Saturday, August 20, 2011

Healthy White Newborn

I never pictured my future family having white children. It's just not what my dreams were made of. Even when we were trying to get pregnant, I felt like I would mother black children. Nobody understood me and it is the basis for a lot of joking in my social circle. I think everyone assumed I would marry outside of my own race- but I didn't. Then they thought I would change my expectations for what my family would look like- but I didn't. Transracial parenting is deeply ingrained in me, and I have no explanation for it. Fortunately my husband identified with my concept of family and fully intended to only parent black children as well.
We have had a lot of time to form intentional methods that we use to effectively parent minority children. We have positive language that we make sure to incorporate into our household conversation to recognize and affirm our children's identity and heritage. We have media, toys, and books that show a variety of ethnicities and family structures. We learned how to care for their hair and skin or who to call when we get in over our heads. We moved to an ethnically diverse church after Baby 1 came home.

We also decided that as long as we had a child outside our race in our home, we would not accept a white placement so that the child in our home would never be the only different one. We never wanted to be walking in the store and have our child notice someone assume that the white child was ours and the minority child was not. We never wanted to tempt our family to treat the child that "looks just like you!" differently than the child who does not. Even if nobody treated them differently, we would never want our child to feel that they are somehow out of place in their own family. This was our agreement. An agreement that I fully support.

Then I got the call for Baby 5. I have to defend myself by saying that the matcher told me all about him and his situation before mentioning his sister. It was only after I had committed my heart to him that I realized that his sister is white- pretty much ensuring that he is white. That twinge of guilt sank in. How could I say no to a child just because of race? I really want a baby. What about Baby 4? I really want a baby. A healthy white newborn could find a home quickly, shouldn't we wait for sickly black child that might not get matched? I really want a baby. It's at this moment I wish I could write that I prayed and fasted and sought wise counsel, but I really want a baby. So I said yes with less than a little hesitation.

Healthy white newborns are THE most sought after placements in the foster/ adoption world. People will wait on lists for 10+ years for a child matching Baby 5's description. I don't identify with any of the reasons, but I hear it goes something like: They don't want to be a walking billboard for adoption and have to field staring and questions out in public. Their extended family is varying degrees of prejudice and they don't want to cut ties or expose the child to that. They live in an all white community. They want to hide the child's adoption from the neighbors. I'm not here to judge any of that. I feel like since we are more than capable of taking a child of any race with a broad spectrum of disabilities, we should leave the healthy white newborns to the waiting list of people that would say no any other kind of placement. It kind of falls in line with doing foster care instead of fost/adopt or traditional adoption, because we want the kids that may not have gotten a home, not the ones who have a list of families waiting for the call. This is not a pat on the back for us at all, we are not making a sacrifice, we are pursuing what our hearts desire for our family. The desire that I thank God He planted in my heart as a child.

So how does all that fall in line with us bringing home a HWN just yesterday? I have no clue.

I feel guilty. Baby 4 now has 3 white people in his house and I feel like we should be the ones that are outnumbered. Baby 4 is going to be the minority in the rest of the world, and I've just made him the minority in his own house. He doesn't notice now, but at some point he will. He'll notice that people think I'm babysitting him, but never question where Baby 5 belongs. He'll notice that baby 5 doesn't have to explain us to his friends at school. He'll notice that life is one degree easier for every shade lighter your skin is, and I hate that for him. I hate that my selfishness may have exacerbated a problem that I can never fix for him.

I feel normal. I was out today with baby 5 and no one took a second look at us. I didn't get one approving smile or person looking around to see if my child was really with me or someone else who looked more the part. I got no unsolicited advise about hair. I was just a normal Mom with a normal baby. Completely out of my element.

I feel like a sellout. I still think our all our nothing approach to transracial parenting is appropriate for the racial climate in New York right now. Our kids need a safe home environment because the world is cruel. I'm starting to think that I can provide that even with a white child in our home, and I think that having the white child exposed to transracial parenting techniques will make for a very empathetic and considerate human being. I'm crossing over!!!

