Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You're not my Mommy!

My life is all about new territory these days. Blazing through the Foster Care frontier! My most recent adventure has been trying to explain foster care to a child who is verbal and has an opinion about where he'd like to live.

Babies 1-3 were so different. They have no idea what foster care is. They couldn't correlate their abuse/neglect with moving in with me. I never had to tell them that they were going to stay with us or that they were going to have 2 families and houses now. Baby 4 is a whole new ballgame. He was completely aware that something was fishy about his new friend Teresa who visited all the time and talked about her house a lot. She's not like the other people who work at the hospital. He knows that not everybody goes "home" with a new family after they leave the hospital.

While he's old enough to know something's a wry, he's also too little to sit him down and say, "You are going to stay with me until a judge says you can go home, but you can still visit your Dad. This way you'll be safe.". He also won't be saying to me anytime soon, "I appreciate the offer to live here, but I'm really invested in my current family.". Instead we've had several brief discussions about the changes in his life.

The first happened at the hospital. I had been spending all of Baby 4's waking hours with him, about 9am- 8pm, but we hadn't mentioned him living with us or anything relating to foster care. I was trying to get 4 into his room to eat dinner, but he wanted to stay in the hallway playing. When I insisted he take a break to eat, he said, "I'm mad!". I asked what he was mad about, and he answered, "I'm mad that you're not my Mom!". I said, "I'm mad about that too. I'm sorry." That was satisfactory for him, and we went into his room and ate dinner.

Baby 4 calls me and Brandon by our first names because that's all we've called ourselves to him. Since we have no idea how long Baby 4's stay will be, we thought introducing "Mommy Teresa" was an unnecessary complication for a little guy who has more important things to worry about. Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn't get that we don't need labels to be a family. So when we went to get Easter pictures taken at Target, the photographer said, "Baby 4! Get closer to Mommy and Daddy!". Baby 4 said, "She's NOT my Mommy!" and stopped posing with us. 4 also informed my Dad that, "She's not a Mama.", when he slipped and called me that to baby 4.

When I reminded baby 4 that if he teases the dog with a toy, the dog will try to eat it- baby 4 yelled, "I don't love it here!". He has also asked to "Go bye-bye" and "Go home". After he talks to his Dad or Grandma on the phone, he cries and says, "I don't stay here!".

My responses are always very short: "I'm sorry you miss your Daddy.", "I know I'm not your Mom.", "I'm sorry you're mad.", "She must have thought I was your Mom because I love you so much.", "Tell me about your home.", "Where do you want to stay?", "Your house sounds really nice".

These short snippets of explanations are building up Baby 4's understanding of foster care and his new life with 2 families. I'm learning to be sensitive to his triggers and give honest, age-appropriate responses to his outbursts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Paparazzi Please!

We have been loving Baby 4 this week! Since we don't do anything the easy way, our first week with him has been full of ups and downs. We are exhausted, but it's 9:00 and as soon as I post this, I can go to bed!

I went back and forth about posting this picture since you can't see him,
 but I swear there is a really cute child in that bed
First, the "ups". Baby 4 is ADORABLE!! He has the biggest smile and cutest tiny voice. He's also very funny and he really understands humor, so he's fun to joke with. He's also doing much better medically than we (or anyone) expected. His doctors tell me that 3 weeks ago he was sedated, on large amounts of morphine, swollen from head to toe, intubated, and being fed through a tube. There was speculation of brain damage, permanent physical impairment, a future filled with many surgeries, and a lifetime of intensive medical care. When I met him on Tuesday he was awake, disconnected from every machine, eating regular food, talking, walking, playing with toys, and helping the techs check his vitals. Right now he is being weaned off his pain meds and being decannulated from his tracheostomy. This all means he'll be coming home with no medical care needed except some wound bandaging and physical therapy!! We consulted with a plastic surgeon who said he thinks reconstructive surgery will be unnecessary in the future and that he will have flat scars that will allow him to grow and move normally. He is a miracle, and I know it is because we have been surrounded by praying people who rallied for him weeks ago when he needed healing. Another great thing is that we have met Dad, and he is very pleasant. Phew! It just makes everything easier when parents are nice. Today at the hospital, I must have looked bothered (but really I was just tired) and Dad pulled me aside to make sure that I was OK and that he hadn't done anything to offend me. Baby 4 has also been assigned a caseworker who seems very on top of things- always a plus. So to sum it up, Baby 4 is doing great, and the case seems like it will be a smooth as a foster care case can be.
What goes up must come down though, eh? The first "down" is that Baby 4 is still in the hospital even though his medical team said he was well enough to go home on Wednesday. The problem with discharge was that I hadn't been in the hospital with him long enough to be fully trained in his care. Had I been allowed to start visiting him when I wanted to (immediately), he could have been home by now. There has also been a problem with finding a local agency who can provide nursing for him at home since there is a shortage of home nurses. If he had to go home with a trach, he wouldn't be discharged from the hospital until there was at least a night nurse lined up for him. This led to the talks of taking out the trach, so I guess it wasn't all bad. While we are adding to our family with Baby 4, we are also saying goodbye to a dear man who my kids call Uncle Bill. He passed away Thursday after a 3mo fight with lung disease. Bill and Brandon had a father/son relationship for the past 20yrs and we are very sad to say goodbye. Brandon has been given bereavement time from work so he can make final arrangements. While I am still spending everyday with Baby 4, the emotional and time toll on Brandon is effecting how much bonding he can do with 4.

