back in foster care.

I probably won't hear anything again from anyone. I'm not going to go out of my way to do anything myself about this. I have to trust that the cherubs are safe. As far as I am concerned, nothing is any different today than it was over 2 years ago when they left me. All I can do is pray for the children and move on with my own life.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sometimes I say no

I thought it was funny yesterday that the Internet totally has me pegged as someone that always says yes.

So, with the goal of keeping things real, I'm going to explain why we said "no" to respite over Thanksgiving. I'm not saying this to defend myself. This is just to help others that do respite and/or foster care understand why WE chose to say no this time. And maybe to help others see that it's OK to say no sometimes, themselves.

The young man (I'm going to call him Bryan) in question is 14 years old. Bryan's current foster family is going to be gone over Thanksgiving at a wedding. I don't know WHY they aren't taking him with them. All I know is that Rainbow, at my licensing agency, asked if we could do respite for Bryan.

Rainbow explained that this young man is rather significantly developmentally delayed. I called her to ask more about him after we had our text conversation yesterday. When I forced her to peg him at a developmental age, she guessed Bryan functions around the age of a 9 year old or so. She said he talks quiet and slow, but that he talks a lot. And he doesn't like to throw anything away. He's independent (i.e. I wouldn't have to help him with self care). But he is slow in general. She indicated a past with his family of origin that speaks of significant neglectful supervision. The more Rainbow said, the more I understood why his foster family might not want to bring him to a wedding.

-----

This is where I'm going to have an aside and I'm going to talk about respite care in general.

Respite is NOTHING like doing foster care. I've seen countless of people online advise others that are thinking about doing foster care to do respite first. Tell them to "get their feet wet".

In my opinion, respite doesn't do that. Respite is babysitting. That is all it is. You don't get involved with the case. Shoot - I don't usually get all the information about why the child is in Care when we take a respite placement. I don't know how many moves they've had or what things they struggle with. I know nothing of the biological family and who the child has contact with and who they've lost. I'm simply asked to care for a foster child so I can give their current foster family a break.

Granted, this respite babysitting is caring for a child from the hurt places. The child has extreme baggage simply because they are in foster care - and all foster care is because of trauma and all foster care IS trauma. If I push, I might find out possible triggers and some of the reason why the child is in Care to begin with. So it's not like babysitting my nephew or the next door neighbor. But it's not the same as doing full foster care.

It's also very short term. And when I don't know the kid, that means a lot of energy goes in to helping the kid on respite to fit in to our home and to be comfortable. I can't overwhelm them with rules. And since they don't know us, they don't know our expectations. They can't read my body language. They don't know the things that make our family tick.

I enjoy doing respite sometimes. I like giving a kid some time off from expectations. We've had some very fun respite placements.

But doing respite is exhausting for me. Someone I barely know drops off their child in my home - usually with barely a goodbye - and then it's up to me to figure out what to do next. I've had kids dropped off at my home that didn't speak English. I've had kids dropped off without even the most basic of necessities that should have been provided by their current family. No pajamas. Not enough diapers. Once I had a baby dropped off in a car seat that was obviously worn out and still had the sticker on it from the garage sale the foster family had purchased it at. I "make" $10 a night taking in a child for respite. That baby stayed two nights I think. The new car seat I had to buy, because I wasn't about to use the piece of garbage that was left with her, cost me $60. I lost money big time. And while I'm certainly not in this for the money, I don't appreciate having to dole out my own funds because foster parents that are still receiving their full per diem decided to not send an appropriate bag with the child.

-----

Now...back to Bryan...

Bryan is developmentally delayed. He functions at an age younger than TT and Bart. However, he's 14 years old. He's going to know he's older than TT and Bart. I'm pretty sure he's going to want to hang out with them and do the things they're allowed to do. I know this would make for some interesting dynamics. I know it would force me to stay VERY hyper aware of those three kids for the whole time Bryan is here. I know that hypervigilance would wear me out!

TT suffered a concussion 2.5 weeks ago while at football practice. In order to help him heal, he's had to stop doing everything that he loves to do. No football. No TV. No video games. The concussion caused some personality changes. For about a week or so he was super angry and irritable.

Then I thought about how my already angry/depressed 12 year old is going to be on a week off from school. And I thought about how he would mesh with a 14 year old he doesn't know that brings his own personality challenges to the party.

And then I thought about how tired I already am because Miss Star is such a lousy sleeper at night. And how Russell wakes up super early causing even more lack of sleep for me.

Couple all that exhaustion with what I know it would take to keep Bryan, TT, and Bart happy...and I got a headache just thinking about it.

So I messaged back to Rainbow this morning and told her no.

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Now...y'all have me pegged pretty good. Because I did tell her to contact us if they can't find a respite home. I wouldn't want to leave a foster family in the lurch and make them miss a wedding. (Maybe Bryan doesn't have permission to travel. Maybe the wedding doesn't allow any children in attendance. I don't know.)

I told Rainbow I felt bad but that right NOW, I can't commit to doing respite care for Bryan.

-----

I'm not opposed to doing foster care over Thanksgiving. If Bryan had been a girl this probably would have gone completely different. The dynamics wouldn't have been the same. An older child or a younger child would change things too. These specific dynamics were something I didn't want to deal with though.

And it's not that my boys would have been rotten or anything like that. But it would have been a place where my boys would feel it necessary to include Bryan and it's likely that Bryan wouldn't be allowed to do what they want to do (go over to a friend's house) or might not be able to do what they were doing (play outside with a large group of kids). And if Bryan's not doing what they are, that means it's up to me to keep Bryan occupied and I'm not up for that right now.

It is what it is. Sometimes we have to say no. And that's OK.

-----

Rainbow messaged me back later this morning to say that they found a good home for Bryan to go to over Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving traditions

This is off topic...but I sort of brought it up when I mentioned in the last post that we eat different food at Thanksgiving. Our tradition seems to make people curious and I tend to get a lot of comments on my personal Facebook when we talk about how we do Turkey Day. So, I'll share our tradition here.  :)

Most importantly, I want to state that I try to live a life of Thanksgiving. Every prayer we pray in our family starts off with the things we are thankful for. We praise God, give thanks for things in our life, and then ask for help. This is our daily attitude.

When it comes to Thanksgiving though, the actual holiday, I could take it or leave it.

I like family coming together and all that jazz. But I don't much care for turkey. I don't eat gravy. I don't like stuffing. And other than mashed potatoes, I don't look forward to any other "traditional" Thanksgiving foods.

When Mr. Amazing and I first got married, all our Thanksgivings were at either his parents' house or mine. Of course we ate all the traditional foods. I wouldn't dream of complaining either. When we had our first Thanksgiving alone though, I think I served ham.

For almost 10 years now, we've lived far away from family. Thanksgiving is usually just the five of us along with any bonus cherubs living in our home. Neighbors have come over - typically extra kids anyway. And Mr. Amazing has had people come over from work too. I don't remember when it started exactly, but our tradition is to serve anything BUT traditional Thanksgiving food.

We start planning our theme sometime in October. We toss all sorts of ideas around. It's a fun dinnertime conversation. Once we finally decide on a theme, we then spend a few weeks talking about all the foods that we can make within that theme. I go ALL OUT. I make TONS of food. But it's not traditional.

Past themes have included:

STEAK HOUSE: ribeye steaks, loaded baked potatoes, salad, fresh rolls, etc.
ITALIAN: an antipasto platter, several different pasta dishes, salads, garlic bread, tiramisu, etc.
DINER: three different slider burgers, onion rings, milkshakes, etc.
BREAKFAST: pancakes, baked French toast, fruit sauce, muffins, etc.
BBQ (we've done this a few times): ribs, brisket, chicken, sausage, beans, creamed corn, etc.
TRADITIONAL: ok....ok...we did do a traditional Thanksgiving one year - only the turkey was smoked by Mr. Amazing on his pit

Last year was Porksgiving....all things pork. Mr. Amazing smoked a pork shoulder and most of the side dishes had some form of pork in them. We had bacon green beans, sausage-filled baked beans, bacon cornbread, and more.

