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,
Happy (belated) Thanksgiving to all of you! If you don't celebrate, I hope you had a good day off work or extended weekend and found all sorts of delightful deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This week, I have quite the update.
We visited E's parents this year because my parents are getting Christmas. Good news is: both sets are about 8 hours away so neither trip is harder than the other. We arrived at their new lake house around 11pm after E got off work and had a fine holiday week. Not too much food, a little bit of exercise, and lots of lounging and football-watching.
We left Sunday morning with the intention to get clothes washed and lunch packed for E to get back to work on Monday morning. Unfortunately, our truck had other plans. 90 minutes into our drive, the engine died and we had to be towed (with the dogs in the cab) to the only mechanic that was open on a Sunday. They told us they wouldn't be able to look at it until Monday and so, E left in a rental car and I stayed in a very nice hotel that night, in hopes of being able to pick up the car the next day.
Keep reading, I know this is boring, but it gets better.
Her 6-hour drive from where we got stranded to our house took her closer to 9 hours thanks to all of the holiday traffic. 4 hours from home, we get the call. There is an 11YO girl who is being displaced from her current foster home that night and needs a place to sleep. I called E, we both agree to take the placement, but warn the worker than E is in transit and won’t be home until nearly midnight.
The worker says she’s going to try to find another placement, but if she doesn’t, she’ll utilize us for sure. I urged her to call our close friends, who took a 13YO emergency placement over the summer, and the worker said that although they weren’t on the emergency list (even though they should have been), she was very familiar with them and would call them ASAP.
Our friends decided they weren’t up to it with their current newborn placement, but continued texting the worker back and forth to get some updates on previous placements and the like. I had my friend ask the worker if she’d found a place, about 2 hours after we’d talked, and she said she “had a maybe, but was waiting on confirmation from the agency.” They were so desperate they were trying to place outside the county, which is expensive for them.
Despite my better judgement, I asked E where she was and called the worker. She told me she was waiting on the confirmation and I told her that by the time she got that and the child got picked up and placed, E would be home.
The worker agreed and said that waiting for us was far better than the alternative, so E raced home and our 2nd placement, TJ, arrived right at midnight. They got as settled as they could and both passed out, from what I was told.
Come Monday, E went to work, TJ went to school, and I waited for the mechanic to call. Sometime that morning, a placement worker called and asked us how long we’d be willing to keep TJ to give them time to find a good placement. We discussed a week was our goal, but we could go a bit longer if needed. This kid is double our age range, so we definitely knew we weren’t right for her long-term. The placement worker said she likely wouldn’t need that long, but was grateful for our “flexibility”.
Finally the mechanic called and gave us the bad news: car wouldn’t be ready for at least another day. So we booked me a flight and I went to the airport. It took me 15 hours thanks to full flights and delays, but I finally crawled into my own bed at 3am on Tuesday morning. E survived her first day as a single parent and we crashed.
Yesterday E and I took TJ to school, I dropped E off at work, and I played hookie from work. I was so tired that I knew I’d be useless and by the time I would have recovered from my overnight flight, it’d be time to pick TJ up anyway. I went home, did some chores, and took a nap (which was much too short). Her social worker called as I was leaving to pick her up and told me that she had found a therapeutic foster home for TJ and her younger sister (who had remained in the previous home). This was great news! Not only would TJ be able to get settled quickly (as opposed to getting attached to us and then moving again), but she’d be back with her younger sister.
I picked TJ up from school, we ran errands, did homework, had dinner, and then vegged on some terrible gymnastics show on Netflix. I was so exhausted I don’t even know what was happening on the screen. Then it was time for an early bedtime, despite some half-hearted protests from a certain preteen, and we all woke up this morning much fresher. E and I decided that given TJ’s tendency to panic and over-analyze (which had presented itself as an issue almost immediately), we wanted to wait until breakfast to tell her about the move. We didn’t want her to be up all night thinking about the next placement, this kid was passing out to and from school so we know she needed sleep more than she needed the news.
