Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The New Caseworker Blues.

Big Guy's permanency plan was changed to adoption. We are waiting to hear when the TPR trial is scheduled. It sounds like this fall Little Guy's permanency plan is likely to be changed to adoption, too. You would think we're feeling happy about all this, and in many ways we are. We think TPR is in the kids' best interest. But we are also experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress as well. Am I the only foster parent who experiences foster parenting as being accompanied at all times by a vague sense of nausea? Because that's how I feel much of the time, even when things are great with the boys. There is always this anxious nausea in the pit of my stomach, this sense that things are so out of our control, that anything could happen, that people who don't even know our kids could make awful decisions for them, that we could experience great loss... or that our kids will experience even greater loss. I'm having a hard time with this right now. Big Guy's goal being adoption means a new caseworker for him (an idiotic policy if I've ever heard one). I'm sure she may be very nice and very competent and I will try to give her a chance but I just don't trust her like I trust Angel, at least not yet and probably not ever. She just has no clue about this case, about these kids. It's really hard for me knowing that she's going to make decisions without knowing the kids, us, or the birth family as well as Angel does. There is still so much that's complicated about our boys' cases that I cannot trust that we'll actually be adopting them any time soon. Too much likelihood of appeals, or a new judge taking pity on one of the boys' dads, or the new caseworker deciding they don't like us the way that Angel does. I am trying to learn how to not be too trusting of a caseworker. Our only caseworker until now has been a truly trustworthy, respectful and wonderful human being who I feel I can share the good, the bad and ugly with. We were spoiled and now I have to learn how to navigate a relationship with someone who is in the same role but who doesn't know and trust our family, and never saw the utter hell that Big Guy put us through and the amazing healing and change he has experienced since living with us. Someone who probably sees us as just another foster family, not as the amazingly committed therapeutic family that Angel knows us as.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Apres le move.

I had no idea how long it'd been since I'd blogged. Wow. Sorry 'bout that, folks. We moved in April, before Pesach (Passover). Lots of endings and new beginnings around here since then. We're hanging in, though. Little Guy and Big Guy are loving having more space in our new home, life is much improved since we are no longer on top of each other.

The biggest news to share is that adoption is looking like it's going to be the plan for Big Guy. Because Big Guy and Little Guy came into care on the same day but Little Guy was sent home not long after and was home for several months, CPS is counting his re-entry to foster care rather than his original entry as his "date of entry into the foster care system" (the date upon which his parents' 12 months of working their case plan will be based). This means the boys are on different timelines in terms of their cases. So Big Guy's permanency hearing was early this month and his case was moved to the adoption unit, meaning that the goal is now adoption (by us) rather than reunification. This doesn't mean parental rights have been terminated yet or that if a family member came out of the woodwork CPS wouldn't have to consider them. But it means that a TPR hearing will be scheduled. It is quite possible we will adopt Big Guy by some time this winter, barring any legal appeals made by Patty.

Little Guy, on the other hand, won't be done with his year in foster care (the year that's required before CPS can file for TPR) until fall. And unlike Big Guy, he has a dad who is fighting for him. Fighting in an ambivalent, flaky way, but still doing some of what CPS has asked him to do for his caseplan. So the possibility of the boys' outcomes being different still hovers above our heads. Unfortunately Big Guy has started picking up on this and it is contributing to the hard time he is having. You have to understand that he is not happy that he is likely going to be adopted. Those stories about kids who are just so happy to finally have a forever family? That is not our story. Our story is one of a little boy who absolutely adores his mom, whose mom is loving to him and never overtly abused him... and who is being told he still cannot go home to her. This is a story of a kid who is told over and over the reasons why he is in care (mom's mental illness, her cognitive limitations, how easily she got overwhelmed parenting them, the normal kid things she wouldn't let them do due to her paranoia, the lack of family support she has, the way she couldn't protect him from getting badly abused by other family members, his behavioral/emotional needs she couldn't meet) and still doesn't really get why he can't go home to her and thinks it's his fault and if his behavior was better he could go home. This is a story of a kid who adores his foster parents but wants to be with his birth mom... but who doesn't get any say in the matter because he's so young and his needs so clearly cannot be met by his birth mom. It's a sad story, to say the least.