This year we're calling it Appsgiving. I'm serving appetizers all day long. The menu is not 100% set in stone. I'm not sure if I'm going to serve it as a "meal" where we actually all sit down together. Or if I'm just going to keep cranking out food all day long and we're just going to graze. So far, the list looks like this:
mini cinnamon rolls
monkey bread
muffins
mini sausage rolls
chocolate chip cheeseball with graham crackers
spinach artichoke dip
white pizza dip
bacon-wrapped little smokies
potato skins
shrimp cocktail
deviled eggs
empanadas
pizza pinwheels
meatballs
grilled chicken skewers
fried chicken fingers
mini banana-split pies
cookies
pumpkin cheesecake shooters
Oreo fluff shots

There might be more. There might be less.  :)  I do love to cook like I'm feeding a million people.

And now I'll end this post like I do every one I put on my personal Facebook....y'all are welcome. If you're anywhere close to the border of Mexico, send me an email. I'll tell you who I really am and I'll give you my address. You're more than welcome to come over and share some of our abundance.

Happy Appsgiving!! 

Text conversation between me and Rainbow

Rainbow:
Hi :)

Me:
Oh boy. Now what?!
LOL

Rainbow:
LOL
Would you be so kind as to do respite for one of our boys during Thanskgiving? It would be 11/25 - 11/28.

Me:
Who's being such an asshat that they can't include their foster kids on Thanksgiving?

Rainbow:
He's 14...Low functioning but independent. No behaviors...he just talks a lot and likes to collect paper.
Ha ha ha they are going out of town that week for a wedding :(

Me:
I don't know.
Can he sleep downstairs? Is he a flight risk?

Rainbow:
Not a flight risk at all. Very good kid. Just needs a night light.

Me:
I'm going to have to think about it. Not sure I want to complicate those days off really.
It's always stressful to bring in a kid we don't know. And since it's over the holiday, I'm going to be busy.
Also, we don't do traditional Thanksgiving. He will probably be a little freaked out by our food choices.

Rainbow:
OK. We just really want him in a home that we know he will be welcomed especially over the holidays.

Me:
Way to tug at my heart strings.

Rainbow:
To be honest, I don't know how much of a holiday he has ever had.

Me:
You're killing me.

Rainbow:
Haha. Sorry. Not trying to do that.

Me:
I can't say yes without talking to everyone else.

Rainbow:
But he really does have a sad story!

Me:
Of course he does. And you know I want to save them all. I'm such a sucker.

Rainbow:
Haha. I know. But I don't want to make things hectic for you. Just let me know what you decide.

Me:
It really would make things hectic. It's emotionally very difficult every time a new kid comes!!!!
I'll let you know tho. Message me tomorrow if I forget to let you know.

Rainbow:
OK. I will. Thanks for considering.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Daily recreational logs


I am required to fill out a calendar for every foster child in my home detailing their daily recreational time. The back side of this calendar allows space for me to document any contact with their biological family.

In my opinion, these calendars are a complete joke. Good foster families don't have time to waste filling out these types of forms. Nobody really reads them anyway. And bad foster homes, ones that don't allow any real recreation time, are going to lie on the forms anyway.

I've been filling these forms out for years now. For the little ones, I've been using a slightly modified system. On the calendar I write in anything "special", like doctor appointments, therapies, and court hearings. Along with the calendar I submit a letter stating what a typical schedule looks like. Or, in the case of these infants, that their schedule varies significantly because they are babies and that their needs are met as necessary. I mean really...sometimes Star takes three naps in a day. Sometimes she takes six. No one gives a damn about this and I shouldn't have to try and keep track of this kind of stuff.

The rec logs I've been turning in for years - literally since Dude and Dolly were with me - have never been a problem.

Until Friday.

I got an email from the director of our agency. She's now our licensing worker because both of the actual workers they had on staff quit on them. (My agency has a real problem with turnover.) The email from Marcy read as follows:
Our auditors reviewed Russell's file and found several missing information. They are requested updated daily logs for Russell since placement. Days missing (Saturday & Sunday) must be filled out. Also please list all recreational activities, not OT/PT/ST or court. This form must list recreational activities that are age appropriate and provided to Russell on a daily basis; example: listening to music, play specific games, FM read books, etc.
I will need to pick these up before Tuesday. Please let me know when I can stop by to pick these up along with his therapy notes that the secretary discussed with you earlier.
This email upset me almost immediately.

My Christian licensing agency is asking me to fill in DAILY recreational logs retroactively for the past seven months.

The first thing I did was bitch about it on my Cherub Mamma Facebook page.

Then I really did think about it. I had a choice...either fill in the calendar with made up stuff for each and every day. Or tell the people in authority that their request is wrong and that I won't comply.

There's merit to just doing it and moving on. Not rocking the boat.

But I got this pit in my stomach. They're asking me to LIE. They're asking me to make up what we did. And yes...Russell has a wide variety of toys to play with. But no...I don't read a book to him every day. And I don't feel right misrepresenting truth just to fulfill some stupid requirement.

So, I wrote a letter. I included forty different dated pictures that show Russell in various places in our home playing with a wide variety of toys. Here's what I told Marcy, our licensing agency director:

To Whom It May Concern
In regards to the daily recreational logs due for Russell

I cannot in good conscious fill out daily recreational logs retroactively. There is no way that I can say for sure what happened every single day since Russell came to stay in our home. Also, I’ve been filling out these rec logs in the same manner since they were assigned to me several years ago. At no point in time has anyone ever corrected me and said I needed to do them differently. Anything I would fill out now would be a lie and I’m not comfortable with my Christian agency being so hung up on these rules that they would ask me to lie and fill out seven months of logs retroactively.
I can certainly fill logs out differently as we progress forward with this case. However, I need someone from (our licensing agency) to show me what acceptable logs for infants should look like. When I had a teenager I simply wrote in one “free time” activity per day and listed what his school schedule was. My infants don’t have a “schedule” per se as I meet their needs as necessary.

Let me also point out how absurd these logs really are. It should be the responsibility of the licensing worker to ensure that the children in my home are being cared for appropriately. Good foster homes don’t have time to fill out logs every single day detailing out minute-by-minute how the children spend their time. And bad foster homes, ones that don’t allow recreational time or don’t vary it at all, are going to lie on their logs. Once a month a worker comes to my home. They should be able to assess that my children have appropriate toys for their developmental level available.

This is a look at an average day with Russell:

Russell wakes in the morning. I get him dressed and place him in either a bouncer or in his play yard while the big kids get ready for school.

I drive the big kids to school.

Once home, Russell goes in his high chair and is fed breakfast.

The reason I listed each one of Russell’s therapies out on the rec log is because his therapy time IS play time. He is given a variety of toys and things to do with each therapist. He enjoys this time very much and obviously, it is crucial to his overall development. Ultimately though, Russell is playing during therapy with the therapists.

After therapies are over, Russell goes down for nap.

After nap, Russell is fed lunch.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Russell goes to a visit with his biological mother from 2:00-4:00pm. When he first came to the our house, he would go down for nap immediately following the visit. Lately, Russell stays awake all afternoon. He typically plays in the living room with his infant toys or he plays in his play yard.

I rotate Russell’s toys once or twice during a typical day. Developmentally he is an infant. He simply picks things up and shakes them, chews on them, and/or bangs them together. Russell has the following toys at his disposal:

Rattles
Xylophone
Cars and trucks
Little People
Giraffe ball toy
Blocks
Mega Blocks
Musical cube
Toy kitchen
Play garden with slide and ball drop
Block slide toy
Tunnel to crawl through
Maracas and tambourine
Board books
Basketball hoop

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to say WHAT he plays with all day long. It ONLY makes sense to say that Russell has “free time” when he’s playing. Under no circumstances do I tell him what he has to play with and his attention span is so short he plays with everything. I understand that “free time” isn’t allowed on the rec logs. So I’m not sure what to say. He is an infant. He plays like an infant does. Again, this is why I need someone to tell me what acceptable rec logs for infants should look like.