I honestly don't know that taking this particular baby as #5 will change the dynamic of our family that much. Really, either of my children could be sent home fairly quickly and then everything changes. I guess I fear being just a white family, which is super strange- I know. I guess for the sake of my ego, I wanted you to know that I was not wading around in the pool of parents waiting for a healthy white newborn, but I'm really glad we got him.

Officially 5

We brought home Baby 5 yesterday at 3pm. He is one month old today. He was full term- 7lbs 12 oz. He's simply perfect. The nurse in the NICU told me to expect a very fussy baby for the next 3 weeks, and she said he will probably spend a lot of time in the swing because he has to be moving all the time. I don't mind one bit. We have a swing in the living room and one in our room so we're set.

There is no way I was about to just bring home a beautiful baby boy without some roadblocks. Here's how it went:

August 18, 2011:

5:10pm- Hallelujah Call! We have a baby! Wait, no, we have to offer him to another family first.

5:20pm- 2nd call from the matcher. Ok, for real, we have a baby 5.

August 19, 2011:

11:40am- Call from foster care intake worker. Baby 5 is being released from the hospital TODAY! How fast can you get there?

12:00pm- Grandma takes Baby 4 so we can get Baby 5

12:10pm- Drop Brandon off at work because he got called in early- Bummer...

12:30pm- Walk into hospital and immediately get ushered out by a frantic nurse who is "whispering" that Mom is in with Baby 5 and doesn't know I'm coming. Mom can see me and hear nurse loudmouth, but I'm not allowed to talk to her. NL tells me to come back in an hour.

12:31pm- Caseworker won't answer her phone

12:32pm- I get an egg salad sandwich at the hospital cafeteria. It was gross :(

12:40pm- Caseworker answers phone. She tells me I can talk to Mom if I'm comfortable and tells me to get the hospital's social worker and have her get things straightened out.

12:45pm- Hospital social worker says she needs to talk to Mom and make sure she's OK with everything. I visit the gift shop and buy Mom a bracelet that says Baby's name then wait in the lobby with a soda and my diaper bag.

Big Gulp, huh? Alright, See ya later!

2:00pm- The social worker calls me to let me know Mom has said goodbye and is packing up now. I can see Baby 5 in 10min.

2:10pm- As I walk down the hall toward the nursery, I see Mom leaving. I inhale to start talking to her and she walks away. I feel like an idiot.

2:11pm- I see a sleeping Baby 5. I'm in love. Nurse Loudmouth says, "Don't touch him! Trust me, don't touch him." I find out he's very irritable in general and has been even more so since his circumcision yesterday. We let him sleep and do the discharge stuff.

2:30pm- Strap Baby 5 into the car seat and leave the hospital

3:00pm- We're home!!! Baby 5 and I get some alone time to snuggle and chat.

4:20pm- First homevisit with Baby 5's caseworker. She drops off his medicaid card and a letter confirming his placement with us. I have high hopes for her- she thought to do the visit today so I wouldn't have to wait all weekend for the paperwork

4:30pm- Grandma and Baby 4 come home to meet 5

Baby 4 is a little disappointed with his baby. He kept wanting to share his toys and food with 5 and wanted to play with him on the floor. He likes being the big brother, but I think he expected his little brother would be more interesting. Good thing the Baby brought home a present for his Big Brother! At our usual new placement Walmart run for formula and diapers, Brandon picked up a couple of craft kits, an Etch-a-Sketch, and a Cars 2 toy. Even though our new baby is kind of a dud, Baby 4 got to explore his new stuff while everyone ooh-ed and ah-ed over 5. It made for one happy Big Brother!

Baby 5 is pretty fussy when he's awake, but he eats well and slept last night from midnight to 7am in the bassinet!! Our family feels balanced right now with both our boys. I'm feeling very thankful.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh Baby!