E had to go to work early this morning, so it was just me. I mentioned that her worker had found a home for her and her sister together as she ate and despite being unusually quiet (likely trying to look tough for me), she seemed to take it well. We packed up her bag (which thankfully was not a trash bag) with the clothes she’d arrived with as well as the new clothes we’d gotten her and we left for school.
I dropped her off, watched her walk inside with her much-needed school supplies, and was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. I’ll tell you folks the truth: this kid was cool, but I certainly didn’t feel any sort of bond the way I did with baby K. I don’t know if it was just because she was so much older or if it’s because we knew she’d be temporary, I can’t tell. But I knew that I wasn’t attached just yet (not to say I couldn’t have, because I know I would have bonded with her if she’d stayed longer) and so I was surprised by the tears.
We want what’s best for these kids, even the ones that are way more than we can handle and show up in the middle of the night. I don’t know what’s coming next for TJ, but we gave her our phone number and email address so that if she ever needs us, she can reach out.
As I pulled away from her school this morning, ensuring she made it all the way inside (hello helicopter parenting), I received a message from baby K’s mom, responding to our request to send him Christmas presents. She said yes!
This 3-day adventure was a whirlwind and I can tell you, for sure, that E and I will be passing out tonight. We know TJ is going somewhere safe and now, best of all, we get to shop for presents for our favorite little guy (even if we don’t get to see him).
Our hearts go out to all of you, foster parents or not, during this exciting, but oftentimes trying time of the year. Keep your heads up and practice self-care to make it through!
Guys! I have yet another awesome guest post to share, this time from the amazing couple over at The Modern Foster Family blog! Make sure to check out their site, it's super informative, very funny, and very real (which are all things we hope to relate to).
We are writing this post after tucking Trevor and Ariel into bed for the night, 365 days after the first time we ever tucked them in. Today is the 1-year anniversary of them entering our lives and it is bitter sweet. When we opened our home to these kiddos (Possible Placements), we agreed to care for them for the weekend. If we said no, they would have spent the weekend in a hotel with a staff member from DHS. After one weekend, and with nowhere else for them to go, we decided we would continue to care for them as long as we could, or as long as they needed us. So, that is how we got from one weekend, to one year.
This anniversary is strange. We have been fostering for about 18-months now (Our First Year in Review), and have cared for 6 very special kiddos, but Trevor and Ariel have been in our lives longer than the other 4 combined. On one hand, this anniversary is quite an achievement and a milestone representing a lot of love and hard work, as well as growth and progress. It is something we can be proud of. It represents our family and the bond and love we have grown and worked so hard for. However, the anniversary also symbolizes failure, loss, struggle, and uncertainty. So much has happened in the last year, but not much has actually happened.
So here we are, one-year in to fostering these awesome kids, and although we have done so much for them, an experienced so much with them, on paper, we are in the exact same place as we were a year ago.
This last year has been filled with so many experiences for us as parents, as well as Ariel and Trevor as kids in a family. The year was filled with a lot of firsts. We had the first day of school, first trip to the coast, first time visiting the Children's Museum, Oregon Zoo, and OMSI. On top of that, the kids also had their first therapy sessions, first oral surgeries for teeth extractions, first medications, inaugural stay at a psychiatric unit, placement in a special needs classroom and placement in a therapeutic school.
For us, as parents, we had our first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, Mother's Day, Halloween, and visit from the Tooth Fairy with children in our home. These firsts, although exciting, were not always easy. Holidays bring up a lot of memories, emotions, and questions for kids. Although holidays and new experiences can be exciting, they are often difficult as well. Beyond the exciting "firsts" as parents, we also had a lot of not so fun "firsts". These included purchasing security cameras for our home due to the kids having a stalker from their past, as well as our first time dealing with ringworm and lice, watching the children's mother get arrested at a court appearance, attending IEP meetings, and visiting our kiddo in a subacute psychiatric facility. The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for all of us.