Dinner is at roughly 5:30pm.

After supper Russell plays with the toys in the living room or he’s placed in his play yard.
Bedtime falls sometime between 7:00pm and 8:30pm depending on how tired he is and whether or not Russell took a second nap in the afternoon.

The following are pictures taken of Russell since he came to our home. They will give proof to a variety of toys and activities being available to Russell.
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I HATE confrontation. But I decided I just couldn't let this be. It will be interesting to see how Marcy responds to my email and the letter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

the twists and turns of a court hearing

I arrived at the courthouse about 30 minutes before our case was to be called. There was NO parking. I had to go a couple of blocks away and park in another lot and walk over to the courthouse. I prayed all the way there. I also looked at every face praying I wouldn't see Star's bio dad.

The babies and I made it to the outside pavilion about 20 minutes before 9:30 (our time slot on the docket). No one from our case was there. So, the babies sat in their stroller and I tried to interact with them some and to not worry.

Eventually, Bopper, our CPS worker, came over to me. She was a fountain of information. In fact, our conversation prior to court is when all the twists and turns came about.

Things Bopper told me:

1. Sylvia (Bio Mom) claimed she didn't know we had court today. Despite it being announced loud and clear at the last hearing, and despite it being her lawyer's responsibility to remind her, Sylvia claimed she didn't know. Sylvia said she would leave right away and try to get there. Bopper told Sylvia that she would advise the court of this if Sylvia was unable to make it on time.

2. Bopper has been told that her text messages can be subpoenaed during trials. Bopper will no longer be texting me any case details, ever. This, of course, is how it should have been all along. I've always been surprised that Bopper would text the things she does. It seems that any information I want about the case will have to be handled over a phone call though. I'm fine with this but I will miss the updates. I always feel bad calling CPS because they are, in all reality, overworked and underpaid. At least with text she can answer at her convenience. But phone calls from now on it is!

3. The biggest news....they found Russell's bio dad. He is NOT in Mexico and never has been. Russell's bio dad, blog name Ivan, is just barely 18 years old. That means he was probably 15 when Russell was conceived. Sylvia had to have been right around 20. I have to assume Sylvia has been lying to CPS about Ivan due to the possibility of statutory rape charges???? Sylvia outright lied about Ivan's age and his whereabouts. Sylvia also had Ivan's mother lie to CPS about his whereabouts.

But Ivan has been found. He's been in a juvenile detention center for about two years. He is not going to be considered for custody placement. However, his mother has said that she'd like to go through a home study.

This grandmother has only met Russell once in his life. And she blatantly lied about her son to CPS. Her son is obviously not an upstanding citizen right now. But I have NO IDEA if Grandma is capable of caring for Russell or not.

Again, CPS is going to run the home study for placement of just one child. This grandmother is going to be considered for Russell only.

-----

We got called into the courtroom right at 9:30am. Sylvia wasn't there but we proceeded anyway. Thankfully Star's dad wasn't there. He claims he's still in Mexico.

As is almost always the case, it was hard to hear all the intimate details of the proceedings. Not only were my two babies babbling and making a lot of noise, but people tend to come and go during the proceedings. At one point in time a family with a young child came in and sat on the other side of me. I had little kid noises coming from both side.

So all I know are the highlights.

1. Sylvia will continue to be allowed to work her service plan. The next thing she has to be able to do is to prove she has a home for the babies that is safe. So far, that has not happened. But since she has a service plan to work, that is part of it...providing stable housing. CPS is to inquire about this housing and do a home assessment if applicable.

2. Russell's bio dad has to be served. There are a lot of legal things that will happen now that we know where Dad is and can contact him directly.

3. CPS was ordered to get the home study done on Ivan's mom right away.

4. Star's bio dad, the man that scares me, has been deported to Mexico after spending time in a federal prison. He's got quite a criminal record with the highlights being as many as five DUI arrests, public intoxication, and a couple of drug charges. This man though has told CPS he will be back in the States soon. (I believe he's even asked for visits with Star, but this was not discussed in court. This is something Bopper told me via text earlier this week.) Star's bio dad was given a service plan to work as well. It includes such things as substance abuse classes, therapy, and various other typical service plan things. (I really didn't want to give this man a blog name. But it's getting harder to write about him without one. So, I guess I'll call him Fabian.)

Fabian has contacted CPS now that he's back in Mexico. He gave them a phone number but he's refused to give them an address. I believe, but don't quote me on this, that his service plan is contingent on him giving them an address and probably him being in the US. The court is making CPS dot every "I" and cross every "T". I don't believe ever that Fabian will work a service plan. But things like this must be offered if CPS is going to want to terminate his parental rights.

5. The TPR hearing was moved from December 4 to January 29. This will allow for Ivan's lawyer to contact Ivan and for him to be properly served. It will also allow for CPS to file their paperwork accordingly.

6. Sylvia showed up about 5 minutes before the hearing was over. She was never addressed formally but did get an opportunity to talk to her lawyer. She cooed over the babies for a second when it was all over. But since it was finished and I wasn't needed, I left.

7. The primary goal in this case still remains Non-Relative Adoption. The concurrent secondary goal is Relative Conservatorship. Bopper told me prior to court that if the home study on Ivan's mom is not favorable, they will be moving to terminate rights and they will move forward with non-relative adoption. I don't believe there are any more home studies for Star as the three that have been submitted thus far have all been negative.

----

I've just got to sit on this for awhile. I can't do anything and nothing changes for me or the babies. They will still go to their visits twice a week. It's still all the fun of regular foster care.

It is my hope that I would be able to meet with Russell's grandmother - if she's serious about wanting to care for Russell. That's what I did with Pumpkin's aunt and uncle. They drove over from El Paso and met with me for several hours. I told them all about Pumpkin, her disabilities and what it's like to care for her. I would like to do the same for Ivan's mom if she's serious about taking custody of Russell.

I question how invested she is though. She's only met Russell once in his life. She's already lied to CPS about her son. And though she was invited to attend court today, she did not come. Perhaps she's only giving lip service to wanting to care for Russell forever.

-----

That's my morning in a nutshell. We go back to court in January.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

mind-blowing news

I've been sitting on some mind-blowing news since Thursday afternoon. I've gone back and forth about whether I want to blog this information or not. Because it's just that...information. I can't DO anything with this information but wait until I hear more.

Then I got to thinking about when I was pregnant with Bart. We had suffered a couple miscarriages over the past few years before his conception. Initially I didn't want to tell anyone I was pregnant in case we lost the baby again. Then I decided that prayers were better and the only way anyone could pray for me and the baby was to know I was pregnant. So we told.

My faith is super important to me. So I do covet all your prayers.

Please know though...I'm not exactly praying for the outcome everyone thinks I should be praying for here. I'm praying for safety and for the best interests of the cherubs' to be taken into consideration. I do NOT know the whole story.

I'll spill though...

Remember Dude and Dolly?
Remember the characters in their story?

I'll refresh for those that don't know....

Dude and Dolly: children I cared for in my home for 27 months. I loved them fiercely. We intervened in their case. Their mother walked out on them from the very beginning. Their father has basically been touring all the jailing facilities where he lives since he was 17 years old.

Grandma N: Dude and Dolly's paternal grandmother. She was older - but not too old to care for these cherubs. However, she did not do a single thing to get to know her grandchildren when they came in to Care. She didn't call them - or even CPS - to see how the kids were doing. She didn't recognize holidays or birthdays with the kids. She totally acted like she did not care about these kids at all. After the State started flying the children to Dallas to see her once a month, she continued to ignore and neglect them during visits. A drug needle even ended up in their suitcase after one of these visits. (Grandma N doesn't use. But several of her adult children do!!!)