We got our Hallelujah! The matcher called me today and 1st thing she said was, "I got a newborn"!

He's still in the hospital and he has the test results and side effects that most newborns in care have, but is otherwise healthy.

Baby is brother to our Respite 4. She is 4yrs old now and has been returned to Dad. When she went home (pretty recently) the family that had her put their home on "self hold"- meaning they were taking a break from fostering. That's why they initially didn't come up in the search for a family for this little guy. As the matcher and I were talking and she mentioned Respite 4, I asked about the family because I have a big flippin' mouth and the matcher thought it would only be fair to offer them the placement first. So apparently I missed my calling as a matcher. She told me she would put us down as back up to them and would call me tomorrow to let me know.

I was really glad that she called me back 10 minutes later to say that the other family was not able to take baby and supported us taking his placement. Whoop! Whoop!

So he is in the NICU where Baby 3 was, and I hopefully get to see him soon. The matcher left a message for the caseworker to call us tomorrow, and she'll be the one to give us the go-ahead to visit at the hospital. He should be about ready to go home- he's 3 weeks old, so I guess technically he's not a newborn.

I asked about everything- birth weight, family history, what happens if Respite 4 comes back into care, if the caseworker from Respite 4's case is taking his case as well, what judge they saw for the removal hearing. The matcher filled in every other detail- race, parents history, her opinion on the length and risk of the placement. However, neither of us mentioned HIS NAME! I don't know his name, and since she called me at the end of the business day, she was gone before I called back to ask.

I'm not quite ready to call him 5, but it seems really likely. In foster care anything can happen though, so I'm monitoring my emotions just in case. I will keep updating as I know more!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stalking Your Matcher 101

I thought I'd share this month's edition of "Please Give Us A Baby!"

Hello Matcher 1 and Matcher 2-

I'm just checking in to say Hi! We have been very busy getting ready for school with Baby 4. He will be taking a "big boy bus" 5 afternoons/week to preschool in September. He's very excited about bringing his new racecar backpack with him. 4's health has stabilized for now and we haven't had much excitement recently *knock on wood*. His last surgery was a week ago and he did really well. We don't go back until the end of September. There is an interstate compact happening with 4's Relative Resource, so he could be moved to another state but nothing is certain yet. Either way, we're having lots of fun and soaking up the end of summer.

I took the classes to become a MAPP trainer last month, and enjoyed it a lot. Brandon played on a softball league this summer and has been tackling some odd jobs around the house with 4 on his days off. 4 likes to take credit for building our new front steps :)

Our Green bedroom is organized and ready for an occupant. I'm attaching pictures. It has pink accents now, but I'm ready with a blue racecar bed and a can of brown paint just in case :) I still feel that 4 will do best as the oldest child in our home. We would love to take children under 4yrs old, and we are experienced and comfortable with many different special needs including autism spectrum, G tube feeds, premature/ prenatally exposed infants, and most recently tracheotomy care.

I hope to hear from you soon!


 From what I gather of the foster care matching business, it goes like this:
1- CPS investigates a report of abuse/neglect and decides the child needs placement
2- The matcher gets a small description of the child and their situation and needs to get them a home ASAP
3- They call the first family that pops into their head and is certified for the age and needs of the child.
4- If the families they know offhand are unavailable, they type the child's race, gender, and age into their computer and get a list of homes that are open for children with those characteristics.
5-They start calling down that list.

What I don't know is how our names come up in that list. Maybe alphabetical? Well that stinks for the Zimmerman's, doesn't it?

So the best bet is to be that family who sticks out in the matchers head when they first get the call about a newborn being released from the hospital that day. I do that with my monthly email and stopping into their office whenever I find myself in the Social Services building. I also make it a point to tell other caseworkers that we are open for more placements. When I ran into 2 & 3's caseworker at the visitation center and she said, "You guys were so great to work with!" I said, "And we LOVED working with you! You could always mention us to the matchers, and maybe we'll be on your next case!".

