If you’ve ever worked in an office job, dealt with an organized group of peers, or had to ask someone for something you knew they may not be keen on giving you, you’ve had to be political. You’ve had to choose your words carefully, maybe even sweet talk someone a little bit, and kind of work your way around a problem (or a problem person) to get what you wanted. This is a pretty normal, sometimes daily dance that we all do and some are better than others.
I will tell you that I am bad at this. I have never been very good at politics and I’m a pretty straight-shooter when it comes to things I want. I’ll just pretty much straight up ask for them and I’ll look for a pretty straight forward response from the other person. I don’t like flowery language or “maybe” or “potentially”. I would much rather have the immediate “no” if that’s going to be the answer on the other end of the “maybe” anyway. Just tell me no so I can move on.
I had to teach myself the methods of navigating business and professional interactions in my early 20s because I realized pretty late that I had absolutely no skills when it came to interviewing, landing an internship, landing a job, or even talking to my in-laws (who were NOT my biggest fan at the beginning). I was even coming up against some very ornery teachers that oftentimes stood in my path and I knew that I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong, even if I didn’t like the games I was now required to play.
I’m still like that. I have the skills to win, but I hate playing the game. It feels underhanded and slimy, like I’m lying and cheating and stealing to take what I want. The reality is, so is everyone else. I just happen to have a conscience about it and would prefer there to be a different way to treat people without being walked all over, but that’s not the world we’re dealing with.
When there are people, there are feelings and where there are feelings, there are politics. You don’t have a choice: if you want to get the things you want without being labeled negatively, you have to work the system. And I am here to tell you that the foster care system is no different than any other office, group, or nation.
You have to deal with social workers, some are good and some are bad (some are literally nothing because they are absent). You have to deal with guardian ad litems or lawyers, some good and some bad. You may have to deal with a CASA, some are good and some are bad. You have to deal with biological families, some are easy and some are downright terrifying. You have to deal with your foster child or children, some are easy and some are hard. That is a LOT of people. At a bare minimum, in our area, we are dealing with 2 social workers (one for us and one for the child), a guardian ad litem, potentially a CASA, at least one (usually many more) members of a child’s biological family, and professionals (teachers, therapists, doctors, etc.). That’s a total of 6 people, assuming your child is too young for school, doesn’t have a therapist, only has one doctor, and only one member of the biological family is participating. You have 6 co-parents, most of whom you won’t interact with until 72 hours before court.
So how the heck are you supposed to get anything done?
You don’t, everyone else does and you have to sit back and watch. That might be the hardest part of foster care: we have very little influence over how things shake out, even though we’re caring for and loving on the kid(s) day in and day out.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we play a critical role in asking for things to be done for our kids, but we don’t actually make those things happen. It’s not because we don’t want to be the engine that drives our children to success, but because we’re not allowed to be the engine.
Without a social worker, we can’t get our kids into daycare or school, get our children therapy, take care of their medical needs, or include them in family activities. It’s not that we don’t want to do those things, but the system requires a social worker to be involved to make sure that someone has some idea of where a child is and what’s going on with them. Great in theory; really, really unfortunate in practice. You have to work closely with a child’s social worker, biting your tongue when things aren’t going smoothly because of their inaction (but that thing isn’t seriously critical), and using the rare moments to your advantage when you have a face-to-face or over-the-phone conversation so that when they think of your name and your family, they get a positive feeling and not one of dread.
Without a good relationship with a guardian ad litem, your voice will never be heard in court. This is a very important thing to realize because a lot of us have children who are too little to speak for themselves, so the GAL is their voice. You have to put time into cultivating a relationship with the GAL, bringing up concerns, and asking questions in such a way that doesn’t ruffle feathers. You have to plant seeds so that ideas can grow and make their way into court.
You can see where I’m going with this without talking about all 6 of the people involved in each child’s case. You cannot survive in and work well with the system if you don’t play with the system. If you’re too busy pointing out the issues, demanding change, going to supervisors, and calling in the big guns over every little issue (even though the issue may seem small at the time), you will be blacklisted. You won’t be told that, but it’ll happen. I’m not even staying that there’s a formal list that people are running on purpose, but it’s just one of those things we do as humans because we’re naturally inclined to be biased. We’ll tend to interact more with people who make us feel good or make our lives easier and interact less with people who make us feel bad or make our lives harder. So if a worker thinks you’re challenging, even if you were right to do the things that you did that got you that label, you’ll naturally get skipped in favor of people that aren’t as challenging or people they don’t know are challenging (ie. new families).
So what do we do? How do we get our kids what they need, when they need it, without stepping on toes and getting ourselves cast aside?
We get political.
We learn to pick our battles. We find the safe spaces to vent so we don’t go off on a social worker or a bioparent or a GAL. We start to figure out the people we can go to for help when someone is in our way of something we actually do need to be the best foster parent for a child that we can be. We memorize the supervisor’s information…but remember that it’s the nuclear option before we get them on the phone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need my kid’s vaccinations records enough to call the supervisor a week after I ask for it the first time. It’s just not worth it.
Now, all of that requires a lot of restraint and tact, but there’s more to being political than that. None of that is really very “slimy”. We’re about to cross over into the slimy territory and I’m going to refer to it as “using honey”.
We’ve all heard the saying: you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar (or some variation of it). Why someone would want to attract flies, I don’t know, but the point stands: being nice is more likely to get you what you want. There’s a line here, of course, between nice and fake and you have to know the difference. Unfortunately, that line moves depending on who you’re dealing with and so you have to tread lightly until you figure someone out.
Here’s a scenario that I’ve seen posted on a very large support group repeatedly:
“My caseworker (or social worker) is completely unresponsive. What do I do???”
Usually, about 75% of the comments on this question will say something like “Call the supervisor!” or “Go up the chain of command until someone gives you what you need!” Totally valid methods that will likely get you whatever you’re after, but may also get you blacklisted for next time (if there is a next time).