Uncle Bill 12/23/1933 - 3/24/2011
The other down is that Baby 4 has been in the hospital for 7weeks with no consistent caregiver, routine, structure, or expectations. That has led to some behavior issues and bad habits (like a midnight bedtime and 5+ hrs of daily TV). I have had a difficult time coming in and getting him into a 4yr old's schedule when he's used to being the boss. He also has a lot of anger stemming from the incident that caused his condition, so teaching him to manage such strong (but not unreasonable) emotions is proving to be a challenge. Today, only 4 days in, he was in PJ's at 7:00 and it only took 20min to get him to say "sorry" to Brandon for hitting him.
This case is very different for us in many ways. Baby 4 is our oldest child. He's our first "medically frail" child (said in quotes because he's really not frail anymore), and our first behavior case. I think the biggest difference is that this case has gained some very unexpected media attention. Like I mentioned before, Baby 4 has been in the hospital for 7 weeks, so no one thought this "old news" would make the nightly news. Turns out we were wrong. Brandon and I were sitting in Baby 4's hospital room on Wednesday when the hospital's social worker came in and whispered to me that Baby 4's story had been on every news station at noon. His Mom's name and picture had been shown as well as pictures and names of their apartment complex and the hospital. She said they were going to place security guards at the entrance to the pediatric unit to make sure no unwanted guests got close to Baby 4. She also said not to turn on live TV in the room because there have been frequent updates about Baby 4 on the local stations. I immediately got on the internet and saw what she was talking about. There were details about the incident and baby 4's condition as well the state of the investigation. All the articles I read and the reports I saw at 11:00 that night said that Baby 4 was surrounded by family to take care of him.

The general rule in foster care is that you never identify yourself as the foster parent in front of the child because it breaches confidentiality and shares too much of the child's information unnecessarily. The exception to the rule is in the hospital where no one will tell you anything about the child unless you have a reason to know- like being his primary caregiver. I've had to identify myself to every hospital staff person we've seen  before they'll talk in front of me. So when a man came to Baby 4's room on Thursday evening wearing a hospital ID and claiming to be clergy looking for the guardian of Baby 4, I told him I was the foster parent. He said his church had seen the news and contacted the family who asked for help from the church. He has connections to a prominent children's hospital out of state who agreed to airlift Baby 4 that night and pay for his medical care. He asked how Baby 4 was doing, and seemed annoyed that I would only give him the standard "He's in stable condition" response. He called Baby 4 by his first name which was red flag because no one uses his first name, he goes by a nickname. If this man really had spoken to the family, he would have known that. The next sign something was wrong was when he asked to take a picture of Baby 4. I told him I could not allow that and asked that he direct all questions to the caseworker. I asked him for his name, his churches name, phone number, etc and told him I would have Dad call him. As soon as he left, I told the hospital social worker what happened . She assured me that she would find out what was going on and it would not happen again. They flagged baby 4 as a "no information patient" which means if someone calls the hospital or comes in and asks about Baby 4 the hospital can't give out any information including room #, condition, or even if he is still in the hospital. They also started stopping everyone who came into the unit and made them be cleared to visit by me or Dad before they were let in the room. Unfortunately some damage had already been done. By 10:00, this man was on the local stations promoting his church and the out of state hospital and talking about all the medical expenses he is paying for ($0 since kids in care are fully covered by Medicaid). He tells the reporters that he is close to the family and has seen Baby 4 who is getting stronger everyday and will soon be taken out of state. He also uses Baby 4's name when talking about it.

I had wondered coming into this case if I could love an older child as fast and deep as with my babies. When I saw that "Reverend" using my son's trauma to get 15min of fame, I could have ripped his heart out with my bare hands. I felt like the vampires in the Twilight movies when they crouch down and show their teeth while protecting the vulnerable human they love. Good to know there's no problem bonding to a 4yr old as opposed to a baby.

When Baby 4's uncle came to visit him at the hospital today, he told me the news stations have been calling him to give a statement about his condition. The TV is on while I type this and I see a woman being interviewed who hasn't been to the hospital to visit Baby 4 at least since I've been involved, but says she's his cousin who is very close to him. She's detailing who he lived with and when since he was born and giving her opinion about what happened to him.

The public is intrigued by what will happen in his story, and I don't know how that will effect the case. Hopefully the media will get bored and move on. The news coverage doesn't effect how I will parent, but I'm nervous it will effect how he is seen in the community. There were so many details shared about him in the media, anybody who sees his scars will know he's the kid on the news. I also wonder how he'll feel about the sensationalism in the reports that are coming out now as he gets older. Some articles say that he is "disfigured", which is grossly untrue, and his Mom is called a lot of terrible things. Will he want to see these? Should I save them, or is it better to hide the media aspect of his case so he's not hurt or confused by the untrue assumptions or negative language used when talking about his family? I've decided to save the articles I have, but keep them somewhere where he won't accidentally find them.

Tomorrow I'm doing a 24hr visit at the hospital where I'll care for all Baby 4's needs while being observed by the nurses. I've been doing most of his care anyway since I've been with him 9am-8pm since Tuesday. I do think it'll be good for us to be together for a full 24hrs before coming home though. If the nurses sign off that I am capable and confident, We'll be bringing him home!! I better get some sleep tonight, because soon I'll be back in full Mommy mode!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Playroom Makeover

Baby 4 is official. He's being released from the hospital and coming into care in 3 days. I still don't know what level of care he'll require, but I'm going to start shadowing his medical team tomorrow morning after his parents are told about his placement. The senior intake caseworker called me Friday and said, "You're a nurse, right?" Nope, not even close. She told me that they are starting to feed him by mouth, but with a 4yr old's haste he's not chewing properly and has aspirated quite a few times. She told me I needed to have current CPR certification before we could take him home. It's not her fault, but I could have been doing that for the past 2 weeks instead of rushing around trying to find a class on the weekend before I need it. Ugh! The red cross was holding an all-day training on Tuesday, but I need to be in the hospital as much as possible before 4 comes home so I get comfortable with his needs. Thankfully my good friend, Carla, knew to check the American Heart Association for online classes. They do in fact have online CPR training that was very helpful and convenient. I did it yesterday and I just have to do my skills assessment at the training facility tomorrow to be certified for 2yrs. I gather from other foster parent blogs I read that other agencies make foster parents be CPR certified no matter what kids are placed with them, but our county does not. Hopefully they reimburse the cost of training though ($65?!?!).

