Saturday, October 29, 2011

Phone Tricks

At the Foster parent panel that we spoke on last month, we picked up a fun phone trick from one of the other foster families. They use Google Voice for all calls between them and their child's Biofamily. Google voice is a free service that allows you to create a phone number that will ring any and all of your phones without effecting the telephone service you have now. This means you can give your bios this phone number and have it ring at your house, your cell, and your partner's cell so you don't miss a call from them. I actually didn't sign up for this function since my cell phone is always on me, but I can see how other people might find it convenient.

What I love about Google voice is that it can't be traced back to your address like home phone numbers or some cell phone numbers can be. You don't even provide that information to Google at all when signing up- just your phone number and email address.

I also like that because it is not connected to your real number, you can disconnect or change it if the situation with the Bios becomes unsafe and it won't effect the rest of your calls on your real number. On the flip side, you could also change your real number (like if you move into another area code) and keep your Google voice number so that the bios (or kids that have gone home) can reach you by dialing a number that is local to them.

It also will transcribe all of your voicemails and text sent to your google phone number into an email. This is PERFECT for foster care where we are supposed to document everything. One of our cases had a parent who became very hostile with us at times. This parent would leave me angry voicemails that I would save and let the caseworker listen to later. I wish I would have had a written transcript of those messages to give to the caseworker and child's attorney.

Fun trick, right? I thought so too. Since everyone involved with our current cases already has our real number, I won't be using this much until the next placement. I'm really glad I know about it though!!

While we're on the topic of phones- You've probably heard me talk about "Hallelujah Calls" from our county's matchers. This is a cute blog name for the call, but it's also the ringtone I have set for their numbers. Having the matchers' numbers programed in my phone with a specific ring helps me know that I need to pick up the phone and not let it go to voicemail. Here is the link to the free ringtone. Just put in your phone number and they'll text to you: Hallelujah Chorus Ringtone

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Fosterlings

About a month ago we got an exciting opportunity to speak on a panel to a class of prospective foster parents who are getting ready for certification and their families. We were supposed to talk about our experience and give some tricks of the trade to these new fosterlings. When Brandon and I were going through our initial training there were nurses from foster care's pediatrician office, a matcher, a homefinding caseworker, a management worker, an adoption worker, and 3 foster families. On this panel there were 6 foster families and 1 management worker. Foster parents LOVE.TO.TALK. It is what it is- we have a lot to say. By the time it was our turn to tell our story, I felt pressed to finish up quickly and I only said about half of what I wanted to tell the class. I tried to stick to stuff that the other families hadn't talked about, and I ended up making us sound like we only take respites. I kicked myself all the way home thinking, "I should have said this. I should have said that. They need to know this stuff!!!". I did say, "Go read some foster care blogs!", so maybe they'll stumble upon this post. I know at least one of them found us- Hi Rachael!!

 Here's my experience and tricks- for fosterlings:

Hi, My name is Teresa Foster Parent. My husband an I have been foster parents for a little over 2 years. We have seen 13 children come into our home during that time- 5 placements and 8 respites. After our last MAPP class, it took a little less than a month to become certified. It was 2 weeks from our official 1st day open to bringing home our 1st child.

We got the call for our 1st baby- a healthy newborn-  at noon and we picked him up at 6pm. He came with just a onesie and enough formula for 2 bottles. I had gone to Walmart before picking him up and had what we needed already. Trick- have some money set aside for new placements. We spend $250-$300 on our first couple of Walmart runs for our kids. Since the clothing check and daily stipend won't come for 6weeks after the child is in your home, you'll need to have cash on hand. Also, even though our kids are automatically qualified for WIC, it can take up to a month to actually get an appointment, so you'll be buying formula until then and that money does not get reimbursed. We replace our "new child" fund when the child's 1st check comes in.We were initially told he would stay for 3 months, and he stayed for 8 months before returning to his Dad. He had 5 visits/ week because his parents didn't get long well enough to visit together. Eventually he was doing 2 supervised visits during the week with Mom and spent weekends with his Dad. I learned with him how unpredictable court can be- we had him packed and ready to leave several times over those 8 months only to have the judge extend his stay with us. We went to court with him every other week for 8 months. How often you go to court solely depends on the judge. The judge in our next case only held court every 4-6months. Trick- Go to court when possible. It will give you a better picture of what's happening in the case, and let the judge see you and see that you are there for the kid. You will also have the chance to interact with the child's parents and lawyer. When the baby was returned we had 11 days notice before the move.