So, forgive me, but I’m going to answer a question with a question: how badly do you need what you’re asking for?
Ideally, you’d have everything you needed to parent this kid right out of the gate (at least things like medical records, vaccination records, and history), but you just won’t. So you have to decide what’s critical versus nice to have. Critical means it's worth the risk and nice-to-have means it's probably not.
There have only been a few times where something has been critical and we had to “go up the chain” as it were:
There was one other time that we went WAY outside the chain of command over something that seemed critical at the time…but in hindsight, was not. We got some state officials involved in something that really could have been handled within the department and someone got in trouble over it. There were repercussions for that and we went a long time without a placement or even a placement call.
Like it or not, we did it to ourselves and there were consequences for the way we chose to handle that situation. There's just no way around it: we went against the agency and they fired back (discretely). We thought what we were doing was right (and we still think that, to be honest) but more importantly we thought it was critical when it wasn't. Nothing we did in that situation changed anything except how often we were used as a foster family.
We used vinegar, thinking there was no alternative, and the flies flew away as fast as they could. Lesson learned.
So now we're in the position of wanting something from someone else (2 people, actually) and our question is: how do we get what we want? And what is it that we want?
Well I told you in my last post about a child in the care of friends that they are only caring for short-term. This child is likely a long-term situation and now that this child's medical conditions have been resolved, our friends are ready to move them onto a long-term home and they have asked us if we're interested. We weren't sure at that point when this would even happen, with court still being almost a month away, but the worker is scheduled to meet with them later next week and our friends are going to pull the trigger at that meeting.
If my anxiety wasn't spiked before, it's through the roof now.
At this point, we've done what we can do. I was polite and friendly with the social worker last week, despite disagreeing strongly with the plan she was suggesting for Wednesday. I was open and supportive of Wednesday's family member despite my seething wish that she would just disappear so that we could keep her. And I hand-delivered a card to the worker, telling her how much we appreciated all of her help the last few months and how beneficial she was to Wednesday (she wasn't really, we barely asked for anything).
As a final icing on the cake, it just so happened to be World Social Work Day earlier this week and so last week, I hand-wrote and snail-mailed a Thank You card for Wednesday's worker and one for our own worker. I need a good taste in both of their mouths come next week because while Wednesday's worker controls this child, our worker controls our home. I need both people agreeing that this is a good thing before we can actually receive the child.
Now, why does that make me feel slimy? I'm not very good at skirting around issues or even outright lying (whether it's a white lie or something bigger), so writing into two little cards with my crummy script that I was so grateful to get to work with them and how much the working relationship means to us and how helpful they are to children makes my skin crawl just a little bit.
Were those outright lies? Well, no. They are kinda helpful and they could be way, way harder to work with, but you don't put that into a card. "Hey thanks for not being the absolute worst!" doesn't have the same ring as "Thank you for being so amazingly helpful!" and so we...fudged a bit and left out the bad or not-so-good parts.
That's just how you play the game. You have to use the honey.
The other thing that's happening in the background of all this is that my friend and I are talking about our plan. She's clued in someone on the case that isn't the social worker, who was keen on the idea, and we continue to talk every few days about his case progression.
We're plotting and hoping and planning while the social worker knows nothing. It feels underhanded to not just call her up and say, "Listen. We know The Smith family really well and you know that we babysat for them recently. They want us to take [child] since they aren't up to long-term with them. Can we have them?" At the same time, that may not hit the right way and there's just no way to know. We feel like we have to be discrete and pretend that we aren't doing anyone's job for them (and we aren't, we just want to) and wait for the idea to occur to them. Everyone likes their idea better than someone else's, especially if the idea works out. Who doesn't want credit for a good idea?
So we're using honey, we're planting seeds, and we're crossing our fingers that the meeting goes well.
I hate the political game, but maybe this time we'll win.
Until next time.
Yesterday was the day. I went to court and met Wednesday's guardian. I shared pictures and laughed with her and told her that we're pulling for her to get her back, which is true. But I was dying on the inside. I was only telling half-truths. Truth is that we want her to go home, but we want her to stay just as much. We let ourselves get caught up in daydreaming about the future and as a result, the universe smacked us back into reality.
Court went well, although the judge shared our concerns (and our worker's concerns) about the state of things not having changed much but no one could deny that the guardian was a safe option. Wednesday was ordered to move home and in a few months, the courts will assist the guardian with adoption.
So, I guess in a way, our worker was correct: adoption is the end game for Wednesday. She just isn't going to be adopted by us.
I delivered her to the guardian with her worker present and made small talk with the worker until the guardian showed up. I gave her all of Wednesday's belongings and managed to make it to the privacy of my car before I sobbed. We are happy for them, truly, but we're experiencing the same loss that the guardian did 2 months ago.
The house is quiet. The dogs are confused. And I am alone.
Now what? Well...about that...
E returns from her trip in a few days and we're going to take a week or two to regroup and just be with each other. This was a hard goodbye for different reasons than K. We aren't worried about Wednesday's safety or well-being, but adoption was an option and it's hard to see someone else get it instead (even if that person is the only mom she's ever known). We could have been that for her in 3 more months, but it's unfair to take a child away from a family who loves and misses them if they can be safe.
So our plan is to go see a bunch of movies, train a lot, get back to rock climbing together, and sleep in.
In the background, though, wheels are turning. We have friends of ours who foster in the same area and they currently have a placement that they are not interested in fostering long-term. They agreed to a few months to let some of the medical issues resolve themselves, but they have been told the case will take a while and the outcome isn't certain. They already have several children that are heading to adoption and they have decided they cannot give a 3rd (especially his age) the attention they need. On top of that, they want to continue to foster and know that if they had 3, they wouldn't be capable of doing so.
So they asked us if we'd be interested in taking this child and we said "yes" before they could even finish asking. We have seen pictures and I've held him and (although it's absolutely wishful thinking) we feel the tug that he's supposed to be with us, even just temporarily.