Our certifying caseworker suggests calling the matchers once/ month to keep them thinking of you, but it's awkward for me to do that. I tried once and it came out like this:

Matcher: Hello? Matcher 1, Homefinding team
Me: Hi! This is Teresa Foster Parent.
Matcher: Oh Hi Teresa!
Me: Hi [Crap, I already said that] Uhhh.. I....
Matcher: How is Baby 1?
Me: Good, Good. Really good. He's probably going home soon. We want another placement, uh.. after he leaves... probably soon...
Matcher: click, click, click [That's the matcher typing an email to my caseworker asking if I have special needs] Well, I don't have anything right now, but I'll keep you in mind, mmkay?
Me: Um, well, Ok. We have cribs! And bottles!
Matcher: Right, right sweetie. Bye-Bye!
Me: Bye.

Ok, it wasn't that bad, and it kind of worked because I got the call for baby 2 just nine days later, but it felt that disastrous. It's uncomfortable to call someone and try to sell yourself and still be casual and conversational. So I don't call anymore. Instead I email.
 I send out these gems with the intent of being a bit cheesy for 2 reasons: middle aged women love that stuff and it makes us memorable because most other foster parents have too much dignity to send out myspace style snapshots and emails with the subject line "We're too young to be empty nesters!". Judging by the 4 beautiful children they've sent us, I'd say it's working.

So those are my secrets to getting the cute kids. You've got to butter up your homefinding caseworker.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rapid Fire Posting

Just a quick apology for the 7,000 posts in one day. I've been typing bits and pieces for the past couple of weeks and I finally got some time today to separate them into posts and publish.

If any of you have seen me in person in the past 2 weeks, you know it's been rough. Baby 4 is giving me a run for my money with these behaviors- lots of whining and sneaking, being rough with the animals, repetitively asking the same questions, going into women's purses, touching people's phones when we're out in public, jumping around like a maniac when we are walking together so I either have to let go of his hand or let him break his arm.

The newest is constantly being concerned with "Next"- he wants more food before he's eaten half of what he has. He asks for another movie before the first one has loaded in the player. When we're playing, he's asking about what we'll play next. If we are going to McDonald's today, he's asking if we are going to the toy store tomorrow. If it's playtime he wants to read a story, if it's story time he wants go outside, if we're outside he wants to eat, if it's snack time he wants to watch a movie.

It's made for some makeup-less bad hair days for me. I don't want to dwell on the negative stuff, but it has to be mentioned.Our kids come to us broken and we can't fix them ourselves. Baby 4 doesn't know that all the stuff he has here will always be there for him. He doesn't know that I will always catch him going in someone's purse because I care about what he's doing. He doesn't know that I can have a conversation with another adult and still keep him safe, so of course he'll act up to get my attention when I'm not solely focused on him. How can he possibly have any security at all when he has been told by relative resource that he is going to live with her? He doesn't understand what's going on! I don't even understand what's going on!

So that's why there was silence here for 2 weeks then a million posts on a Sunday- because I can't handle behavior modification and blogging at the same time. Today was a rainy day, and I let 4 watch 2 movies in a row because it gave me a break to finish a whole thought and write it down. I won't be offended if you don't read everything I posted today. Honestly, I blog more for myself anyway.