3 days before our 1st baby went home, we got the call for a sibling group. The boys were 18 mo and newborn. We had 20 minutes between the call and picking up our 2nd son. He was in the CPS investigators car on his way to the agency when the matcher called and I got there as fast as I could. I brought him with me to Walmart that day. He had only the clothes on his back and a coat that the caseworker had in her office. Everything was bought and ready when his little brother was released from the hospital (with no possessions) 2 weeks later. The judge ordered jail visits with one of the parents for the boys every week. I accompanied the children and their caseworker to the jail 3 times. Trick- transport children to their visits when you can and really try to do the 1st visit so you can meet the parents and start positive communication. Parents will usually cause less trouble for you if you extend yourself to them We were still at the supervised visit level when Dad asked to have the boys for Christmas. There wouldn't be anyone to transport or supervise on Christmas day, but the judge left it to the "county's discretion". We decided that it would be best for our sons to have both of their families on Christmas. We had our relatives over for Christmas breakfast and presents and then did dinner at their Dad's house. We offered to supervise the 3hr Christmas day visit. Trick- you will never regret going above and beyond for the children you love.

We were childless for 3 weeks before getting the call for our 4 yr old. During that time we got several calls for children who were out of our age range. Trick- It's really important to be honest about your families abilities and comfort zone. We don't have any older children in our family or close friends, and we haven't ever worked with high functioning older children. There is a lot to be said for people who can stretch beyond their ideal placement and help an older child than they expected. However, if you legitimately can not parent a child they call you for, you have to say no for the sake of the child. No child deserves a parent that wishes they never took him. We have said no at least 10 times since being certified and they always call us again with children in our age range. Saying no will not make the matchers dislike you. Our 4 yr old son is medically frail and we needed a lot of training to care for him. While he has been our most challenging child, he has also been the most rewarding. We have seen him progress so much this year.  Taking a child with special needs requires more time and advocating than other placements. Since his condition can become life threatening and his family and caseworker were not proficient in his care, I have had to stay with him in visits and have spent quite a bit of time in the hospital and at appts. All of his medical expenses are covered as well as his equipment and supplies. I've never even had to purchase a gauze pad out of pocket. There is so much support provided for foster parents who take in medically fragile or behaviorally challenged children- including respite care where the child can spend some time in another foster home while you take a short break. Trick- When you get certified, you will be assigned a Homefinding caseworker. This is YOUR caseworker- she's the one who will do your yearly re-certs and will be available to provide support when you get placements. You'll be working closely with your child's caseworker, but they won't be helping you work through your feelings or figure out your role. Lean on your Homefinder, she will be very valuable to you. There have been many times when my homefinder has been able to help me sort out confusing or frustrating things that come up in our cases.

We had Baby 4 for 6months when we got the call for a newborn being released from the hospital. We got the call at 5:30 on Thursday and I picked him up at 3:00 on Friday. So far his case has been relatively uneventful. We were matched with him because we had provided respite for his sister when she was in care. Trick- Say yes to some respite calls. We've taken 8 kids for respite, and we love it. It's basically babysitting, and at the very least it will help you network with other foster families and it could lead to a placement for you. I've even heard of cases where the foster family decides not adopt a child in their care and the family that did respite was able to adopt that child.