This week was particularly boring for us so we did a little math. Turns out:

Time + Tax return $ = Home Improvement Projects.

We decided to tackle our upstairs bathroom which is an eyesore and occasionally leaks in various places. 27 minutes into our trip to Home Depot, we realized we didn't have to foggiest idea how to fix our bathroom. So we turned our sights to setting up a playroom that can also be used as a therapy room for Baby 4!

We have a room off the kitchen that we were calling a breakfast nook. It held an extra dining set that was only used when we had more than 6 people over for dinner. We'll call that three times/year. When we bought the house that room was going to be the homeschool room. Since we can't homeschool kids in care, we won't need a homeschool room for a while. This room was just begging for a makeover. It said, "Let your family bring their plates to the living room if the dining room table is full. Please make me pretty!".
So we stripped it down to a hanging window plant and  subfloor

Picked up rosewood colored laminate

Brandon painted the walls a creamy yellow and installed the floor

Time for some more math!!
Adult seating + Kids seating + Awesome playmat + Toy Storage = BEST PLAYROOM EVER
Adult Seating
Kids Seating (Thank you Carla)

Awesome Playmat

Toy Storage

Best Playroom Ever
My only contribution to this room was shopping for the curtains, and I brought along a friend to help me with that. Brandon is the playroom master. I can't wait to see Baby 4 play in it!! The best part is that we can still have people eat in there if need be, I can blog in there while the kids play, AND it will transition easily to a homeschool room when we are ready for that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Puppies and Placements

Respite 4 is back! Her foster mom had a death in the family and they needed to go out of state for the week. Respite 4 is the only child we've had that hasn't adjusted well to our animals. Even with all the precautions we take when mixing our furry friends with our foster friends, we needed to add to our bag of tricks to make her comfortable in our home.

We have 2 dogs and a cat. They were our babies before foster care. They got demoted down to pet status the day Baby 1 came home. I think the only reason they stood for being kicked off the furniture and bedrooms is because they love having to keep up with our kids.

Persephone- the first pet our kids start loving

Our dogs have been socialized with children since we got them at 12wks old -which is number 1 on the To Do list before bringing any children into the family. They are not super-trained and obedient, but they have been taught not to take anything out of people's hands and they are sensitive to little humans. We had to provide vet papers and vaccine records for all our animals during certification. We also started keeping them out of the kids rooms and set up the baby chairs/bouncers/swings and big toys before we were certified so they were used to all the baby clutter. The biggest thing before bringing in kids is to get your animal comfortable with children. Our cat has also been around children since she was a kitten, but she's a little different because she hangs out in the basement when the kids get too close for her liking.

Mr. Big- 3yr ShiTzu/Pekingese BEFORE grooming
We were told in our certification MAPP training that many children who come into care have only known dogs that were used for protection. They may have never been around animals at all, or been taught not to touch animals because they will bite. Even children who have had pets in the past are coming into a strange new house with a strange new family. They don't know what to expect, and a large furry canine is the last thing that will make them feel comfortable-at first.
Harley Quinn- 1.5yr old ShiTzu/German Shepard BEFORE grooming

Once children are confident around animals though, we have seen a great bond form that connects them to our family. Children are made to have pets. A good kid/dog relationship can give kids a constant friend and confidante, responsibility, and ownership of something good.  The very start of this process is getting kids and dogs to be calm around each other.

We don't often know when kids are coming into our home, but when we first go certified, and when we knew our kids were going home- so new kids we probably coming soon- we made grooming appointments for our dogs. Shaving their usually long hair makes them look smaller, less intimidating, and rids them off any extra temptations for kids to pull on them. We also stock up on biscuits to keep them occupied when the child first enters our house, and for the child to feed to the dogs because everyone of our kids has loved doing this.

Harley and Big AFTER grooming- ready for foster care!!

The babies have have all been too young to notice the dogs when they came to us. When I came home with them, we just held them and let the dogs play outside for a bit while we settled in. The dogs came in from the backyard after 15min or so, I gave them a biscuits and they were happy as clams.

The respites were a different story. They were all aware of the dogs and every one of them was afraid. The very first thing I did was let the adult who was bringing them to us know that we had animals. So the case worker and foster parent could prepare the kids before they actually saw the dogs. When they came to the door, I had the dogs baby-gated in our breakfast room and chewing on biscuits so they didn't bark. We got the kids in, showed them their rooms, and offer a snack (Foster parent trick- ALWAYS offer food to new kids asap). After they settle, we ask them if they want to see the dogs. We tell them the dog's name, let them see us pet the dogs, and I always say, "Big and Harley are very nice. They love to give kisses. Isn't it so funny that dogs give kisses by licking?!" Respites 1-3 wanted to pet the dogs at that point and after that goes well, we take down the gate and let the kids give them biscuits so the dogs are occupied for a couple of minutes while I get the kids engaged in play.

The respites have all asked about biting. We are always reminding them, "Our doggies only bite food. I will not let anything hurt you here.". We also set 'Safe Rules' for how we treat animals. We touch the pets softly on their backs from collar to tail. Pets get privacy when they are eating and drinking. If the pet runs away from you, leave them alone.

Respite 4 has a bloody-murder scream that she reserves for occasions when the dogs look at her. She talks all day long about how the dogs are going to eat her. If the dog should happen to walk past her, her whole body shakes and she starts crying. The first weekend she stayed with us, we left the dogs gated in one room the whole time.

