Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Removal Trauma Affects Babies

The baby didn't sleep hardly at all for the first 5 days, which was hell on earth. But we now have him sleeping through the night, which is such an accomplishment! It's amazing how 4 months (the time it's been since he was with us last) can make such a difference in a kid this age. When he came to us at first, he was very easy and chill and slept through the night from the get-go. This time he has intense separation anxiety, trouble sleeping, etc.  You can see how the trauma of removal from his mom has affected him so much more. It makes me so, so sad that Patty had to do this. As happy as I am to see them together, and as much as I know that Patty probably made the right choice for her kids and herself, I am keenly aware of the loss she must be experiencing. What's harder to wrap my head around is what this loss means for the baby. What are his thoughts and feelings? How does he process the change in environment? He is not verbal yet so it's hard to know. But I could see the fear and confusion the first night he came to us.

In which things get so much more complicated and nervewracking

Remember how I asked whether Patty knew what she was doing when she called CPS and asked them to take Little Guy and bring him to us? Well, when he got to us at midnight last Monday night, we opened the very small bag she sent with him, and out tumbled his Halloween costume. So yes, she knew this was not going to be a few days of respite after which she'd easily get him back like last time. In our subsequent phone conversations she's expressed some ambivalence and sadness but she also seems to be very aware that Little Guy is going to stay with us for a good long time. She has made it clear she'd prefer he stay with us, and that the boys be together, than for the baby's dad to take him... but she doesn't have any say! Dad is fighting to get him (which would break the boys up for good since they have different dads). Patty doesn't think it will happen because of his record and other factors, but she also might not realize that a criminal record or drug history or history of not being involved in a child's life does not automatically preclude CPS from placing a child with their birthfather.  An aunt is trying to get the baby, too, but the lawyer has said it's unlikely they'd choose her over us. The fact that the baby could go to his dad is definitely a source of anxiety for us. It would be different if they had the same dad who was fighting to take both of them, in fact I'd be happy for them if they had a dad who was stable enough to parent them. But that's not the case. Their dads are both very sketchy (baby's dad has a domestic violence history in addition to other things) and have never parented them, and would be unlikely to maintain their relationship with each other unless it was court-ordered. As is often the case with foster kids, they are probably more attached to each other than to their mom, let alone to their dads, who have never parented them.

It is also sad for me to realize how "wanted" our Little Guy is, while Big Guy is not. His dad is supposedly fighting to get him, but we don't think it's very likely to happen. His aunt has no interest in him, neither do any of his other family members. Little Guy's dad, who he thinks of as his step-dad, isn't interested in him. Nobody wants to take a 9 year old with behavioral issues. He is "damaged goods" to most people, whereas his brother is just a bundle of sweetness and giggles. This hurts my heart.

I am not so worried about these boys leaving us, I'm worried about them losing each other. They have such a special bond. Little Guy toddles around after Big Guy all day long, like a little puppy dog. No one can make him giggle the way that Big Guy does. Having his baby bro around brings out the protective and nurturing side of our big boy. Seeing them together is incredibly moving after the four months they were separated. It breaks my heart that they could be separated again, and it's taking everything in me to live in the present. We only have today, and all I can do is try to make today as wonderful as it can be for these boys. It looks like there's very little chance the baby will go anywhere until the January court date at the earliest, and maybe not even then. So we're going to keep on keeping on and try not to panic. Anything could happen at any time... or nothing at all could happen, and these boys could stay together and with us. The worst part is we won't know for a good long time, and we have to find a way to accept that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I sure didn't imagine this happening so soon.

It's 11pm and I'm up, sleepless, because Little Guy is coming back to us tonight! I did not expect this, not now. I knew the possiblity was high of it happening down the road, if/when his needs became too much for a cognitively challenged mom to handle. But four months after he went back home to mom? Geez. I found this out not from the after-hours caseworker calling, but from Patty (mom) herself!

