This month we had the Service Plan Review for Baby 4, Family Court hearing, and Preschool meeting for Baby 4. Nothing super exciting happened, but it gave us a clearer picture of where his case is going and the speed it's getting there.
In our county, foster parents are encouraged to attend Service Plan Reviews for the children in our home. The caseworkers are required to give written notice of these meetings 10 days in advanced to everyone invited to participate. Was I surprised when I received a phone call 6 days before the SPR? Not really, there have been so many mistakes made in 4's case, what's one more? The caseworker said, "You probably won't be able to make it on such short notice..." Oh, no. You're not talking about my son without me there. I informed her I would most certainly be there with bells on.
Not only was I not told in enough time, but the next day after my call, Dad was notified of the meeting at his weekly visit- 5 days before when the rule is clearly 10days prior notice. I wrote the case manager a cute email asking him to clarify the rule for me because I thought I was supposed to get a written notice 10days before the SPR, not a phone call 6 days before... I said, I must have been mistaken... and I CC'd his supervisor, my caseworker, my caseworker's supervisor, President Obama, everyone I could think of that might be able to to figure out why we can't just do things the right way for once.
At a Service Plan Review, everyone involved with the case comes together and assesses where we are at and what needs to be done to reach the goal for the child (reunification, adoption, independent living, etc). The goal for every child initially is reunification, and that is still 4's goal. The only people who were invited bust didn't show were 4's parents. This is unfortunate in his case because they are really the people who benefit from these meetings. With Baby 2 & 3 the SPR was the caseworker, Dad, third party reviewer, and me. The third party reviewer is person who has no connection to the case. They are there to make sure that the standard questions all get answered and she records what was said. Since she's not familiar with the case, she also asks questions for clarity that often help gets information out in the open.
At this particular SPR, I sat with the foster care caseworker, CPS investigator, CPS team supervisor, 2 county lawyers, 4's play therapist, Dad's service coordinator (or caseworker? I'm not sure), 4's lawyer, and the 3rd party reviewer. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, "Hi, I'm Teresa, Foster Mother for 4". Then the CPS investigator gave a summary of why 4 came into care and what legal reasons we have to keep him in care now. Then he asked me to tell the group about how 4 is doing medically, emotionally, and behaviorally. 4's therapist gave a brief description of what they've been doing (and took some credit for what I've been doing, just saying), Dad's service coordinator gave an update on what he's doing and asked some questions about foster care procedure. Then we all gave our 2 cents about relative resource. The take away from the whole meeting was that nothing is being done anytime soon for 4 in the courts and we don't know what will happen when there is movement in the case.
The week after the SPR was court. I was at MAPP training, so Brandon went to this. Court was scheduled for 2pm. Our city closes the courthouse at 4:30 instead of 5:30 now since some budget cutbacks. At 4:27 the case was called and just adjourned until August 11th because it would simply be awful to make the judge work overtime. Never mind the 2 and a half hours 4's parents and Brandon sat in the lobby- Such is foster care.
Last week, was 4's Committee for Preschool Special Education meeting. At this meeting there was a representative from our school district, a teacher from our school district, a representative from the team that tested 4, a parent of a child with special needs in our district, the foster care caseworker, and me. My education and work background is in Preschool Education, so I have an idea about how these things work, although I've never actually sat in one of these meetings. Pretty much it's a show down to the death between the parents who want services for their kids and the school district who wants to save money any way possible.
In 4's case, there was an educational surrogate assigned by the school district who was at the meeting to advocate for his best interest. The school district chose to assign that title to the woman who was also the parent rep at the meeting. The educational surrogate gets to sign off on what services we decide are best for 4. The problem with this is she doesn't know 4- like hasn't ever seen his face. Foster parents are usually the Educational Surrogates for their kids, but since 4 has been with me less than 6months, I was not eligible to fill this role. Apparently I don't know what he needs since we haven't been together 6mo, but this other person can figure him out by reading his evaluation. The school district says they almost never assign an educational surrogate because kids don't usually get evaluated until after they've been in foster care longer than 6 months. Here is the Public Service Announcement section of my post:
Dear Fellow Foster Parents,
Please get your children tested for Early Intervention Services as soon as you see a possible delay. The testing and services are free. Even if the child doesn't end up needing therapy, you'll know at what age level they fall for speech, cognitive ability, and large/ small motor skill. The earlier theses service are in place, the faster your child can catch up to age level. It doesn't take 6 months to figure out that a 2 yr old is non verbal, or that your 4yr old can't climb steps. Having a child in your home for over 6 months without getting them the help they qualify for is just as neglectful as what some of their parents have been accused of.
Moving on- We get to the CPSE meeting and everybody gets a chance to say what they want about 4's abilities. The district rep who was chairing the meeting puts up the first offer:
District Rep- 5 days universal preK in a public school with Speech done in our home- n transportation.
Evaluation Team Rep- Has concerns about his medical needs and some other stuff. What about 5 day universal preK in a public school with a nurse and special ed/speech in class.
Caseworker- Why not an integrated class?
District Rep- 4 needs the least restrictive setting and he could do alright in regular school.
Educational surrogate - He needs role models to catch up and the typical kids in public school will help him catch up.
Me- 4 is behind cognitively, his speech is hard to understand, he has visible scars and a trach, he makes animal noises when he is overwhelmed. Putting him in a typical public school setting would set him up for social isolation and behavioral acting out. If he were in a special needs classroom, he would likely be the highest functioning child in the class and he would be the lowest in a typical class. Having him in an integrated setting would allow him to be right in the middle. He wouldn't be the only kid who needs help and he would have typically developed kids to play with as his social skills increase.
Teacher rep- In my professional opinion it would be appropriate to have him in an integrated classroom getting Special Ed 5 days/week and speech 3days/ week with a bus to and from school
District Rep- I agree, we have a public school with an integrated class like that and if 4 does well he could still move to the typical class without having to change schools.
Me- What if he is returned to his parents and they live in a different school district? He would have to be moved to another school. If we put him in a private setting, he could be bussed there no matter where he is living.
Educational Surrogate- There is no plan of him moving to his parents
Caseworker- Anything is possible
District Rep- Then I think we all agree. 4 will be at the private school 5days/week, with speech 3days/week and he will be transported by the district. His target start date will be September 12th.
Whew! That's perfect! Exactly what 4 needs to get caught up so he has the best chance of starting Kindergarten in typical class with minimal services.
So after 15 miles of travel and 5hrs of meetings/ waiting for court, we know that 4 is in foster care and preschool. Seems efficient, right? Ha! Welcome to Foster Care.