Her next stay was 9 days long. We tried everyday to introduce the dogs to her- holding her on our lap while they sat across the room, holding them on leashes while she plays, bringing her to them while they are locked in a crate. Nothing made her any more comfortable. After 2 days we had to be tough. I let them out and soothed her the best I could while she screamed and shook. The dogs never got near her since she was scaring them with her noise, but that didn't matter to her- she was terrified. I finally got her to start yelling, "I'm not afraid of you, dogs!" instead of screaming, and I told her she could play in her bedroom with the baby gate up if she wanted to be away from the dogs. I let her see me play with the dogs and let them be outside as much as they wanted so Respite 4 could be in alone.

This week she has been with us 5 days. She still isn't used to the dogs and when they get too close she shakes and screams, but I can be firms and say, "Respite 4, you are not scared of those doggies. Tell them you're not scared and stop screaming." and she calms down for a little while.

Tonight is her last night with us. When we walked in the house from daycare, we went through the usual dog-related questions:
4: "Are the doggies in the pen?"
Me: "Yes."
4:"Are you going to let them out?"
Me:"I'll let them out after you sit on the couch. They need to go outside."
4:   "Cuz they poop outside?"
Me: "Yes, doggies poop outside because they don't know how to use the toilet. You know how to use the toilet."
4:    "I poop in the potty."
Me: "Yes you do, because you're a big girl."
4:    "Doggies bite me?"
Me: "The doggies would never bite you. They only bite food"
4:   "I'm not scared those doggies."
Me: "That's right. You're a brave girl."

Whew! It only took 16 days to make that progress with 4. In 2yrs we've kept 8 kids and 3 animals safe and (mostly) happy. Mixing puppies and placements is tricky, but can be done with some thought and sensitivity.  


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Respite 5

I got a "Hallelujah" call yesterday. As soon as I answered the matcher said, "Don't get excited". She knows me too well! She told me about a foster family who's 6yr old son got sick at school and had to be taken to emergency. The parents weren't sure how long they'd be there and they have and 8mo placement that was at daycare. I have respite 4 staying with us this week and it turns out they attend the same daycare. Matcher asked if I would want to take respite 5 for the night. Of course I said yes! I picked up 4 & 5 from daycare just a couple of hours later.

Since this was so last minute, respite 5's foster parents hadn't packed a bag or written out his schedule. I don't even know their names. I asked for the formula and diapers that the daycare had and asked the teachers for any tips they had about him. They said, "He's really good, and eats 6oz every 4hrs". We're having a blast with him. He loves to cuddle and give sloppy kisses. Last night he woke up 4 times during the night, but was easily rocked back to sleep (by Brandon, I earn no credit for overnight care).

Today the foster Dad called me and asked us to take Respite 5 one more night while they got their other son discharged from the hospital and settled in at home. This small-scale helping isn't changing the world, but we were able to relieve one family's stress for two nights and got to squeeze an adorable baby while doing it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Addressing The Elephant In The Room: Do Foster Parents Get Paid?

Our blog has gained a little following! Most of our readers are friends who have caved to my incessant facebook updates about new posts, but we also have an international audience. Hello Russia, China, Germany, and Singapore!!

I am constantly looking for opportunities to talk about foster care. I love sharing my own experiences and general knowledge about the system to anyone who will listen. Most of the people I corner (umm... I mean engage) are very interested and have a lot of questions. Across the board, though, there is an awkward undertone that there is more they want to know, but can't ask. I think I've figured it out. People want to know about the money involved in foster care.

Part of the foster care certification process is making sure the potential foster family has an income that is stable and covers all the family's expenses. We were asked to provide proof of income and our monthly budget (mortgage, utilities, credit cards, car payments/insurance, food, etc). The people we offered as personal references were also asked about our financial situation. Foster parents can not be living off government assistance (except disability, I believe), and will be questioned about collecting government assistance in the past. Although, previously getting welfare or food stamps doesn't automatically disqualify an applicant. During our very first home visit with a caseworker, she said, "Teresa, I see you collected food stamps in 1989." My response was, "That may be, but I can't confirm since I was 3yrs old". My point is- they dig in your dirt to be sure you will not be using foster care money for anything else but the child it's intended for.

We've all heard about foster parents taking in children only to treat them poorly and collect an easy paycheck. I'm not naive enough to think that never happens, but I think those cases are few and far between. The fact is that foster parents are REIMBURSED for the child's expenses, not paid. When children come into care, the county Department of Human Services has guardianship of the child. They are responsible for paying the child's expenses. The county determines how much it costs to care for a child, and contracts with individuals (foster parents) for that amount.

The daily stipend is sent to foster parents in a monthly check. This check is always a month behind, which is why it's reimbursement instead of payment. If I bring a child into my home on March 1st, I will receive the first check for him on the second Friday in April. In that time I've already fed, clothed, entertained, and carted him around for 6weeks. So when I open the check that comes in the mail, it's not adding to my household income. I guess it depends on financial savvy and lifestyle, but the checks I open every month do not fully reimburse me for the previous month. We have never had a month where money hasn't come out of our personal budget for our children, but the stipend helps relieve financial burden and allows us to take more kids or higher needs kids than if there was no support.