I am getting to provide respite for them this weekend and we are hopeful that when the time comes for the child to move, the worker (who we've worked with previously and I think we made a good impression on) will be open to their suggestion. It sure does make her job easy. She already said she was grateful that we worked out respite on our own (our friends asked us directly and we agreed before anyone spoke to a worker) so that she was able to stay completely out of it.
We feel so blessed that our friends are so excited for us to take on this child, even if it doesn't work out that way. The child is likely due to move in early April, which gives us several weeks to just be with each other. We're hoping to find out about whether or not we'll end up being the new foster parents in the next 3ish weeks.
What about the other county, you ask?
Well, we're selfish creatures. We don't want to walk away from a child who already needs a new home and, if the worst happens and they refuse to have the child placed with us, then we'll re-commit to our transfer and the only thing we'll have lost is 2 weeks of time...which we're okay taking anyway to do some childless things. We don't want to start things with the new county until E returns anyway, so the next 5 days are off limits anyway. What's 14 more?
Here's to hoping that things work out in our favor, and the child's.
Last week, we received our first case plan in the mail (we never got this paperwork for our first placement) and in it we found some very…startling information: the prior caretaker wants Wednesday back. Our worker had told us she wasn’t interested, but I guess she had a change of heart.
Court is next week and we were told that despite only ½ the background checks being returned, they are going to request custody transfer after court. If the judge doesn’t agree, custody transfer will happen as soon as the second check returns (which should only take a few more weeks at most).
We are gutted, truth-be-told. We know, logically, that this is foster care. But as hard as we tried to take our worker’s adoption question with a grain of salt, I guess we were unsuccessful. We had hoped she would stay. She’s grown and advanced so much in her short time with us and we know she’d continue to do so, but those aren’t reasons to keep her from the only family she’s ever known.
She’s little enough that she won’t care. She won’t even remember us in a few months. But we’ll remember her, just like we remember Baby K.
We are now at the point where we’re ready for the transfer. We will miss her, but we know she’s leaving and so we want her to move on so that we can start to heal. Obviously, our level of care has not changed since getting this news, but our evenings after bedtime are quieter, void of planning for her future because it won’t be with us.
E leaves the country in 48 hours, gone for 10 days, and if Wednesday actually does transfer next week, she’ll miss the final days of family time. On top of that, I agreed to respite this weekend and so I’ll have 3 under 2 and it will be…interesting, to say the least.
Wednesday did finally have a visit with biomom last week and we’re told it went well. She has another scheduled today, hopefully with the same result.
The numbness is setting in and while we’re happy for Wednesday to reunite with her family, we are selfishly sad for ourselves. Our commitment to changing counties is renewed and we will be transferring the same day that Wednesday does. No reason to wait now.
Until next time.
When I started this blog, I made a commitment to myself (and to any readers) that I would be honest about our journey. I feel like I’ve lived up to that so far, while respecting privacy laws and what not.
Today is probably going to be one of the hardest posts to share, though. There are some feelings that E and I are having that are…frowned-upon in the fostering community, as they should be. We’re not proud of or acting on these feelings, but they exist and we talk about them in private. I feel like it’s my job to share them here because I’m betting many of you have felt or are currently feeling this way, too.
Let me start off with: it’s okay to feel a certain way about biological parents or caseworkers or judges or whoever else is involved in your foster child’s case. We all have perfectly valid and real feelings, even if we don’t like them or are well-aware that the feelings are inappropriate and unfair to one party or another. With that in mind, here we go.
E and I feel possessive and protective of Baby Wednesday. Some of those feelings are appropriate and some of them are not, but they are real either way. Out of those feelings, come more feelings and wants that are pretty “uncool” in the fostering world. We don’t disagree that they’re uncool and we feel guilty about them, but we’re human and aren’t always perfect about keeping our thoughts in check.
This week, Wednesday has her first visit with her mom. It took 5 weeks for this visit to happen and while we don’t know exactly why, based on our experience and info-gathering about our county’s office, it’s not because they weren’t trying to schedule it. It appears that mom was hard to get in touch with, but we don’t know for sure if that’s the case or why that might be. This helped compound the notion that mom must not want to parent Wednesday at all, which we’ve suspected and has been alluded to so far by a few professionals involved.
Because we’ve been asked about adoption already (which is very unusual in our county) and because of how the case got started, we want Wednesday to stay. We do not want her to go to a parent who doesn’t want to parent and only wants a relationship with her child (which we’re very supportive of, I don’t believe in closed adoptions except in very specific situations). We do not want mom to show up to this visit or any visit at all. We do not want her to pass drug tests. We do not want her to appear in court. We do not want her to work her plan.
We want her to sign over rights so we can adopt Wednesday and allow them to build a relationship that doesn’t require the baby to live with mom, who at this point isn’t capable of parenting. We, honestly, want her to disappear until abandonment can be filed so we can adopt and then for her to show up later for visits and holidays and pictures and letters.
Yes, that all makes us look like bad people. I get it. We aren’t proud of how we feel. The only reason I’m willing to share it here is because this blog is anonymous.
We know that adoption means a family has crumbled. We know that by getting to adopt a child, another parent, who likely loves them just as much as we do, must lose them forever. We know that adoption can create identity struggles for the adoptees and while we will do our best to remedy that, we can’t always do so. We know these things and they conflict with our feelings.
Regardless of our feelings on the matter, our actions will not be influenced. We will still support reunification in our actions while we try to change. We will print pictures for mom to send on visits, write her notes in the visit notebook and read any that she might send back. We will make sure Wednesday is dressed well, with her hair done, and her body well-rested to ensure a good visit. We will do our best to fit mom’s schedule to give her the best possible chance at attending.
