Wednesday, November 9, 2016

thoughts from a court room

My Genius Sister, in Iowa, wasn't the only one in court today.

I went to court with a B.A.C.A. child here in Texas.

Five B.A.C.A. members (well...technically I'm only a "supporter" as I haven't been able to attend enough events to get my patch) went to be with a little girl so that she wouldn't have to be alone when she testified against her abuser.

We started out the morning in the DA's office. The little girl, Dizzy, had some family support. Her mother was there along with four paternal aunts. We were placed in a conference room. It wasn't exactly kid friendly. I had stuck a couple games in my giant purse though. That helped pass the time.

We had to wait all morning long because we didn't know when Dizzy might get called to testify. Just after noon we were told that the court was breaking for lunch. Everyone left. We had one hour to get some food and convene back in the conference room. We all went out to eat at a pizza buffet, came back, and waited some more.

Just before 2:00pm - after waiting since 8:30am - Dizzy was finally called for her testimony. We were escorted across the street from the DA's office to the criminal courthouse. We passed through security and blocked Dizzy all the way there. Once up to the actual courtroom, we literally formed a wall of bodies around Dizzy. You see, many members of the maternal side of Dizzy's family don't believe that she was assaulted. They, in turn, were in the hallway to support the man that hurt Dizzy. We shielded them from having any contact with Dizzy or even being able to see her.

I then watched a very brave 8 year old little girl speak her truth in a court of law. She had to say, out loud, all the horrible things that were done to her by her relative. I kept a straight face. Our role in the courtroom is to give the child(ren) someone familiar to look at. After all, they're alone. Their family has almost always been subpoenaed to testify so they can't be in the courtroom when the child is testifying. They have to face the DA that they know plus the defense attorney and the defendant.

And don't give that defense attorney any slack. They are there for their client only. The defense attorney today did his best to try and scare Dizzy and to try and confuse her. It was maddening!

Here's one of my take-aways from it all...
Please, please, please teach your kids about sex on an age appropriate level. Teach them the right names for all their body parts. Do this from birth. Girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. Teach them to not be ashamed of their bodies or the names of their body parts. When you get a new foster placement, assess how much they really know about this subject and start teaching right away. So many foster kids have been sexually abused. They were taken from their homes for other reasons though. This is a big deal and we have to teach kids the right ways to talk about their bodies.
Dizzy did great today. She was strong. She was brave. But the best she could muster was that her private parts are her chest, her middle part, and her back part. That was all she could say. And she was scared to death to say any of that. Believe me, the defense took advantage of her fear.

I'm not saying that using the right words would have changed any of this. The court experience is traumatic and any kid would be scared to have to tell a room of strangers when they've been abused. But it might have helped.

Say a prayer for Dizzy. It's 6:00pm and we don't know if Dizzy is going to have to testify again tomorrow or not. If she does, B.A.C.A. will be with her through it all. But Dizzy and her big brother, Sorcerer, need this case to be done. They need the relative that hurt Dizzy to be punished under the full extend of the law. Their family needs support and healing.

It's been a long day. The criminal justice system sucks.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sparkler has court this week

Cast of Characters:

My Genius Sister = MGS...really my sister...really a genius...totally radical
Sparkler = a really awesome 7yo little girl who has endured a lot of trauma in her young life
JW = Sparkler's mom
Cardinal = Sparkler's paternal grandmother
Roonie = My Genius Sister's middle son

A couple years ago, when Roonie was in kindergarten, it came to MGS's attention that Sparkler, also in kindergarten, was having some issues. Some kids in Sparkler's class were telling Sparkler that she couldn't play with them anymore. They said that Sparkler's mom was a bad person. It was mean and cruel. MGS saw it as an opportunity to have a play date. Sparkler could come over and play with Roonie. It was a win-win for everyone.

That's when an amazing story of love and friendship started.

JW had been involved in a positively horrific accident. The courts decided that JW needed to pay for her role in the accident and she was sent to prison. MGS didn't know JW yet but, after some play dates, she got to know Sparkler quite well.

MGS didn't want to become Sparkler's mom or anything like that. She just started weaving their families together. MGS helped Sparkler's dad (JW's husband) and Cardinal take care of Sparkler. There was some neglect involved and MGS supported the family. She didn't take over. But Sparkler became a frequent visitor at my sister's house. MGS became friends with Sparkler's dad and Cardinal. She also became a very, very good friend of JW. They messaged regularly and MGS helped Sparkler maintain a relationship with her mother. The children were friends and much healing happened. It was a beautiful thing.

Then, just a few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened. Sparkler's father was murdered. In an instant, Sparkler was left without a legal guardian. JW was in prison and her dad was gone forever. My sister flew to the family's side so she could be there to support everyone. In the moment, everyone (and I do mean everyone) decided that Sparkler needed to move in with my sister and her family immediately. They would deal with the intensity of what just happened and then evaluate what needed to happen next.

JW was informed of what happened. Knowing the full situation well, she decided immediately that MGS needed to be given official (legal) custody of Sparkler. Sparkler needs more than what Cardinal is able to provide. But because of JW's current legal status, her wishes weren't made known to everyone involved right away. And when they were, Cardinal got upset and retaliated.

And that brings us to this week.

Sparkler is not a foster child. She is not a ward of the State. In fact, as of right now, the State says there isn't enough proof of abuse and/or neglect to remove Sparkler from Cardinal's care. A judge wasn't as scrupulous as he should have been though when he granted Cardinal's request for custody - completely overriding the rights and wishes of JW. So the whole family is now involved in a custody battle. The hearing is Wednesday.

It's not foster care - but it looks a lot like foster care. There is a bio parent whose rights are being trampled all over. There is a kid caught in the middle. There are multiple lawyers. Sparkler even has a guardian ad litem.

I'm asking for prayers for the entire family. Cardinal has further traumatized Sparkler through all this. MGS and her family have been on a whirlwind of a roller coaster that looks JUST like foster care. And JW needs to have her wishes made known in a court of law. And more than anything, said court of law needs to see ALL of this and rule in the best interests of Sparkler.

If Sparkler stays with Cardinal, it is likely that Sparkler will lose her relationship with her mother. Cardinal has made it clear that maintaining that relationship isn't a priority to her. That alone should be reason enough for Sparkler to be moved to my sister's house. Sparkler deserves to have a relationship with her mother. Sparkler needs to be in a place where she will get to go home to with her mother when JW has paid her debt. There are many other reasons why Sparkler would be best off living with MGS temporarily vs. living with Cardinal. But you'll just have to trust me on those.

Please keep all these people in your thoughts and prayers. Court is on Wednesday. It's going to be stressful for all involved and a little girl's future hangs in the balance. I'm praying that she is offered the safety and stability of my sister's home and the assurance that she will get to see and connect with her mother regularly. I covet your prayers for the same.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

transportation concerns

Wednesday is the day the babies are supposed to visit the grandparents. Many, many visits were missed in April, May, and the start of June. It wasn't until last week, when I assume Bopper got a little more involved, that Grandma did something different. Instead of no-showing (like what had happened at several other recent visits), Grandma cancelled...but asked to make up the visit.

Grandma had NEVER asked to make up a visit ever before in the history of this case.
Maybe she didn't know she could. 

So, we made up the visit last Friday. I didn't know what to expect today. But I loaded those babies up in our car and drove to the CPS office.

Grandma was there already. She was also there with all five of her children.

This shouldn't be that big of a deal. But Grandma only drives a five passenger vehicle. That means her own children did not travel to said visit safely.

Normally this is something that I stay out of. I have called the police when I see kids visibly walking around in a moving vehicle. But most of the time, there's nothing I can really do if someone else is transporting their children in an unsafe manner.

But THIS - to me anyway - is a big deal.

This is also where it gets VERY complicated.

Children should never be removed from their biological parents simply due to poverty. This is something I believe pretty strongly in. It is better for a family for services to be provided that enable the family to stay together than it is to separate children from their parent(s), put them in a very punitive System, and then make impoverished parents have to work some plan just to get their kids back. Foster care rarely works the way its supposed to. Let's keep as many kids OUT of foster care as we possibly can! m'kay?