If I were reading this post, I'd be tapping my foot going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah! Show me some numbers!". Specific figures vary greatly by agency and area, I can only speak for what I receive. So here's the breakdown of the foster care payments in our area:

Daily Stipend-
0-5yrs     $14.13
6-11yrs   $16.84
12-21yrs $19.38
Special Board Rate is assigned to children with extreme special needs. This child is going to require a high level of care either developmentally, medically, or behaviorally. The Special Board Rate for a child 0-4yrs is $22.56/day, and goes up with age.
Clothing Allowance- A separate check for new clothes is sent out in March and August for each child and ranges from $250 to $450 depending on the age of the child and what clothes they had when they came into care.
Mileage Reimbursement- Every month I turn in a mileage sheet that lists how far I drove for foster care related appointments like trainings, visits, and family court. The rate per mile is $.51 for 2011, and is dictated every year by the IRS.
WIC- Children under 5yrs old come pre-qualified for WIC, which is a federal food assistance program. You receive vouchers for formula, baby food, cereal, fruits/ veggies, bread, milk eggs, cheese, peanut butter, and beans. This value is around $100/mo per child
Diaper Allowance- Children up to 4yrs who still need diapers are given $48.81/month
Medicaid - All children in care are fully covered by Medicaid. Foster parents pay no medical expenses for the child. All appts, medications, hospital, therapy, etc is completely paid for. We'll call this $200/mo for the avg child if you had to add them to your insurance and pay co-pays. However, special needs children might require thousands of dollars in medical interventions every month that foster parents never have to worry about.
Daycare- Should a child need daycare because their foster parents work outside the home, the county pays for it- approximately $225/week
Lessons/Activities- The county pays for soccer, gymnastics, karate, violin - $45/mo

TOTAL: $1,736.84/mo per child in daycare

Sounds like a paycheck to me, right? Wrong. It's time for some perspective.
This money is not cash in your pocket, most of it is paid directly to professionals and service providers.
The check you are actually receiving every month is around $500 per child per month.

Increase in bills:$80 (more water, electricity, higher heat setting, additional gas and vehicle maintenance)
Increase in groceries: $50
Clothes/Shoes/Outerwear(beyond the semi-annual allowance) $40/mo
Diapers & wipes:$50
Toys/Security items/Learning materials/Books $60 (Pacifiers are EXPENSIVE!!)
Parties&Playdates: $40 (Baby3's birthday was $250 for an 8 kid pizza and cake party @ indoor playcenter)
Professional Pictures & Photo Printing of Snapshots: $45-$100 depending on time of year and zealousness
Life book Materials: $10
Bath Soaps, Lotions, Toothpaste/brush:$15
Braiding for ethnic hair- $40
Babysitting:$100 (10hrs/mo at $10)

There is also increased wear and tear on your house and vehicles, and the added cost of bringing children with you on vacation, to museums, restaurants, etc
Financial support for foster parents extends into adoption as well. If a foster parent adopts a child that has been in care, but can not be reunited with the biofamilies, the adoption is paid for by the county. If the adopted child is considered "hard to place" - and most kids in care are- the foster care daily rate my continue after adoption until the child turns 18yrs. The child also remains eligible for Medicaid as a secondary insurance after adoption. This means that the adoptive parent pays for medical insurance for the child and Medicaid covers anything that insurance won't pay like medications, deductibles, and copays. President Obama signed a bill allowing the Adoption Tax Credit to become refundable.  So for every foster care adoption that is finalized in 2010 and 2011 (hopefully this will be extended), the adoptive parents can collect $13,360 cash in pocket with their taxes. If this refundable credit isn't extended to 2012, the credit is projected to be $5,000 and can be used against taxes owed.

I believe the money paid to foster parents is exactly right. There should be some sacrifice involved just to weed out the bad apples who are looking for profit. There also should be adequate support for middle class families who wouldn't be able to financially support another child (or sibling group of 3), but can love, teach, and heal a child in need. We would be able to financially support one child if there was no financial help, but we wouldn't be able to take the range of special need we take now or sibling groups. We would absolutely still be fostering if there was no reimbursement, but we are so thankful there is!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rat, Snitch, Whistle Blower- Calling In A CPS Report

Usually I'm on the other side of Child Protective Services. When the foster parent becomes aware of a situation neglect/abuse has already occurred, been reported, and investigated. While it is awful to hear about the reasons children come into care, what's even worse is being the one to witness and have to report the neglect or abuse.

Making the decision to call in suspected neglect or abuse is difficult for most people. If you have a relationship with the family, reporting may seem like betrayal. It's easy to second-guess what you saw or wonder if it's severe enough to merit a CPS investigation.

I was in this position today. I suspected an acquaintance of mine was using drugs in front of their children. I HATE confrontation. I was standing in the doorway of this persons house, marijuana smoke billowing towards me while the other person in the home frantically sprays Lysol everywhere. I thought about the children in the home- the ones being sprayed with Lysol as I made my decision. I said what I had originally gone over there to say and did not acknowledge the illegal activity that was clearly going on here. When I left and got to the driveway I stopped and thought for about 20min. Did I want to upset this person? Were the children really in danger? Did CPS even care about weed? Obviously this person would know I called since they knew what I just saw, and then CPS shows up at their door. Wouldn't it seem sneaky to be nice to their face then call behind their back?  Even though I am super uncomfortable being on this side of foster care, my first priority is always the same. To keep kids safe. I had to do something uncomfortable because it was the right choice.

I called my acquaintance and asked them to talk to me outside. I explained to them that I smelled marijuana, and was concerned for the safety of the children in the house. I let them know that I didn't want to call CPS, but had to because I'm a mandated reporter and I love the children in this family. I explained that a CPS report is not about me feeling uncomfortable or the parent being offended- it's about the best thing for the kids. I said that I was talking to them first because I didn't want to be two-faced, I wanted to be up front.

Then I called our local CPS line and told them everything I had just seen. The dispatcher offered to let the call be anonymous, which was unnecessary since I already identified myself to the parent. She asked if I thought the police needed to come immediately or if the children would be OK until the investigator got there. She said I would get a call tomorrow morning to review what I saw with the investigator that is assigned to the case. She asked for any info I had including everyone's full name and the children's ages. She wanted to know the relationships between the adults and kids in the house. She asked for their address and phone number as well as mine.

The downside to warning the parent of my impending call was the chance that they would clean up and toss anything illegal before the investigator arrived. The upside was that my acquaintance came outside one more time before I left and said they understood why I had to call and that they weren't mad at me.