We are trying to resolve our feelings through discussions with each other and our therapists so that there is no more conflict between them and our actions, but until then, we will keep them in check and do everything we can to support the bond between Wednesday and her mom. We aren’t perfect. We will fail sometimes and fall back into possessive feelings, but we will never sabotage or attempt to influence any part of the case just because we feel a certain way.
We love this child like we’re supposed to and although we’re protective, we love Mom as an extension of this child. Without her, we wouldn’t know Wednesday. We support Mom in her efforts to get better and to be the parent that Wednesday needs her to be, but we will probably continue to struggle to maintain that support in our private thoughts until we get to know her better and see consistent progress.
If anyone else out there struggles or has struggled with this, do your best to change your feelings but don’t shame yourself over how you feel. Your feelings are understandable and valid and real, even if you don’t like them. We can’t change that we’re human, but we can change what those human feelings make us do. Control your actions, feel your feelings, and love those kids above all else.
Today is the 28th day. Baby Wednesday has been in our arms and our home for 28 days. We learn a little more about her every day and we’ve finally gotten a rhythm down, which is helpful for our stress levels (although we still eat out way too much at this point). The first month is one of the hardest, even with little ones.
We had a meeting with our worker on Monday and she had a few tidbits of information to share, but nothing ground-breaking. We still have no visits scheduled, know nothing about the next court date, and while Wednesday finally has a worker assigned from DSS instead of CPS, they haven’t yet attempted to make contact (which means we also don’t know about a CASA or GAL).
The meeting went smoothly and, luckily, Wednesday woke up fresh from a 2-hour nap right in the middle, so she was able to interact with our worker in her very best mood. She’s a happy, healthy girl and our worker said as much. And then things went a little bit sideways and we’re still reeling 2 days later.
Our worker glanced at us both and asked, “Would you be willing to adopt her if it comes to that?”
In some places, this may be par for the course. Federal guidelines recommend “concurrent planning” in every case, in which reunification remains the primary goal, but a secondary goal of adoption or kinship placement is also present so that the child has some hope of continuity of reunification falls apart. Our state, and specifically our county, does not follow this usually. We spoke with other local families, several of whom are in the process of adopting their placements, and none were asked about adoption anywhere near this early.
It threw us for a loop and we stammered out, “Of course,” and we mean that, but we were shocked to say the least. Our worker reiterated that the case will be a long one and that family will be even more of a long shot than we thought initially due to some absent or deceased family members, which were just discovered recently.
We are putting absolutely no stock in this question, but it’s hard not to wonder. We have yet to encounter a case with this much gray area around it. Our previous case and most of our friends’ cases already had family involved, there was very little room to consider adoption (even though 2 and maybe 3 are heading that way). The many family members were involved and invested, even though some didn’t work out. But Wednesday’s case isn’t that way at this point. Family can always pop up, but it’s looking more and more like if there is any viable kinship at all, it will likely not be someone who is related to Wednesday.
So how do you steel yourself against that? How do you walk into the situation head-first, knowing that it could go either way? Yes, this is foster care, but we’re still human beings with feelings and wandering thoughts that can be hard to tame.
Last time felt so easy. We knew there was a time limit. K was going to leave and we knew it would only take a few months. But still, we poured everything into him with abandon. We didn’t keep our hearts locked up, even knowing it was temporary.
Now it’s so much harder. I don’t know if it’s because we grieved so heavily last time or if we’re scared of what could happen to Wednesday if she leaves or if “forever” is just too scary of a concept to even consider when so many other things would have to go wrong in this little girl’s life for it to be an option. But whatever the reason, we’re both struggling with how to feel.
For as long as I can remember, I have been one of those people who tries not to look forward to things. If I get too excited, especially too far out, the thing (whatever it is) doesn’t happen or doesn’t go well and as a result, I’m very, very guarded with my excitement.
E and I took a trip to Disneyworld after we got married in 2015. I was cautiously happy about the trip, but the full excitement hit me like a ton of bricks as we boarded the ferry to Magic Kingdom. We had planned this trip for over a year and I didn’t actually get fully excited until it was already happening. That’s just how it works and how I’ve been programmed to function (which drives E nuts, believe me). I did the same thing when we planned trips (yes, multiple) to Ireland and started the foster care process and even when I was on my way to pick up Wednesday 4 short weeks ago. It’s just me, for better or worse.
Now that is happening x1000. It’s not a trip. It’s not a new thing we’re starting. It’s not a new job. It’s a child, a human life. It’s a maybe-forever and I just can’t bring myself to look that far ahead because I know it’ll all come apart if I do.
So how far ahead do I look?
Today is February 13th and tomorrow will mark the first Holiday Landmark I was willing to consider. I knew that Valentine’s Day (whether it’s a fake holiday or not), being a little less than a month away, was almost a certainty. No family would show up and get approved by then. Mom wouldn’t have gotten anything accomplished by then and while we expected to have a court date by now (which we don’t or weren’t told about), nothing predictable was going to cause her to be removed from us.
So now the Landmark has moved because we’re less than 12 hours away from the first one. It’s safe to be excited and make sure her outfit is clean for school (which I bought about 3 weeks ago after the initial “they’ll just snatch her any second!” faded).
What’s the second one?
Easter is roughly 9 weeks away. That’s still not enough time for family to show up and get approved or for Mom to work most things on her plan, but it will (likely) bring our first court date (or our first attendance at a court date) and probably our first visit. It will bring more information, which leads to more evidence for how things are going and what might come next. It’s the next safe zone.
After that, I think it’ll be her first birthday, which falls in early July. That falls about 10 weeks after Easter, which should bring another court date and (hopefully) more visits and information.
I can’t look to Halloween (one of my favorite and most painful holidays when we don’t have kiddos) or my own birthday in the fall. I can’t look to Christmas or the 1-year mark of her maybe being in our care. Those don’t feel safe. They feel too far-fetched, almost fake. It feels like if we look too far, too fast…we’re going to jinx it and everything will crumble.