Some other tips we have are:

Give the child's parents copies of pictures you take while you have them. It will help you build a relationship with them, and it will allow your child to have pictures of special times when they go back home. The pictures you take may be the only baby picture or 1st day of school picture that's ever taken of them.

Go to the trainings offered by the county. Foster parenting is hard and we can use all the preparation we can get. There is a legal training and "saying Goodbye" training that are excellent. The class you should take ASAP is Fostering the Sexually Abused Child. At some point, most foster parents will deal with issues talked about in that class. It's sad, but true and you don't want to get caught off guard.

Document everything you do in foster care. Keep receipts of all the clothing you buy the child, have a notebook for each child where you write down when you speak to the caseworker, child's attorney, parents or other family, etc. I like to keep most of my communication with caseworkers on email, so I have a paper trail.

Call or email the matchers when you want children placed with you. Remind them of any special training or experience you have and if you'll take any special needs. The fresher you are in their mind when they get a child to place, the quicker you'll get a call.

Read Read Read!! There a lot of great books you should pick up, but get these 2 first:

Success As A Foster Parent: Everything You Need To Know About Foster Care is a very great resource and an easy, fast read that comes from the National Foster Parent Association

Go to some free sample websites and look for offers for free samples of diapers or formula. Pampers and Huggies offer these periodically, and it's an easy way to have some extras around the house just in case you need a diaper to hold a new baby over while you run to the store.

There's still so much more, but I've been working on this post for a month now so I think this is enough. There is so much to say to new foster families. This journey is hard and long. You'll feel like you're lost sometimes. However, there are some really great companions traveling the same road, so reach out to them. Every tough time is more than made up for in smiles, hugs, and silly dances. Having a real impact on your community and another human being is amazing. You won't regret it.

Concurrent Planning = Emotional Entrapment

Most foster parents are aware of ASFA. The Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act was signed into law in 1997 and changed foster care in many ways- one was shortening the time a child can be in care. No longer could kids float around the system for years and years while their parents continue to make zero progress towards getting them back. Now, Termination of parental rights and an alternate permanency goal can be pursued after a child has been in care for 15 of the past 22 months.

Then NY enacted their own ASFA in 1999 which tightened up how we do things in these parts. One of the biggest was how we plan for permanency when a child enters care. ASFA encourages concurrent planning. In concurrent planning there are 2 "tracks" towards permanency moving along at the same time. The first is always "return to parent", and the other can be adoption, legal guardianship, permanent placement with a fit and willing relative, or another planned and permanent living arrangement which could include independent living, group home, or nursing home. This concurrent planning helps keep our time frame for achieving permanency for our kids and prevents incidents of children lingering in care after their parent's rights have been terminated.

All of our kids have had concurrent plans of "Return to Parent" and "Adoption" with us listed as that adoptive resource. We want to adopt, and we've been sincere about being ready to adopt any and all of our kids. BUT we are well-trained foster parents and we know that reunification is the goal of foster care, and we've been as supportive of that as possible. I, specifically, have done ridiculous things to aid reunification including but not limited to: driving a Dad to his substance abuse treatment program, facilitating a visit on Christmas Day when no county workers were willing, and most recently (yesterday) booking a flight for relative resource to come here for court. She paid for the ticket, but I went online, found the best price, secured her seat, printed the confirmation and mailed it to her. What?! I know!!!

I don't want to keep a child who could have gone home if his family had gotten more support. I want to adopt the child who truly needed a family. When the child I adopt is an adult, I'm going to be able to say, "I tried everything to keep you with your family. I fought for your parents so they could fight for you. You were always loved, and we adopted you because it was honestly the best thing.". I do all these crazy things with our Bios because (1) I'm a lunatic and (2) I want all of my actions and motives to be pure and selfless. Sometimes I fall short of that "pure and selfless" part, but I'm working on it and getting better with each case.