I still haven't shaken the headache I got from the whole ordeal and I feel sad that any of it happened. I can't imagine how much more terrible I would feel though if I hadn't called and something had happened to those kids- or the adults for that matter. I don't know what happened when CPS got to the house this evening or what will be done to protect the kids, but I know I made the right choice.

Every state has local numbers you can call to report suspected neglect or abuse. If you do not have that number, 1-800-4-A-CHILD is the national child abuse hot line. They can take calls from all 50 states and immediately send them to the local agency.

My advise is to follow your gut in situations like these. It is better that a parent be inconvenienced over an unsubstantiated complaint that for a child to be harmed because no one wanted to rock the boat. It is not the job of the general public to determine if alarming behavior is abuse or not- that's what Child Protective Services is for. It is our job to report anything we see that puts a child in danger.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Expect the Unexpected" and other over-used phrases

It's been a year since we've brought a new child home. When I look back on getting the calls for Babies 1-3, I can only remember the adrenaline and instant love I had for them when I saw their precious faces. I can't easily remember the frustrations with caseworkers and biofamilies, the uncertainty of how long they will stay, and the misinformation given at placement. The good eclipses the bad. Then something happens and it's like, "Oh yeah, that did happen." The memories I had forgotten were about the initial calls I got from the matchers about my kids. The information they had, that I weighed when making the decision to take the child, has been wrong every time.

When I got the call for Baby1, they said he was a preemie who's Mom had used drugs during her pregnancy. They said Mom was from another country, and gave me Dad's name. When I picked up Baby1 and spoke to his caseworker and the pediatrician, I found out that he was a full term, healthy baby who did not test positive for drugs at birth. Mom shared a name with another country, but was American. The name they gave me for Dad was actually the name of Mom's oldest child.

I got the call for Babies 2&3 eight months later. They told me Baby 2 was being picked up by CPS from the babysitter that Dad had left him with. They said he had ear infections that needed immediate attention. They said Baby 3 would not be coming into care at all. I didn't find out until court later that week that the Dad and babysitter story never happened. When I took Baby 2 to the pediatrician, his ears and overall health were fine. I found out very soon after bringing home baby 2 that Baby 3 was definitely coming into care and I began visiting him 4 days after that initial call.

When we got the call for Baby 4 this week, I was shocked and horrified by the extensive medical needs this child had. I prepared myself for a very long and difficult road with him. I wanted to start visiting him and preparing my house right away because there was so much to do. When I hadn't heard from his caseworker, I called mine and asked her what I should be doing. She is fantastic and found the people who could answer my questions. Today I got another call from the matcher to clarify the first conversation we had. Baby 4's condition is nothing like we originally thought. He is still considered medically frail, but there are talks of him going to preschool and being up and around. I was initially told he would be receiving 16hrs/day of nursing when he came home, but now we know that they (whoever they are) requested 16hrs/day, but he may not be approved for or need that much care. The biggest news is that the decision hasn't even been made about placing him in foster care. He may be going home with his parents. They have not even been told there is a possibility of a foster care placement and they have been very involved with his care from the beginning of his condition. The matcher said we'll know more in a week and I should be doing nothing until then.

We had one other situation kind of like this before Baby 2 came to us. We knew Baby 1 was going home within a couple of weeks when we got the call for a sibling set 6yrs, 4yrs, and 18mo. The matcher said to get home right now because they were on their way. We rushed home, called our family, and put fresh sheets on all the beds. Just as my Mom came over with chicken nuggets for our new family- the matcher called us back to say that the CPS investigator went to the house to remove the children, but decided there was not a reason to do so. The kids were not coming into care.

Having a child not come into our home isn't sad, we would rather them stay with their family if it's safe. It's more like an annoying inconvenience that we were brought into a situation unnecessarily. This case is especially unfortunate because they have us on the hook for 2 weeks. We aren't taking any other kids because we want to be Baby 4's family if he needs one, but if he doesn't we'll be childless much longer than what we prefer. It may come down to just pure lack of skill on my end. I have no idea how to not have kids in the house.  Patience is not my strong suit and no amount of work keeps you as busy or fufilled as having kids 24/7.

To clarify- the misinformation isn't anyone's fault. I get information as it comes in and it takes a while to verify the facts. Everything happens very fast when a child comes into care, so finding a family needs to happen fast as well- before details are ironed out. There are several cliches that fit this moment. Expect the Unexpected... Everything happens for a reason... Go with the Flow... Let Go, Let God...

Today we wait. We can't be anxious to meet Baby 4 or let down by the new info because it could go either way. One year from now, I bet I won't even remember this.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Everyday since the boys went home I've gotten up at 7 and put on picture-worthy clothes thinking, "Today I'll be meeting baby 4 and I need to look cute for the welcome home pictures". I keep my cell phone charged and right next to me waiting for the "Hallelujah!" ringtone. I wipe down the kitchen and organize the bottles and sippycups with the expectation that I'll be picking up my child today.

This morning was no different. I got up and got dressed, straightened my hair, and put on concealer. I picked up some clutter in the living room and watched Law & Order with Brandon while I kept an ear out for the phone to ring. I had given up that today was the day by 3pm. I starting browning some ground beef on the stove and let the dogs out in the backyard. When I sat down to check my facebook, I saw my phone: "1 Missed Call" WHAT?!?!?!? I hadn't left my phone in an entire week, but I make one batch of Sloppy Joes and I miss a call from the matchers? I called her right back and she told me she had a child for us.

This is the payment for foster care. The moment when your life changes and you fall for a child you've never met. The second you realize that a baby has a need and you are the solution. I'm made for this, it's addicting.

Baby 4 is unlike any child we've had before. He is our oldest child so far at 4yrs old and he is our first medically frail child. He is currently in the hospital, which gives us time to visit him and get trained in his care. When he comes home in about 2 weeks, he'll have a nurse 16hrs/day.