That said, I struggle with this when it comes to relative placements. I'm still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it. Because while I believe that requiring a bio parent to have a vehicle is ludicrous – I somehow want to hold relatives to a higher standard if they are being considered for placement. And I'll be honest...I'm not sure that's right on my part.

So, before I go any further, let me vaguely mention that I have many more concerns than just poverty when it comes to placing Russell and Star with these grandparents. I'm only discussing the poverty in this post though. (Poverty in the fact that they don't have the means to purchase a new vehicle that could safely transport their family now...and they certainly don't have the means to purchase a vehicle that could transport their entire family should they get custody of Russell and Star.)

I handed Russell and Star over to the family. They left the waiting room and went back to a visitation room. There were no tears - thank God!!

I then asked if I could come back to the receptionist's office (vs. having to talk through a tiny window) to discuss something with her. She buzzed me through.

I explained that I wasn't trying to meddle but I wanted to bring something, that in my opinion is very serious, to the attention of decision makers at CPS. I told her that Grandma came to the visit and that she did so illegally because her vehicle isn't large enough to accommodate all of her children plus herself. I asked that the receptionist get ahold of the caseworker and/or supervisor. In my naivety, I hoped that someone would discuss this with Grandma before the end of the visit. I never thought that CPS would call the police or prevent her from driving away when it was over. But I hoped it would be discussed.

Think about it - a hospital won't let you leave with your newborn until they've examined your car seat. Shouldn't CPS (Child Protective Services) care just as much about the safety of children? Isn't that their job.

And NO! I don't think that Grandma should have had her children taken from her today. I'm not going there with this post. I just think the safety of her children needed to be addressed with her. This isn't some random, minor thing. She was breaking the law in Texas transporting her children without car seats.
Texas Law:
A person commits an offense if the person operates a passenger vehicle, transports a child who is younger than eight years of age, unless the child is taller than four feet, nine inches, and does not keep the child secured during the operation of the vehicle in a child passenger safety seat system according to the instructions of the manufacturer of the safety seat system.
Grandma had four children under the age of 8 with her. None of them were buckled correctly. I believe she had one car seat but I think it was a booster. And if that's where she put her 1yo baby...that was illegal as well.

I spent the two hour visit trying to not be too upset. Russell and Star were safe. I have to compartmentalize everything else. It was HER children that were going to be in transported in a manner that isn't safe and that needs to be on HER.

Mr. Amazing said he would call the cops. He said he knew I wouldn't though and that if he were in my shoes, I'd talk him out of it. My Genius Sister let me vent too. She agreed as well about not calling the police. I couldn't do anything more than tell CPS what I observed and leave everything up to them. If I were to try and involve the police, it would do nothing but damage any kind of a relationship I have with the grandparents and would send a message to CPS that I'm meddling in the case. (I currently have NO relationship with the grandparents. I haven't seen Grandpa since March, at the last visit held in my home. There were 10 cancelled visits. And Grandma is the only one coming to visits now and she speaks no English. She never shows any sort of interest in talking to me about the children - even when a translator is available.)

I got back to the CPS office just before the visit let out. I asked the receptionist if she had contacted the worker and/or the supervisor. (I called Bopper twice during the visit time, but she didn't answer.)

The receptionist said she hadn't talked to anyone.

< insert primal yell that I wanted to - but didn't - scream >

Then the receptionist said something about talking to the visit supervisor. I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. The third party company that supervises visits in the CPS office has NOTHING to do with the case. They certainly wouldn't care whether or not Grandma transported her own children to and from the visit legally. Their only job is to take notes on the interactions during the visits. They don't redirect anything – they simply take notes.

When Russell and Star came out from the visit, I smiled, took them from Grandma and her kids, and we left to our vehicle. Bart was with me. (I love summertime. Having that extra set of hands after a visit makes things so much easier.) Then I saw two caseworkers coming out of the building. I got an idea. I told Bart to finish buckling the babies and I'd be right back.

One of the things that I've run in to with this case is that I've seen things with my eyes. But because I'm the foster mom - that means NOTHING in the case. For example, back in January, I saw Star's dad in the parking lot after a doctor appointment picking Mom up. Star's dad was deported to Mexico back in September last year. He dropped off the radar for CPS. He's never met his daughter and he has no contact with his CPS lawyer. Mom continues to say over and over (and over and over) that she broke up with him. She says she doesn't know where he's at. She says they have no contact with each other. It's not true. Social media and my own eyes say otherwise. But here, social media isn't used at all in CPS to build a case and my word means very little.

Of course I told Bopper right away when I saw him. But my word alone means nothing. The court would immediately twist it that I was saying things for my own personal gain. That I was meddling.

So me telling Bopper that Grandma drove to the visit with five kids unsafely ultimately means nothing. So I went across the parking lot to the caseworkers.

I was more emotional than I wanted to be. I apologized for that. But I asked if they were caseworkers. When they said yes, I asked them to simply observe Grandma buckling her five children in to a five passenger vehicle. I explained that I was trying to do Bopper a favor so that the information this happened wouldn't be coming from just me. They asked my name and of course I told them. It was awkward. I apologized and made sure they knew I wasn't trying to meddle - I was simply reporting something that happened. I didn't expect anything from them. They thanked me and I thanked them.

I sent Bopper a text message when I got home.

Bopper really needs to grow a set of balls.

Her only response is that she'd "talk to Grandma". Now, granted, that's all that I really wanted to have happen today. But I would have preferred that it be dealt with immediately. It would have been nice if Bopper's supervisor could have been involved today as well. This is a very good reminder that what I want is irrelevant and I have to be OK with that. I am the foster parent. I'm not "part" of the case. My job is to take care of the children and advocate for them within the boundaries of The System. If you're not OK with letting CPS drive the case, so to speak, foster care probably isn't for you.

I told Bopper that two other caseworkers saw it. She thanked me for speaking to them. Because ultimately...Bopper doesn't want to place with the grandparents. She just doesn't have the balls to do anything about it. She's entirely too wishy-washy.

Bopper did tell me that she started to staff this case with her supervisor yesterday. They didn't get to officially go over everything - but she did tell her supervisor that she's not recommending placement right now.

I have to assume there will be another extension in August when we go to court. In the meantime, I will continue to support whatever the State says should happen. That is the biggest reason why all I did today was report facts to CPS. If they determine that the grandparents should have custody, it will be up to me to make the transition to their home a pleasant one. Calling the cops on someone would not have facilitated anything good between the grandparents and me. I cannot damage that potential relationship.

vacation

This past weekend, Mr. Amazing took Herman, TT, and Bart to the Texas B.A.C.A. annual camp out. Several hundred kids and even more adults came together for a wonderful weekend of fun. Imagine a weekend filled with biker men and ladies and activities of all sorts: horseback riding, swimming, fishing, crafts, and lots and lots of water gun fights. (My favorite image is a bunch of big biker dudes getting their fingernails painted - because yeah...that happens!)

While my house was empty of big people, I cleaned. My kitchen floor is cleaner than it's been all year. I did all the laundry. I even folded and put it all away. (That...no joke...only happens about 4 times a year. If that.)

I sent a text to Mr. Amazing telling him that he and the big kids needed to stay away for about two more weeks.

Then I joked that he needed to bring the kids with him to his work detail in Minnesota in July. (He's going to be gone all month.) Then I said, if not that (which isn't really possible), maybe we should put Herman, TT, and Bart in our car and send them to Iowa for a vacation. Herman could handle the road trip and at least they'd get to see our extended family.

Then I stopped joking and thought about that for real. Herman really COULD do this. I'd get two weeks to myself with just the babies. The whole house would be so clean. I'd be able to go to bed early every night. I'd get so much sleep. It sounded blissful.

So Mr. Amazing told the kids. They immediately thought the idea of a "bro trip" would be awesome.

One thing led to another though, and Herman got it in his head that it would only be fun to go to Iowa if his best friend could come along too. And as much as I simply adore Herman's best friend, I knew that wasn't going to work. Herman struggles with his ability to "adult". And if his 16yo friend was along for the ride, Herman would be more teenager than adult and that wouldn't bode well for the two boys he'd be in charge of.

So I looked at my calendar. There weren't any appointments that couldn't be rescheduled coming up. I was caught up with all my freelancing. Maybe - just maybe - I should ask to go on vacation again too.