So here we are. Reveling in the stupidity that is Valentine’s Day and looking towards another arbitrary celebration that involves unnaturally-colored eggs and a rabbit who sneaks into your house to leave waxy chocolate and fake grass in wicker baskets. Because nothing feels safer than that.
The beginning of a new placement is both incredibly stressful and amazingly fun.
It's shopping for clothes and creating the diaper bag. It's learning a routine and forgetting to cook, which leads to way too much fast food. It's wondering if their 3hr nap is normal or if they're actually dead and you just don't know it yet because you're afraid to go into their room and see if they're breathing...because what if they're alive and you wake them up. It's pictures (strategically cropped) that you post on social media to keep loved ones informed and sent around to immediate family who don't use social media like your chosen family does. It's realizing that you have bought WAY too many clothes (most of which aren't pink because...ew) and then avoiding looking at your bank account because you know, even at second-hand shops, you're spending too much because that's how you cope with stress.
But even with all of that excitement, it's also huge unknowns. Is there someone out there who is trying to get you? Does the person who had you before want you back? When is court? What did you experience in your short little life already? Is your parent trying to find you and get visits with you and work the plan? Do they even have a plan yet? Will you get visits with anyone at all? Is anyone even asking about them? Who is your worker? Why are you spitting up again (again...ew)? Will you ever stop drooling? Why do you hate your car seat so much? Who taught you to crawl (you were not doing this 2 weeks ago)? What will Early Intervention have to say?
We ask questions like these and get few answers. We know nothing about Wednesday's mom (or any associated "family" members), we don't even know if they're in contact with her. We don't have any idea when visits will start or who they'll be with or how often they'll happen. We don't know what substance she was born with exposure to. We don't know if she was full-term or if she spent any time in the NICU. We don't know what name she was called by the person she was living with, she didn't respond to her name when we called it, but has started responding to a nickname we use at home and at school (a shortened version of her first name). We don't know the name of the person she was removed from and barely know the relationship between them and Wednesday.
I think like most foster parents who take in a child with no known family besides one biological parent, we wonder: what if she stayed? It's so hard to rejoice in that possibility, it's so far-fetched and means so much loss for this little girl and the woman she came from. The question plaguing my mind more and more is, "What if she stays for years and then they take her?"
At 6mos, her attachment is pretty flexible. She wasn't neglected or abused (her removal was legal and warranted, just a little unique so I'm not going to get into it) and so she doesn't have any attachment issues that we can see (unlike our last placement who had issues that were immediately apparent). She's happy to go to just about anyone and didn't really recognize us during school pick-up...until yesterday. I walked into her classroom where she was belly-dragging across the carpet (I like to call that her "gator crawl") and I called her name and when she made eye contact with me, she grinned and started gator crawling to me. It hit that she knows who we are and seems to like us okay.
E came home a short while after we arrived and, again, she grinned deliberately and willingly transferred from my arms to hers.
It won't be long before she's with us long enough to feel like we're her people and she's old enough to have solid attachment, which is where the trouble will start. We have many foster friends with kiddos who lose their minds at visits, even if the foster parent stays in the room. I am terrified for Wednesday and what visits might mean for her. She's never lived with her mom, so I don't think there will be any serious reaction to start with, but eventually she'll figure out that visits mean strangers and that strangers are scary.
There's nothing we can do to help her in those moments. Without documented need for therapeutic visits (where we're allowed to attend to keep the child comfortable), we're banned from attending. We drop off, hand our children to literal strangers who are supervising the visits in a 15x15 room, and then we show back up to receive our tired, scared, and usually sugar-filled kids. Sometimes we receive them from the biological parent, but sometimes it's a worker and we never interact with the parent at all.
We want to avoid trauma. We want to avoid having to have therapeutic visits (apparently the system set up for that is incredibly flawed and we're hearing only horror stories, from very reliable sources) because it means scheduling nightmares and it means that this child is so upset at the sight of their parent (who is trying to get custody) that they're inconsolable without a foster parent there to comfort. It strains the relationship between biological and foster parent and that is to be avoided if at all possible.
I am scared for this child to love us and know us and grow up with us for months or years, with traumatic visits throughout, only to go to a stranger they have never met or a biological parent who isn't ready and has never parented before. We have no claim to her, even after she's lived with us for years. We will never be viewed as equal to "family" and our county's definition of that is terrifyingly vague (parents of former friends can count, even if they've never met the parent or child).
If we think that removal from the home initially is traumatic, it stands to reason that removal from the only home a child can ever remember is equally so.
This is foster care. And it's anything but easy.
Wednesday of last week was insane, y’all.
But before I get into that, I want to encourage all of you readers out there to comment on posts and share this blog. I know there’s quite a few of you these days and I’d to see the community grow even larger. Eventually, I plan to start a Facebook page and maybe even an Instagram, but that seems pointless if no one wants to interact. So comment and tell me about the kinds of posts you’d like to see, ask questions you’d like answered, and even share some of your own blogs!
Now, as for Wednesday: my car was in the shop for a bad battery, tires, and a couple of other things, so for yet another week, E and I were sharing a car. For anyone who doesn’t know: that’s a huge pain in the neck when your work schedules aren’t the same, you live an hour away from work, and Uber can cost upwards of $50 to get us to the gym or home.
It was my night to teach the kid’s boxing class, so I was leaving work early in an Uber, headed to the gym. In transit, my phone rang: it was a CPS worker asking if we’d like to take in a 6-month-old girl. My heart caught in my throat and I patched Emily in. It didn’t even take us 2 seconds to say yes. Unfortunately, I had to hang up almost immediately (I was working with about 1 minute to spare before class started) and E had to take the reins and answer all the phone calls…which means for an hour, I was in the dark.
Finally class was over, all the kiddos got to their parents, and I was able to look at my phone. I called E and she said it was actually happening and she was heading to DSS at that moment. Problem was: she had no car seat as it was in my car at the mechanic. I ordered another ride, got to the mechanic, and raced down to the office to find my wife holding a beautiful little girl.