So it's probably no surprise when I say that Big Guy, who in many ways has been doing quite well, is lashing out like crazy at us and finding new ways to test us. His goal in his testing/behaviors seems to be to prove that we don't really love him and aren't "real" parents. He will act out intensely so that we are stern with him or ask him to go to his room - And when he refuses to go to his room he will "trip" and "hurt himself" in a very obviously purposeful way, so that when we don't make a huge scene over how he's hurt he can then accuse us of not caring that he's hurt and tell us that proves we're not "real parents." He will tell us he's going to do something dangerous or self-destructive and when we use the appropriate behavioral techniques (since this is truly a behavioral issue, not a psychiatric one) which involves not over-reacting, he will tell us we don't care if he hurts himself and his mom would care and that this proves we don't love him. It is very, very trying. He is trying to push us away. At the same time, he has been telling us more than usual how much he loves us and even told Sarah the other day "you're the best mommy ever!" (Mommy is a term he never uses for us, only for his birth mom). Can you say AMBIVALENCE?!?!

Little Guy is growing like a weed. He has grown almost 4 inches since he's been with us (8 months) and has gone from having not a single recognizable word to being almost on-target in terms of his language. He is 2 and is very bossy and very funny and sweet. This morning he climbed across my lap while I was on my computer and demanded "Snuggles!" He is just a delight. So cute and so loving and happy. Unfortunately he continues to have seizures, which is a challenge. He also is having a lot of sleeping troubles of late, which is not fun for any of us.

As for Sarah and I, we're doing okay. Okay enough to be thinking about Foster Child #3. We got a call last night for an after-hours placement of a teenager and I immediately told Sarah to say no, but afterwards spent an hour trying to fall asleep while I couldn't stop thinking about whether they could find a home for this young lady. I know we made the right choice, however. It's easy to get excited about taking whichever child they call for (especially because we get so few calls) but we need to think of our boys first and foremost and make sure whoever joins our family is a good, safe fit for them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Loving Your Foster Child's First Family

I'm a little late on this, but I just read Thorn's post Thinking About Her First Family on her blog Mother Issues. It really moved me, in part because I've been doing a lot of feeling and thinking about my foster childrens' first family. Here is an edited version of what I posted in the comments to Thorn's post. I hope this doesn't sound preachy. I know not everyone will agree with me. I just found it useful to state my beliefs about birth families clearly. Please keep in mind I say "we" but my partner has not actually read this, so I really speak for myself and my perception of how she feels. Here goes:

I can say we truly do love our foster sons’ mom. She is sweet and loving, if sometimes a bit manipulative and often very indecisive. She loves her kids so much, even if she doesn't know how to parent them. She is slow cognitively, and paranoid because of her mental health issues, but my older foster son also has 9.5 years of memories of having fun times with her, including silly jokes and favorite foods. We love hearing these stories. She is childlike and sometimes it's annoying as heck but sometimes it makes us wish we could foster her, not just her kids. We tell our boys that we love their mom, and tell them she’s part of our family now.  We have a lot of contact with her, which can sometimes be challenging but I would not trade it for the world.

We have also met both dads, which is amazing given that our older boy’s dad has never been very involved in his life and now wants NOTHING to do with our son so he may not get to see his dad again until he’s an adult. It was a total fluke that we got to meet him. I do not feel any love for him, whatsoever, other than appreciation for his part in making our older boy.  But I’m glad we met so I can tell FS10 things about how he got his good looks or his height from his dad, so I can talk to him about his Puerto Rican history (which he never really knew anything about since he’s been raised without his dad or any other contact with the Latino community), etc. Anything else would be a lie. However, the baby’s dad (who our older boy thinks of as his stepdad) I have spent a good amount of time with. He has a lot of problems, and there are things he says that make me so mad. I do not think he can parent. But I do feel affection for him because of the quirky and funny and sweet things I’ve observed about him, and because he loves his son (even if he does the crappiest job of showing it, ever) and because he MADE this beautiful toddler we love so much. I am also so glad to have heard stories from him about his own family and his childhood so I can pass those on to the boys. Yes, these parents are all unquestionably inadequate in very overt ways, but they are also people who want their children to be happy and healthy even if I don't agree with them about how to raise happy and healthy children. They are also all traumatized people who've experienced abuse, mental illness, physical illness, poverty and other challenges and dysfunction in their families of origin.