We called Patty so Big Guy could say goodnight to her, and she asked to speak with me and let me know she called the CPS 800 number tonight and told them she was overwhelmed and couldn't handle things. She wanted to know if we could take the baby. Does she know what she's doing? That she may have put one of the final nails in the coffin when it comes to getting Big Guy back? That CPS isn't going to remove and return Little Guy over and over indefinitely before they take him away for good? Who knows. More on this later. For now, I am filled with a mixture of sadness (for Patty), happiness (to see the boys reunited) and total overwhelm (at the thought of suddenly being a parent to two children, after 4 months of barely being able to handle one). Big Guy is doing really well right now, and I think having Little Guy here will be great for him but suddenly having to share the attention may also cause some regression. We'll see.

We don't know when they'll get here, so I'm going to try to grab a few winks while I can. Tomorrow I need to go to our storage unit and pull out all the 18-24 months clothes I put away there just last week when we finally took Little Guy's stuff out of the kids' room to make more space for Big Guy's toys.

Please wish us luck! We're about to embark on a serious rollercoaster - Two brothers of two very different ages, with two different dads who may continue to drop in and out of the picture, with one very challenging but sweet mom, and with two very different sets of needs.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Antidepressants Are a Beautiful Thing

Our boy has done a complete 180 degree turn during the past week. He has gone an entire week without a single tantrum (by which I mean no hitting, punching, throwing things, threatening to hurt himself). That is probably the longest he's ever gone since being with us. He's been happy, smiling a lot, telling us he loves us a lot (unsolicited statements like "I love you, Ima..." or "I love spending time with you, Mama..."), and totally fun to be around. He's earned new privileges, he's talked about his feelings instead of acting out, and he's been pretty much like a "normal" kid with fairly severe ADHD. He's had no aggression or violence or angry outbursts. It's pretty incredible.

Family life has been a total joy lately, which is such a relief from the constant struggling of the last 4 months. There have been difficult moments, things are far from perfect... but they are so, so much better. I think the Prozac is working, and allowing the therapy to be more effective... which is giving credence to our belief that Big Guy's violent tantrums were not just behavioral but instead were due to a combination of anxiety, depression and PTSD. He's only been on Prozac a few weeks, and just this week we upped the dose, so it's possible things will get even better from here. I can't help feeling like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop - How can this be real? How long can it last? But I'm also starting to let go and just enjoy these times... and giving him loads of positive feedback about how awesome his behavior is and how much fun he is to be around.

Big Guy told us last night that he's being good so the judge will let him go home. It broke my heart to hear him say that, because it means he really still thinks he was removed because he was bad and he can go home when he's good. But it was a good opportunity to let  him know that being happy and being well-behaved will help him in every aspect of life, no matter where he lives. Whether he goes home or is adopted, he will have a better life and more privileges if he can behave respectfully and he feels good inside. We reminded him he isn't in foster care because he is bad, that he's in foster care because mommy has problems parenting (problems she is working on right now), and that we can't promise that good behavior will mean he gets to go home.

At first I was worried that raining on his parade like this might make him start acting out again, but my dad reminded me that there's no way that Big Guy was able to keep up such amazing behavior for an entire week purely out of willpower so he could go home. If that was the case, he'd have been on perfect behavior from the beginning of his time here. I think he just had an easier time behaving the way he'd like to behave because he's less depressed and anxious, plus he's been working in therapy on internalizing that hurting us isn't going to make him be able to go home. When he saw his behavior being so positive, it may have renewed his hope that now he can have enough self-control that he can behave well at home so that mommy will want him back and the judge will send him back. So I don't think he's going to regress simply because we are giving him reality checks about his power to make the judge send him home to mommy. He looked so deflated after I corrected him, I wanted to cry.