When I heard his story, I got very emotional. I needed to help him, I needed to give everything I have to him. I cried when I called Brandon to ask what he thought. I knew we hoped for a baby, and that this case would require more than we had ever given before, but I knew Brandon could do it if he wanted to. Brandon told me to call the matcher back and tell her we would take him. I was so happy to do just that.

With Babies 1&2, the call was followed by a flurry of buying clothes, supplies, and picking them up. Babies 3 & 4 were in the hospital, so there's no rush. I can't even see Baby 4 yet until I get clearance from his caseworker and medical team. I don't know what size clothes he's in, and there's no diapers or formula to buy. Even though our wait is over, I found myself waiting. I got out of my cute picture clothes and into pajama pants. I prayed for Baby 4 and I prayed for his Mom. I also called everyone to get them prepared for the changes our family will be going through.

Hopefully we get to meet baby 4 tomorrow, and we'll get a clearer picture of what needs to be done in our house in the next 2 weeks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Seeing Kids After Reunification

Just 3 days after sending him home last week, Baby 3 turned 1yr old! It was hard not to see him that day, but I was trying to give Dad some room to get adjusted to having his boys home. Brandon and I went to the tattoo parlor to get Brandon's Baby 3 Batman piece done on his birthday, which was special.

All done (with a little editing for confidentiality)

Before the boys went home, Dad had agreed to let us host Baby 3's birthday party on March 6th. I was very nervous about seeing them after a whole week apart. When we picked them up, Dad handed Baby 3 to me and it was as natural as if they had been gone just an hour. When Baby 3 saw Brandon, he spit out his binkie and put his arms out for him. I was a little offended by the preference, but it made Brandon's day. Baby 2 came out next and walked to the car and got into his carseat like having his 2 families together was an everyday occurrence. It was awkward to make conversation with Dad and his girlfriend  and try to include her kids when all we wanted to do was snuggle our babies and explain why we left them.

At the party, it was difficult not to correct and direct the parenting flaws I saw. My family was alarmed by how the baby was being held and the aggression we saw in our usually mild mannered Baby 2. It was hard to be happy for the reunified family when I could clearly see that my kids' new life was chaotic and largely unsupervised.

Brandon keeping Baby 3 out of the cake
I am stuck in a conundrum where I want to be supportive and happy so I can stay connected to the boys and build relationship with biofamily, but I also want to spare myself some heartache and not be around people who treat my children as less than royalty. I chose to separate just a bit by asking Dad if we could see the boys on Wed, but I told him we would bring them to our house for dinner instead of sharing that time with the whole biofamily.

While I am still pretty emotional about our first post-reunification visit, I feel very blessed that we have a bioparent who is willing to keep  us around. In the end I will accept feeling angry or awkward if it means I can see the boys who own my heart. I never had a visit with Baby 1 after he went home. I do think that helped me heal, but my personal opinion is that I rather heal slowly and see my kids than to never know what they look like or where they are- even if that means keeping my mouth shut if I don't like how they are dressed when I see them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Attention Friends and Family: We've signed you up for heartbreak!!

One of the issues I've been dealing with during this time of transition is trying to care for the emotions of our family members and close friends. I am seeing how our decision to become foster parents is effecting the people who love us. A strong support system is vital to staying healthy as foster parents. Being in that support system comes with it's own joy and grief

I remember when we started to tell our family that we were becoming foster parents. We had already filled out the application and had a date for the first interview in our home with a caseworker. I told my best friend first because I knew she'd give me an honest response without being hurtful. I honestly don't remember what she said, but I remember that she made me feel like I had an ally no matter what path I chose in life. She's been a God-send to me through these past 2yrs as an open ear and the best Auntie.

Grandma and Baby 2 sitting at the same table where I told her about our plans the year before
The next task was my Mom. I took her out to paint pottery and started talking about my new job and our interest in foster care. I told her about the info meeting and said that in less than a year, we planned on becoming certified for foster care. Neither of us really knew what we were going into together. My Mom was talking about how it was so great to help children, and how she supported our decision to volunteer. I did know at that point that foster care was more than a volunteer position serving hot meals in a homeless shelter, bur neither of us knew foster care would change the family forever and become the legacy that I invest my life into. My Mom has been fully invested in every one of our kids- even the respites. They all call her Grandma and she loves them- probably more than she loves me. My Mom insisted on coming with me when Baby 1 went home for good. She held up alright in front of Dad, but she sobbed the whole way home- rambling about the system and some government conspiracies. She's welcomed all 3 of my sons home, and she has grieved all of them leaving. She told my Dad that she didn't know how much more loss I can handle. I can't help but wonder if that's code for how much more loss can she handle? She had no choice to become a foster family, but every time we transition she has to come along.

Brandon's sister and brother in law including Baby 3 in their wedding pictures
Brandon's family has been a bit more hands off than my over-involved parents. They are cordial with our sons, but treat them like cute kids we babysit. I can't blame any of them since we never asked their permission to change the family's dynamics in a non-traditional way. The exceptions to this are his sister and niece. They have opened their hearts and we greatly appreciate that. Brandon's sister even included baby 3 in her wedding photos. Now that he's home, she is left with a reminder of love lost every time she looks at her wedding album.
Baby 2 with Papa opening an early Christmas present because my Dad couldn't wait til the 25th
The process is different for friends and family than it is for foster parents. Foster parents have caseworkers to answer questions and provide support. Foster parents also have access to all the details of the child's case and history. We share what we can with our loved ones, but most info is confidential. So while we have some insight about why a child is staying or leaving, our family doesn't get it. Foster parents also build relationships with biofamilies. We know where our children are going when they leave, and we can build our opinion about the move around what we know of the situation. Our family only has only blind faith that the kids will be OK.