But what about my sleeping? And cleaning?

Well, I decided that a clean house and sleep isn't as important as seeing my family. I was still really bummed about missing out on our original vacation. So I took my chances and sent a text to Bopper. I asked if she could work a miracle and get me permission to travel out of state by this Friday.

It would either happen immediately or it wouldn't happen at all. Because Mom, Bopper, Bopper's supervisor, all the lawyers, and the judge gave permission before (it just came too late for us to go) -- all that should have to happen is file an advisement with the court changing the travel dates.

Bopper granted me permission to travel.

I am now in the process of figuring out how to pack up six kids (because Herman's best friend is going to come too). We will be leaving for Iowa at the butt-crack of dawn on Friday and driving as far as those six kids will let me go. We'll have one night in a hotel and, Lord willing, I'll pull in the driveway of my mom's house on Saturday. I've got a lot to do in just two days.

My kids get to do Cousins Camp this year. I get to see my family. I get to get out of Texas!! I can't wait! Iowa...here we come!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

the mirror holds the truth

I try to keep my circle of influence large when it comes to foster care and adoption. If the only people you listen to are other foster or adoptive parents – the perspective gets VERY skewed. I often tell y'all to seek out former foster youth (FFY) and adults that were adopted.

Please read this post. It was written by a FFY, adoptive mom, and current foster mom. She knows what she's talking about. I love the imagery. The connections she makes here are real and true – even if they are hard to read and/or believe.

She wants to remain anonymous. She's got very valid reasons for this. But she gave me permission to share her words. This is what she has to say:

**Steps on to soapbox**
PSA:
I get a lot of PMs about adoption and foster care. A lot a lot. Sometimes it feels like half my friends list is seeking advice about kids they have or want to have.  And I am absolutely ok with that, by the way. I'd rather you come to me than have to sift through damaging facebook groups or read useless books.  However, in the moment, dealing your message individually, I find myself soften. I am empathetic to you as my friend. I hold back a bit about what I think of foster care or adoption and your possible participation in the industry.
So it's easier to make this general post about it. And I might do several posts on a few topics.
Here's one thought that keeps coming back.
You all see my kids as happy, and they are. But you don't see, and I won't advertise, all of the other STUFF. And there's a ton of it.
Many or most of you seem to be Harry Potter fans, so here's a Potterific explanation that occurred to me.
Remember the mirror? The mirror that was supposed to show your heart's desire?
After you adopt, and you love the kids and they love you back and everything is awesome and blah blah blah...
The image in the mirror still exists for them. It always will, and there is never going to be a time when your love somehow "overcomes" the image in the mirror.
You have to be ok with that to adopt. If you are the type of person who is competitive or territorial, adoption is likely NOT for you. If you are possessive or proprietary, adoption is likely NOT for you. If you depend on straight lines and logic and categories, adoption is likely NOT for you. If you need your efforts to be appreciated and need those you love to show gratefulness, DEAR GAWD adoption is not for you.
Because you will never, ever be able to change the image in mirror. And their pain needs to be honored and respected, which means any feels you have about it need to get swallowed. (emphasis mine)

So friends, before you message me and ask about adopting, really sit with this please.
You may be "mom" to them, they may love you with all their heart, you may give them the world... they may not even want contact with their first family...
But the mirror holds the truth. Never forget that.
(emphasis mine)

I am ok with it. I went into this with eyes WIDE open. My acceptance of it all is partly how the kids are so happy. I am secure in what I can and cannot provide.
Before you foster or adopt, make sure you are secure too. Please, please, please.
**steps off soapbox**

Thursday, June 16, 2016

court for Daisy today

Even though I posted about the court hearing today last week, the actual event had slipped my mind this morning. It wasn't until my phone rang at 11:15 with the name of my "source" lit up that I remembered. I immediately took the call.

I'm going to call my "source" Rita. I don't know why I feel the need to keep this person super anonymous - but I do. So I'm going to go with my gut on that.

Anyway, Rita let me know that they were at the courthouse and that she had talked to several people already. She was basically checking in with me to make sure that we still wanted custody of Daisy if necessary. Our answer is still yes. She also wanted to know if I thought Kori (Daisy's mom) would want Daisy placed with us.

I told Rita that Kori and I had stayed in contact all the way to the point in time when Bio Dad's sister got custody of the Flower Girls last year. I told Rita that when the girls came back in to Care the last time, February 2015, that Kori had called me personally and told me she wanted me to have the girls. That's all I could speak of though. I don't know how Kori feels now.

Rita shared with me that Kori originally wanted to gain full custody of Daisy back today. (Kori is delusional.) However, when Kori saw that the State had brought a number of people to testify against her, Kori changed her tune. She decided that she wanted her husband to get custody.

Kori isn't officially divorced from the man that she introduced me to as her ex-husband. Daisy's dad is a boyfriend. Kori is still married to the father of her oldest two children. (Said man has custody of those children.)

The State is trying to make a permanency plan. If necessary, Daisy could be easily placed with us because we would be considered "fictive kin". Daisy was in our care for 10 months and that actually means something. The fact that we're licensed is a big benefit too. Rita told me that a lawyer might call me yet this morning. She said my name had come up several times in conversation. That was about the extent of our conversation though. I hung up and spent the afternoon waiting to hear back.

Oh yeah...I asked...Kori was there when Dandelion was killed. No longer can Kori claim that Bio Dad is just a big teddy bear and it was an accident and she had nothing to do with it. She was there when her daughter died this time.

Time crawled all afternoon.

Just before 5:00pm, Rita finally called.

She did not get called to testify today so she spent the day outside the actual courtroom. She did talk to both the lawyer and the CASA for Daisy. Both individuals have our information. So there's that.

Rita then gave me the low down on what she heard about the hearing.

The most important thing: the judge did not grant custody to Kori's husband. Also, there are no bio family visits at this time.

Praise God!

Daisy has already blown through one foster home. Kori stopped everything when she got custody. No therapies. No medical appointments. And no medications. Daisy is seizing...probably constantly. She's also only sleeping about one hour a night. She shakes and hits herself a lot. It's bad!!

The new foster home is supposedly a very seasoned one that has dealt with special needs kiddos before. They are pending appointments with everything Daisy needs - including some sort of eye surgery.

No one has been charged with the death of Dandelion yet. They are pending autopsy results. Hopefully those will be available soon. Rita indicated they may charge as many people as three in the death. The State wants to hold the aunt that had been given custody responsible as well.

Rita mentioned to me that she discussed the lack of press on this story with others there for the hearing today. Apparently the county this happened in is regularly ignored. I will probably send an email to the reporter I reached out to initially once I hear something else from Rita about the autopsy results. Even Rita said this NEEDS to make the news. The community needs to understand the realities of child abuse. Relatives need to understand they can't take custody and just hand the kids back to the abuser(s).

Another hearing is scheduled for the 30th of this month. Rita said it might be postponed if the autopsy results aren't available yet. She said again that I should expect a phone call from the CASA, if anyone calls me. I'm not holding my breath. But I'll take the call if my phone rings!!

Rita also mentioned that I might be called to testify in the TPR trial. The State wants to expedite TPR under something called "aggravated circumstances". I told her that I can speak to the many conversations I had with Kori during the 10 months I cared for Daisy.

If anyone is feeling particularly bored, I'd love them more than Diet Coke and chocolate if they went back through all my FB posts from 2014 (Jan. - Oct.) and sent me copies of conversations with Kori that I Facebooked about. I told Rita I had some conversations documented. (lol...I didn't tell her it's on my blog) I'm not going to race to do anything yet. But I may need to have dates to link to conversations that I know I had with Kori. Times when she tried to convince me Bio Dad didn't do anything on purpose and all the times she thought I was nuts when I tried to teach her about her daughter's injuries.

Bottom line...Daisy isn't coming today. She's not scheduled to come to us at all. I'm not going to DO anything else other than wait. But I'm here if Daisy needs a permanent home full of family to advocate for her medical needs and to love on her fiercely. (Even if she does only sleep one hour a night.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

another update on Daisy

On May 3, 2016, Daisy's little sister, Dandelion, was murdered by her father. She was shaken/beaten much in the way that Daisy had been.