Great Grandma P: maternal great grandmother. GGP cared for Dude, Dolly and their mother a lot prior to the cherubs coming in to Care. I believe GGP is the one that called the hotline on their mother that resulted in the cherubs coming to my home back in 2011. She never, ever wanted the cherubs to live with Gma N. But she is in her mid-70s and couldn't take custody of the kids. And as the case progressed, because she was against the kids going to Dallas, CPS did everything they could to limit her contact with the cherubs.

Dude and Dolly mean the world to me. I was devastated when they were sent to live with Gma N. (We were given less than five hours to say goodbye.) You'll have to go through the archives to get the whole story though. Just know, right or wrong, they were MY kids. I wasn't trying to steal them from their bio family. We would have had an open adoption. There were just so many negative things about life in Gma N's home that we legitimately worried for their long-term safety! CPS had an agenda though. Family is always best even when there are obvious signs it's not.

----

THE MIND-BLOWING NEWS:
GGP called me Thursday afternoon. It seems that Grandma N has cancer and has said something about wanting to put Dude and Dolly back in foster care.

 ----

That's it. That's really all I know. And I can't do much with that information.

----

I immediately started Facebook stalking again. Everything GGP told me matches up with small statements made by family members.

GGP doesn't know where the kids are though or who is caring for them. She doesn't even know if Gma N is still hospitalized or not. She is just very worried about their safety and she wants them to come back to our home as opposed to being cared for by any of Gma N's adult children.

----

I'll try to now answer the questions that are sure to come about.
  • No. I can't call the hotline or ask for a welfare check. I don't know anything official. I only have the word of GGP who lives down here - 10+ hours away from Dallas. No one knows where the kids are anyway so I have nothing official I could tell an investigator.
  • Yes. GGP could call the hotline. She actually should. She is a blood relative and her story would be taken much more seriously by CPS. However, it could come across as a feud between maternal and paternal sides. So unless GGP got more official information, she's almost as limited as I am.
  • GGP has several grandchildren and children that live in the Dallas area. She's trying to contact them to see if any of them can get her more information about Dude and Dolly. She's also trying to get a phone number for Gma N so she can talk to her directly.
  • I believe the actual CPS case on Dude and Dolly closed out this past January. They are no longer being monitored by CPS. Rights were never terminated though so Gma N only has PMC (permanent managing conservatorship). If the kids came back into foster care, anything could happen. I bet they'd even offer Mom a case plan again.
  • Because the case closed in their home county, if the cherubs did come back in to foster care, it's likely that a new case would be opened in Dallas County. No one can tell me for sure if their prior history would be a factor at all. I think the ONLY way we'd get a phone call for these kids is if someone in their family told CPS about us AND no one in the family wanted to take them officially. We would qualify as fictive-kin. We're also a licensed foster family with room in our license to take them. But CPS would have to have a reason to move them from Dallas County. Under no circumstances would we "trump" any family that would pass a home study if it came to that. We would only be considered over a brand new foster family (strangers).
  • Even if Gma N is in the hospital - and even if the cherubs are simply being passed around from one family member to another - that doesn't mean that CPS would get involved. Someone would have to prove that they are being abused or neglected. Stable, loving, permanency is not a CPS requirement.
  • Dude and Dolly's bio dad is back in prison again. He's eligible for parole next summer. He is not a candidate for custody at all!!
  • Dude and Dolly's bio mom is living in Houston. She hasn't seen Dude and Dolly for a long, long time. She doesn't even know where they are or how to get ahold of them. (Confirmed by both GGP and several FB statuses on Bio Mom's page.) Bio Mom gave birth to Baby Zippy around 2 years ago (a half-sibling). He lives with Bio Mom's sister. Bio Mom also has another baby boy that she does have custody of though.
I'm an emotional disaster over all this. I want to call people. I want to do everything in my power to protect Dude and Dolly. I feel bad for Gma N. I don't know for sure how she has been parenting Dude and Dolly the last two years. Maybe she was doing right by them. All I know is what I've heard from GGP - and at times I feel like her concerns are skewed by a dislike of the paternal side of the family. (That dislike is justified. But still...)

I have to be very careful though. I can't get in the middle of this. Because everything is still pretty much speculation, anything *I* say or do looks like I'm trying to get the kids back. And that wouldn't be looked on favorably by CPS at all. Because family always trumps foster.

We have room in our home and in our license for them. And yes, we'd adopt all four (Dolly, Dude, Russell, and Star) if that's where the cases ended up.

But for now...all I can do is pray.

Of course I'm praying the cherubs come back to me. But then I stop myself and I reframe this. And then I pray that their best interests are taken into consideration. I want what really is best for them to happen! If they've got safe and loving family in Dallas now - it is best for them to stay with that safe and loving family. In my heart of hearts I know that. But if they aren't safe...if they are being neglected or abused...I want them home with me.

I'm waiting for GGP to get more information. I've told her she should call the hotline. But other than that, all I can do is wait.

And pray.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Russell's communication abilities

This post is just for me. I wrote down all the words that Russell seemed to know as of 07-23-15. I want to save this information but I don't have anywhere convenient started to save it.

Yes, I know I should make a "life book". I take a zillion pictures. And when he leaves (if he leaves) I will make a special book of him. However, if he leaves, I can almost guarantee that the person he will be going to won't be vested in teaching him sign language. They probably won't even speak English. (In the event that I'm wrong, I promise I will transfer information like this over for them.)

That said, this post is for me.  :)

WORDS RUSSELL USES AS OF JULY 23, 2015...

Sign language only:
eat (w/prompt)
more (w/prompt)
music
bounce
play
milk
bye-bye (w/prompt)
hi (w/prompt)
give me (w/prompt)

Spoken only:
gentle
Herman (IRL name of course)
nigh-nigh

Signed and spoken:
ma ma
da da
all done (w/prompt)

Since the surgery, Russell has added more words.

Sign language only:

yes
grapes (w/prompt)
shoes
I love you (he simply puts his hand out in response to our sign)

He also signs a lot of the words above more consistently and without a physical prompt

Russell will consistently point to these body parts when asked:
head
nose
mouth
ears
tummy
feet


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Two years ago

Two years ago, Dude and Dolly left me to be placed with a grandma that they barely knew. A grandma that had proven wasn't going to provide a safe environment. A grandma that had done NOTHING to get to know these kids in the 27 months they were with us.

My heart was ripped from me completely.

There were about 5.5 hours between when we got out of court and when CPS came to get the kids to fly them across the state. (One hour of that was spent driving back from court to our house. Another 30 minutes of that time was spent picking up TT and Bart from a babysitter.)

Sometimes foster care really sucks.

I've gained hundreds more Facebook followers since Dude and Dolly left. Most people probably don't even know their story. Please know I don't take foster care lightly. I don't believe that I am better than the bio family or that reunification is always a bad thing. But Dude and Dolly were MY kids. Their mom abandoned them and their grandma never really WANTED them. Their story was supposed to end differently.

Bits of Dude and Dolly are still all over my house. A bracelet turned up in a box of toys just last week. It's been sitting on my desk making me sad ever since.

Dolly turns 8 years old tomorrow. She's in 2nd grade. Dude is 6 and in 1st grade. I have to force myself to think of them as being older. Time seemed to almost stop when they left. I'd give anything to see a picture of them now.

Sometimes I honestly can't believe we're still doing foster care when I think about how bad I hurt after they left. When Daisy and Ricky came, I felt guilty. Like moving on was somehow not honoring Dude and Dolly. (Or something like that. Words fail me.) And now that we've got the babies, I'm a whole mix of crazy emotions. Dolly would have been entirely smitten beyond belief to have babies in the house!

Today is a rough day. Yet, I have moved on and it doesn't hurt as bad as I thought it was going to. They will always have my heart though. Always.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

no training available

Food issues (for lack of a better description) are starting to become more pronounced with Russell. This is the stuff that there is NO training for. None. I'm in uncharted territory. I now have to gather as much information as I can from those that have gone before me in similar situations and from medical professionals in his life and I have to make a decision as to how to handle things best.