We signed paperwork, got a very brief summary of what had brought the baby into care, and we were dismissed. I didn’t realize it, but I had been shaking until we got to my car and I felt this baby in my arms. They didn’t call back and say never mind. They didn’t dangle a child in front of us, only to place her in a different foster home. We were their choice and we got to love her.
Neither of us slept much that night, although the baby crashed hard. Luckily I was off the following day to deal with a speeding ticket (oops) and so I was able to sleep in a little bit. I was awoken by my phone ringing and saw our social worker’s name. My stomach dropped; I was sure she was calling to tell me the baby needed to be moved or family was already in the mix and we’d only get a few weeks with her (then get to wait another 10 months for a placement).
To my surprise, though, she said quite the opposite. She was calling to make sure we were okay with the placement because it was going to be a long-term, much longer than K. We are in the midst of transferring our license, after all, and she wanted to give us the opportunity to push that through instead. I declined: we are very happy to wait on anything having to do with the transfer until this girl goes to family or goes home.
So, that lowered our anxiety considerably. She’s with us for a while, it would seem, although nothing in foster care is ever certain.
Me and nugget went to court (which took way too long) and then dealt with daycare paperwork. By the time we got home, E was there as well and I was able to put baby down for a nap so I could go clothes shopping without a 6mo in tow. It was very successful, overall, and she’ll be very fashionable and warm for a few months, then she’ll outgrow everything and we’ll do it all over again. Have I ever mentioned how much I love kid’s consignment shops? They make this whole “buy an entire wardrobe immediately without spending your entire paycheck” thing way, way easier.
We survived the weekend, including a full day of fights (it wouldn’t be a new placement if we didn’t immediately take them to see some sort of combat sport competition), and E being seriously under the weather all day Sunday.
This morning, nugget went to school without incident, E woke up feeling much more herself, and I managed to get myself to work earlier than I usually do, even with a daycare drop-off.
Here’s to hoping things continue smoothly for us and Baby Wednesday.
Happy Monday, y’all!
Sorry about the long delay, folks. The last few weeks have been fairly negative and I’m so tired of that being what this blog is about. You guys have enough on your plates; you don’t need me piling on!
With that said, here’s how Christmas shook out:
I guess that catches everyone up on some things and so now I want to kind of talk about what’s brought us to the decision to switch and why we’re doing it now. For the sake of clarity, the county we’re with now will be referred to as 1 and the county we’re switching to will be referred to as 2.
We have been with county 1 since October 2017. We started the process with them in January 2017, got our first 2 visits done by the end of April and then our worker disappeared on us. She took our packet and we didn’t hear anything for months. I followed up often (probably once a month) and continuously heard that there was no news. Finally, our in-state CPS checks came back in September (8 months after we started and not because we delayed anything). I heard that our homestudy would be completed “by Friday” for about 6 weeks before it actually got finished…and they didn’t tell us until I followed up 2 weeks after.
It took a month for our first call, Seven, and then another month until our 2nd call, which actually resulted in Baby K’s placement. In that time, I asked questions about what we could do to be more helpful, as I knew of families that were getting placements in our age group while we got none. We found out that our worker had dropped the ball and was “surprised” to hear we wanted emergency placements, which is what we’d signed up for originally and was written throughout our packet and in emails to her.
We pushed for things that Baby K needed. We didn’t let his worker push us around and passed information along to our worker through the placement about things we needed and had asked for, but were not given. Then Baby K went home before any significant pattern of better behavior was demonstrated on his mother’s part and we let him go without incident. We told our worker we planned to keep in touch, and we tried, but ultimately the relationship fell apart and he’s been out of our lives for 8 months now.
We took a few months to recuperate, but didn’t tell our worker to take us off any lists. It didn’t matter. We didn’t get called for 5 months. Our friends got placements. We provided respite. We stayed in touch with our worker, letting her know we were still available and ready for anything. Nothing happened until a missed call in early September. We were 6th in line for the placement and by the time our worker answered her phone, it was too late.
That was a painful blow, but we moved on and continued to wait. Another call came in late October, the newborn girl who went to another family, who already had her sibling. Another painful blow, then more waiting.
Then another call in November (on the tail end of a separate conversation, she wasn’t trying to place him with us, really), a little boy that was allergic to dogs. We informed our worker we had inside dogs that were hypoallergenic, but the doctor said no dogs. He went to someone else.
Then another November call just a week later, at 7:30pm on a Sunday night, for a girl well outside our age range at 11-years-old. We said yes, she arrived, and left almost as quickly as she’d come. She was our first “placement” in 8 months.
Then we got a call at the end of December, for the 8YO boy who ended up with a cousin and didn’t need placement at all.
Then just this week, the call for the 13YO girl (more than double our upper age limit) who we requested to take placement of back in August (reunification was 4 weeks later and we knew we could handle a month). We said yes, but a placement wasn’t needed, and we haven’t heard anything about her since, nor will we.
That seems like we got a lot of calls on paper. But there’s something that I want to point out that I think some people might be missing. Our worker, since mid-summer, has been the only placement worker in our county. Every single child that has come into care has crossed her desk. She has told us that she’s “considered” us for every single placement, but guess how many of those calls actually came from her, during regular business hours (she doesn’t work emergency shifts)?
All of the other calls were emergency workers who knew nothing about us except that our names were on a list with the ages and genders we’d accept. That’s it. We got 5 calls from the emergency workers and 2 from our own, when the vast majority of the placements come in during the day. CPS tries hard not to remove children over nights and weekends so that DSS can take over the placement.
In the time that we’ve had 1 long-term placement (that’s 10 months for anyone counting), they have placed a singleton newborn with a family who already had a baby (who we provide respite for), they have placed a newborn with our friends, they have placed 2 6YO singles into 2 separate homes, a 1YO single, a 3YO and 6YO sibling group (who we were “seriously considered” for, whatever that mean), and I’m sure dozens of others that we don’t know about specifically. These are all children I know have been placed in families just like ours, except that the majority of those homes…are heterosexual couples.