On May 18, 2016, an adversary hearing was held in the county this happened in. The adversary hearing is also called the "show cause" hearing. It must be held no later than 14 days after the date the child was removed. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the child's emergency removal was proper and to get temporary orders for the protection of the child until the case is over.

At the adversary hearing, the Judge may decide to return the child home or place the child with a family member. In Daisy's case, she remained in foster care. The adversary hearing is the only chance, for awhile anyway, for the Judge to hear the situation surrounding removal from the point of view of the parent(s). Obviously the Judge ruled to protect Daisy this time around. The Judge kept Daisy in foster care.

Daisy was almost killed by her father back in 2013. Kori, her mother, fought the entire time claiming that it was an accident and that she deserved full custody. Daisy's dad wasn't a bad man. He was just a giant teddy bear. He never meant to hurt Daisy. Foster care wasn't necessary. Kori could protect Daisy.

Obviously Kori was wrong. Dead wrong.

And even though I don't have many details, it looks like Kori still believes she should have custody of Daisy. She still doesn't see her role in any of this.

On May 19, 2016, Kori filed a request for a Trial De Novo. My Google research tells me that this particular trial is not always an easy one to get. You have a very short window in which to file the appropriate paperwork. Kori filed her paperwork less than 24 hours after the initial adversary hearing. This tells me that Kori is seriously working The System again!! At any rate, a Trial De Novo is basically a do-over. It's not like an appeal, where new information cannot be presented. It is a full do-over. Kori is going to go before a Judge and try to present a case as to why she should have custody, right now, of Daisy.

Her child died! Dandelion is dead. Kori was unable to protect her child. She chose to illegally take her children from the permanent guardian they had been assigned to. She chose to move to Central Texas away from where the first case happened. She chose to stay with the man that nearly killed Daisy. And she's going to keep on doing whatever it takes to try and get Daisy back...again.

The Trial De Novo is set for June 16, 2016.

The person that called me originally to tell me about the death of Dandelion has been subpoenaed to testify in the new trial. This contact messaged me yesterday to tell me that they will call me on their way back from the trial to tell me what happened.

I'm very grateful for this! The ONLY information I'm gathering about the new case with Daisy is what I can find posted publicly on the internet. And really, that's not much. The story never did make the news. The reporter at the newspaper I contacted isn't doing any investigative work. They tell me it's a good story - they just don't have time for it.

And even though I made contact with someone who knows someone who knows how to find out where Daisy is...Daisy's current foster family hasn't reached out to me yet. (It's complicated. But they could have.) Either the licensing agency doesn't trust me enough to give the new foster family my information. Or the new foster family was told how to reach me and has decided not to.

Either way - it's wrong.

Daisy deserves better. Daisy deserves for her current caregiver(s) to know about her entire history. And we all know that CPS leaves out crucial details. Shoot...the last time Daisy went into foster care CPS didn't even tell her new foster family about the shunt in Daisy's brain. That's just a minor detail that, if ignored, could have killed Daisy. Shunt malfunction is a real thing.

I've been told that my contact will try to touch base with Daisy's new CPS worker while they are there together at the trial next week. My contact will tell them again that we just want to help.

I'm not holding my breath that I'm going to hear much. But I'm grateful I will hear something. Once I sign on the line for a kid in Care...I give them my all. I never stop loving them. I never stop wanting the best for them. And I will be a resource for the rest of their life in whatever capacity I am allowed.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

cancellation letter

Dear Bopper, Bopper's Supervisor, Licensing Agency Worker, and Ms. Lawson (lawyer for the babies):

I asked for permission to travel out of state on April 12, 2016. We had hoped to leave Friday, June 10 and return to Texas on Friday, June 24. Sadly, the powers that be have been unable to secure this permission or even tell me “no” we can’t go.

I am adamantly opposed to using respite care (not to mention the fact my agency would be unable to secure respite for me at this point in time). Because of that, we are going to cancel our vacation to Iowa. Russell and Star have been with our family for a year now. It would be almost abusive to send them to a stranger’s house for two weeks. I simply couldn’t do that to them. It is unfortunate that they aren’t being given the opportunity to travel with us on a simple vacation. If they were older, this could have been devastating to them. They know my family and have spent time with them. They deserve these opportunities too. Thankfully they don’t know any better right now.

My husband needs to be able to square things away with his employer – and he needs to do that this Friday the 3rd. His boss has extended enough grace waiting this long for an answer about our travel plans. And my husband isn’t going to take time off if he isn’t actually going on a vacation. He needs to tell his boss tomorrow that he will be at work all of June.

If the Department could be so gracious as to grant us permission to travel but allow the actual travel dates to be flexible, we might be able to reschedule this vacation for a different time period yet this summer. But as of right now, too many people’s lives are hanging in balance waiting for an answer. My sister also needs to confirm things with her job as do family members on my husband’s family’s side.

I find it disappointing that so many people have to sign off for permission to travel. I understand that there are extra rules and foster care is complicated. But somehow this seems rather unfair to me and my family. We want to include our foster children equally and the State has made that very difficult. Because of our commitment to the children, we will cancel our vacation rather than disrupt their lives with the alternative.


Thank you,
Cherub Mamma

Monday, May 30, 2016

Russell's vocabulary

Russell had his evaluation for speech therapy today. His therapist had to go back to the office to score the test with the manual. But off the cuff, we both think he's at a developmental age of about 12 months.

Below is his vocabulary. Unless noted, the words are concepts he will repeat in sign language. He has little to none spontaneous language. However, if he hears someone using these words, he will do the sign. Some of the signs are approximations – but he does them the same every time. He does not understand all of the concepts that he signs for. (ie: he can’t identify a cat but he will do the sign if he hears the word) Anything he vocalizes is very difficult to understand or is not done with "adult" intonation. (ie: when he says "mama" he really says "mamamamamama"

Mama (vocal as well as sign)
Dada (vocal as well as sign)
Herman
TT
Bart
Russell
I love you
All done (vocal as well as sign)
More
Eat
Drink
Swallow
Water
Cookie
Grapes
Banana
Orange
Apple
Egg
Milk
Sit
Book
Play
Ball
Car
Motorcycle
Shoes
Socks
Music
School
Work
Puppy
Cat
Red (he cannot identify the color – but he knows the sign)
Blue (he cannot identify the color – but he knows the sign)
Nigh-nigh (vocal only)
Home
Yes
No
Bubbles (vocal as well as sign)
Bath
In
Out
Diaper
Shirt
Boy
Smart (vocal as well as sign)
Hi
Bye-bye
Give me
He points to these:
Head
Ears
Feet
Tummy
Nose
Mouth
Glasses
Teeth

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Daisy turned three years old

Daisy had a birthday this month. She's such a big girl. I'm not FB friends with any of her family - but I do my share of stalking. I see pictures every now and then.

Daisy's birthday will forever be burned in my memory as a horrifically sad day though.
This year, on a day that should have been filled with joy and celebration, Daisy's little sister, Dandelion, was killed.

No one has been arrested.
No one has been jailed.
The story didn't even make the local news.

Daisy and Dandelion had been placed, permanently, with one of Bio Dad's sisters. This aunt just turned and gave the girls back to their parents last year. The parents moved up to Central Texas and continued on about their lives.
I'll never forget the time Mr. CW told me,
"If Daisy goes back home to her mom, she's likely to end up dead."
I remember every nuance of that conversation.
It wasn't Daisy...but it was her sister.

I wasn't going to blog about this until it made the news. I wanted to keep my mouth shut in case we were formally contacted. I found out about the death in a very "off the record" sort of way. I was told that all our information was given to the CPS unit in Central Texas. I was told that they knew we would take Daisy back. And I was also told that it wouldn't happen because we're too far away...I guess sibling visits (with the two surviving siblings that have a different father) would be important.

I grieved hard. Cried for days. Couldn't stop crying. It was so bad!

Then, because I felt like I had to DO something, I contacted a news reporter.

Said news reporter wasn't able to get any documentation. She had asked a co-worker to go to the courthouse to get some paperwork. The co-worker didn't do it and now the reporter is buried in other projects.

Dandelion's death is probably never going to make the news.

