Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's goin' on.... and a plea for help.

Oh dear, it's been a while since I've updated, huh?

Did you think maybe I stopped posting because we threw in the towel and our boy got placed in a therapeutic foster home? Rest assured, we're still hanging in there with Big Guy and don't have any intent to stop.

It's partly the Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Simchas Torah... They have taken up a huge part of my time for the last month. It's also partly that there's so much to say and I know I'll never be able to update you on everything that's going on.

Here is a bullet list of just a few of the many things that have happened since I last posted:

  • His team (case workers, etc) decided if this placement fails he will be placed not in a therapeutic foster home but in a Residential Treatment Center. Holy crap, talk about pressure on us! We feel so strongly, as does his therapist, that at this point he does not need an RTC, he needs a family. It's one thing if we adopt him and then he needs RTC, because he'd have a family to visit him all the time and then to eventually come home to. If he went to RTC right now we'd have no rights to even visit him and at most he might get a weekly visit with mom and an occasional visit from a social worker. 
  • His therapist asked me "So, how does it feel living in a residential treatment center?" Because he acknowledged what everyone else is coming to realize, which is that we are basically providing a residential treatment center and therapeutic foster home without the training or compensation.
  • Big Guy's therapist is excellent and Big Guy is starting to talk about his anger, why he takes it out on us, his sadness, etc.
  • Big Guy has been revealing more abuse history. I'm feeling so angry I just want to kill everyone who hurt him. I have to laugh that I told people when he was first placed with us, "He doesn't seem to have any kind of major abuse history, at most maybe a little emotional neglect." Warning to first-time foster parents like us: Never, ever believe that the story you think you know during the first month or when a kid's placed is anything near what the full truth is.
  • We found a great psychiatrist who is starting him on an anti-depressant! Hallelujah! She actually gets that it's not just ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder that are happening here, and she diagnosed him with PTSD after we had been increasingly feeling that some of his behaviors are trauma reactions.
  • We have been talking to Patty (Big Guy's mom) a lot and learned from her more about her own and her mom's mental health history which has helped us understand the situation better and also helped us inform the psychiatrist. We have an awesome relationship with her...
  • ...Which makes it so frustrating that CPS has decided we shouldn't be allowed to supervise visits. Because an outside agency that CPS contracts with is now doing visits at their offices and doesn't allow any contact between birth families and foster families, we cannot see her, and Little Guy (Big Guy's baby brother who we had for the first week that Big Guy was with us), at all. She literally enters through a different door than us, we think, so we can't even "run into her" in the waiting room. It's awful. So much for our dream that we could help mentor and support her. Basically CPS has made it clear they want to build a case to terminate her parental rights, even though she is parenting her baby and her older kid has only been in foster care 3 months with us. They have a foster family who is very competent and has a good relationship with the birth mom, a birth mom who never hurt her child directly, and a foster child who isn't traumatized by contact with his birth mom... The perfect situation to allow a mentoring relationship between foster and birth family or at least to allow more casual visits outside a clinical setting. Yet they don't want to make more work for themselves or risk her actually getting help from us, so they're screwing everyone in the process. Nice.
  • School started and life became much more manageable because of everyone having a set schedule, so we no longer feel we're living in constant crisis mode...
  • ...However, around the time school started Big Guy stopped sleeping through the night. He woke us up no less than seven times last night. He simply cannot and will not sleep without a grown-up in bed with him (please, spare me the lectures and horror stories about how foster parents should protect themselves from abuse allegations by never ever laying down with a child. It's the only way to keep from multiple violent meltdowns at night right now, and if those meltdowns are hard to deal with during the day they are impossible to deal with when half-asleep). His anxiety is so out of control. Usually I go lay down with him when he wakes us up, but end up falling asleep and waking up hours later in horrible pain because his bed sucks and I have a bad back. If anything is making my life feel unmanageable right now, it's not his tantrums or violence... it's the lack of continuous sleep and how we're held hostage by him at night because he wakes up multiple times and is terrified to go back to sleep without us with him. Have I mentioned I have idiopathic hypersomnolence, and am therefore supposed to get 9 hours of sleep a night in order to safely drive? Haha.
Any suggestions on how to deal with the sleep issue, experienced mamas and papas? He's already on 3mg of Melatonin and is taking his Risperdal at night as well. He has nightmares but frequently he wakes up without having nightmares. I hope the SSRI will help. I feel like the parent of a colicky infant, who feels ready to kill someone due to weeks and weeks of interrupted sleep.