I don't know if I've actually shared why I blog, but now is good a time as any. I blog for a couple reasons:
~ To give people a choice about how much they want to know. I am constantly talking about foster care and our experiences, and I never know if the person I'm rambling to really cares. This blog gives me an outlet to vent and lets my friends and family who actually care listen and the ones who don't aren't exposed.
~To document our journey. I've always journaled and kept photo albums, but when I found out you can print your blog int a photo book using Blog2Print I was very excited to have a nice book of our experiences to show my kids as they get older.
~To connect with a community of like-minded foster parents. I have met a lot of foster parents in the real world- some are good, but most annoy me. Either they have different fundamental beliefs about foster care and how children and families should be treated, or they are negative about the agency/system/child/family, or they add foster care into their list of charity work and feel really good about their philanthropy. Sometimes they are just weird. Anyway, I wanted to read about other normal and maybe even Christian people's experiences and offer my own story. I've found some great Foster Moms just like that through their blogs.
~To educate people who have questions. Both people I know in real life and strangers that are considering foster care need answers. I've had so many of my acquaintances say I read your blog, I never knew what foster care really was! Or I never knew you dealt with infertility, I was going through that same thing when you were! The only info I have about strangers that come here are the search engine keywords they use to find me. Blogger tells me how people end up on my blog, and it is usually by typing a phrase into Google. I saw one last week that said, "Does God want me to be a foster parent?". I'm so glad our love story was there to tell that person YES, He does.

So again, I'm sorry for clogging up your newsfeeds and reading lists with my happenings. Thanks for following me though! I love your support and comments!

Ready... Set... ... ...

I haven't heard anything about maybe baby or gotten any Hallelujah calls in 2 weeks- but in my head it's more like TWO WEEKS! I have a bad case of baby fever and it's taking a lot of strength not to stalk the matchers.

My life with Baby 4 is hectic and full, so I know I sound crazy asking for more BUT right now is our normal and it's not going to change anytime soon. Since I already have to go to the Foster Care Clinic all the time with 4,  wake up every 2 hrs overnight to do breath checks, and we have breaks scheduled into our routine every 4hrs for nebulizer treatments- why not add a baby with a similar schedule into the mix? In just three weeks, Baby 4 will be starting preschool which gives me a solid 3 hrs of undivided baby attention everyday. I can't think of a better time to be getting that Hallelujah.

Since there is not a lot I can do to get Baby 5 here any faster except proof read (again) the email I'm sending to the matcher Monday morning, we have been focusing our energy on getting our house as baby ready as possible.

Baby 4 has gotten BIG since coming home in March. He's gone from 28lbs and not even on the chart for percentages to 37lbs- 25% for both height and weight. Am I a terrible Mom for not knowing his height offhand? Probably. Either way, he's too big for his race car toddler bed. I started talking about how awesome big boy beds are and how he would be closer to being a grown up if he slept in one. The day came last week to make the switch. We took everything out of his room so Brandon could steam clean the carpet. I told Baby 4 that he could bring all the big boy stuff back in after the carpet dried. He went back and forth between wanting his race car bed to come back, but in the end he was happy to give it up so he would have room for a papasan chair that we found in the attic (from when Brandon had a man cave now 4's room).

Big Boy Bed, Papasan Chair, and over the door Basket Ball Hoop
4 and his train very excited for their first night as big boys!
The crib was a source of stress for me. We have 2 full cribs, an apartment sized crib, and a bassinet. My thought was to have a crib in each kid room and the apartment sized crib in our room. There was no rationale in it, I think I just like having cribs around. Brandon, being partly a logical person and partly oppositional to my ideas, wanted to take down the cribs in 4's room and our room and set just one crib up in our extra room. His reason was that our county has a two under two rule that would limit us to 2 babies in the house at one time- so we would never need 3 cribs. We're not asking for a sibling set, and even if we got one the likelihood is that the older child would go into a toddler bed. Further, we wouldn't have 4 share a bedroom because of the behaviors he has displayed and the noise of his nighttime machine would make it impossible to hear anything in his room with a baby monitor.
Our One Lonely Crib

Brandon said that we should train any baby that is too big for a bassinet to sleep in their own room anyway since we're not very good at getting them out of our room (Baby 1 &3 were still in our room at 8mo and 1yr when they left). Even if the county called us with triplets tomorrow, how hard would it be to trek up the 8 stairs to the attic and get down the other cribs? Moral of the story is that Brandon was right and we now have one crib set up in Baby 5's room and the bassinet in our room.