I have messaged my original contact a couple different times. It's obvious I'm not going to get any more information from them.

I sent a rather generic email to the CASA unit that would be involved in Daisy's new foster care case. (The county she's in now has a lot of information available online. I don't know the details of the death, but I do know case details that are public.) Granted, I only sent this email yesterday. But I seriously doubt anyone is going to reply.

At this point in time all I want is to make sure that Daisy's new foster family has all her medical records and history. I'd like to tell this new foster family that after they adopt Daisy, they've got legal grounds to sue the State for a certain portion of Daisy's blindness. It's the State's fault she didn't receive the surgery on her right eye. That eye is permanently damaged as a result. I want to let this foster family know that I can send them pictures and videos if they want. I want to know that Daisy is OK.

I also want to make sure that Bio Dad (as I'm assuming he is the one that killed Dandelion) faces true justice this time. That's why I wanted the story in the news. He got off with barely more than a slap on the wrist for nearly killing Daisy. I don't want that to happen again.

-----

It's made things 10x harder with Russell and Star now that I know what happened to Dandelion. There are entirely too many similarities between their case and the Flower Girls' case.

I don't trust CPS at all. They didn't keep Daisy and Dandelion safe. And I don't trust them with Russell and Star, either...especially not after some more things that Bopper told me today.

Foster care sucks.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

what I heard about court

Bopper just sent me a text.

Everything is a mess...as she expected today. But nothing changed in the case.

The babies stay with us.

The goal is still to eventually move them to Russell's paternal grandparents' home.

The visit schedule is staying the same. The babies will visit their mother in the CPS office twice a week for three hours each visit. And they will visit their grandparents and Russell's dad on Wednesdays for two hours.

Bopper wanted to move the visits with the grandparents back to my home and set up a separate visit for Dad in the CPS office. I indicated that I'm not willing to open up my home for visits again.

Well...I posed it as a question...telling her first that I wouldn't fight it.

But Bopper immediately said that she'd keep it to just one visit for everyone on the paternal side at the CPS office. And really, that's better for the babies. They don't need ANOTHER visit thrown into the mess each week.

Weekend visits at the grandparents home will start eventually. However, no one knows when. My vote would be July. The next court hearing is August 1. I do NOT think a transition involving overnight visits should last longer than a month. It's hard on kids and even harder on babies. They don't understand and it is so challenging to their schedule. Of course...my vote in this matter doesn't count.

Ms. Remus (the babies' lawyer) asked for permission to travel in June for us. The judge said he needed to see the request. He wouldn't agree to anything yet. So I still don't know if I get to go on vacation or not.

This, along with some other unrelated crappy Foster Care Land news, has got me in a horrible funk today.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Court is in two weeks

This case goes before a judge in exactly two weeks. I've been told it's a "pre-trial". That means this is supposed to be the end of the case and decisions are supposed to be being made. (See "What court actions can affect me and my child" on this link for a description of the different hearings in Texas.) The trial (final permanency hearing - or court resolution) is scheduled for May 16. This case has already been extended once as Russell has now been in Care for longer than one full year.

Sadly, nothing is being done in this case.

Nothing.

The concurrent goals, as I've seen them most recently, are:
1. non-relative adoption
2. relative conservatorship

I've been told that the primary goal is being changed to "relative conservatorship". I just haven't seen it in writing yet.

At no place in anything is reunification with Bio Mom on the table. And, due to the complexity of this case, no one wants that to be the goal (except Bio Mom and her lawyer, of course).

I believe that CPS is going to ask for another extension.

Bio Mom is still very much with Star's bio dad. That man is the person believed to be the one that broke all of Russell's bones. Mom very much denies being with this man though. She professes over and over that she is single. This is quite contrary to her online presence and the fact that I've personally seen Mom with Star's dad twice in 2016. (He was deported back in September 2015 and hasn't stayed in contact with CPS since that time. He was vocal that he was going to cross back to this side of the wall but since he's been here, everyone is pretending they don't know where he is.)

Russell's grandparents are still being seriously considered for placement of both children. This is more complex now though because Russell's bio dad was released from juvenile detention just this week. Conflicting information has been presented about where he's going to be living. But now that he's out, CPS is going to have to "deal" with him as a parent in the case.

I honestly don't know why they haven't "done" anything yet other than meet with him one time. The found him back in October and nobody did anything about it other than meet with him one time to advise him of the case. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn't even been asked if he wants to work a case plan or be involved in his son's life. (For the first nine months of this case no one was involved on Russell's paternal side at all. The grandparents evaded contact with CPS and lied to everyone about the age and location of their son.)

CPS has been working with Russell's grandparents and the idea that they would take both children (even tho they aren't technically related to Star at all) since January. I personally think the sibling bond should trump everything and these two kids should stay together no matter what. (Think about it - the bond we have with our siblings lasts longer than any other relative bond out there other than possibly cousins. The sibling bond is important!!) CPS is almost 100% sure that Bio Mom won't agree to placing Star with Russell's grandparents though. And because rights aren't being terminated, Mom does have a say in the placement of her children.

So basically everything is a mess. The kids can't go back home to Mom for a huge number of reasons. They can't go to the grandparents right now because of the presence of Bio Dad in the home and several other concerns that haven't been addressed yet. There is also concern of keeping the siblings together and the fact that Mom probably won't allow Star to go to the grandparents. But rather than do anything, CPS is doing nothing.

The DA for the State continues to tell Bopper that it is a very weak case. The DA says there are no grounds to terminate rights on anyone.

I simply do not understand that line of thinking at all!!
  1. Bio Mom is the one that medically neglected Russell to the point of near death. At 18 months of age he weighed less than 10 pounds. She didn't follow up with any of his specialists and didn't consistently get him the medical care that he needed. This is documented by CPS and Mom has the finding "reason to believe" for severe medical neglect on her record. So even though no one can prove who broke Russell's bones, they do know who starved him. It's documented and I've met people at the hospital that would be willing to testify to Russell's condition and how Mom treated him when he was being cared for at the hospital January 2015.
  2. Star's bio dad has abandoned her. He has never met her. He stopped communicating with CPS when he was deported in September 2015. At some point in time CPS could move forward with severing his rights based on abandonment.
  3. Russell's bio dad just turned 19 years old today. He has another son by another woman. He is in a gang. I'm not sure he has ever met Russell. I am quite confident he's not in a position to raise a son with special needs along with a little girl he's not related to at all. (Again, I think the siblings should stay together no matter what.) Someone just needs to sit down with this man and ask him if he would like to relinquish his rights. Worst case, offer him a service plan and see if he's able to follow through. Does he want to take a parenting class? Does he want to learn about Down syndrome and what it takes to raise a child with Ds? It's not unreasonable to ask these things of him if he wants to be involved.
I don't think TPR should be entered into lightly. I think all parents should be given a chance at redemption. But this case involves EXTREME abuse and no one seems to be addressing that at CPS. I did my research. According to the State standards, the grounds for TPR have been met. I simply do not understand why the DA insists on saying this is such a weak case.

I've been a mess every since Bopper left this morning. Even though I didn't expect to learn anything new, hearing her say they're just asking for an extension on the case because they don't like any other option available bothers me tremendously. I feel like I've been sucker punched. I'm feeling anxiety in a very physical way today. There is a heaviness on me and I'm having a hell of a time focusing on anything.

There's something about the year mark in a foster care case that changes me. I guess I feel like progress should be being made somewhere by a year. I totally understand that cases take a long time. I expect them to. I believe that every effort should be made to reunify with bio family before other options are considered. But when progress isn't being made...CPS should be DOING something.

I think they need to get concrete reasons why the DA says this is a weak case. Then they need to fix those problems. They can prove that Mom starved Russell. They can prove that she didn't get him any medical attention for 14 of his 15 fractures. This should mean something. Interview doctors and other staff at the hospital. Locate the ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) therapists that worked in the home with Mom periodically for the first 18 months of Russell's life. Do something.

They need to be doing something to prove that Mom is continually lying about her relationship with Star's dad. She's lying about where she's living. She's lying about so many things that can be proved with little to no effort. Don't tell me that they just have to take Mom at her word. Do something.

Start the official paperwork to "locate" Star's dad. If he's going to abandon his daughter, do something about it.