    1. Caseworkers need to stop adding their two cents to child's condition. Ours said, "and there's nothing really wrong with them" with a big smile on her face. I'll never forget it. I now understand that she was saying, "there are no developmental disabilities or medical conditions that should concern you..." Really, how would they know? No bio parent is going to tell them. Kids learn not to talk to caseworkers.

      Sleep issues I'm betting are trauma-related. I'm operating without a license, but think that time (maybe takes months, I don't know) in calm environment will reduce trauma symptoms. Try playing calming music, keeping tv, etc. noises at a minimum, no video games (where game simulates others trying to kill you), no scary movies, etc. Hypercalm. And maybe buckle up for a long patch of sleepless nights (trading off with partner like parent of a newborn). I talked to a therapist once who told me about how a lot of his older foster child clients are thriving in homes with amish families because, he thought, the homes are sooooo calm. I sometimes see my kid starting to be on edge and I think of ways to "amish-ify" my home. Sometimes when one of my girls is flipping out, I say she needs a spa day. Spending the day lounging about, getting nails done, hair done, listening to ipod (children's music and a little michael jackson for flavor), hearing a story read to her, comfort food served "in bed". Not sure what the boy version might be b/c my little guy is just 4. In retrospect, I can remember how chaotic my 2 older kids kept our home for the first 3 months. It was loud and crazy. Wish we had taken lead a little more on creating more calm.

      No caseworker or professional would advise you to do this...but I sleep with my kids. All the time. Or should I say they sleep with me in my bed. Nightmares or feeling anxious about sleeping? Climb in bed with mommy. I slept with my mom when I felt scared. Plus, you get to hear about their anxieties. Mine had nightmare that someone cut off both his hands last night. I think that shoulds like anxieties over feeling powerless (like all children). I'm gonna work on making sure he notices all of the choices he has and maybe give him a few more. Maybe a couple of big boy jobs around the house are in order.

      Totally agree with your point about traumas. Once we started seeing behaviors as trauma-related, we became much better mommies. Oppositional behaviors are part of part of complex trauma diagnosis (it'll be in next version of DSM). It's not that she's hitting me because she wants to hurt me. She's triggered by ____ that scared her because ______ and she's in a state where she's hyperaroused and hypervigilent and more or less fighting for her life.

      Hate that caseworker is telling you about what she's considering if child doesn't make it with you guys. Too much pressure indeed!

    2. I just re-read part about your need for sleep. Ignore that part about being up all night with your newborn. Maybe he can just start out in your bed on your nights?

    3. I'm so glad you're hanging in there, even if it is exhausting. I don't have any advice on the sleeplessness, unfortunately, but I'll continue to send my good wishes your way.

    4. My friend Benjamin shared your post. I'm an ND/midwife in Seattle, so I've definitely experienced first- and second-hand the power of sleep deprivation! Have you tried Rescue Remedy? It's a mix of flower remedies that are pretty amazing for anxiety/fear/panic-type reactions. You can spray it in his mouth or even rub it on his skin. Parents have reported it helps calm kids during night terrors, too, when they haven't even fully woken.

      Try varying the melatonin dose too -- some people do better on lower doses. Opinions vary on whether it's more helpful for getting to sleep or staying asleep, but I'd wager it's not helping him stay asleep. There are also herbs that are good for sleep (and staying asleep) and safe for kids, but I hesitate to give too much herb advice in comments without knowing more about the person and their other meds.

      I'll definitely subscribe to your blog, and I've passed along your post to a friend of mine who's a gay Jewish foster parent (and has the opposite problem with being expected to supervise visits with his foster son's birth mother). Good luck! --Elias

    5. how about moving a bed into your room- his own bed, but he can see you when he wakes u. At the minimum I'd buy a new mattress for his bed so it doesn't hurt your back. I don't know if you have a coparent? If so, can one of you take one night, and one the next, so that you get a full nights sleep every other day?

    6. Okay, ignore what isn't helpful here. My oldest has RAD, ODD, PTSD, ADD, for starters so I have some sense of what you are going through. The nighttime anxiety was through the roof for ours. He would wake up screaming for me between 5-10 times each night or better yet throw open the window and scream for help! The melatonin definitely reduced his anxiety and helped him sleep but we had to fiddle with the dosage. He started at 3 mcg then we went up to 5 mg and finally 10 which really helped. We also added Niacin during the day and that reduced anxiety as well. In addition we increased his "focused" physical activity--basically not the "get-all-riled-up" stuff but the "thinking while moving" stuff like pogo stick, different jumps on mini-tramp, walking a straight line while holding an egg (hard-boiled) on a spoon, walking up and down stairs while trying to balance something, balance board, etc. Expending the physical and mental energy seemed to really help him. Our daughter (RAD, PTSD, etc.) slept on a (crib) mattress in our room and we slowly "weaned" her to her own bed. That has also been true of our eldest's younger brother.