"Holidays bring up a lot of memories, emotions, and questions for kids"
The kids, especially Trevor, seem to know, at least subconsciously that right about now is an important milestone. They also seemed to understand, again, that about a month and a half ago, was a a major milestone, as it was one year since they entered foster care. We think they know, because we notice changes in their behavior and mood. Maybe we are projecting, but if there is one thing we have learned over the past year about kids, trauma, and the brain, it is that the brain is extremely complex. Trauma during early childhood has significant impact, and kids will surprise you with what they know, understand, and feel. Not knowing how we ourselves felt about the anniversary, we did not mention it to the kids at all.
We didn't want the kids to feel like they had to celebrate that they have been with us, and not their bio-family for over a year. It is a difficult situation. We are happy that we get to care for them, love them, and that they are safe, but as we mentioned in a previous post, being in foster care, no matter how positive your experience is, is not a happy event to have in your life. No child should have to experience foster care, and it did not feel right "celebrating" an anniversary having to do with foster care.
We didn't want the kids to feel like they had to celebrate that they have been with us, and not their bio-family for over a year. It is a difficult situation.
Another reason why we did not feel right celebrating the anniversary of their placement with us, is that it was never supposed to last this long. Foster care is supposed to be a temporary situation. Children need permanency, either with their bio-parents or family, or through adoption into a loving home. Foster care is not permanency, foster care is limbo. Foster care is the unknown. The fact that these kids have spent over a year in foster care, with no clear path forward toward permanency, is a failure of the system. The only positive takeaway from the last year is that the kids have not been moved. They have had only one other foster home before us, which is rare for any child with high needs in the system, let alone siblings.
Foster care is not permanency, foster care is limbo. Foster care is the unknown.
Foster parents care for the kiddos, it is the job of DHS to create permanency for the children, and the role of the bio-parents to do everything they can to work towards becoming safe and healthy parents capable of caring for their kids and be reunited with their kids. Over the last year, we, as foster parents have cared for Trevor and Ariel, and done a lot of work to ensure that these kids have the supports in place that they need and deserve. We have taken work off and exhausted our vacation and sick leave to attend an unimaginable amount of medical, school, and DHS appointments. During that same period of time, the kids have not had a single visit with their bio-dad, who has also missed multiple court dates regarding the permanency plan for the kids. Trevor has not seen his mom in over 6-months, and her sporadic attendance to bi-weekly visits has had a significant negative impact on his mental health. Neither mom nor dad have sought out the DHS and court ordered addiction support and mental health support, however they have both managed to be arrested. More discouraging than all of the failures of the bio-parents though, is the lack of a plan being presented by DHS and the courts.
Children need a plan, and since coming into care, the plan for Trevor and Ariel is reunification. Reunification is always the goal, until it is apparent that it is not possible. Everyone, us, DHS, the judge, the lawyers, the bio-grandparents, and even bio-mom, agree that reunification is not going to be a realistic outcome for these kids. Yet the plan remains reunification. This craziness, as far as we can tell, is a product of asinine rules at DHS that create a Catch 22 for the kids. Basically, the plan cannot be changed to adoption, and Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cannot be pursued until an adoptive resource is located. However, DHS cannot put a lot of resources forward toward locating an adoptive resource until the plan has been changed for adoption. The result, the kids remain in foster care.
Children need a plan, and since coming into care, the plan for Trevor and Ariel is reunification. Reunification is always the goal, until it is apparent that it is not possible.
So here we are, one-year in to fostering these awesome kids, and although we have done so much for them, an experienced so much with them, on paper, we are in the exact same place as we were a year ago. No plan in place for when their journey in foster care will end, or our services will no longer be needed. This is why the anniversary is bitter sweet. We are exhausted. We are depleted. It was never supposed to be for this long. We agreed for a weekend, and we agreed to continue caring for Trevor and Ariel as long as we could and as long as they needed us, but we never imagined that in a year, the timeline would be just as vague as when we opened our home to them for the weekend. The milestone is heartwarming from the outside, but a bit demoralizing from the front lines. Although we are exhausted and overwhelmed ourselves, we continue to focus on the fact that we are the ones who chose to be part of foster care, not Trevor and Ariel. A year into foster care, they deserve better. They deserve a plan. They deserve permanency.