Then we moved on to our spare room- soon to be 5's room. It was kind of a tease to have bunk beds set up when we have no intentions of taking a child older than Baby 4, so we took those down. We originally set it up for respite 3 and his 6yr old brother when we thought they would be coming together and often. We ended up only having 3 and he only came twice before going home with his biofamily. We set up the crib and kept the toddler bed in there so we are ready for the call!!

Before- set up for kiddos

After- Ready for Baby (except for the lamp on the floor, I'm working on it)
Don't let the colors fool you, I'm ready with some brown paint and blue race car bed should baby 5 be a boy. Although, we could use some dresses and bby dolls around here.

We're ready and set, now we wait for the county to give us the "GO!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dance! Dance!! Dance!!!

Extracurricular activities are starting soon with the impending start of the school year (September to June here). Our county will reimburse us $350 per year to have the kids in lessons or sports. Their time in care is possibly the only chance our kids might get to be in these types of activities, so I feel it's important that we get them involved.

It is even more important specifically for Baby 4 because he has so much energy, decreased strength from his extended time in a hospital bed, and some flexibility issues because of his scars.  Because of the trach, I had to be careful about what activity we chose.

I called a Tae Kwon Do place who told me that the kids only do drills for 3mo before they start to spar- trach hazard. I was so excited when I realized that the only no contact sport that has classes for 4yr old's is.. DANCE!!

I took dance when I was little and I loved it. I still like to think of myself as a dancer even though I have no natural rhythm and I've retained very little skill.

Dancing queen!

I found a great school with a male instructor who didn't bat an eye at  4's trach or scars. He starts a ballet/tap combo class in September! I introduced the idea slowly to 4. We started watching Angelina Ballerina and YouTube clips of children dancing. When I said to 4, "Do you want to go to dance school?" It was a resounding YES!

I was so excited, we registered him that day. I bought his shoes online as well as a Tshirt and gym bag with his school's logo on it. 4 and I were both giddy when the mailman brought them. Brandon put together some spare planks of laminate flooring that we had left over from our playroom makeover so Brandon put them together so 4 could dance in his room. He LOVES it, and I get to be a Dance Mom. YAYY!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Surgery, Court, and Fear

One more surgery down for Baby 4- His 4th since he's been with us and we are slowly but surely making progress towards getting that trach out. The Dr initially said they would not even consider taking it out for 2yrs because of having to replace it last time. On Monday, the Dr said his goal is to get it out by early next year!! We go back at the end of September for the next one- sticking to our 6 week schedule. No family involvement at the hospital again which made it simpler for me.

After surgery on Monday was court on Thursday. I waited with Dad for 2.5hrs in the lobby before the case was called. I got to talk to 4's attorney as well as Dad's. They were both really satisfied with 4's placement with us and the visit schedule. When Dad's attorney approached us Dad said, "The foster mom took me to the zoo" even though I was right there, he knows my name, and I didn't take him, he met us there unexpectedly- it was cute he was so excited about bio day . The attorney then told the judge that the foster family has been making it a point to extend visits beyond the scheduled times, so no extra time is being formally requested.

Court was about 20min long. All of the attorneys agreed not to talk about anything importnt that day. We then adjourned until the end of September. There was no talk of how Baby 4 is doing, which kind of gets to me because this judge will be making decisions about where he lives forever and she doesn't even know what his medical care or behavior is like and how much time and attention he requires.  So nothing got done, but I got face time with the attorneys and Dad so they can see that I'm on Baby 4's side and hear from me that he's being taken care of properly. The county's attorney walked out of court afterward and stopped to tell me, "I was wondering who you were when you walked into court!" Good, good, way to know your cases.

As I walked out of the court house with the case manager (Foster Care Intake Worker), she told me that Baby 4's case is being moved to foster care management in under 2 weeks and that she will no longer be the case manager. WOO HOO!! I think she meant well, but she made a lot of mistakes and doesn't play well with foster parents (or bios, really). The only thing she said that gave me pause was that there was no guarantee the next caseworker will have the same opinions about relative resource as everyone else in the case. Right now no one wants Baby 4 to move out of state.

