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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort to talk about what goes into a respite placement and all the things you consider in evaluating a placement.
I think the people who go into fostering are usually really good people with warm welcoming hearts who want to help traumatized children. And, it is hard to have to stop and realize that accepting every possible placement may not be the right answer for the fostering family and/or the child in need.
Hearing other people who have walked respite and foster care paths discuss these realities and considerations grants us both permission to consider ALL the variable in play and points out our responsibility to do this as well.
You are a wonderful teacher. Thank you for all you do. And have a fabulous Thanksgiving event next week.
Calif. Grandmother

VJ said...

I have said no to many a placement because it didn't seem like a good fit, usually due to clashing ages and expectations (also because my agency keeps "forgetting" how many beds we actually have).

I disagree that respite is not a good "trial" for people considering fostering, though. While the weekend jaunts are really more like babysitting, I have been a regular respite provider for a couple of families where I got to know everything about the case. I know some respite providers who have the children almost as much as their regular foster parents, because the kids have attachment disorders and need two homes to feel like they don't have to "love" anyone and can pretend it's all casual. I think your area is very different - at my agency, the respite providers get the per diem transferred to them for however many days they had the kid(s). $10/day is not even enough to cover the food! We also don't have a limit on respite and I think you've mentioned a certain number of days a month that you "get." We just don't get paid for the days we don't have the kids.

Sorry for the long comment, but I wanted to add one more thing about the wedding - I'm betting it's a no-kids-allowed sort of thing, or the hosts may have specifically requested that "Bryan" not attend. My own sister told me that she didn't want my foster kids to come to her wedding (I was matron of honor), but if I had adopted them, it would be fine. People are weird about that stuff.

Cherub Mamma said...

You make a good point, VJ, about the respite rules being different in different areas. We are VERY limited by State minimum standards to how much respite we can use as a foster family. We get two days a month. And we can "bank" those two days. But the MOST we can use is seven days in a row. There are more rules than that even. I went to a one-hour training that covered all the craziness. The take-away...they'd never allow a situation where kids would go back and forth between two homes to help with attachment issue. There is a definite limit to how much respite is allowed.

I will add, we've done respite for the same child more than once. When that happens it gets a little easier each time. Done enough, it is less like babysitting and more like foster care. You're right on that point for sure!

And you're right...the $10 a day reimbursement isn't enough. Though, if the child is at a "moderate" or "specialized" level the reimbursement is bumped up to $20.