I sincerely hope you guys enjoyed this guest post and take the time to check out this other amazing blog. You can follow their blog by using the links on their site or you can "like" them on Facebook!
Thanks again for visiting!
To start, we want to thank you for all of the time you put into us. You were with us from the very beginning and guided us through every step of this chaotic process. You came into our home and asked us personal questions, but laughed with us and eased the awkwardness of the situation. You scratched our cat, complimented our home, and worked later in the evening than anyone wants to to accommodate our own work schedules when you needed to conduct home visits. We are so grateful for you and tell many other foster families what a great resource you have been for us. I know that this would have come much sooner had you not been there for us.
Despite all of that, we do not feel that we are a useful resource family for [county] DSS. With the decrease in removals and increase of licensed families also taking kids in our preferred age range, we are not the best option for any of the kids in care. We cannot compete with other families and while that is excellent news for these kids, it's weighing heavy on our hearts. We have made significant changes to our home and our family to be better resources, but it's not enough. There are better families at your disposal and you have more than enough to satisfy the needs of these amazing kids.
We hope that this does not come across as retaliation for not receiving placements because it certainly is not. It's simply too challenging for us to face the fact that we are not enough and will not be enough anytime in the near future. We are so happy that you have so many options for families and so few kids coming into care, but it breaks our hearts when our phones don't ring for months on end.
This system is confusing and no one could argue that fact. And while we don't receive this kind of attitude from you, the fact is that we, as foster parents, are seen as babysitters. We are not seen as parents. We are not even seen as humans sometimes and that is troubling. It is gut-wrenching to receive an emergency call (the only one for 6 months), agree to take the placement with no notice, and then be told 3 days later that the child was never coming at all. We are expected to take things like this in stride and I think it's forgotten that we are people with hearts and feelings regarding these kids. We did not start this journey expecting to adopt a child, but we certainly expected to be helpful to children.
It is challenging to be told by professionals that we did an excellent job with our first placement, but to never be given the chance to do it again. It is impossible to see ourselves as helpful when we are passed over repeatedly for children, destined for better families than ours. We don't know what we could be or should be doing different and without that guidance, all we can do is guess and try things...none of which have been remotely helpful to [county] DSS.
As a result, we have decided to close our home to foster children. We will hopefully pursue this again in another area or with another agency in the years to come, but clearly we are not adequate and there is very little reason to continue on, demanding more of your time and management for no reason.
We sincerely hope that you continue to have more available homes than foster children in care so that they can all get the best of what [county] has to offer. We appreciate all that you have done for us and will never forget what a difference you have made.
We have not yet sent this letter, as we are not sure that we're ready to close just yet. But the time is coming when we have to make a decision for our hearts and our sanity.
It's been a long time since we had K. We marked the 200th day last week and that was a rough one. It's not that we want him back (we'd love to just get to see him now and then), but we feel utterly useless. Our county doesn't need us and when so many counties are scrambling to find homes for their young children, ours is leaving dozens of homes empty.
Don't be fooled: things here haven't improved. There hasn't been a major shift in services or prevention, it's just a lack of staffing needed to do true investigations, so only the worst of the worst gets looked at. Kids are staying in situations that they'd have been removed from if it had been this time last year. I wish I could say something revolutionary was happening that was preventing the removal of kids, but it's just a lack of manpower. Those of us involved with the foster care system in our area are just waiting for the horrible day when a child dies at the hands of their parent(s) because CPS didn't investigate like they should have. Then they'll staff quickly and removals will spike because they'll be overly-cautious...and then over the course of several years that will shift back and the same cycle will start over.
We've been licensed for a full year now. We have had 1 placement. Up until Saturday afternoon, we'd only received 3 placement calls. That day, we got call #4. I answered, E answered, and we said yes. Then we paced and waited. We were hesitant to make any sudden moves or plans because this stuff falls through.
Sunday came and we heard back from the CPS worker: everything was still on, baby was being discharged Monday afternoon and we'd be called to pick her up when that happened. Then we got stuff. We didn't really have newborn things, certainly not for a girl as small as she was. So we purchased some clothes, got some bottles (same ones they use at the hospital) and got the kid's room set up (it had become a dumping ground over the last 6 months).