I have been raging against that being a factor since we started. E’s parents asked, my parents asked, my extended family asked, our friends asked. We denied it time and again. “They’ve used us one already, so…” and “Our friends get placements and they’re same-sex, so I don’t think that’s what’s happening.” But the longer we go, the more I think they placed with us once so we wouldn’t quit (and would leave them alone for a while) and are leaving us hanging now because they don’t want to place babies with same-sex couples. I think our friends continue to receive medically-needy placements because one of them is an Occupational Therapist and so her skills out way her “gay”ness.
At the beginning, we voiced concerns that we wouldn’t get placements because we were gay and our worker spouted her token gay couple who were adopting their foster son. I used this to remind myself that she didn’t hate gay people; she already had a couple like us. But I didn’t know anything about them or how long it had taken them to get a placement or how old the child was.
There was a same-sex couple I knew through the grapevine who had also transferred their license from county 1 to county 2. They had also adopted 2 children, one from county 1 and one from county 2. The county 1 child was a newborn when they were placed and the county 2 child was a preteen.
I sent them a message and asked some questions and they confirmed my biggest fears: the county was absolutely discriminatory and our worker was one of their worst experiences. They had fostered another child for county 1 before the newborn was placed and after he went to family, they said they had a long, long wait before the newborn came. They said that the county fought tooth-and-nail to remove the newborn and have her placed elsewhere when adoption was on the table. They said they had to get someone very, very high up in the administration to put a stop to the madness so that the baby could stay with and be adopted by then. She said they had no grounds for the removal of the infant; they just didn’t want lesbians adopting from their system, certainly not a very sought-after baby girl.
She said their experience with county 2 is completely different. The worker is amazing and helpful and the county is supportive. They said they are reopening now after their adoption was finalized a few months ago and had no issues restricting their ages to 3 and under.
I don’t think I can deny it anymore. There is so much evidence. They cannot outright discriminate against us without getting in trouble, which is why they place with same-sex couples once and then try not to ever again (or call them for things way outside of their preferences so they can at least say they called and were turned down).
We got a bassinet, we got a stand-alone twin bed, we offered to make a 2nd bedroom, we found in-home care so we could take newborns or medically-fragile kids and still…nothing. It’s been 10 months, folks, and we’re getting no explanation. I’m being told the same story I was told 7 months ago, “I have one family who hasn’t had a placement in a year.” I wonder if that’s the same family and if it is, why are they not getting placements and why are you still holding their license if you aren’t going to call them? They aren’t going to place with us, either. Instead, they’re licensing other families for our same age group (seriously, they’ve added 25 more this year) and not using us at all.
Meanwhile, county 2 has 2 open homes for their entire county. And they don’t get as many calls (they’ve only had 3 calls so far this year, although none have needed placement), but that can’t be any worse. On top of that, they have told us that if we go a long time without a placement (~6 months), they would assist us in finding an adoptable child within the state to match with as well…which is not what our county says (“We don’t facilitate adoptions outside of our county”).
So come Monday, we’re calling our worker and telling her that we want our license transferred immediately. We’re making the switch and after one home visit, our new license will be active and (hopefully) we’ll have a placement before springtime is over.
New year, new county.
Things are looking up, guys, and I hope that things continue to feel that way.
This time last year we had a little guy to spoil. This time last year we were gearing up for our first plane ride with a toddler (and his first ever). This time last year, both sets of parents were excited to meet our first son and be (at least temporary) grandparents for the first time. This time last year, we celebrated Christmas like we never had before. This time last year, my mom and I were making jokes about bringing K to Christmas dinner with my (very...conservative) grandmother in a Kwanzaa outfit.
This year, there’s no one to spoil. This year, we’ll journey to a family gathering alone, with no carseat or giggles or cries in the back seat. This year, our parents are back to just being parents. This year, we didn’t decorate; there’s no tree, no stockings, no red and green mantle. This year, there's no off-color jokes or snowman building or kid-centered activities.
We skipped the fanfare this year. All of it. We’re still going to see family and put on happy faces, but I know that our hearts aren’t in it. If my parents weren’t meeting us, we wouldn’t go. We would stay home, ignore the holiday, and probably just sleep and veg out on TV. We did manage to adopt 2 Salvation Army angels and get them a carseat, toys, coats, gloves, and hats, but that's about it.
It's hard to have the season upon us and feel no "Christmas Spirit".
I’ve always loved Christmas. It was always such a big deal in my family. We’d all load up (all being both my parents, my 3 siblings and me, and 2 or 3 dogs) and drive 16hrs to visit my mom’s whole family. We’d see aunts and uncles and cousins and our grandmother, who passed away earlier this year. It was always full of chaos and joy and love, even when my mom would lose her shit at us for very valid reasons.
Now that same celebration seems painful. I know they’re going to ask how it’s going, because that’s what families do. I can’t even talk to my mom about it without getting angry or tearful. As usual, some days are better than others and I’m trying my hardest to find ways to cope (although those avenues seem to be routinely blowing up in my face).
I don’t know how many times I’ll cry or walk away from a conversation or snap at the wrong person, but I have a feeling I’m not going to be proud of how I react to the same heartbreaking question over and over. And at the same time, I don’t want to tell everyone that we don’t want to talk about it. It’s not fair to shut off entire sections of normal conversations just because I’m not strong enough to control my emotions the way I want.
E is talking about maybe moving in a year or two, which is sooner than I expected after our disagreements earlier this year. “We need more space,” she says, which…duh. She’s considering exploring adoption later next year, I’m hoping she’ll agree to meet with the agency within a few months since the process itself takes 9+ (as we’ve clearly seen). We found out recently that we’re allowed to have one public home study (ie. with our current county to do foster care) and one private home study (ie. with an agency for adoption) active at a time. So we can pursue adoption without closing our home to foster care, not that it would matter if we closed or stayed open as I don’t see any placements coming our way in the next year.