We knew from the beginning that "Oppositional-Defiance Disorder" and "ADHD" didn't fully encapsulate what was going on with this child. I'm so glad we finally found professionals who agreed that we needed to dig deeper into the psychiatric issues. Big Guy is happier, calmer and so much more focused. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. Even if it's temporary, it's a huge gift. Times like this remind me that all this hard work is worth it. And you know what? In the (unlikely) change that he does go back home to mommy, who is so limited in so many ways, I think it would be great to send him back as a happier, less aggressive, more well-adjusted kid who is easier for a cognitively limited mom to parent. I finally understand what foster parents mean when they say that they get satisfaction out of reuniting with their families a healthier kid who's done a lot of healing and learned new coping skills.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baruch Hashem! Investigation over.

Praise G-d. The investigation ended as quickly as it started. It was a mere formality - The school had to report what happened, but made it clear to the investigator that they weren't concerned. We've done a good job keeping them apprised of his behaviors at home and we also notified them as soon as he got hurt the first time. The investigator made it clear she wasn't concerned as soon as she walked through the door. So all is well. They didn't even really speak to Big Guy, as when they stopped by school he refused to show them anything or talk to them, and she didn't think it was worth trying to convince him to talk to him. So we just answered some questions, she was very nice and said we'll get a letter clearing us within a few weeks. I have to be diligent about contacting CPS to put us back on the list when we're cleared, in case Little Guy re-enters the system... because while you're being investigated, your home is "closed" to all new foster placements.

It was painless, other than the waiting. I really appreciate how respectful and friendly the investigator was. She apologized for it taking so long to come out - She was out of the office right after our holidays ended. I am just so glad Big Guy was on good behavior when she came - it would have been stressful to have her looking on as we handled him punching or kicking, though I'm sure it would have made a point as to how he got hurt in the first place! He was great tonight, even if he wouldn't eat the chicken shnitzel I cooked special for him.

The morals of the story:

1) If you think an allegation can't happen to you... It can. And it will. We are educated, middle class folks* who are completely anti-corporal punishment, have child-positive values and treat our kid with respect even when we're being physically pummeled by him. We don't have neighbors that hate us. We have a great relationship with (birth) mom. We have great relationships with all of the professionals involved in our foster kid's life. Big Guy hasn't made false allegations per se. We've documented everything a lot and are quick to call CPS if he ever makes a threat of some sort or his behavior is particularly difficult or he gets hurt. We've done (almost) everything by the book... and it still happened. But guess what? It's also not always the end of the world.  I will be a lot less freaked out if (when?) this happens again.

2) If you ever injure your child by accident, there is no such thing as documenting it too much.

3) Having open lines of communication with your foster kid's school social worker, school nurse, and teacher is really helpful if/when an investigation happens.

*This is not to say educated or middle-class people don't abuse their kids - Instead, I'm referring to the fact that we are privileged within the child welfare system. My non-scientific observations are that middle class, educated people are less likely to have allegations made against them and more likely to have them dismissed. We've already seen how the foster care licensing people didn't even look at anything that was on their safety checklist because once they saw what was clearly a nicely decorated, white, middle class home they seemed to lose interest in checking the bath water temperature, the fire and carbon monoxide detectors, etc.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Allegation Non-Update

Apparently the investigators are taking the allegation so seriously that a week has gone by and they haven't returned our call. Geez. I called our foster parent advocate organization and hopefully I'll hear back, as they are supposed to help walk you through the process.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who left supportive or informative comments to my post about this issue. It helps so much to feel like we're not alone, and that there are people rooting for us.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On a lighter note... Kids and religion, or "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"

Life goes on, despite the way our lives have been turned upside down by knowing anything could happen at this point (see my last post). Things continue to be silly, fun, crazy, and upsetting, in turns.
This post is about something on the lighthearted side of things.

I know I'm not the only one who's wanted to curl up in a little ball and disappear when one hears the things their foster child says to their (birth/first) family about what the foster family has told him or taught him. Or even just implying they've been taught something that goes against what their birth/first family did or believed. Here is a recent favorite. On the phone the other day, Big Guy said:

"Mom, I don't believe Jesus is the son of G-d. It doesn't make any sense."