With our 1st placement, my language was much different. People would ask, "Are you going to adopt him?" and I'd say "Hopefully". Then our 2nd case it was, "Maybe, but it changes so much I don't know.". Today, Baby 4's teacher asked me about adoption and I said, "Oh. We don't even think about adoption for 2yrs.". Keeping my head in the fostering game and not letting it slip into pre-adoption territory is healthier and easier, and all around appropriate for the situation.  It's not that I don't daydream of adoption and name changes and Gotcha Day celebrations, but I don't linger much.

And right as I'm becoming the balanced person I've always hoped to be, I get this email from 4's caseworker:

Another question, I wanted to ask you now rather in front of [baby 4], if we decide to terminate father and mother’s rights, are your willing to adopt [baby 4]?
Let me know. Thanks J

Just in case fostering alone wasn't emotionally consuming enough- concurrent planning has to slap me in the face with what ifs, maybes, and selfish high hopes. Adoption is still just a back up plan, but it's in the forefront of my mind. We're going to add concurrent planning to the list of foster care related topics that can give me a migraine and/or cause me to eat large amounts of chocolate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From This Moment

I got a call Friday from Baby 5's caseworker that was very expected. His case is moving along nicely and November will bring a lot of changes for him, and as a result- us. There are a lot of milestones that come with fostering- The Call, Meeting the Bios, The 1yr Mark. This conversation with the caseworker where she pretty much said, "Get ready. Get packed." and "Get him down to the lab Tuesday for DNA testing" brought me to a milestone- The Moment.

The Moment is when you realize that this child who was placed in your home "temporarily" with "reunification being the goal" has your entire heart in his tiny little fist and will be ripping it out when he leaves. It's The Moment when you panic because your baby can't leave!!! He belongs with you!

****Foster Care Fun Fact**** Almost any country song can be interpreted to fit foster care/adoption and can make me think about my babies and sob like a maniac. Here are some of my favorites:

From this moment, as long as I live,
I will love you. I promise you this
There is nothing I wouldn't give
From this moment on

I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance

In my dreams I'll always see you soar above the sky
In my heart there'll always be a place for you for all my life
I'll keep a part of you with me, and everywhere I am there you'll be

Aaaand, I'm crying! Before I go grab a tissue, I want to tell you about going to get the genetic marker test.

It was super easy (practically speaking, not emotionally since we are post-Moment and all). I took Baby to the lab with a copy of his birth certificate which I got from the caseworker. The tech triple checked all his information and had me fill out a form with all his info so she could compare her info with what I provided. I had to show identification for myself. She took a picture of baby and did 4 cheek swabs which baby smiled during. We were in and out in 10 minutes.

We'll find out the results and make changes to baby's case accordingly in November.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Unrelated Children

When we first got certified for foster care, we wanted a sibling group. I knew we could parent more than one child, but I was afraid that I wasn't ready to deal with 2 caseworkers, 2 judges, 2 visitation schedules, 2 Biofamilies, etc. I made it clear that while open to multiple children, we only wanted one family/case at a time.

After having 3 cases and many respites, we felt we had enough experience to handle two families at once and we asked for Baby 5. So far being involved in 2 cases has worked out, although having experienced parenting 2 related children then 2 unrelated children, I can tell you unrelated is a lot more work. Balancing each child's separate schedule is tricky because no one involved in one case cares about what's going on in the other case. Example: Baby 4 has a service plan review coming up next month. It falls at the exact time as Baby 5's visit is ending (read: I need to be picking him up). I asked about it being moved and the CW gave me another option which was at the same time as 5's service plan review. If they had been related children, that wouldn't have been an issue. As much as the logistics side of unrelated children is tricky- it can be navigated with a trusty dayplanner and a babysitter on stand by.

The stuff I've really been struggling with since bringing home 5 is the emotional part of it. How to delicately prepare these little souls and their big feelings for the way we live. Both of our boys could go home in November and both of our boys could stay here forever- we just don't know yet. Either way, when we decided to take unrelated children we were really signing each of them up for additional roles in foster care. They will now have to balance attachment and saying Goodbye the way we do. They will now have to be aware of foster care outside their own situation. When they go home, they're not just being ripped away from us, but also the sibling they love.