Here's the scoop.

Russell was born August 4, 2013. According to the medical records I was able to get ahold of, he was "on" the growth curve at birth. He was around the 25% mark. But he was on the curve.

Almost immediately, Russell dropped off the growth curve.

We will never know why.

Did his mother honestly not feed him? Did she breastfeed and it didn't go well? Did Russell have legitimate feeding problems from the beginning even on a bottle?

As he got older, he dropped further and further off the curve. When he was hospitalized on February 6 (for a broken arm and the subsequent abuse that was finally discovered), he weighed less than 10 pounds. He was 17 months old.

As you can tell, when he entered foster care, his growth curves for both weight and length started going almost straight up.

Russell was hospitalized for 6 days upon coming in to Care. Then he went to a shelter in Central Texas. At the shelter they worked hard to fatten him up. He was on Pediasure and they fed him around the clock. They also had him eating baby oatmeal and other stage 2 purees.

When he came to me, I kept him on the same diet at first (though he no longer ate in the middle of the night). He didn't take the overall quantities that I was given by the shelter in his dietary plan. (I have no idea if he was honestly taking those quantities in the shelter. I seriously doubt that he was.) But he ate regularly and without complaint. His tongue thrust isn't incredibly pronounced and he had no problems taking food. He could not drink from a sippy cup, but he had no problems with his bottles at all. (Other than being a little messy sometimes as he'd let fluid drip out of his mouth. At the time, I thought little of that.)

As the weeks went by, I started making my own food. At first all I did was make purees like the store-bought jars. I'd make them a little thicker though because he didn't mind. I gave him a wide variety of flavors and he didn't reject anything.

I started adding texture. The first food with texture was probably refried beans. He ate them without complaining. He started eating oatmeal for breakfast - first with bananas, then with cooked apples or even raisins.

I started adding tiny bits of meat into his food about 3 months ago I think. The first time I did it without a gravy though it was obvious that the texture was too much for Russell. I had chopped up tiny bits of chicken and stirred it together with rice and broccoli. He didn't have to chew much to eat it as the bits were so small. But he couldn't eat it. Just couldn't do it. The food would sit in his mouth. He wouldn't try to chew or swallow.

I solved that problem by making a gravy and stirring the chicken, rice, and broccoli into that. Russell ate that batch of baby food without any major issues.

Things have been going downhill for the last couple of months though. So much so that I've got Russell's speech pathologist involved and she's added some feeding goals to his overall list of things she works on with him.

Russell is rejecting food - especially anything with too much texture. He's very much rejecting anything with meat or beans. He'll still eat the oatmeal for breakfast. But he is VERY slow about it and he's going about things in a way that is markedly "not right". He'll devour applesauce or regular yogurt. But he seems to not want to eat Greek yogurt anymore.

Russell only wants to eat super soft purees.

His speech pathologist and I both agree that Russell possesses the ability to eat absolutely everything I'm feeding him. He chews. He can move his tongue correctly around his mouth like he's supposed to. And there are no concerns of aspiration.

But he'll take a bite of oatmeal and he'll just leave it in his mouth. He won't complain. He won't try to spit it out. He'll just leave it there. It will take him as long as a minute before he gets around to swallowing the bite. Even then, he'll often pocket bits of food on either side of his mouth.

He should be able to sweep the food off a spoon. He's not doing it consistently yet. And he's worse when the food is thicker or has a lot of texture. The therapist noticed this morning when feeding him that he even tipped his entire head back to get his oatmeal off the spoon rather than use his tongue the right way.

When he drinks, he guzzles so bad and then milk just runs out of the side of his mouth. Even when I take the cup away from him (because he is now drinking out of a sippy cup), milk will pool in his mouth on the sides and even in the front. He simply doesn't swallow it all.

And lately, if the food I'm trying to feed him has beans or meat in it, he's rejecting it almost altogether. He cries. He turns his head. He won't open his mouth. He won't eat it. And these are foods he was eating, even if not perfectly, for several months.

This is where it gets tricky.

WHY is he not eating? Why is he not eating well?

Is it developmental? He is behind because of the Down syndrome. He's also behind because of all the massive neglect.

Is it the typical food rejection of a young child?

Is it a deeper food issue because of the starvation?

WHAT do I do to help him?

His speech pathologist continues to work with him by doing oral motor exercises. She now feeds him once a week incorporating these exercises into the feeding as well.

She commends me for continuing to feed him lots of foods and textures. But she doesn't have much to say about what we need to be doing right NOW to help him with the food issues.

Do I continue giving him full meals of the thicker, more textured foods and just deal with his rejection and refusal to swallow?

Or do I go backwards and start giving him more full purees so that he'll eat better and the meal is more pleasant and makes him happier.

The last thing I want to do is to turn mealtime into a battleground.

Almost every foster child we've had has brought some sort of food "issue" to the table. None of them have triggered me the way Russell's are right now. Obviously I have to deal with myself here. I've never had a baby refuse to eat though. And it scares me. I don't want to go backwards and feed him purees. What if that's all he's eating when he's 12 years old?!

But I don't like how sassy he gets when he's refusing to eat either. The poor thing was starved for 17 months. I want him to enjoy mealtime. I want him to be happy. This must be factored in to the equation.

His speech pathologist doesn't say much about everything. She just commiserates with me. I guess it's been good that I'm being validated. The way he's eating isn't "right". At least I'm not crazy trying to blow things out of proportion.

But I wish I knew what I should be doing right now about it.

And if y'all tell me to keep on giving him the thicker foods that he's rejecting and not swallowing - y'all had better tell me how to get my head screwed on straight. Right or wrong, it makes me mad. He gets pissy with me with everything I have to do to keep him clean and healthy. (The only thing I don't have problems with is diaper changes.) It wears on me to continually take care of someone and have them reject my care at every turn. Mealtime is personal. Oh so personal. And when he's rejecting the food, it's like he's rejecting me. I KNOW I HAVE TO GET OVER IT. But someone help me reframe it. I can't talk to him about this. I can't reason with him or ask him what he wants. I'm dealing with an infant here. Chronologically he's 25 months old. Developmentally he's well under a year for his language skills and 10-11 months for everything else. I can only relate to him as an infant. No sticker charts. No rewards. Nothing like that. He's a baby.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

thank you girlfrog2003 & Aileen

The PPCD is located at a different campus than the elementary my kids have all gone to.

There is hope.

His ECI coordinator says we start working on the transition when Russell turns 27 months old. That's this November. That should give me enough time to figure out all I need to know to either be OK with the public school system or to start working on getting permission to home school.

I'm glad I can know a little bit better of what to expect. I can handle him being in a self-contained classroom as long as it is an enriching environment.

Thanks for your comments. I feel ever so slightly better about this.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

thinking WAAYYY too far ahead

Russell is currently receiving speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy from a private provider (that accepts Medicaid and comes to my home). Because he was already set up with ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) services while he was in the shelter in Central Texas, I went ahead and kept those services as well. However, I do NOT need any more therapists coming in to my home to treat Russell right now. Thirty visits a month from his private therapies are plenty, thankyouverymuch. So I've always told the ECI case manager that I want to keep things as minimal as possible with her organization.

I don't want to drop ECI altogether. They will help me if Russell's hearing turns out to be neurosensory hearing loss. They would send me a special auditory therapist to help with teaching him sign language, or using hearing aids, or whatever we might need. I also want to keep ECI on the books, so to speak, in case Russell is placed back with his mother or any other relative. With one phone call I could bump the services up to a weekly visit from a therapist along with case management. That would keep extra "hot bodies" looking in on Russell regularly. He would definitely need as many mandatory reporters in his life as possible should he not stay with me.

But for now, all I need is the minimum from ECI as they will allow. His case manager (let's call her Larissa) had an appointment with me today. She finally (sigh - finally) understood what I've meant about this all along. She asked today if she could stop coming to my house monthly and simply handle the case management part of the program over the phone. If I could have done a cartwheel of excitement, I would have turned one in my kitchen when she said that! Yes!! Please only call me once a month. Keep him in the program. But stop coming to my house once a month for no good reason.