If the children are going to ultimately end up with the grandparents anyway, do something to help this transition. They've been missing visits lately. Their behavior at visits is questionable. Do something about this. Either work to get the kids there safely, or start working on an alternate placement.

And yes, the only other alternate placement that CPS can identify is our home. So start the TPR process or start talking to people about giving us PMC if they absolutely positively cannot terminate rights.

But this sticking your head in the sand and just asking for an extension is pissing me off. Do something already!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Osteogenesis Imperfecta

When Russell came in to foster care (February 2015), he was healing from fifteen fractures: 2 in the skull, 3 in the ribs, and both arms and both legs in multiple places. All of the fractures were at different stages of healing. The most recent one was his left arm. That one required casting for a couple weeks. (He also had a lacerated liver and at 18 months of age weighed less than 10 pounds.)

At some point in time during the initial investigation, someone mentioned something to someone about needing to get the testing done for Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease). No one did this though. Russell was released from the hospital and sent to a shelter in Central Texas. And no one told me to order the test done when he joined our family.

Then Russell broke his leg while under my watch. (January 2016)

Bopper scrambled to get information. She wasn't the case worker when Russell came in to Care. She didn't know if the OI test had been done or not. After digging through records, it was determined that the OI test had not been done. I was told to get one scheduled.

I had our family doctor get a referral to a geneticist the day after we were released from the hospital. The soonest available appointment was for today (March 30, 2016). I loaded up the babies this morning and set off for the geneticist. Thankfully Russell was the first patient on the list to see the doctor. Our wait was minimal (the doctor came in about 30 minutes past our appointment time).

The doctor walked in to the exam room and basically started off the show by saying the OI test is very expensive (around $2500) and the only lab in Texas that does it does not take Medicaid. He then spent a lot of time explaining how the insurance system works and how the Baylor College of Medicine would do the test but they would require a credit card up front. Basically, if CPS wants the test done, they can foot the bill for it.

The doctor performed a visual exam of Russell. He measured things. He examined all his limbs looking for deformities. He looked at his teeth and eyes. When finished, the doctor indicated that Russell doesn't have any of the markers for even mild Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Now, I don't think this will hold up well in a court of law. But I'm not sure the results of this test matter in court anyway. No one is trying to press charges for the broken bones. No one was charged criminally at all. They claim they don't have enough evidence. And as the case stands right now, Mom is in no position at all to be reunified with her children. So this test would be a formality. The results of it won't change the outcome of the case at all.

Still, none of this is up to me. All I can do is inform the decision makers of what happened today and let them sort it out. I called Bopper as soon as I got in the car. She didn't pick up so I left her a message to call me. Then I called Ms. Lawson, Russell's lawyer. Ms. Lawson didn't pick up either. So I made one more call to her office. I was able to speak with a receptionist. I left a message with the receptionist explaining the situation as briefly as possible.

Ms. Lawson sent me a text letting me know she was in court.

She must have felt the situation was important though. Not too long after I hung up with her receptionist, I got a call back. Ms. Lawson had some more questions.

So back and forth we went for a bit. Her receptionist would ask me a question. She'd relay my answer to Ms. Lawson. Ms. Lawson would ask another question, the receptionist would call me. It was a bit cumbersome. But Ms. Lawson determined that she would be requesting a special hearing to let the judge know about the inability to do the OI testing right now.

Then Bopper returned my call.

Before we could deal with the drama of the OI test - we first had to deal with the drama of the grandparent visit that didn't happen today. I had spoken with Bopper last week to tell her that the appointment at the geneticist at 9:00am was going to make a 10:00am visit impossible today. Bopper agreed with me that the doctor appointment could count as a "visit" and that she would let the grandparents know.

Unfortunately, Bopper forgot to tell the grandparents anything last week.

So while I was out today, Herman got to deal with the visit supervisor that showed up and then the grandparents that arrived a few minutes later. Thankfully I had warned Herman this might happen so he was prepared.

Bopper handled all that. Then she called me back so we could discuss the OI test that didn't happen.

There wasn't much for Bopper to say or do. She thanked me for letting Ms. Lawson know already and she told me that she would tell her supervisor immediately. (She also mentioned that the staffing that was supposed to happen yesterday didn't but she was scheduled to sit down with her supervisor this afternoon to staff the case.)

That's all I know. The geneticist didn't schedule another appointment. No tests were run today. Decision makers have to decide how to proceed. Lord willing they will do so intelligently. Personally, I don't think this expensive test needs to be run. The System is strapped for cash, this results of this test aren't going to change the placement outcome, so it doesn't seem necessary. At least not to me. But I'm not a decision maker in this case.

Once home, I sent an email to Ms. Lawson giving her some of the information I had relayed via the receptionist in writing. I wanted to make sure the information had been relayed accurately. I also reiterated that the geneticist doesn't think Russell has any of the markers of OI. I copied a list I found on the internet to show her what the signs are:

  • bone deformities
  • multiple broken bones
  • loose joints
  • weak teeth
  • blue sclera, or a bluish color in the white of the eye
  • bowed legs and arms
  • kyphosis, or an abnormal outward curve of the upper spine
  • scoliosis, or an abnormal lateral curve of the spine
  • early hearing loss
  • respiratory problems
  • heart defects
I mentioned again that Russell is normal for a child with Down syndrome.

Russell's visit with his grandparents is likely to be rescheduled for Monday morning next week. I guess I'll hear what the decision makers decide to do later. I'll keep on doing what foster parents do best...wait to hear what to do next.

Monday, March 28, 2016

praying for Bopper

Bopper is a young thing. I know she's not fresh out of school – she has been with CPS for several years now. But she's still quite young. (Thus the blog name "Bopper"...as in Teeny Bopper.)

Bopper is also VERY VERY VERY soft spoken. She admits to being scared of everyone and everything. Even she finds it ironic that she's in this line of work. She's sweet and quiet and reminds me of a church mouse.

I need Bopper to be the exact opposite of that tomorrow.

You see, Bopper has a meeting with her supervisor tomorrow to "staff this case". That means her supervisor takes time to have a sit-down meeting with Bopper to go over important details concerning these kids. She is to give him details and they work together to decide what should happen next.

I'd like to think that he always has his hands on this case. I'd like to think that the supervisor knows what's going on. But that's not realistic. So these "staffings" are held and that's where Bopper catches him up.

And tomorrow, Bopper has to go over the most recent visits and things that have happened with Russell's grandparents. She has to bring valid concerns to her supervisor's attention. She needs to be able to speak strongly and she needs to convey a real opinion about what she thinks should happen and how this case should move forward.

I'm praying that Bopper grows a set and is more opinionated and stronger tomorrow than I've ever seen her before.

You see, some things happened last Wednesday with the grandparents when they were in my home for their visit with the babies that concerned me. On the surface they might seem minor. But if you look at them seriously and factor in that Russell has severe special needs - and will have severe special needs for the rest of his life - the situation isn't really minor at all. Not only did they concern me, but they concerned the visit supervisor as well. I know the monitor took notes and reported everything. I called Bopper to talk to her about them myself. I told Bopper what happened and strongly suggested that she get a copy of the visit notes soon.

And yes, I'm being vague. I'm not going to open my blog up as a place to bash on the family of origin. Because if everything is determined by the State that Russell and Star be placed with the grandparents, I'm going to comply and I will continue to work with the grandparents as much as I can to make the transition a healthy one for everyone involved. The children were safe in my home. But based on what happened, there are new concerns about the long-term viability of the babies being placed with the grandparents.

I've been praying all weekend for Bopper and I'm going to focus my prayers on her as this case moves forward. She always tells me what happens in these staffings. I can tell that her supervisor is rather cut and dry and he wants Bopper to be more that way herself. I know that Bopper doesn't want these children placed with the grandparents for many reasons (ones that were presented in the home study that they failed plus the new concerns that have been brought to light). What I don't want to have happen is for Bopper to present her concerns to her supervisor in a wishy-washy way. I want her to be direct and concise. From there, I hope that CPS can develop a plan that is viable that will keep Russell and Star safe.

If this plan is for the children to be placed with the grandparents, I want them to develop a timeline and make it happen. If the plan is to abandon the idea of placement with the grandparents, I want them to come up with a viable alternative.