It gives our boys a great gift to know that we both know and respect their parents. A gift that they deserve to have, and that I wish all fostered and adopted kids could have. It gives their mom comfort to know that if we end up adopting we feel morally obligated to allow her to have a relationship with them as long as it’s healthy for the kids and is something they want. It is important for both the kids and their mom to understand that we think success is her being able to safely and adequately parent the children again even though we don't actually think this will be possible. We enjoy modeling good parenting for her, even just by telling her how we deal with certain challenges when we speak on the phone. That is more help than she gets from anyone in her family. If the boys cannot go home, we will make sure they get to have contact with their mom. If they do go home, we will offer frequent respite. And even though in many ways it would make our lives so much easier if their dads were out of the picture, we are glad that the baby's dad is in their lives in at least a small way, and we will support these boys having contact with him (and eventually Big Guy's dad if he's willing) as long as that’s healthy.

I know a lot of people will take issue with this, but in my view keeping a child in contact with their family of origin and culture of origin is not something "nice" you do as a favor for the birth parent if they happen to behave the way you'd like them to. To us, it's just part of the OBLIGATION of being a foster/adoptive parent. Yes, I said obligation. Most foster/adoptive parents don’t see it that way, but I certainly do. We signed up to be part of a complex and messy family system for these children, not to steal them away from their “bad” family and pretend that their history didn’t exist by patting ourselves on the back about how much better we are than their birth families. I know there are kids for whom contact is not healthy – But for the majority of foster kids, I believe some level of contact with at least some part of their family of origin is not only healthy but necessary. I wish I could tell all adoptive parents: You CANNOT LOVE YOUR KIDS WITHOUT LOVING WHERE THEY COME FROM.

That doesn’t mean thinking everything that went on in their birth families was healthy or okay. It means learning, and loving, their culture of origin. It means finding good things to celebrate about their background and their early childhood experiences, even if it's hard because most of what you know is abuse or neglect. It means appreciating (openly) what is good about their birth families, and acknowledging what is “bad”. It means understanding WHY things happened the way they did (which means understanding how class and race and mental illness and addiction work). It means understanding your child was not "dropped in your lap by G-d". While G-d had a role in the creation of your child and in them finding a safe and healthy home, I can't imagine that G-d thinks that families being broken apart is a beautiful thing, and I think it's important to remember that your adopted children's birth mom was not merely an incubator G-d chose to grow YOUR child in. That's why I try to avoid the term "birth mom" to begin with.  Foster care and adoption are loss, period. No matter how abusive or neglectful the first family was and no matter how great the foster-adoptive families are. That doesn't mean it's bad or wasn't the best possible outcome for the children in question. However, our children were created in the context of another family and (in many cases) culture without which they would not be alive and would not be all of who they are. They must have connections to that family and culture to grow up with a sense of who they are and to understand their complex web of connections, even if it makes us uncomfortable or is messy or inconvenient.

A Brief Debriefing, And Why The Boys Are Still Here

We are still here, alive, and mostly healthy. A brief update in bullet points:

  • The boys are still with us, and it doesn't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon, though with foster care anything can happen at any time.
  • Patty got notified that CPS' evaluations have found her incapable of parenting on her own due to her cognitive limitations and mental illness. That means she cannot and will not get custody of her children unless she is living with a capable family member who will be their legal guardian.
  • Patty's uncle Thomas, who sounds like one of the more stable members of her family (which is not saying much), moved in with her in hopes that they can get the kids back if he helps with them. However, CPS has doubts about how long-term his commitment is and whether he understands how much work this entails and that he will be signing up for no less than 16 years (until the baby is 18). So CPS could theoretically send the kids to live with Thomas and Patty, but we kind of doubt it will. 
  • In addition to issues with Uncle Thomas' commitment, we aren't sure that he has a job, and we don't know what they'd do about their living situation since Patty lives in a 2-bedroom and CPS does not look kindly upon kids and their parents (or uncles) sleeping in the same room, plus if Section 8 gets wind of Thomas living there they may have problems. Please understand I am not saying that I think that how many bedrooms there are should influence whether the children are returned - I'm just acknowledging the reality that while one wouldn't have their children taken away in most cases for simply co-sleeping or not having enough bedrooms, when a parent is trying to prove that they can have their children back from the system those scenarios are generally not acceptable to the Power That Be.
  • Patty had been complaining to me that she really didn't want the kids to go to their great aunt in another state. I felt powerless to do anything and I told her over and over she needed to tell her lawyer and CPS who are the only ones who can actually do something. Well, before court last month I reminded her again who she can tell if she wants to make sure that doesn't happen (which she had told me yet again). I'm proud of her because I actually saw her go up to her lawyer and tell him in no uncertain terms that she is not moving in with the aunt and does not want her children to go there. In addition, the great aunt seems to have been discouraged by the whole process of getting the kids. It is likely it would involve her losing the foster kid she currently has because she cannot be licensed by her home agency and our state simultaneously (absurd, right?)  It's doubtful right now that the kids will end up with this aunt.
  • The baby had been having seizures. Frequently. As some of you know, he started having them shortly after being placed with us but they went away for a long time. Now he is on medication for them, but it's not fully controlling them. It is slowly sinking in that we now have not one special needs child, but two. Granted all adopted and foster children are special needs in my larger worldview due to the specific attachment issues and grief they will deal with for the rest of their life, but having two kids with major emotional/medical/behavioral needs is different.
  • Little Guy is big! He is 21 months and is talking up a storm. He is still delayed in terms of his speech but he's catching up really fast with the help of Early Intervention. His newest word is "diaper." He says it almost perfectly. Between this and his patting his crotch when he's in the bathroom with us (watching us pee, one of his favorite pasttimes) I think he's going to be more than ready to start potty-training when my schoolyear is over in May! 
  • Big Guy at 10 is increasingly sophisticated in how he fights with us, tries to get his way, manipulates, and argues. But he's also incredibly loving and affectionate (you should see him when he gets overcome with love and comes up and kisses me 20 times on the cheek!)  He has started calling me Ima in public, which is a huge milestone for him, and let me come into the classroom with him after months of having aggressive meltdowns if I'd even show up at school because he was so embarrassed to be seen with a white woman who people would think was his mom.  He's talking a lot about his feelings with his new therapist. 
  • Big Guy is incredibly sad right now about being in foster care and misses his mommy so so much. He's going through a lot of fantasizing about how he could go home - Whether by running away, or by offering to never have behavioral problems again, or by saying he'll help mommy with the things she has a hard time with. It's really painful. The up side is we're finally being more honest with him about mommy's shortcomings and why he's in foster care and he's having to start to deal with the reality of why he can't be with her. This is so painful for him, but so necessary since within a few months the goal could change from reunification to adoption. We want him to have a better understanding of the problems mommy has instead of simply thinking "but mommy didn't hurt me! there's no reason for me to not be with her!" or thinking "but I'm only in foster care because of my behavior problems and if I stop acting out there's no reason she can't take care of us!" We have been carefully finding ways to describe her mental illness and cognitive limitations and asking him questions to help him realize on his own the ways mommy has "problems with how her brain works."
  • Overall, as a family, I think we're doing pretty darn well. We're moving to a house with a yard this spring, which is really exciting! We're also talking now and then about theoretically being open to another child or two in the not-too-distant future, though not actively planning for it yet.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heartbreaking things abused kids say

"I love you, brother. I'm never gonna abuse you."

That's what Big Guy whispered to Little Guy while holding and kissing him this morning. Afterwards he started talking to me for an hour about how confusing it is when your family beat you but you still love them. This kid has the weight of the world on him - He is so convinced the judge is going to send his brother back to family again and he'll end up getting beat like Big Guy did.

Sometimes I don't know how I parent these kids without sobbing all the time or losing all faith in humanity.

Sorry I've been MIA. I have a lot to post about but am overwhelmed about trying to recap the last few months. Especially about the out-of-state relative Big Guy hasn't seen since he was a toddler, who appeared after the kids have been in (or in Little Guy's case, in and out) of foster care for six months and wants to take both children.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Chanukah! And more adventures in Trans-Faith Parenting.

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah if you celebrate.

With the weight of last week's heavy news (re: potential distant birth relative who wants to take the kids) it's hard to let myself fully enjoy the holidays, but I have gotten a kick out of choosing gifts for the boys... even if they are going to bankrupt us ;-P

This is their first Chanukah so I've had to explain a lot of times to Big Guy that no, we don't wake up tomorrow morning to find gifts waiting for us. And no, you don't get lots of gifts every day. And no, you don't just get toys and fun stuff... some nights you will get things you need rather than things you want. He is having a hard time with the idea that he might get some gifts he won't like.. and an even harder time with the idea of only one gift each night. He also seems convinced he will only get one gift for Christmas and it will be something he doesn't like. I think it's the anxiety of having the holidays with someone other than his mom and not knowing what to expect that are what's making him sound really entitled, selfish and spoiled when the topic of holidays and gifts come up.