Whew!

I got Larissa talking about transitioning Russell out of the program though. Russell turns 25 months old this Friday. When a child is 27 months old, ECI starts the transition process to the next step. For Russell, the next step is public school. The day before a child turns three, they are discharged completely from the ECI program. So I asked Larissa how this will all work. Larissa said that because Russell will be three years old next fall, that he will automatically start in the public school (even though the public school cut-off is to be age four by September 1 for preschool - Russell starts young because of his disability). She basically said the special ed bus would pick Russell up in the morning, he would attend preschool at the local elementary, the bus would take him to Head Start in the afternoon, then the bus would bring him home from Head Start.

I had to instantly correct her. There is no busing service for our local Head Start.

I asked her if Russell would have a one-on-one aid or what kinds of accommodations he would most likely receive.

My heart sank. Larissa told me that Russell would simply be placed in the self-contained classroom at the school for age three for sure. From there, when he's four and after testing, he might get to mainstream out for classes like PE or music.

My Pumpkin was in the self-contained special needs classroom in our local elementary. She was the highest functioning child in the room when she attended. And it was a HORRIBLE classroom.  The idea of sending Russell to that school, to be in that classroom, to do what little they do there, makes me sick to my stomach.

Head Start is only slightly better. Larissa told me I wouldn't be required to send Russell to public pre-K and Head Start. She agreed with me though that none of the Head Start programs in our area are equipped for children with special needs. I remember how poorly I thought things were run when I was required to send Dude to Head Start. And there were no obviously disabled children in the school at all. Again, I can't imagine sending Russell into that environment.

So now I'm getting waaayyyyy too far ahead of myself.

What am I going to do when Russell turns three years old if he's still with me?

If we've managed to adopt him by then, I will continue with private therapies and I will home school him.

If he's still a ward of the State though - then what?! The State of Texas requires that I send all my foster children age three and older to public school.

A bill was introduced this year that would have allowed Texas foster families to homeschool their foster children. House Bill 2799 would have allowed it unless a court order prevents home schooling, a court hearing finds that home schooling is not in the best interest of the child, or federal law requires another school setting. It would have been the first law in the nation to allow foster parents to home school foster children without first having to obtain consent from the Department of Family and Protective Services.

That bill died on June 1, 2015.

I really need to not worry about this. August 2016 is so incredibly far away in Foster Care Land. A zillion things could happen between now and then.

Still, I'm researching my options.

According to the CPS website, this is the Department's policy on home schooling:
If the caseworker believes home schooling or a similar alternative is appropriate in an individual case, a written request for an exception may be addressed to the regional education specialist. Approval depends on whether the proposed home schooling plan meets the child’s academic, social, and other needs in a safe, stable setting and is in the best interest of the child.
To request an exception to the requirement for standard schooling to allow the child to be homeschooled, follow procedures in 15228.2 Requesting an Exception to Standard Schooling. 
I figure I'm going to have to chase this rabbit hole sometime around the first of next year. I certainly can't wait until summer or next fall.

I really should let it go. It's waaayyyyy too far in the future.

But I want to advocate for my cherub. And I can guarantee the public school down here is NOT where he belongs!

(Secretly I'll be praying for a fast adoption, a job opening for my husband in another state, and a move all before school starts next fall. It'd be nothing short of a miracle. I know that. But a girl can pray.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

December 4th is a TPR trial

When we got out of court this past Wednesday, I was in shock. With the primary goal being changed to non-relative adoption...everything changed. Not for me. Not really. But now as I look at these children, a bit more of my heart wants to dream about parenting them forever.

Outside the courtroom, I looked at the babies' lawyer (who I think needs a blog name - let's go with Ms. Remus) and told her that I would like to pick her brain about everything at a later date. I could tell by her posture and response that she was totally OK with that. Later that afternoon I sent her a text asking to touch base with her either via phone or text at her convenience.

Out of the blue this morning she messaged me and said, "Hi. I'll track down the mom's lawyer to see if she's willing to let Russell go."

My jaw dropped. No intro. No niceties. Just straight to...we're going to discuss having Mom surrender her rights.

Based on how the lawyer worded her text, I assumed she meant that they would be splitting up the siblings. I asked her about that. Her response was, "Maybe not. She may lose them both outright."

We went back and forth for just a bit. Apparently there is only one relative now is having a home study done and that relative does not want both children.

I told Ms. Remus that I sincerely appreciate her keeping me in the loop. I KNOW this is foster care. I know a million things could happen. But I told her that when the goal changed, my heart jumped and that I've fallen awfully hard for these amazing children.

I also said, "I know my role. But it will help me stay grounded if I know what's going on - as much as you're comfortable sharing - behind the scenes."

Her response, "No problem. Our role is to put them in the best place. It'd be great to keep these two out of that environment."

I reiterated my stance on relative conservatorship with Russell again. (I say this at every chance because I don't want anyone to forget how horrifically he was hurt. Especially now that you can't see he was starved and all his bones have healed.) I told her, "I fear for Russell's long term safety with any relative. After what everyone was so comfortable ignoring for the first 17 months of his life - I can only imagine his fate if he returns."

The lawyer agreed with me.

And that was that.

Bopper has assured me she'll keep me in the loop. Ms. Remus seems to be comfortable keeping me in the loop. I'm being treated with respect. I believe the kids' best interests are being taken into consideration. It doesn't look like anyone is going to let this case drag out for years and years. This isn't the foster care I'm used to.

The judge tossed out a lot of official dates this week. There is a date set for when all new "findings" have to be submitted. (Or something like that.) There is a date set for determining if they want a jury. The pretrial is set for October 28. And the TPR hearing is set for December 4.

This is one wild roller coaster ride.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

rehash of today's court hearing

I still don't know much more than I did after I walked out of the courtroom this morning. But, I'll spill the beans.

The primary goal in the case with Russell and Star was changed late yesterday to non-relative adoption. The secondary goal is relative conservatorship.

My jaw hit the ground!!

Basically....Sylvia (Mom) has worked her case plan. But, in the words of CPS, she has not shown that she can identify things that she would do differently should she get her kids back. Basically, she doesn't have any protective instincts and CPS can tell that.

As of right now, there are NO relatives approved for either child.

Mom gave the names of two more relatives today. I honestly believe that relatives will start crawling out of the woodwork now. However, NONE of them (in my opinion) should even be seriously considered to raise Russell for the rest of his life. So unless they split the children, I don't know how relative conservatorship is going to work.

I'm almost positive that CPS and the lawyer for the children are both in agreement with me on that.

Every relative that was in Russell's life prior to him coming in to Care could have seen how badly he was being starved. They could have seen the black crust that had built up all over his body from never being bathed. And honestly...how does a child get fifteen broken bones and a lacerated liver without anyone in his life knowing how it happened??!!

Still, CPS will be required to do a home study on every relative that Mom presents to the court.

Along with this, even though the goal is no longer reunification (not the primary or the secondary goal), Mom got a new case plan and more services to work. In a way, reunification is not completely ruled out. This makes no sense to me. But it's what they did.

(Note: I feel comfortable sharing these intimate court details because we have open court here in my part of Texas. Any reader sitting next to me today could have heard all these details themselves.)

So...visits continue. Mom will have to attend counseling again I believe and maybe a support group or something. CPS will conduct new home studies. But along with all that, CPS is to start getting their ducks in a row for a trial.

The pretrial is in October. The final hearing is in December.

And this is where I simply can't answer any questions. I don't know if at this trial they will terminate rights. Or if this is just a trial before a TPR hearing. I guess because the goal is now adoption that they will either present a relative that is acceptable to take placement or they will terminate. I've never had a case like this one and Texas, especially my part of it, does things differently.

Bopper (the babies' CPS worker) wasn't at court today. She was out sick. Still, she sent me a text after we got home asking how court went. I told her my jaw was on the floor with the goal change. Interestingly enough, she said that it must have happened late last night because she was unaware of that change.