I wanted to die. Oy vey, just what we need... Now mom is going to think we are brainwashing him with our heathen Jewish ways! He was on speaker phone with mom, as always, so I tried to steer the conversation in a direction that would make it clear that we were encouraging him to think for himself. Mom didn't seem upset, she half-heartedly tried to argue but she didn't understand Christian theology clearly enough to really accurately portray what Christians "should" believe. I don't think she was upset at all, but she told him he should go to church where he can learn about Jesus. Big Guy has never asked to go to church, so we've never taken him.

The truth is when we've been asked we have been very honest with Big Guy about what we believe, which is that Jesus was a real man and probably a very good man but was not the son of G-d any more than we all are. We've also told him it is totally fine for him to believe differently, and we've patiently and without bias (to the extent possible) explained what Jews believe and what Christians believe (and even a little about Muslims and Buddhists lately). He's asked if he can be Jewish and we've told him he can't make that decision until he's older. We've asked him about his experiences going to church and sometimes even turned the TV onto the gospel channel for him. We've taken him to synagogue only for festivities, never for religious services... though we could if we wanted, if he consented (he just does not have the patience to sit through hours of chanting in a language he can't understand so I'd never do that to him). He takes part in rituals in our home as much as he wants, but there is never any pressure whatsoever. We will take him to the home of Catholic family members for Christmas and Santa will deliver his gifts there. We will also give him gifts for Chanukah, so he'll be one spoiled little boy in the month of December!

One thing I live about Big Guy is he has many big, deep, theological discussions with us. He has a lot of thoughts about life and death and G-d and religion. Lots of questions, too. Sometimes when we talk about religion and spirituality, I just shake my head at the "low IQ" designation he was given.

Other embarrassing moments have been when Big Guy tells mom that she does things wrong because we do things differently. We are very careful not to say she did things wrong when we explain to Big Guy why our rules or customs are different, but it still gets portrayed that way when he speaks to her sometimes. I remember the first such instance was when he said "Why did you give me Haw@iian Punch? It's poisonous!" because I had explained that we don't give kids "juice" that has food coloring in it because we think artificial food colorings are dangerous chemicals for kids if they consume too much of them.

Do you have any stories like this? Please share, and give me something to laugh about!

The word says it all.


Yes, that's right. It's what you think it is. After all this time, all the days when we felt like we couldn't do it any more but still held on, all the times we got kicked, hit, peed on, or cursed at... Going on four months of hanging in there with this amazing child in hopes he can begin to heal...  After all this time, at a time when we're finally feeling like we can do this... like we are no longer in crisis mode and we're actually holding our heads well above the water... when Big Guy is finally making some progress...

...We could lose him.

We haven't gotten any clear answers but we don't think Big Guy made the allegation, we think it's the school reporting that he had visible injuries (which he sustained when we tried to keep him from throwing things at us and hurting us... and which we immediately reported to the school social worker and to CPS). If that's true, then they probably did the right thing by reporting it - It should have been a red flag for them. But that doesn't make this less scary. Our family hangs in the balance, its destiny decided by an investigator who doesn't know our family (and doesn't know a lot about Big Guy's case). We are lucky enough to have our caseworker, therapist, etc in our corner. They have all seen his tantrums, seen how violent he can get, and seen how we handle them. They all think we're doing a great job. Our caseworker seems to think her opinion will weigh heavily on the final outcome. I hope she's right.

We could lose him. But it's not us that I'm worried about. It's him. It's Big Guy who has everything to lose, because CPS says the next step for him is Residential Treatment.

I have no idea what to expect of the investigation. I know they already tried to talk to him at school but he says he didn't talk to them because he didn't want to miss class (!)

Pardon my language, but screw this. The last thing we needed was this anxiety and fear, when we were finally feeling some semblance of calm at times in our home and our hearts.

Please pray for this sweet boy, who deserves to stay with a stable family who doesn't give up on him, not an institution.

NOTE: This entry may self-destruct if I decide it was stupid to post about this.