I'm trying to emotionally secure the children's place in our family. Baby 4 calls 5 "My baby". I tell them I will always love them- no matter what they do or where they are. How do I keep that security if one child goes home? How do I explain one going home and one staying? It's bad enough now that Baby 5 has two visits/week when 4 just has one- what happens when the baby starts weekend overnight visits and the preschooler is still doing his 1hr supervised visit? Will he know he's loved and protected if 5 goes home and we get that call for Baby 6? Keeping open dialogue is going to be very important. There can't just be a day when Baby's not here anymore- going home has to be normalized while staying with us has to be OK as well.

Our preschool version of foster care that we talk about at least weekly, but sometimes several times/day is: Kids need to live in a home that is safe so they don't get really sick or hurt. If a Mommy or Daddy doesn't know how to keep their kids safe, the kids live in another house while their parents learn to take great care of them. Kids can go home when their parents can keep them safe. Baby 4 knows that his family is learning how to keep him safe and that Baby 5's parents are doing the same. He asks why I know how to keep him safe, but other Mommies don't know how. I tell him that not all parents can keep kids safe. It's a very hard job, but they are trying to do better. I hope this idea will help us get through having siblings that may be separated.

What I can't control is how the sibling that moves away will handle the loss. Will the family allow them to talk about their missing brother? Will they show them the sibling pictures from their time with us? What if Baby 4 leaves and 5 stays? Will he think I wanted the baby more than him?

This topic is really too big to tackle in one post, but I'm processing it slowly and surely. I wonder if this is something that other foster parents worry about, or if it is yet another example of me overthinking. Either way, it does complicate the little lives of my children- who already have too many complications. Preparation is the key for making our family's transitions as minimally traumatic as possible. Unfortunately, there is not much time to prepare for anything in foster care.

Ultimately, I have to lean on my world view and beliefs. Our story has been written by a God who has good intentions for us and our children. The children who are placed in our home have been equipped with the personalities and abilities to ride this roller coaster in the same way that Brandon and I have been. The children who become part of our family will be taking part of our calling, and I hope they will see it as their calling as well. Our legacy becomes their legacy, their burdens become ours- we share love, joy, and loss. I have to believe that they are made to keep up with our changing dynamics and that being a foster family will make them strong and sensitive, quick to love and unafraid of change. The kids that we call our own are special and they'll be protected throughout our story.

 I've been reading a blog written by the biodaughter of a foster/adoptive family. She shares her experiences as a foster-sibling and how it has changed her perspective and faith. I am so appreciative to her for journalingLearning To Abandon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life Changing Material Is On It's Way!!

Fall is my favorite: pumpkin bread, apple picking, hoodies, hot tea, cinnamon rolls, Halloween costumes, crunchy leaf piles, fuzzy baby rompers, corn mazes- the list could go on and on.

I am thoroughly enjoying this fall with 4 and 5.

This October is the calm before the storm. We have 2 court dates in November that could change my family. Either baby could go home, visits could increase, transitions could start, bio-connections could be broken. I have no idea what will happen, and I have legitimate concerns about any possible outcome. There is so much drama and complexity in both their families. I can't figure any of it out. November is going to be crazy either way, and that's why October has become our oasis.

So that's why things might be quiet on here for now, because I'd rather play "Bugga bugga BOO!" with Baby 5 or make peanut butter play dough with Baby 4 than do anything else in the world. I'm working on some posts one sentence at a time. They're coming together quite nicely- words of foster genius, really. When they finally get done I'm sure you'll laugh, cry, and be better people for having read my blog. Hahaha! ...Or, you'll get a cool tip about keeping your phone number private and untraceable, hear about my 1st time co-leading MAPP, and watch me work out my feelings about foster siblings. Coming soon! I swear!