Monday rolled around and E went to work. I busied myself as best I could, found a daycare to step in when she was old enough (our favorite one), got our daytime sitter on deck for the next day, and got the new clothes washed and put away. Then our worker called: there had been a mistake. Evidently CPS doesn't have access to DSS files and so the weekend worker didn't know that this little girl had a sibling in care. She was going to go to that family instead.
Yes, of course we're glad she's going to be with her sibling, but we were crushed. It was like someone just yanked the rug out from under us and we both hit the floor. Hard. That was that. Everything was over.
We now have clothes we can't use. We have a Halloween costume that will likely go to waste. We had to call our parents and several close friends, I had to call daycare back and say not to hold a spot for us.
We don't want anyone to get the wrong idea with this. We don't want there to be more kids than there are homes. We don't want kids taken from their families without cause. We want kids protected and safe. And we want to be the safe landing spot for those kids.
It's hard not to be a good fit for 6 months, despite being told repeatedly what a "great job" we did with K. It doesn't seem to count for much.
Like so many could tell you, the emotions involved with foster care are very rarely all happy or all sad. It's typically a mixture. And right now, we're mostly sad but slightly happy. And that is so hard to deal with.
So we'll go back to the bottom of the pile and just keep waiting. That's all we can do.
Guys! I have the best surprise for you today! One of my closest friends, who is also a same-sex foster parent, has been kind enough to write a guest post for me, regarding something she deals with daily: Early Intervention!
My friend, V, is a Occupational Therapist, who works with local counties through their Early Intervention programs to help young children (both foster and not) who have fallen behind the curve on developmental milestones. She also works professionally with older children on the Austism spectrum with a local support school, which is the only one of its kind for several hundred miles. She is truly amazing and I am so, so happy to share her with you!
So here it is: V's take on Early Intervention and why it's critical for kids in care.
Alright foster parents, let’s talk about Early Intervention.
What is it? Who is it for? And why do we not all know about it?!
Early Intervention goes by different names in different states, such as "Zero to Three", "Strong Start", or "Parent Infant Program". The program serves babies and toddlers with disabilities or delays from birth to age three and their families. Children can be found eligible for services such as occupational therapy (OT), speech therapy (ST), physical therapy (PT), or other services. These services are typically delivered in the home or at daycare and are covered by the State or insurance.
"The program serves babies and toddlers...from birth to age three..."
But why are we talking about Early Intervention on a foster parent blog?
Here’s the thing: I haven’t researched other states, but here in our state, all foster children under age 3 are supposed to get a referral for an evaluation when they enter care. It is part of the state process for removal and placement. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Children often come into care for medical neglect, physical abuse, and undernourishment, any of which can cause the child to fall behind in development. Unfortunately, in my year of experience fostering I have only had one child referred to Early Intervention. In her case, she came to me from the NICU and the hospital refers all their babies, foster placement or not.
"...all foster children under age 3 are supposed to get a referral for an evaluation when they enter care."
I have known many foster babies through work, networking with other families, and by fostering myself. Most of the time they could use some help catching up with meeting their milestones. The problem is, parents (foster included) may not want to hear that there may be something “wrong” with their cute, happy baby. They don't want the child to be labeled.
Which means I can’t tell my friends they really should get an evaluation because the child they have been caring for looks like (s)he may be behind. Most parents get defensive and won’t seek out the referral, but I shouldn’t even have to mention it to people I meet that have foster children because it's supposed to be done! I risk losing friends by even suggesting an evaluation.
Every one of us should be instructed to get an evaluation done when we get a new placement. No hurt feelings and nothing personal against a specific child. It should just a normal part of the process to make sure every child is getting as much care as they need when they enter foster care, and as soon as they enter foster care.
"...parents (foster included) may not want to hear that there may be something “wrong” with their cute, happy baby. They don't want the child to be labeled."
So here is what I am hoping for.