      Hope you catch more sleep and please get in touch if you want to hear more....

      Best, Dia

    7. OMG... Thank you to the friend that forwarded this to me and thank you to y'all for posting this blog! Tears came to my eyes when I read the title and then the posts. Wow, we are in a similar boat in many ways. I would love to connect somehow. You can reach me at the email on my bizarrely similar blog that even uses the 'It takes a village' theme (see davidfostering.bogspot.com)

      I too am a queer, Jewish, foster parent of a challenged and amazing, non-legally free kiddo. It has really helped for me to hear from more experienced foster parents that, "this too shall pass (or at least you will figure out how to get used to it)".

      I wish I had more advise about the sleep issues. My kiddo wakes up at least once a night screaming for me but both of us fall back asleep easily and he generally does so when he hears me on my way. I hear that some people are doing foster and adoption doula support and wonder if that is available where you are located.

      Another note about rescue remedy: at the advise of the same ND/Midwife who posted above, I tried it (rubbing it on his chest) in a tantrum and was AMAZED at the response. I'm saving it for special occasions but I'm keeping it on hand.

      Anyway, I'd love to correspond if you are also needing a buddy around this stuff.

      Thanks again

    8. When I start reading and re-reading books, I know my anxiety level is rising. But it makes me feel better. I'm about to buy this: http://www.attach.org/therapeuticparenting.htm recommended by someone who has been extremely helpful to us. Thought I'd share in case you don't already have it.

    9. Wow - Well, first of all, thanks to everyone who posted! I've been a big distracted with the BS we are going through right now (see my earliest post from today) but I finally have a minute to respond.

      ERIKA: I think you're right. Big Guy is talking about more trauma lately. He FINALLY got a PTSD diagnosis and I think that is causing more of his issues (including violence) than anyone has recognized before. Thank you for being such a good friend even though we've never met and I rarely reciprocate. You are really such a support to us right now, with all your words of "been there done that" wisdom. We need it. I like the hypercalm, "amish-ify" thing. We've actually gotten rid of a lot of stuff because he might break it, but we need to pare down what's in his room even further. I'm curious to see the Complex Trauma diagnosis in the DSM, because when I've googled it, it sounds like it might fit.

      KATE: Thanks so much, it means a lot.

      ELIAS: Thank you. Benjamin e-mailed me your e-mail and when I have a chance I'll respond. I'm so happy to be in touch with your friend. Would also love your feedback about what herbs/supplements but let's do that by e-mail where I can tell you more about him and what meds he's on. Your feedback is always welcome. We are alternating Melatonin and Benadryl right now, but he's sleeping a little better even without them which is great. It helped to move one of his tiring meds to the evening instead of the AM.

      I am SO skeptical of Rescue Remedy. IT's never done a thing for me and it's so "out there" in terms of what it is and how it's supposed to work. But I'll give it a shot, I have some at home. Thanks for subscribing, and passing the word on to friends! We know a lot of ppl in common, btw. I'll e-mail soon.

      DAVID: Yay, I"m so glad to meet you! I love your blog, and my partner was so excited to hear that we're not the only queer Jewish foster parents who dream of living off the land. I LOL'ed when I read her the part about you tanning an elk hide. I wish we could meet but it sounds like you live on the opposite side of the country. I'll e-mail you soon, I'd love to talk with you. Never heard of adoption doulas - Very interesting.

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    11. DIA POR DIA & WOOLY WOMAN: You guys rock. Upon your and another person's suggestions, last week we put a few yoga mats down (piled on top of each other) in our room with a sleeping bag on top and offered him rewards for going in there if he wakes up and going to sleep without waking us up or making us lie with him. It's worked really well, though it's not super comfortable so sometimes he'll lie down for a few minutes, and then say he's going back to his room. I walk with him, tuck him in, and leave. Or last night, he OFFERED OF HIS OWN ACCORD the idea that he can get a sticker (stickers are redeemable for prizes every few days) if he doesn't wake us up during the night. Because I thought that was unrealistic, I suggested a sticker even if he wakes us up but only if he doesn't need us to LIE with him. He didn't wake us up ONCE last night, can you believe it? The Benadryl certainly helped ;-P Anyway, having a nest for him in our room definitely helps because we don't have to fall asleep in his bed, nor do we have to let him in ours. We are already trying to give him rewards for staying in his own bed, but we're being patient because he's just starting to be treated for his anxiety and PTSD. Thanks again for your help!

      We can't actually have his bed in our room, due to room constraints and foster parent laws, but this is working so far.


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