Challenging consumerism and money obsession in a kid who you didn't raise for his first 9 years is really, really challenging. Big Guy is completely obsessed with how much money we're spending on him versus his brother, how many gifts he'll get, etc. This kind of thing makes part of me wish I hadn't gotten so many gifts for them and was instead doing what my parents always did with us for Chanukah... very small gifts (mostly practical) each night, something really big and fun for the family (an experience, such as tickets to a musical) on the last night, and lots of opportunities for family activities and charitable giving. Instead, I feel backed into the whole "must make Chanukah as appealing to the kids as Christmas" game, which all Jews know is futile and also cheapens what Chanukah and Christmas are actually about. Oh well, it's our first time having kids at the holidays and we'll just have to feel it out, and eventually create our own family Chanukah traditions that are more meaningful.

Lest you think I'm denying my boys Christmas, since they are not Jewish they will do Christmas at the home of some non-Jewish relatives (which is where Santa will leave their Christmas gifts and we will fill their stockings). I really enjoyed doing the stockings - I bought adhesive foam shapes at the dollar store and they sticked beautifully to the Christmas stockings I bought them at the drugstore. I really like buying little tchotchkes to fill them. I never wanted a Christmas tree when I was growing up, or any of the other trappings... But I always thought stockings seemed so fun. Sometimes it's the little things that are so appealing. I do not believe in mixing the holidays or mixing religions with one another, I think it waters down the integrity of the traditions. However, as long as our kids are not halachically (in the eyes of Jewish law) Jewish, I see no reason not to help them enjoy Christmas.

I am betting by the 8th night of Chanukah Big Guy will have the entire bracha (blessing) on the Chanukah candles memorized, by the way. It's really cute how excited he is about a holiday he didn't even know about until a few months ago!

How Do I Write About This?

I don't know how to write about what's going on lately. It just seems too hard to put into words.

How do I write about how after 6 weeks I have finally fallen in love with our 18 month old Little Guy, and how strange it is to find that I fell in love more easily and quickly with a behaviorally challenged 9 year old than an absurdly adorable cuddly 18 month old when once upon a time I had thought what I really wanted was a baby? (We were signed up for ONE child ages 0-5, remember? Haha).

How do I write about how hard it has been to let myself love the baby the way I love his brother, with the constant possibility of him being sent to his dad (who used to beat Big Guy) has been hanging over our head?

How do I write about how scary it is for us to be missing so much work/school because Little Guy has been sick with very little break for the entire 6 weeks he's been here? How I worry every day that Sarah will lose her job because of her excessive absences, and how my grades are suffering just as I am about to apply for graduate school?

How do I write about the complicated feelings I have about Patty, whose sweetness and simple-mindedness I have discovered is also used to manipulate others, and who will tell us she wants us to keep the kids and then hangs up the phone and calls The Agency to report that she thinks it was our fault that the baby was having seizures?

How do I write about how well Big Guy is doing when he also just disclosed about a time a family member threatened (and possibly even tried) to kill him?

How do I write about how Big Guy's has been ornery, argumentative and oppositional since the baby's been here when he a) told the psychiatrist this morning how scared he is of the baby going to (the baby's) dad because he worries the baby will get beaten and b) turned to me yesterday and said "I love y'all to death. Which really means I love you infinity."

Most of all... how do I write about the fact that The Agency just out of the blue dropped the biggest bomb of all: That after 6 months of the kids being in (or in and out, in Little Guy's case) of foster care, a distant aunt that Big Guy hasn't seen since he was a toddler has suddenly appeared... And that she's a licensed foster parent in a nearby state, and says she wants both kids?

How do I write about how I believe in family reunification (and how incensed I am about how the child welfare system destroys Black families in particular), when I also I think this move would be the absolutely the wrong thing for Big Guy after this many months of  being with us, because of his emotional and behavioral issues and strong bond to us and how much he's thriving with us? How do I write about how stuck I feel about finding out if we have any recourse to fight this?