Friday, January 23, 2015

Saying No

I already had to say "no" to a child. Cheerleader, the placing worker at our agency (and also our family's licensing worker), called me yesterday. After hearing the profile, I knew it would be too much for the dynamics already in our family. Saying no is so difficult for me. Well...let me clarify...the actual saying of the "no" isn't too difficult. But my heart was heavy all night long because I did it.

It's really (REALLY) important that you learn as much about trauma and behaviors and diagnoses as you possibly can. That way, when you're deciding what you can or cannot parent, your list will be reasonable. Then...stick to that list. Because once you hear that a child needs you, your heart will be pulled. You may want to take on more than you're capable of handling effectively. And that's not typically a good thing.

A reader asked me: What situations are you NOT suitable for, what would make you decline? I ask because you have clearly had both age extremes, both genders, severe disabilities. What would be a non-fit?

Our list is pretty broad. We are licensed for 0-17. Our agency knows that we would consider teens that have opted to stay in Care until 21 as well because they've asked us about a placement for a 19yo once. (Not sure why the official license only goes to 17.) We are licensed for three foster children. We can't take more because in the state of Texas, if you have more than six children total in your home, you have to be licensed as a group home. In our county, group homes have to have full-house sprinkler systems.

As we went through the licensing process, we had to fill out a form that was basically a check-list of behaviors and whether or not we would be willing to parent them. We could mark in one of three columns: Yes, No, or Negotiable. I wish I would have made a copy of this form. I'm running only on memory now. We had a few columns where we marked "yes". It had things like: ADHD, learning disabilities, and minor medical needs. Mostly though, I marked "negotiable" for most of the behaviors on the list. The "no" column for us included things like:
known fire starter
known sexual acting out on others
known cruelty to animals
Because, IMO, if the placing worker is willing to tell you that they already KNOW the child has these dangerous behaviors, it's probably going to be too much for me to be able to keep all of the children in my home safe. I wouldn't immediately disrupt a placement because behaviors like this happened. But if behaviors like this are already documented, you can bet your butt the difficulties will be long and hard. Because again, IMO, "they" only tell you a tiny bit about each child. And if the tiny bit you're being told is already quite challenging, the full picture will blow your mind.

The young man we got called about yesterday has been in Care for a long, long time. These are some of the things we were told about him:
Age 15
Rights on his mother already terminated
No visits of any kind
Father deceased
Available for adoption
In special ed program at school - in the 8th grade
On four different medications (of which, I had only heard of one)
Several major diagnoses including mood disorder
Never had a stable placement, been bounced through many homes
Reported to be very disrespectful to adults
Currently in a home not with our agency, the family gave their 30-day notice

Cheerleader called me and said that the love we give kids would help this young so much. We're so dedicated that she knew we'd be able to help him.


All that may be true. But I told Cheerleader that this young man needs to be placed in a home that is willing to either consider adoption or at the least, be OK with saying they'll do long-term foster care until he ages out. He's only in 8th grade so that means he needs a family that, from the beginning, is willing to commit to more than four years of Care.

We are not that family.

Just telling me that this young man is 15 years old and has never had a stable placement tells me that he has suffered a level of trauma that is going to bring with it a tremendous amount of behaviors. He has NO reason to trust adults to be there for him. (Thus the reported behavior of being very disrespectful.) And the thing is, my own kids are crazy disrespectful a lot of the time. We're constantly redirecting that behavior. But they have all had the same parents since they were born. Even TT is strongly attached to our family. This young man would have no reason to trust us for anything. So if you tell me he's disrespectful, I can only imagine that the pain, lack of trust and all the behaviors that accompany being treated like trash your whole life run pretty deep.

I'm having to speculate a lot. But I have to assume that the level of care he would need would be more than we could offer. It would probably not be healthy for my younger two kids to get pushed to the side so I could tend to an older brother who isn't used to being part of a family.

I spent a lot of time yesterday running scenarios through my mind. Maybe he wouldn't be so difficult to care for. Maybe he would thrive in a family that treated him like a valued member.

Those maybes aren't a good thing though. It's better that I go with my gut. Because sadly, there will be more children. We'll get called again. And just the fact that we're not willing to commit at the very beginning to a difficult placement that, at minimum, would last four years, is an OK enough reason to say no. 


Alethea said...

Are you treatment (behavioral) or medical level foster care? Cuz that placement sure sounded like he'd do better in a treatment level home! We're treatment level, which means we can have fewer kids at a time, we get more training, more social worker visits and more supports in place for academic and mental healthcare support as soon as a kid is placed. Kids like the one described above need at least that to succeed! I hope Cheerleader can find a home that will be a better fit - though I always worry that when great homes say no, the caseworker just moves down the list to an even less suitable option.

Cherub Mamma said...

Every family verified (licensed) through my agency is considered a "therapeutic" home. I guess it means that we've had more training and what not. (I find that hard to believe though. Most of the training we get pretty much sucks.)

And yes, the boy I described is leveled as a "moderate". He needs a strong level of support. A "moderate" placement does get more contact with social workers. But that's about it. There's nothing special in place to ensure better academic or mental healthcare support. That's all up to the foster family to advocate for and provide.

I do hope that Cheerleader finds a suitable home or tells the State that no one in our agency is a good fit.

VJ said...

It is definitely good to say no if you're not sure you can provide the level of support this child needs. It would have been tough since he is out of birth/adoption order in your family and then has all these issues; your "forever" kids would have a really tough time with the situation, I think. You made the right decision! I wish we had trusted our instincts with our first placement. We thought that saying "no" would make the agency less likely to call us again, so we just said "yes" to the first placement that fit our license, and it was really at the maximum of our capabilities as first-time foster parents.

Sorry for the rambling, but I've read your blog back from the very beginning and I'm excited that you're licensed to foster again! Your experiences helped me so much when we were struggling with our first placement.

Cherub Mamma said...

I would hope that saying "no" wouldn't keep a placing agency from calling. In my experience, the open beds are so few that the calls will come for sure!!

I try really hard to ask better questions. It's so important to stick with kids within your perimeters. MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle should have been placed in a different home than ours. But...we said "yes" based on the information they could tell us. After the girls came the full story, and scope of their abuse, was made known. We ended up having to disrupt. I can't say that I feel guilty - because I wasn't given the full picture from the beginning. But I do think of them often and I feel bad for all they have had to endure.

Pumpkin too was outside our perimeters. CPS did a horrible job of describing her disability over the phone the day we got the call on her. We had an open bed and they wanted her placed.

That's why I'm even more cautious now. Because if the things they DO tell you seem like too can bet it only gets worse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I think many/most new foster families do not completely understand the range of problems a child may be facing and knowing some red stop signs that you, an experienced and really good home, find are appropriate for your family is helpful. Knowing why Ricky was a plan but the 8th grader wasn't helps focus attention on more than just 'a child in need'. Seeing that saying No is important and also loving is helpful.

Rebekah said...

Thank you for all of the times you said, "YES!" I know the "nos" aren't easy, we said one, this week, too...

beemommy58 said...

I believe this fifteen year old needs to be the youngest or only child in a foster family/ adoptive family. I can only imagine (I only fostered newborns back in 1981 for an agency...adoptions came much later in our lives) how difficult it was to say no but grateful for this young man and your family that you and your husband have the wisdom to do so.

Annie said...

Sounds a lot like our foster son. He was terrifically hurt and terribly challenging. But not to the degree that he ought to have been bounced around as much as he had been. Fortunately, at that time the other three were really very easy and docile kids.

It does sound like with the issues you already deal with, that is not the right placement for you. But, oh - I can imagine your agonizing over it.