Things are okay otherwise. We aren’t fighting and nothing ground-breaking is happening in our lives, which is just fine with me. Our gym is getting some new classes and an additional location, so things are in flux, but it’s looking like E will get a class of her own and I’ll continue to be viewed as an unpaid babysitter (no, seriously, I’m still not being paid after 23 weeks). Still training, still rock climbing, still loving our dumb animals, and working a “meh” job.
I really hope that you guys haven’t given up on us or this blog. I promise that they won’t all be negative, but sometimes this whole thing is just too much. Waiting for a kid that I don’t think will ever come is painful and exhausting. And I hope you all understand (and I would assume that you do if you’ve read anything on this blog before now) that I’m not hoping a child gets removed from their family. They’re getting removed whether we foster or not. All I’m hoping for is to be the one our worker calls to take them.
I hope all of you out there have a great holiday season, whatever that means to you. Chag Urim Sameach, Happy Kwanzaa, and Merry Christmas to all of you.
Last week, TJ came and went in about 3 days. Her worker found a therapeutic home for both her and her younger sister, so they’ll get to be together and get the care they need. All good news and we were, admittedly, relieved to be back down to just us since we were still operating with just 1 car.
The day after her departure, our worker came over for our quarterly home visit. We chatted a bit and I finally shared with her the truth about our frustrations: we feel useless. We like providing respite and such, that’s great, but that is not the only thing we’re capable of handling. We’re confused and struggling with all the false calls and the long stint with no kids at all.
I asked what kinds of things we’re doing that make us unusable. She said, “Nothing.” And while that may have been a comfort for some, it was maddening to me. There is some reason that you call other people and not us. I don’t know if it’s the same reason every time or if it’s different every time, but the fact of the matter is you think about us for every child you get in and you never bring them to us. It’s not because we say no, it’s not because of daycare (she says), and it’s not because we’re so full that we just can’t handle more.
I asked if it was our bedroom situation, since we only have 1 dedicated at all times and that limits us to same-sex siblings, single kids, or siblings with one child under age 2. She said actually, she had considered us for a 3YO and 6YO, who turned out to be TJ’s younger siblings (of which there are 4, making 5 total in care), but that because we only had 1 bedroom, we weren’t a good fit. I’m going to come back to this in a moment, so remember this little paragraph.
I replied that we may only have one bedroom at that moment, but we could make a change within a few hours if we got a call that required it. She excitedly said, “Oh that’s good to know!” and scribbled it down on her notes (which I reviewed and signed before she left). I don’t know if this will change anything, but she seemed excited on the surface?
We still don’t have a solid reason for the long span of no placements and I don’t think we’re going to get one. She mentioned that “some of our families haven’t had placements in over a year” and I wanted to ask if they only want newborns, but I didn’t. I don’t think she’d have known off the top of her head even if I had asked.
On Friday, I was chatting with a friend of mine about the previous night’s visit and mentioned the 3 and 6YOs we were passed over for. I told her about what I’d said to our worker (“we could change that quickly”) and she said that they usually didn’t care about that, only what was already ready to go. That sounded weird, considering how excited our worker had been and I feel like if they didn’t like relying on promises to fix it before placement, she would have told me that (which she didn’t).
Then I remembered something: late in October, our worker and I were emailing back and forth about some respite information and I mentioned that we’d gotten a 3rd carseat and bassinet that weekend, so we were open to 3-child placements if they had any come up. In that email chain, she asked if we still only had 1 bedroom and I replied, “We do currently only have one bedroom ready to go, but could change that on pretty short notice.” I checked this email last week and sure enough, there it was, plain as day. With a response from her saying, “Great thanks!” so I know she at least mostly read the email.
So, basically, I had reiterated what we’d already said and she acted like it was news to her. We could have taken the 3 and 6YO because I had already told her about the room situation being flexible. Does E want to give up her space for a placement? No, but she would if a kid needed a spot to land. And it would only be relocation, she wouldn’t lose it entirely.
I have to be honest, y’all: I lost my mind over this. Knowing how close we were to a placement, even talking to her on the day she was trying to place those kids, telling her we could do it (without even knowing about the kids at all), and knowing she thought about us was too much to bear. Being thought about as an option and dismissed time after time is just…horrible. It’s worse than not being called at all, I will tell you that much. I could forgive that as just being forgotten.
But this? This is so much worse.
I’m trying to stay positive and it’s mostly working, but it is an active pursuit so I don’t drown myself in anger and frustration.
Over the weekend, we were able to get a second car from E’s parents (they admitted that they don’t need both since they’re both mostly retired/working from home). Even just 3 days in, that has been a huge help.
We did a respite day for a foster family, who we’ve helped out 3 or 4 times this year when they have a weekend work event. This kid is getting so big! And he finally sleeps super well, which makes respite really, really easy. I think he was only awake for like 4 of the 9 hours he was with us.
I got to do some quick volunteer work with our martial arts gym before respite and while it was only an hour, it was an hour of helping a family who needed it and that was awesome.
Yesterday, I slept in a little bit and then got to work on our disaster of an attic. I got 2x4s cut and slid in between the joists in our walk-up attic, creating shelves for stuff to get off the floor. Strollers, a pack n’ play, carseats, and kiddie clothes in vacuum bags are now elevated and while there’s a lot more work to do, things are looking better. I only got 8 shelves in, out of what will be close to probably 30 when I’m done, but it was a productive day anyway.
Today will be a busy work day and, as always, we’re hoping for the phone to ring.
Until next time,
I am one half of a marriage. As a couple, we are working foster parents, both holding down full-time jobs and additional full-time hobbies. We're still working on balancing it all while fumbling through our 2nd placement.