Social services is overwhelmed, and I know that. They don’t always do everything laid out in the policies written for the best case scenario. We are used to being advocates for these kids and Early Intervention services is just one more thing to add to the list.
If you get a placement under the age of three, call your county program and ask for an evaluation. I have self-referred two of my babies. They won’t always qualify. One of my placements stayed just below the percent delayed he needed to be to get services, and that’s okay. Asking for more professional eyes on your child is not hinting that there might be an issue.
"If you get a placement under the age of three, call your county program and ask for an evaluation."
When I, as your friend, suggest you get an evaluation, don’t take it as an assault or an insult. Maybe they will score on track, but maybe, just maybe, they will qualify for services that could help them do even better. Isn’t that worth it? Especially when the therapists will come to you and won’t cost you anything but a little of your time. Think of this as another medical appointment to be done in the first 30 days. You wouldn't skip the pediatrician, would you? Don't skip this.
Now you know. Spread the word. Make an Early Intervention evaluation part of your routine every time you get a little as a placement. A lot of people work hard to have these systems in place so let’s take full advantage and give our kids every opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive!
So there you have it! Spread the word, make the call, get the evaluation done to get your foster child the services they need.
No shame, no labels, just help!
I see this question a lot on forums and Facebook groups. We've even been asked this in person a few times.
Where/How do I start?
Well, friends/readers/strangers, you (probably) have some options. I will tell you that I cannot speak for all areas, I can only speak for my area and my state. Every state is different and even jurisdictions in the same state will run with their own policies and things. So, keep that in mind as you read this particular post.
If your area is anything like mine, you have some options. The most common of which are:
Private agencies are funded in part by the government, donations, and other funding efforts. Going forward for the sake of ease, I will be referring to these as "agencies". These are not the same as private adoption agencies. Don't get the two mixed up.
Local departments are funded entirely by the federal, state, and local governments. I will be referring to the department as "DSS" or "the state".
Let's start at the beginning: the removal.
DSS will receive a removal notification from Child Protective Services (CPS), who usually operates separately from the foster care portion of DSS. They are the officers who do the actual investigation and physical removal before a child is in foster care. Sometimes DSS gets some warning from CPS (which would result in a "maybe" call to a foster family/group home/residential treatment center) and sometimes they don't, like in the case of an emergency removal in which the child is found to be in immediate danger and is seized.
Planned removals happen after extensive investigation and legal proceedings, eventually resulting in approval from the judge for CPS to remove a child. CPS would, generally, notify DSS of the impending placement either directly before or directly after the judge grants the removal, so they can have time to find a placement. Sometimes, this means a family disappears and the child disappears with them. This happens a lot more than you'd think and we've had several close friends had this happen with placements they agreed to take, which is endlessly troubling.
So, we're going to talk about an emergency removal for the sake of clarity. A CPS investigation results in the immediate removal of a child. The removal occurs and CPS calls DSS, who then transfers the information to the placement worker(s). Sometimes these people are also social workers coordinating directly with biological or foster families, sometimes handling placements is their entire job. Depends on demand.
In our area, our family social worker is also our placement worker.
The order of events looks like this (as confirmed by social workers in our jurisdiction):
There is no database of foster families and their attributes. There is no formal process to find the best match, regardless of which worker is physically in the office or receives the placement first.
Yes, I'm serious.
Okay, so if that's how the process works in your area (again, can't confirm anything more than our office), wouldn't it make the most sense to get licensed directly the state so you're on their list?
Not necessarily. Let's look at the pros and cons of DSS licensing you versus a private agency licensing you.
Local Departments of Social Services:
These guys are the "front lines", so to speak. Generally they handle your training, your background check, your fingerprints, and your home study. In our area, the licensing worker remains your assigned social worker (barring a personnel change) and so they're supposed to know you pretty well. They'll conduct visits to your home, touch-bases (via email or phone if not in person), and largely act as your contact for DSS.