What I don't want to have happen is for CPS to simply drag this case out as long as possible. And sadly, Bopper has told me specifically that that is what she wants to do for now. I realize that Bopper thinks dragging the case out keeps Russell safe in our home. But it's not healthy for cases to get drug out for a long time. Either the grandparents are an option for permanent placement or they aren't. I don't do well living in limbo forever. I'm here for the babies as long as they need me. But I don't believe that long-term foster care is good for anyone if there isn't progress being made in the case. I believe that my family deserves some finality too. Again, I have no problem being a resource and having the children in my home when progress is being made. But right now, people need to determine if the grandparents are an option or not. Don't just keep the kids in foster care because you don't want to deal with any other solution.

Bopper says her meeting with her supervisor is tomorrow (if he doesn't reschedule it). I'm praying for Bopper. Will you join me in that prayer? And yes, as soon as I hear anything, I'll let y'all know what is decided. We don't go to court again until May, but a million things could happen between now and then. This is foster care after all. And foster care sucks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Visit in my home #2

I got a text from Bopper this morning at about 8:30am. It's Spring Break in Texas and the grandparents wanted to know if it would be OK if they brought all five of their kids to today's visit. I took a deep breath and responded yes. It's only two hours. I really didn't think it would be that big of a deal.

However, as I thought about this, it bothered me to know that legally this family could not travel to my home all together. They have only one vehicle and it seats only five people. Four of their children are required by Texas law to be in a car seat or booster. The car seats are to be installed per manufacturer's instructions. And I'm pretty sure no manufacturers say kids can be in the front seat. So, technically, four of their kids need to be in the back seat. They don't have a vehicle where this is possible. I have briefly expressed this concern to CPS before - but only how it would affect unsupervised weekend visits with the babies as I assumed those were going to be starting very soon and I wanted to know how I would be required to handle that if I were doing a drop off by myself.
 
Side note: Typically we meet in the parking lot at the CPS office in the evening, after the office is closed, to drop-off kids. At least that's how it worked with Daisy. I wanted to know what my reaction should be if the grandparents didn't have proper car seats for the babies AND what I should do if they didn't have proper car seats for their own kids. Bopper's initial reaction was that I would only be responsible for things if they didn't have car seats for Russell and Star. She said that the grandparents are looking for a new vehicle. And then she said that unsupervised visits aren't going to be happening for a long, long time.
 
Anyway...I decided that if I didn't say something to CPS about my transportation concerns again, it would eat at me too much. I was VERY CLEAR that I didn't expect anything to change today! I still expected that both grandparents would come along with all five children. However, I felt it was necessary to at least point out to CPS if were to happen, it wouldn't happen legally.

I'm not sure what Bopper said. But the grandparents decided that Grandma would come with only three children and Grandpa would stay at home with the other two.
 
The visit went well enough. I'm not going to complain. This is unique ground we're covering. While co-parenting might be the norm in other parts of the country, I've been told by every single person involved here (my agency, CPS, and the visit supervising company) that having visits in the home of the foster parents is completely unheard of.

Grandma and her three oldest kids came to the visit. They played in the living room with the babies for a little over an hour. Then Grandma asked about feeding Russell lunch.

Both babies were brought into the kitchen. I got lunch ready and then stepped back a bit so Grandma could feed Russell (and Star could feed herself – Star refuses to eat off a spoon but will feed herself anything you put on her tray). I couldn't leave though, as I was baking cookies.

The visit supervisor did a great job of translating back and forth between Grandma and I. Russell was being a bit of a stinker and didn't want to cooperate with Grandma as she was feeding him. Star seemed uncomfortable too. It was more just because it's awkward and different though. Grandma certainly wasn't doing anything wrong!!!! I tried to explain to Grandma that his behavior wasn't normal at all, though. And then I explained that she'd likely see more behavior like that if/when he moved to her home and that she should expect a lot of regression. She asked why.
 
I explained that Russell doesn't understand what's going on around him. There will be no way to explain to him why he's moving in with them. I've been taught in several different trauma trainings that a move can cause a kid to regress as much as a year. That's why kids in foster care need additional supports to heal. And even though Russell is safe in our home, a move is still a move. That's one reason why I wanted visits to be in my home. The kids will see me interacting with the grandparents. They will see me trusting them. And it will be easier for the bond I have with the kids to transfer to the grandparents. Grandma expressed gratitude again for all we're doing for the babies.

As for Russell's behaviors though, I went on to explain why I'm so incredibly strict. For example, when it comes time to wash his face, I won't let him turn his head away from me. I firmly grasp his head and tell him no if he doesn't cooperate. I don't play with him or make it seem like what he's doing is OK.

It's not that his behavior isn't normal for a 2 year old. It is! But his maturity is going to happen so incredibly slow, that if you don't start NOW to direct appropriate behavior, you'll be dealing with an 5 or 6 year old that won't wash his face or let you do it.

I hate feeling like I have to present the worst case scenarios. Of course not all kids with Ds are going to be that delayed. But kids with Ds are very known for having behavioral difficulties. Anyone that parents Russell will be doing themselves a favor by being incredibly consistent and firm in establishing proper rules and expectations.

It's hard to convey all that I know about Down syndrome in these short meetings via a translator. I certainly don't try to be negative all the time either. But I want the grandparents to understand what to expect. I get the impression they haven't starting trying to learn anything about Down syndrome on their own. That makes me a little sad. But, it's apparent that they love Russell so I cling to that.

I explained as much as I could about Russell, what's normal for him, and what to expect as he gets older. It seems harsh in a way. But if they're not going to try and learn anything on their own, they need to hear from someone that it's possible that Russell won't ever be developmentally/emotionally older than 8 or 9 years old.

I was thankful this visit supervisor cut things off at noon, exactly. (Last week lunch drug on longer that it should because Grandma doesn't keep things moving with Russell and he doesn't want to eat for her well. The visit went on until almost 12:30 and the supervisor let it. I was too uncomfortable to tell everyone to leave. LOL)

After everyone was gone I called My Genius Sister to get a little bit of what I call "therapy". She lets me process all my feelings and lets me vent so the things that bother me don't eat me up. There were a few things about this visit that bothered me significantly. But I spewed everything to my sister and I'll suck it up and go on from there. If I get a chance, I will convey my concerns to Bopper. But I don't think it's anything Bopper doesn't already know so I'm not too concerned.

My big kids should be back from the trampoline park and lunch soon. I sent them off so they wouldn't have to be here during the visit. The rest of the afternoon is just for us. I like days like that. And because the visit was in my home this morning, the transition to nap was very smooth. As awkward as these visits are, they are still best for the babies. I'm glad we're able to do things this way.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Baby Jail

I will start out by first admitting that we have been blessed with a huge house! We've got five bedrooms and 3200 square feet. There is a lot of open space downstairs and we've got a huge playroom upstairs. We are lucky!! Very lucky!

Baby Jail 1, on the left in the photo above, is tucked in the corner of our living room. It's up against a pony wall. On the other side of the wall is Baby Jail 2. It's next to my "office" area where I do my freelancing.

The baby jails are large. We certainly don't "need" two of them. But Miss Star is determined to get into trouble almost 24/7. She loves to leave the living room and try to go up the stairs or mess with things she's not supposed to (things like electrical cords and fun stuff like that). That's why I ended up moving Baby Jail 1 into the living room. Sometimes in the evening I just want to relax. And I didn't like having the babies in the jail away from us while we watched TV and whatnot. Due to our schedules, I freelance mainly when the babies are asleep now, so it made sense to move jail into the living room.

I decided to buy Baby Jail 2 for a couple reasons. One reason is because we have the room and I knew it would be nice to have a jail next to my office and one in the living room. The biggest reason I bought jail #2 though is that Russell is rough with Star – very rough! He doesn't mean to be. And it's nothing I can really discipline. But he bites her. And he hits her. And he tackles her and makes her fall down. I have to answer for every single injury and I simply can't take chances. There are times when I can't watch the children 100% of the time. Russell bites out of nowhere...even when I am watching. So I worry even more if I'm not in the room directly with them. Plus, I still need to do things like laundry, fix dinner, or even just take a shower. Having a baby-proofed separate space for each kid was necessary. Star no longer enjoys being in a bouncer. She wants to move around. Baby Jail made the most sense.