Bopper assures me that she will keep me in the loop with homestudies being done and all that jazz. I did come out and say, even though I've never been asked, that we would care for these two cherubs as long as the State will let us.

I also sent a text to the babies' lawyer. We've met in person once, spoken on the phone before, and we have communicated via text several times. She's been VERY honest with me thus far and I had caught her on the way out of court to tell her I'd love to pick her brain on this case. She indicated that we could definitely talk later!! My text basically just said that I knew she was swamped and in court today. I said that the goal change really surprised me and I'd love to hear her take on how the case could possibly play out. I asked her to message or call me at her convenience later today or this week. She responded that she would.

So this is where we can all start speculating.
  1. Will Mom get it together and get her kids back?
  2. Will one of Mom's relatives get both kids permanently?
  3. Will they send both babies to a relative on Star's dad's side of the family
    (No one on Russell's paternal side can be located at all.)
  4. Will they split the children and send Star to a relative but plan an adoption for Russell?
So many things could still happen. I'm not getting my hopes up.

But yes, we would adopt these cherubs if it became necessary.

So now...we wait and watch and do a lot of praying.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Leo left // court is coming for Russell & Star

Leo came and went in less than 24 hours. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I'm glad he didn't have to experience another move. He's been through enough in his very short life. But...I am going to have a chat with Rainbow tomorrow. I'm hoping she can show me his full file. If his current foster family doesn't step up and commit to adopting Leo, we are going to at least consider it.

There are a few aspects of older child adoption that we have to factor in. One of the biggest is how it will affect TT and Bart. Bart absolutely ADORES having babies and toddlers in the house. Bart honestly doesn't want to be the youngest child. I think if we had a placement here for several months/years that ended up in a place where adoption was an option, Bart and TT would be OK. But the idea of springing an older child into our home with the notion of "forever" there from the beginning...I'm sure we'd have a heaping load of behaviors from all three of the children.

And no. My forever kids aren't more "important" than a foster child. But I will factor in the dynamics of an addition to our family before I commit to it permanently.

-----

Bopper (our CPS worker) came to the house on Friday for her monthly home visit. She's a sweet young thing. Lord only knows why she chose social work as a profession though. She is a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat.

She told me she had to have some very difficult conversations with Sylvia (bio mom). Bopper didn't have this case from the beginning. And I guess she didn't realize fully that the goal has ALWAYS been family reunification with a secondary goal of relative conservatorship. Not sure why she didn't know this. But she didn't. And after reading through the whole file, Bopper had to staff the case with her supervisor again. After this staffing, she was able to officially change the goal in the case with Russell and Star. The goals are simply reversed now with the primary goal being relative conservatorship and the secondary goal being family reunification. Bopper said it was very hard to explain all this to Sylvia. (And no, it was not a language barrier thing. Bopper is fully bilingual.) She said that Sylvia simply doesn't understand why her kids are in Care. Sylvia cannot explain how ANY of the abuse happened to Russell. And let's be honest...this mother had to have known who was abusing Russell. A child can't have 15 fractures and nobody knows. Not to mention the fact that he was starving so badly and was covered in a layer of filth that CPS literally speculated meant he hadn't been bathed in months...if ever. (I'm sure he had been bathed. He had been hospitalized more than once for FTT over the course of the 17 months of his life before coming in to Care. But the pics of the filth caked on his body when he was removed do point to a serious amount of neglect.)
Russell is 1 here - taken from a relative's FB page 
What is going to make this very complicated is that there are NO relatives willing or able to care for Russell. And now that Russell and Star are in the same case, they work strongly against splitting the siblings up. So even though there is someone that wants to take Star, they're not being considered because they won't (or can't) take Russell.

So I pressed Bopper a little. It is very clear that CPS is not in favor of Russell (or Star) being reunified with Sylvia. And there are no relatives that can step in. I asked, "So what happens next? How long will you look for a relative?" In Russell's case, it would NOT be safe to send him to ANY relatives that he's known in the area since he was born. In my opinion, they are responsible for the neglect he suffered as well. You could physically see that he was wasting away before he came into foster care. Any relative in his life should have stepped in to protect him if they truly cared.

And I'm going to put this out there. I'm not in favor of relatives getting to just pop up out of nowhere after a case has been going on for some time. Yes...family staying with family can be a VERY good thing. But I don't think CPS should have to DIG for family just because they are distantly related. Not for Russell. Not for any kid. I totally understand that ICPC takes a long time. I totally understand that even moving kids across the state might take awhile. But Russell has been in Care since February. If he's got family that wants him, they should be stepping forward NOW. At least put their names in the hat. And there is no one.

I don't know what's going to happen. Bopper answered my question. She became guarded (as she should - case workers aren't supposed to speculate, I know that). But she answered that she doesn't want to "look" for relatives for very long.

I was blunt. I asked her, "So what if you don't find any relatives? The secondary goal is still family reunification. Will the kids just go back to Mom?"

Bopper bristled at that. I know she does NOT want Russell back with Mom. But the possibility of that happening is very much a reality. Her only answer is that any other goal changes (to TPR) would have to be made in court.

I have a feeling that Wednesday is going to be a very interesting day. I wish I didn't have to drag both babies with me to the courthouse. I'm going to want to be able to hear everything and I probably won't get to. For now though, I've been told that CPS is not recommending reunification and I can expect that both children will be staying with me this time around.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

We don't all fit in one car anymore

A beautiful 8yo boy joined our family last night. His favorite thing is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and his favorite turtle is Leonardo. So, for the blog, our new cherub is going to be Leo.

Leo is here on "emergency respite". That means that something significant happened and he needed to be moved from his foster family to ours. Emergency respite can "legally" only last for 14 days. But ultimately, we don't know how long Leo will be here.

We cared for Leo for three days back in July when he came for a normal respite placement. He's a neat kid and we had no issues those three days at all. In fact, I assessed him while he was here and had a long talk with his foster family about, what I believed to be, a misdiagnosis and incorrect medication. I had been given a little of his history and I was convinced that Leo did not have ADHD and that the violent rages they had been seeing were as a result of the stimulant medication he was on.

His foster family listened to me. I really liked them. And now, praise God, he's off that med and down to only one mood stabilizer.

However, his foster family made a rather large mistake. They knowingly chose to disregard a rather significant minimum standard. I'm going to be vague. The details really aren't necessary. But it's a rule that is in every county and every state and probably even every country. It does not involve corporal punishment. Leo was not hurt, neglected or abused in any way in his foster home. Still, he and another boy (separate case) were removed last night and whisked away to emergency respite.

Leo does not know why he's here. He's under the impression that he'll be going back to that foster family. He was very, very excited to learn that he was coming back to our house though. I guess he liked it here back in July.

Our licensing agency is trying to salvage things. The plan is to fix the problem in the original foster home and send the two boys back there. However, that may not happen. And if they have to close the original foster home, Leo is going to need a long-term placement. To add to this, Leo's parents have already had their rights terminated. Leo is in need of an adoptive home.

Right now Leo is ONLY here for emergency respite. We might have to make some very important decisions within the next few days though.

His current foster family is only "considering" adopting Leo. They haven't committed to anything and Leo has been there well over six months I believe. I'm not sure how serious they are about wanting to adopt.

For what it's worth, we would "consider" adoption as well. In fact, we wouldn't take him as a long-term placement unless we were going to walk the road of adoption. Just wouldn't be fair to him in my opinion.

I have NO IDEA what is going to happen. This IS the roller coaster of foster care. I'll keep you posted though.  :)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Big, long catch-up post

I can tell that life has been busy managing a household with two babies, two tweens, a young adult and a husband. I have hardly been blogging at all (other than all my Facebook ramblings). So, in order to keep a record of all the crazy that is my life, here is a super crazy-long catch-up post. We'll go in order from oldest to youngest...