They get the placements in their jurisdiction first. The easy, highly-sought after kiddos will get snatched up by DSS families (ie. the healthy babies, the cute easy toddlers, etc.), while the tougher kiddos will pose more of a challenge for DSS to place (like teens, older kids with behavior issues, drug-addicted or exposed babies, etc.). Usually, a large enough city/county will be able to place within their own ranks, but sometimes they have to go outside their office to a private agency for the really tough cases (or if their foster families are all full).
So if you want little easy ones, this is your best bet. But there are some serious downsides that shouldn't be overlooked.
You will not have a lot of support most of the time. These social workers are underpaid, overworked, and seriously understaffed. They have extremely large case loads, which means no case is getting the attention it needs, and the bureaucracy is maddening to deal with (from their end and yours).
You stand to be lied to intentionally or unintentionally as oftentimes, DSS won't be able to or won't want to tell you the whole story. You're signing up for a lot mystery sometimes, especially with little ones who have no history with DSS. There's often very little documentation to share with you about what you're being asked to take on.
You will be abandoned at some point, whether it be a social worker out of town, caught up in a week-long training, or just completely gone from the department. Often, you won't know until you need them and find out after a week of hearing nothing that they're gone/busy/out-of-office, etc.
You can bet on a tiny staff over nights, weekends, and holidays (if there's staff at all). This doesn't seem like a big deal until your 7YO foster son is having a violent rage and you can't reach anyone for help, except the police. Trust me, it happens.
Despite all of those negatives, these offices are desperate for foster parents and unless you're in a crazy alternate universe like us, you'll get called constantly. They will try their best to fast-track your training, checks, fingerprints, and home studies so they can start utilizing you right away. If you want speed (or littles), this is where you want to go.
These are referred to as "private" because of how they're funded. They do take some government funds (in some areas), but in general they're privately funded...which means they can make some of their own rules within the confines of the law. They can choose not to work with same-sex couples, single parents, interracial couples, and older people.
Agencies act as contractors for DSS. If DSS struggles to find a placement for a child, they will send the child's information to the private agencies they contract with to ask what families they might have open. Generally this means that the children being placed through private agencies are from smaller areas with fewer foster parents available or are more challenging and therefore "difficult to place".
Typically, agencies are providing "therapeutic" or "treatment" foster homes. This just means that the parents in these homes have more specialized and in-depth training (and support) to handle more challenging kids, behaviors, and needs. Support staff is available 24/7 for these families to help in moments of crisis, which can be a huge relief when a kiddo is losing their mind at 2am or over a holiday weekend when DSS is on vacation, barely running a skeleton crew.
Reality is, most of the kids in care could fall into the "treatment foster care" bucket. All of these kids have higher needs than normal, whether that be the drug-addicted newborn or the raging 5YO who loses his literal shit in school every day. These kids aren't always easy (not that most kids are) and extra support is never a bad thing, so remember that.
Agencies are usually contracted with multiple DSS offices within a reasonable distance. In our state, that's any office within about 2 hours of the agency. At this moment, that encompasses more than 1500 kids. You definitely pull from a larger pool than if you were to work directly with the state, as long as you're willing to meet the agency's requirements.
One of the downsides, though, is you can expect a lot more visits and "hands in the pot". DSS still pays for daycare, they pay you, and they have to pay for any services the kiddo gets...on top of paying the private agency for the management of the case. So you can expect visits from DSS, the agency (usually multiple times a month), therapist(s), the guardian ad litem (or GAL), and potentially a CASA worker.
Another downside is that you'll be seen by DSS as kind of a last resort. They will search high and low through their ranks to find one of "their own" families to use first, simply because it's easier and cheaper (plus they don't know you). In a high-demand area, this won't matter because the need is so great, but in an area with lesser needs for foster parents, this could mean you're waiting months and months for a placement call.
Which do I choose?
Well that really depends on what you're after.
If you're okay with a slower process, but tougher kids in favor of more support, you should consider a private agency.
If you want little kids, but are okay with waiting at the front end and don't feel you need as much support, you could easily go with directly with DSS.
Both paths will frustrate you. Both paths will bring you to a point where you want to just quit and walk away from the whole thing. Both paths could bring you to your destined family unit, but you won't know until you get there.