No matter what anybody thinks, the judge can send him to her anyway. Our judge is not known for her wisdom and tends to favor maternal biofigures over other options. Having a case manager who supports the relative resource placement will likely result in the placement going through. The law guardian has said she'll be vocal about keeping him here. I don't know how much that really matters though because he will likely never be able to live with his parents, she's family, and we're nothing.

I'm trying to have faith that is stronger than me in this situation, but it's a struggle. Parenting in general gives you so much to fear about: Can they choke on this? Will they fall from that?  Are they growing up too fast? Are they playing with too many electronic toys? Are they developing properly? Are they eating enough vegetables? Are they drinking enough milk? Are they allergic to peanuts? Then you add foster care and it's phobia-worthy: Will they stay? Are they attached enough? Am I attached too much? What do they need before they go? Did I tell them none of this is their fault? Did they believe me? Will they still go to college if their parents never finished highschool? Will they know how to love if they've only witnessed violence? Will they remember that Jesus loves them even after they leave? Will their family still take them to therapy? Will they get to talk about their feelings or be taught to hide them? Will they watch endless hours of TV when they are not in daycare? Will anyone notice if they are struggling in school? Will anybody see what the acting out means?

I have to leave all of that with God, but I'm finding it difficult not to keep wandering back to fear and away from the faith that foster care calls for. Faith that God knows what He's doing and that He's had plans to prosper my children all along. Faith that a child can be kept safe in an unsafe environment by the Blood of Jesus. Faith that the children who come into my home are there for a reason, and God has given me the wisdom to see their needs and skill to meet them. Faith to know that God will hold me close even if this doesn't turn out my way.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bio Day

Today was a good day. It was challenging for me, but really good for Baby 4. The agency that employs 4's play therapist and his Dad's caseworker held a Zoo day and picnic for their clients. I did not expect Dad to show up at all, I didn't even mention the possibility to 4, especially after Dad didn't say anything to 4 about it at their visit. We were going either way because it was a free day at the zoo. 4 and I were both shocked when we saw Dad sitting at the zoo's entrance when we arrived.

Baby 4 and his Dad watching the penguins

We are at the supervised visitation level and I'm still the only one who could deal with 4's trach in an emergency, so I had to monitor all of their interactions. I am not a fan of that. It makes me feel like in the battle between the county and the parent, I'm on the county's side- and I'm not. I like to picture myself standing with my child while the grown-ups handle the battling. I want to give Dad pictures and updates and let the county tell him what he needs to do (or not do). I want to be the good guy. In this case I get to be the good guy mostly, but it's still uncomfortable.

The longer I'm exposed to foster care, the more compassion I get for bioparents. I know how it feels to have children you love live with someone else by court order. No matter what they've done to that child, it's scary for them to think of all the worse things that could be happening to their baby by the strangers they live with. The media doesn't help - with stories of children abused in foster and adoptive homes. There are at least 3 episodes of Law and Order in my netflix que right now about foster parents killing their children. A bioparent could go crazy with all that filling their heads! It's important to me that I let them know we will treat their children well and that we are just normal people who do normal things everyday. I do that by allowing the parent to call me and speak to their children (when allowed by the court), I keep a communication log in the bag I send on visits with pictures and updates about the children. I make sure to use empowering words when talking about their relationship. I say your son is so musical! Baby 4 told me all about him and Daddy playing basketball at your last visit. It takes competition between the child's two families right out of the equation and puts us on the same side- This is your child, I don't want to replace you. While I've always said those things, it's becoming more true with every case. I don't want to take away the child's bioparents, I want to add a foster family that loves them too. A child can not have too many people that want to claim them as their own.