Mr. Amazing:
Mr. Amazing is healing quite well from his surgery – all things considered. He still can't eat meat or bread or anything but soft food so I'm something of a short order cook for him. And one of his surgical sites is starting to get infected. But we're praying that the oral antibiotic that the surgeon called in does the trick. Mr. Amazing had to get his surgery done in Central Texas because none of the surgeons in our area were qualified enough to handle the complicated re-do of the Nissen. We'd like to avoid any extra trips up north if they can be avoided. He also still can't lift more than 15 pounds so that puts me on baby duty for the most part. Still, he's healing well and that's what matters.

Herman:
It's been quite the summer of transformation. We're learning how to navigate the world of parenting a young adult. Initially Herman had planned on going to a trade school in the area for welding. However, as the end of high school got closer, he decided against that. Ultimately, Herman wants to be a motorcycle mechanic. He wants to learn how to build custom motorcycles. This is a real career and we fully support him in it. However, the school he wants to attend isn't in Texas. And Herman isn't exactly ready to be on his own yet. So, we decided that Herman should live at home and get a job, do some growing up, save some money, and then go on to school.

Getting that job has not been an easy task. Herman has applied at many, many places and he hasn't heard back from most. He took it upon himself to go into many stores in person. He spoke with managers. But...Herman doesn't speak Spanish and he's white. Where we live, those are not good things!!

We thought there was a good chance for Herman to possibly interview for a job in Iowa. We quickly made arrangements for Herman to move up north to stay with My Genius Mother. When that possible job opportunity didn't pan out, we still thought we'd send Herman north. But then...ummmm...Herman showed us that he still needs active parenting in his life. My Genius Mother does not need to be managing that level of parenting anymore. So, I got up in Herman's business and told him he was NOT going to Iowa and he had better figure out where he was going to work down here. He managed to find a job and start within a few days after that Come to Jesus moment. Herman now has a part-time job where he barely makes pennies. But, it's better than nothing. And after his schedule is somewhat set we expect him to go out and find a second part-time job to fill in the gaps a little bit more.

TT and Bart:
We've decided that our season of homeschooling has come to an end (at least for now). TT desperately wants to play football. In order for him to play football, he has to attend public school. There simply aren't other options for kids in our area. Football doesn't start for students until 7th grade and TT is just going into 6th. But he needs to start back in public school now in order to be used to things. In less than two weeks I'm sending my kids back to the wolves.

I'm scared to death!!

I know I had been blogging about all the medications we've tried for TT's anxiety and Bart's ADHD. I got very fed up with nothing working a few months ago. We were going to the psychiatrist what felt like all the time, I was forking out a ton of money for all sorts of expensive medications and TT was still a giant stress ball and Bart was still bouncing off the walls. I took them off everything. I said we'd go back to baseline over the summer and reevaluate from there. I rescheduled one psych appointment so they'd remain patients in the office and I threw all the meds away.

Their next psych appointment was the last week of July. I thought we had been managing things OK enough without meds. Sure, TT was still coming in our room to sleep a lot. And Bart couldn't handle two-step directives. But ultimately, neither boy likes the idea of taking meds. So I figured we'd cancel the appointment and be done with things.

I involve the boys in their mental health decisions though. I sat them both down and discussed the situation. We talked about side effects. We talked about possible benefits. If I'm honest, I'll tell you I tried to steer the boys away from going back to the doctor.

Both boys looked at me and said they wanted to try meds again.

TT doesn't like being anxious all the time. And Bart knows when he's out of control and he hates that it's so hard for him to follow through with things.

Somewhat reluctantly I packed them up and took them to the psychiatrist again. After waiting for hours and hours, we finally got face time with the doctor. I expected that she would be frustrated I took them off everything. She totally seemed to understand though!! She even somewhat apologized for not being able to find anything that works yet. (Totally not her fault but it was a nice gesture.)

TT is on an anti-depressant that seems to be possibly taking the edge off his anxiety better than any other med he's tried thus far. He's also taking something to help him sleep at night. It's not dramatically better. But I know the idea of middle school is an almost crippling fear and he seems to be weathering this upcoming change OK. I have to think the meds are working just a little.

Bart is on another med for his ADHD. He can't take stimulants because they cause him to have violent rages. (He literally becomes a child I do not recognize.) I don't think the dose is quite strong enough yet of the new med, but I'm seeing him have more self-control than he usually does. It should help him as he navigates being a fifth grader this fall.

Russell:
I don't have a lot of major things to report on Russell. He's just a super awesome HAPPY baby that is a lot of fun to take care of!! He's pulling up on everything and he can cruise the length of the couch with ease. He's making advancements in absolutely every area.

Russell is two years old now. We had a lot of birthday fun at home. He didn't understand any of it - but he likes his new toys! Sadly, his mother didn't seem to do anything for him and she actually got to see him ON his birthday. Instead, Star came home from that visit in a new outfit and Russell didn't have anything. I know it's not about the stuff. But I was sad that Mom chose to do something for Star and not for Russell on Russell's actual birthday!

I'm still waiting for the ENT to get me proper documentation so I can get the judge to approve surgery (tubes). Russell failed his ABR hearing test quite significantly. The test results point to there possibly being fluid in the ear. Russell has extremely small ear canals though so no one knows for sure. They need to sedate him, take a look, and put tubes in as a preventative. We'll go from there.

But first, I have to get permission from the judge for Russell to go under anesthesia. I hope it happens soon. I'm confident that this hearing loss is reversible and I just know that Russell's language will simply take off once he can hear the world around him!!

Star:
Sylvia (Bio Mom) is missing out on so much. She has two of the most beautiful and the happiest babies I have ever met!! Star is an unbelievably happy baby - just like her brother. She literally never fusses. She will let me know when she needs a diaper change, or when she's hungry or tired. But she doesn't cry just out of frustration with the world...ever! She's very, very happy!!!

Star is growing like a weed and getting bigger all the time. I swear she just about shot through all the 3-6 month clothes I bought her. Star turns four months old this Friday.

Star is doing all the things tiny babies do. She coos back and forth with me when I hold her. She smiles whenever anyone talks to her. She even rolled over from her back to her tummy last week (8/6/15) for the first time.

The case in general:
Sylvia has worked her entire case plan. Bopper (CPS) assures me that they are not recommending reunification at this time though. No one can account for the injuries that Russell sustained. That has got to mean something. He had fifteen fractures but no one has any idea how they happened.

I continue to point out to anyone that asks that Sylvia was also responsible for feeding Russell and that didn't happen. He was less than 10 pounds at 17 months of age when he entered Care. He was dropping lower and lower on the growth curve. And when he came into foster care...that growth curve started going almost straight up! He's big and fat and healthy now. I fear that people are going to forget how starved he was because nothing in Mom's case plan addressed why she wasn't feeding him.

We go to court next on the 26th of August. I know that no one has located anyone on the paternal side of the family for Russell. Star's bio dad is still in federal prison. I believe there is family that has told CPS they would take Star – but there's no one that is willing or able to care for Russell. I don't believe that CPS will split the case back up now either. But there really is no telling what will happen in court.

Life is nothing short of a roller coaster. But we're all weathering the ride OK right now. I try really hard to not worry about Russell's future. (I'm honestly not as worried about Star. Russell is the one I'm afraid would suffer abuse again. Star, to the best of my knowledge, was never hurt prior to coming to me.) I'm trying really hard to not freak out about sending TT and Bart back to the sub-standard public schools down here. And I'm trying really hard to believe in my heart that Herman will actually grow up and become a contributing member of society. Through it all, I try to be the best wife and mom that I can be.

Oh yeah - and I also have tried to quit drinking Diet Coke. I was a serious (SERIOUS) addict. I haven't gone cold turkey as I know that putting an ultimate "you cannot have it" would mess with my brain too much. But I don't keep any in the house. I got rid of my caffeinated kool-aid packets. And I'm drinking lots and lots of plain old water.

If I left anything out or if you've got any questions – just let me know.

And that's life in The Crazy House!