I hope some of this has been informative for all of you (or even just some of you). Feel free to comment or contact me with any questions, I'm happy to answer them as best I can!
Remember that this is very area-specific and some states (like NY) are very, very reliant on private agencies while other states don't use them at all. You need to do your research on the area you're in to find out what your options area and how they work.
Until next time,
You know when you go to the doctor and they ask you to rate your pain, using some numbers and smiling/frowning faces on a little chart?
Typically, people rank much higher than they actually are feeling because the vast majority of us only know moderate pain. If you can sit up, talk to the doctor, and you drove yourself to the office...your pain is not an 8. It might be a 5.
We, as humans, are prone to exaggeration. From that comes overreacting, general pessimism, and other such behaviors. I think sometimes we lose sight of the worst times because time has a tendency to cause sharp edges to dull, including those associated with sharp, painful memories. That amount of time can vary, though, and is highly dependent on each person's personality, the intensity of the event itself, and our coping strategies after the pain.
I'm not here to tell you that "time heals all wounds". It doesn't. Not even close. If anything, we heal our wounds but not all wounds heal and not all of them heal the same. I also think it's important to note what I mean by "heal" and what people think when someone says that time will "heal" all wounds. "Heal" does not mean erase, "heal" does not mean an absence of pain, it just means the wound is closed.
Let's think about how the human body heals itself.
The process is slow; excruciatingly slow in some instances. The blisters appear, the scabs itch, the skin sheds, or the sore weeps. It's gross. Your body makes weird fluids in response to that burn or cut or brush with poison ivy. It can make you sick as you poison the cancer out of your own cells, trying to drive out death.
Even when the healing is done, the body never gets it 100% right. The wound, provided it's more than a paper cut or a bruised knee, won't heal perfectly. You're no longer sporting the wound itself probably, but more than likely there's a scar or some other indication of the trauma. The freckles from the sunburn you got when you were 12, the scar on your forearm from the time you brushed against the oven rack retrieving a pan of chicken, or the self-harming scars in various locations.
The wounds are closed. The body is back to being sealed, but the evidence remains. You can look at your new decal and remember how it got there (or maybe sometimes you can't remember, which is okay, too). Sometimes you can remember the itch of the scab or the sharp pain of the stitches and it feels like it's happening. You reach and touch the old site and remember that it's in the past, your body isn't in pain. Usually that's enough to stop the phantom feelings, but not always.
Emotional trauma is very much like physical trauma, but it's also very different. Your mind heals, your heart heals, but they don't do it perfectly. You have scars where you didn't before. You have phantom itches or pain. You are changed by those wounds, your brain rewires and adapts to its surroundings as best it can, changing things about you that you don't realize have changed until you're on the other side, wondering why the fuck you just did that crazy thing you just did.
We try to find home remedies for our wounds, whether physical, mental, or emotional. We drink herbal tea to calm our minds and hearts, or we drink alcohol to dull our minds and quiet our hearts. We seek out friendships or cut off friendships, hoping that the companionship (or lack thereof) will help with the storm raging inside of us.
Sometimes, but not often enough, we realize that these home remedies are not cutting it and we need medical attention. We call our doctor or our therapist, sometimes both. We tell them about our wounds, our scars, our phantom itches. They (the good ones, anyway) give us suggestions or medications or refer us to specialists they feel can help. Hopefully, we follow their advice and things improve...even if the scars don't.
Sometimes we don't call on medical professionals for help. Our home remedies work or we...pretend they work so we don't have to think about the itching, seeping wounds on our bodies or our souls. We just wish them or will them away until they become infected and spread, leeching the life out of us.
I have been ignoring my wounds, letting them fester and grow on my heart.
I have tried home remedies long enough and it's time, now, to call in the medical professionals. My pain is a 2, but it's a nagging, persistent 2. I can go to work, I can teach my kid's program, I can play video games, I can love my pets, I can love my wife, and I can love my friends. But I can't get through a day without worrying about K, obsessing over our next placement, or kicking myself for my mistakes last week.
So, readers, how would you rate your pain?
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 waiting on our next placement.