I want to be able to tell the child we eventually adopt that their parents had every chance and that I was was rooting for them along the way. In foster care, contact between parent and child is vital to  reducing the length of placement and minimizing additional trauma to the child in permanency. I have heard several different outcomes that have been improved for all sides because the foster parent has supported the bios. From foster parents having years of ongoing contact with kids after reunification, to parents surrendering their rights because they are confident in the care the foster family will give after adoption.

Now is THE most difficult time I've had with bio family relationships. It's the first case where I've had a parent who could not have done anything to prevent the child's placement and is unable to get the child out of care. It's also the first time I've had a parent who made a conscious choice that I will never understand. All our previous cases have been about the parents priorities, there was never direct intention to harm the child. They are the first parents that have been younger than us, and it adds a different dimension that we've never experienced before. We find ourselves fostering them as well. When I bring out a juice box for 4, I bring out a juice box for the parent. I interpret everything the Dr says about 4's medical condition and explain the educational plan as many times as needed.

The biofamilies I've worked with are not fulfilling any stereotypes. They are not scary or homeless. They are dressed appropriately and mostly speak articulately. Also, every single one of our cases have had BioDads that were involved and working the case plan. Babies 1-3 reunited with their Dad having full custody of them. I have never had a Mom work a case plan or reunite with her children. 2/3 of the parents we've had were in their late 30's. I think the stereotype is that kids in care have young single Moms who are trying their best- that just hasn't been our experience.

Bioparents are not to be feared, they are very often fearful themselves. I know that many foster families (ourselves included) have been apprehensive about contact with bios. I have found out there are several ways for a determined bio to find out anything they want about me. My full name appears on court papers, WIC

I never use my last name when dealing directly with the family. I encourage cell phone calls/texts, but do not give out my home number. I'm not super secretive about our vehicles. I give vague approximations of our address like, "We're 10 minutes from the visitation center and 5min from school". I give pictures of the children in their bedrooms and I talk about our extended family and our dogs. So far we haven't had a parent use our information inappropriately.

All of this is for the benefit of our children. When they see us interacting positively with their parents, it boosts their self worth. If I respect where you come from, I respect you. It also gives them permission to love both sets of parents. When bios and fosters look like a united front to the child, then there is no pressure to choose sides or be loyal. 4 is very open- telling me he misses Daddy and Daddy is his favorite because he knows that I'm OK with that. Supporting his attachment to his biofamily builds our attachment and helps us bond.

So while today was uncomfortable, I told Dad's caseworker that I am open to doing more outings like this one because I feel like it's the right thing to do for 4 and his family.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I'm a MAPP Trainer

Friday was my last MAPP Train The Trainer Class. I even got a diploma. So now my county can call me to co-lead the next 10 week training for perspective foster parents. Pretty exciting!

Also exciting is that after my call the previous week about the maybe baby we are being considered for in another county, I sat down in training Monday morning next to the Matcher from that county. I mentioned to her that my homestudy was sent over for him and she was willing to share some details about his story. We talked for a couple of minutes before she asked me my last name and county. She said she would look for our homestudy when she got back to office. She told me they received a lot of homestudies for several counties for him, so I knew not to get my hopes up. We went the whole week joking and chatting and the baby never came up. On Friday, though, as we were leaving she said, "Hey, I'll make sure your homestudy gets consideration for the baby. I'll call you!". That really doesn't mean anything, I know, but it's better than what our matcher said, "You may never hear anything about this baby again if they pass you up for him.". Maybe God's working a miracle. Maybe I need to have faith that this baby is ours and pray for him to come to us quickly. I've been thinking and praying that he will get where he belongs very soon, but I didn't let myself really think he could be matched with us. Honestly, I'm still not thinking that, but if you could have that faith and pray for us, I would so appreciate it.

I emailed my homefinding caseworker to let her know everything I found out. She said she was on vacation when our homestudy was pulled and sent, but a senior caseworker looked through it and added an addendum that highlights our skills and experience that specifically relate to this case.

The funniest thing about this situation is that on reason we chose foster care over other adoption options because we wanted to avoid this matching process where you get all worked up just have it fall through.