Baby Jail 1 - in the living room
Baby Jail 2 - on the office side

How I Organize the Toys

Developmentally, Russell is still very much an infant. He doesn't pretend anything. He doesn't even push cars around. When Russell plays, he takes toys out of containers and puts toys back in containers. He shakes and bangs things together. And he throws. He chews on everything.

Russell needs infant toys. (Star does too. But she's developing normally. I'm going to focus on Russell's needs as I describe how I organize the toys. Of course, everything applies to Star as well.) I have musical instruments, blocks, cars and other vehicles to push, shape sorters, and ball drops. He also has a huge selection of rattles and chew toys.

Russell gets bored rather quickly. He can't help it. There's only so much to figure out when all he does is dump toys out and shake them a few times. It doesn't make sense for me to buy him "bigger kid" toys though. He doesn't know what to do with them. When Russell gets bored, he throws even more. He also starts "stimming" by rocking back and forth and humming loudly. One solution to his boredom is to offer him a new selection of toys regularly. I try to switch up his toys where he's playing 1-2 times a day (depending on how long he's playing in jail...he certainly doesn't stay in jail all day). In order to make this process easier, I bought some baskets.

Each basket has a different assortment of toys inside. There are things to push, things to bang that make noise, and things to chew on. Having the open baskets that stack make it super easy to swap toys out. I simply grab everything in the jail and put it in the basket. Then I put a new basket in jail for the child. All the baskets live outside Baby Jail 2. (Again, we've been blessed with a lot of room. I know that and appreciate that!)

Rotating toys is such a wonderful thing to do for any age kid! In fact, I miss having a basement. When TT and Bart were younger, I swapped the toys out in our playroom a couple different times a year. When we moved here though, that wasn't possible as I don't have storage room and all the toys fit in our playroom. Doing it on a smaller level like this with the infant toys has been wonderful though! It keeps the babies entertained longer and that makes everyone happier.

The only thing to note is a skill that Russell learned just last night. Apparently it is no longer safe to leave the large basket in jail with Russell. He figured out how to turn it upside down and was almost able to completely break out of jail in a matter of minutes. Russell is no dummy! So as much as he plays with the baskets by putting toys in and taking them out, he doesn't get to do that part anymore unless I'm directly in the room with him.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

the meeting with the grandparents

I've been meaning to blog about how the meeting with Russell's grandparents went. Here's a quick summary. My bottom line...I sure wish I would have taken Spanish in high school instead of French. And as much as I know learning Spanish would be good for me, it's just not something I'm up to doing right now. Needless to say, the meeting was very interesting.

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The grandparents were early. They brought two of their kids. They sat out in their car. I don't know what they were waiting for. After about 10 minutes, I went outside and told them they could come in. The lawyer messaged me right about the same time the grandparents arrived to tell me that she was hung up in court but would be there as soon as she possibly could.

The grandparent and their kids came inside and sat down in the living room. I looked at them and said I was feeding the babies in the kitchen. The house has an open floor plan. They could have easily followed me. They didn't.

I sat in the kitchen feeding the babies for a bit. It was weird. I went in the other room and asked them if they wanted something to drink. They said no. I tried to tell them there were more toys on the other side of the pony wall for their kids to play with. They just nodded.

It was weird. There's just no other way to describe it.

When I was finished feeding Russell, I needed to put him down for nap. I walked out to the living room. Grandpa is the only one that talks to me. (He speaks some English. Grandma speaks none.) He put his hands out. He wanted to hold Russell. I tried to explain that Russell needed to nap. It was awkward. I tried to explain Russell HAD to nap so he could handle the visit this afternoon with his mother OK. Grandpa seemed to understand.

I put Russell down for nap and went to get Star out of her highchair. We all sat around in the living room.

The lawyer was almost an hour late. We sat around not talking to each other for almost 45 minutes. They played with Star. Their kids played. It was weird. But not painful weird.

What was REALLY weird was when the lawyer got there. She started talking to them - in Spanish. They went on and on and on. The lawyer translated nothing for me. Then she turned and asked if I was following along. I shook my head and reminded her I know no Spanish.

The lawyer ended up translating only about 20% of the next hour's worth of conversation for me. It was weird.

I really wish I spoke Spanish.
I'm too old to learn Spanish.

The gist of it all...

The lawyer made it clear that they will not be allowed to let the babies have contact with Mom. Mom is still with the abuser. (Granted, no one is being held legally responsible for the physical abuse Russell suffered. Star's dad is the suspect – but no charges were filed.)

There was a lot of talk about this placement of the children with them being permanent. We discussed how Russell will most likely never live independently.

I went over as much as I could about Russell's health. I did get to talk a lot about his feeding issues and his speech delays. They asked a few questions. Not a lot. But enough to be able to tell they were listening and taking what I had to say seriously.

As the meeting went on, I basically just went through Russell's binder section by section. (I keep all medical records together in a binder for my foster kids. Russell's is completely full and it's 3" thick.) I opened up each section and explained the specialist, why he sees that specialist, and what to expect in the future.

They listened to everything I had to say. I felt like they took it all seriously. They are VERY nice. They love the children...and they just met them. But they seem like good people and maybe even decent parents. If I'm being completely honest, I appreciated how their own children behaved during this meeting and how the grandparents redirected them when necessary.

Grandpa said he can tell I "do more" than what most people would. He thanked me several times. I don't foster for compliments. But it's nice when family sees that I care as much as I do.

I still have serious reservations about this placement. But if it's going to happen...it could be worse. Everything is up to CPS, the lawyer, and the judge now. It's not my place to do much else. I can express my concerns appropriately (not whining, or complaining - just stating truth based off of personal observations) during home visits with Bopper. But it is not my place to complicate things for CPS. I will do whatever I can to support their goal. They are the ones that have full contact with all parties involved. They have been to the grandparents' home. They have seen the home study and know much more than I do about everything. So even though I have reservations, I'm not a decision maker when it comes to things like this. I do need to step back and know my role.

Foster parents that think they need to "fight" everything bother me sometimes. I see a lot of interactions in foster parent "support groups" online about going to the supervisor. Calling the lawyer. Hiring your own lawyer. And things like that.

Yes, these kids have bonded to me. Yes, these kids are perfectly meshed into our family. But that doesn't mean they can't bond to someone else or become a part of another family.

And yes - it's incredibly hard for me to write that. Sometimes my brain knows all of that is truth and I have to work hard to convince my heart.

But it doesn't make it any less true.

The goal in this case is back to Relative Conservatorship. That means that CPS wants to place the children with a relative permanently. (It's called PMC in Texas. That stands for Permanent Managing Conservatorship.) Mom will retain her parental rights, but she will not have custody of the children and her contact with them will be limited (based on how the PMC order is written at the hearing). It is my job to support that goal. Right now, Russell's grandparents are the only relatives that CPS is considering. I will do what I can to make the transition between my home to theirs as smooth as it can be. That's one reason why I asked to have a meeting with the grandparents to go over Russell's special needs.

The meeting ended about an hour after the lawyer arrived. When it was over, the lawyer started to take off right away. I stopped her and asked if I should have the kids packed up and ready to leave next week after court. Her eyes bugged out. She informed me that no one is recommending a placement change yet! I was relieved!! Incredibly relieved!!

Since this meeting at my house, court has been held one more time. I honestly don't know what happened at it other than, as far as I know, nothing changed. The cherubs still visit their mother two times a week in the CPS office for a three hour visit each time. They also have a two hour visit one time a week with the grandparents. Bopper has fully assured me that she will let me know ahead of time when things will change. I really do need to trust her more. She has told me all along that she will let me know if/when CPS recommends to the court for the grandparents to actually get custody.

Most likely they will offer unsupervised, weekend visits to the grandparents before that happens. Again, Bopper assures me that she'll let me know in advance when CPS makes the change to the visit schedule.

So we're all in a holding pattern. Bopper tells me that the final hearing in this case it to be held in May. The pre-trial will be May 5 with the final hearing on May 16.

In the meantime, I get to love on the babies and do what I can to support the grandparents in their attempt to gain custody of the cherubs.