Uncle Bill never had grandchildren, but loves our boys
Even though I carry that guilt about causing our families grief when saying goodbye, I know that they experience the anticipation and excitement when we welcome a new child into our home. They also get credit for our children's security and and happiness as they settle into the family. It is an INCREDIBLE blessing to have your life touched by these kids, and I am proud that I provide that opportunity to the people we love.

I guess if I could do it all over, I would spend some more time talking through the actual process of foster care with our family before we got certified. I would apologize in advanced for bringing them on this rollercoaster experience. Now that the decision has already been made and they have already had loss, I just make sure I acknowledge their feelings and check in with them frequently. I realize I can't expect them to pick me up off the floor every time a child leaves because they have to care for their own hurt, but hurting together after helping a child is still better than hurting alone.

I have gone far and wide looking for resources to educate and support friends and family of foster parents. There are none. The closest helpful book I've found is In On It - by: Elizabeth O'Toole. The subtitle is "What adoptive parents would like you to know about adoption".  Highly reccomended.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sorry! You're too tall for us to help you... Saying "No" to a placement.

It has been almost a week since our boys went home so our house has been VERY quiet and kind of lonely. I have the matchers phone number programmed in my phone with the Hallelujah chorus as their ringtone. Today while I was deliberating wiping down my counter again or online shopping for stuff I don't need, my phone cried, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" I screamed for Brandon to come up from reorganizing the basement (have I mentioned that we're really bored without kids?) and answered. Here's the conversation:

Me: Hi matcher!
Matcher: Good morning Teresa. I have something for you guys to think about. Have I already called you about a seven yr old boy, *Steven?
Me: No, is he just coming into care?
Matcher: He is already placed in a home with his younger siblings, but he is displaying some aggression with the little ones. The foster family is asking that he be moved. He has diagnosed ADHD and ODD, and is being medicated. He needs strict structure and a strong male figure. I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time finding a family who will take him.

The conversation went on for about 5min where I explained that I am willing to stretch for an older child, but I would still like the option to take little ones. If he is aggressive, we would have to say no to adding new children to our home. Since Brandon works evenings and Steven goes to school- they would never see each other, which negates having a strong father in the home. We left it with us saying no, and the matcher asking that I call her if I change my mind.

This is the second time I've had a phone call like that this week.We have said "no" twice as much as we have said "yes" to calls from the matchers in the past 2yrs. The reasons have all been different, but the common theme is the children we haven't taken have been older than 5yrs. I feel like a hypocrite when I preach the necessity of Christians doing foster care and loving like Jesus then I say no to a child who needs a Mom. I feel like an all around terrible human being for saying no to a child when I'm sitting at home depressed about not having kids. I made myself nauseated when I realized that we love kids, and we love foster care, and we love caring for the fatherless- as long as you're under 35" tall.

I'm really not fishing for validation with this post, but I do want to work out the reasons we say no to school-aged children:
1) I stay home with our kids. This is very useful when trying to build attachment and working on behaviors with a new child, but isn't as effective when the child is in school all day and I'm chilling at home attaching to nobody.
2) We are 24 and 26, and the older the children are, the younger we look. Most of our friends are either childless or have children under 3yrs. Bringing Steven into our lives and social circle would have guaranteed he would be the only or oldest child most of the time.
3)Shared parenting might also be more difficult with older parents (I'm assuming school aged children have parents who are over 25yrs old). An older parent might not take us seriously when we give advice about the child or trust our judgement concerning the child's care. As we take older children, we also need be aware that they will realize we are younger than their parents, which could mean they won't see us as authority figures
4)We have more experience with kids under 5. My education is in Early Childhood Develpment, and I taught 3yr old preschool for 4yrs before foster care. We could learn how to teach, nurture, and discipline a school aged child, but it's very natural for us to do those things with a younger child and grow into school-age with them.

There are homes who take older children. There are even homes who specifically do not take children under 5yrs. Families like ours and the foster care system as a whole lean heavily on these families to do the hard stuff- to jump into parenting a child who is already set in their ways, already knows a bunch of swear words, and is big enough to leave a mark during a melt down. I tip my hat to these parents. They are champions of our story and I hope one of them takes Steven home today.

Even though I'm currently feeling bad about saying no to a child, I know it is wise to be realistic about our family's strengths and abilities. The WORST thing that can happen for everyone in the triad is for a child to be moved from one foster home to another because the foster family can/will not properly parent a child they accepted. My choice to say no to a placement that I'm not sure of will hopefully prevent ever having to disrupt a placement and cause unnecessary loss and trauma to the child. I want the children who come into my home to never leave unless it's by court order to their biofamiliy. Just like I think the homes who only take older children shouldn't be pressured to take a newborn if they aren't sure about midnight feedings.

Saying no broke my heart today, but it was the right choice for Steven and my family.

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality of kids in care

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where's my missing piece?

Today I woke up with my wonderful husband in my own comfy bed in my own beautiful house. I had my choice of nice clothes to wear and yummy food for breakfast. As things came up during the day, I was able to call my parents and friends to talk out my emotions. Even with all the blessings in my life, there was still a piece that was noticeably (to me) missing. Today I woke up as a mother- with no children.

Today, there were 133,000 American children that woke up with a peice missing. They have food and shelter, friends and caregivers. They are children with no parents. They are waiting for their missing piece.

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live." John 14:18 & 19 NIV

I am an adult who made the choice to flirt with foster care. The kids who need homes had no choice. Their waiting is tragic. I spend a ridiculous amount of  time looking at the photolistings of kids waiting for families in the foster care system. Although my plight of being a waiting mother is not as awful as being a waiting child, I know what it feels like to want your missing peice.

I encourage anyone who happens upon this blog to take a look into the links below and consider if you are the missing peice for one of these kids. It doesn't take superhuman strength-  just love- to parent a child who needs you.

Freddie Mac- Wednesday's Child
Children Awaiting Parents
Reece's Rainbow