Saturday, February 4, 2017

I'm Still Here! (And a Brief Update)

Considering the fact that I haven't written anything in over three monthsI thought it would be appropriate to let any readers know that I am, in fact, still here! 

Sometimes (more often than not) living life gets in the way of blogging- and that's okay.  It would be nice to be able to just sit down and start writing the half a dozen posts that are constantly brewing in my head after I've read a thought-provoking article or when I've had an experience I'd like to share with other foster parents.   I feel terrible when I am not able to follow through with a requested guest post or book review but ultimately my family is my first priority and they come first.  [Hint: If you've asked me to review a book or do a guest post it's not a question of IF I will do it, but of WHEN I will be able to get around to it.  Please don't take it personally.]  The truth is, I just barely got caught up documenting events and uploading photos on my private blog of what our family has been up to over the past year.  And let's be honest, if I want to finish writing just one blog post without any interruptions of "Mom!" "Mommy!" it most likely has to be after midnight.

Of course, there's also the issue of how much of my fostering and adoption experiences to share with a world of virtual strangers.  On the one hand, I've found a tremendous amount of support and encouragement over the years from other foster and adoptive families and I've learned much from birth mothers and adoptees who are willing to share their perspectives.  I also admit that it can be therapeutic to get all my thoughts down on paper (or rather a computer screen) and interact with others in the fostering and adoption communities who "get it".

On the other hand, I want to respect the privacy of my children and their birth families and I don't feel like it's necessary to go into details.  Sometimes when writing about such emotionally charged and complex topics it's hard to find the balance- especially when knowing some background is helpful to understand where I'm coming from.

The bottom line is, I'm still here.  I continue to have experiences I'd like to share and issues in fostering and adoption I'd like to explore.

And now for an update: We just renewed our foster care license for an 11th year.  We have room for one to two more children in our home.  However, we haven't had any long-term placements (just respite placements) since we adopted Jack & Jill almost two years ago.  I think this is due in large part to the fact that with three children we are a little more specific about what ages we are willing to take into our home.  We would like our oldest to stay our oldest and our youngest to stay the youngest.  And yet I really struggle with the fact that there are so many "older" youth awaiting families! I keep having to remind myself that as our children get older, our age preferences will expand to include older children. 

We also decided (my husband and I) that we are "done" providing long term care to infants and toddlers.  This was a hard decision to come to, but we feel it's best for our family considering the ages and needs of our youngest children in particular.  I did, however, get a baby fix yesterday.

This morning the kids seem to be going through "withdrawals" over the baby already after just one day!

Picture of my "baby" helping to feed the baby:

So we're not done fostering but are we done adopting?  Good question.  I don't know.  Time will tell. I continue to search through Waiting Child Listings and my husband is the one that actually brought up the possibility of international adoption (versus adopting domestically from the U.S. foster care system).  However, most of the time the children I inquire about either aren't a good fit for our family or we are not selected to be their adoptive family.  And that's okay because I've learned that it's about finding the right family for a child rather than fulfilling any "needs" on our part.

I also admit that it's been beneficial for me to have a temporary break and focus on the needs of the children I currently have before bringing any more children in to our home on a long-term basis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"You Don't Have to be Perfect to be a Perfect Parent" PSAs

November is National Adoption Month and this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids, and the Ad Council have teamed up to create a PSA campaign encouraging prospective adoptive parents to adopt older youth* from foster care

*older youth and teens have lower adoption rates than younger children, and they often wait longer to be adopted.  Currently, of the 5,560 youth photo-listed on the website as available for adoption, 43% are between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. Source:

(Incidentally, adopting an older child from foster care is something I really want to do when the time is right for our family!)

These clips are not only humorous but I, for one, think the tagline is reassuring: "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."

Take a look at the newest clips:

(I also happen to be allergic to cats- much to the chagrin of my kitty-loving daughters- so I related to the mom in the second clip.)

 To see more PSAs and real stories and experiences from foster adoptive families check out adoptuskidsYouTube channel.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

When Someone Else Takes Care of Your Child

The other day I sat down at my computer to jot down a couple of “notes” of instructions for my sister and sister-in-law regarding my children’s sleeping and eating schedules, among other routines.  You see, I will be entrusting my children into my family’s care for a couple of days while my husband and I are on a short weekend getaway.  Because of this, I want to make things as easy as possible for my children’s caregivers as well as for my precious babies. 

My husband walked into the room while I was in the middle of typing intently on my keyboard and asked, “What are you working on?” 

“Instructions- for when we’re gone,” I explained.

My husband scoffed and said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you just show them where the kids clothes and pull-ups are and they know where the food is.”  He was joking- but only partially.

“THAT is why you’re not a mother!” I retorted.

Even if it were just for a day or two there is MUCH more information to be shared with anybody I would trust to watch my children than just what to have them wear or what to feed them.

“Don’t you think it might be helpful for them to know what time M. has to be at her bus stop in the morning?  Or what time to wake the kids so that they have enough time to get them ready and fed in order to even get out the door on time in the first place?”  I began building my case.   “Or what time to put them down for bed?”  I added, with a bit of sarcasm in my voice as I stated the obvious. 

Although I stopped verbalizing my list of necessary information to my husband I couldn’t help but mentally obsess over if I had left anything crucial out as I studiously looked over my “notes”:

Did I mention exactly what comfort items Jill needs at bedtime and naptime to fall asleep?  Check.  Did I mention not only what homework M. needs to get done before playdates or screen time but how to get her motivated to get it done?  Check.  Should I mention the fact that Jack is a picky eater so they know to just fix him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if he turns up his nose at dinner?  No- M. can just fill them in on that information- she’s helpful like that. 

My “notes” of instructions eventually turned out to be 845 words.   I think you get the point.

This experience of passing on “instructions” on how to care for my children to others served as a great reminder to me of a few things, namely:

1.       Perhaps I can be a bit of a control freak when it comes to making sure my kids are cared for.  But you know what?  I’m okay with that.  Better to err on the side of providing too much information than not enough.

2.     It’s not that I don’t trust my sister and sister-in-law with my kids because I absolutely do- otherwise I wouldn’t leave them in their care.  (After all, they have 11 children and 3 grandchildren between each of them and are both terrific mothers and grandmothers.)  My concern is not if they are capable of caring for children, I just want to ensure that MY children have as easy a transition as possible while I’m away from them.

3.      Three days is the longest I can go without my children.  My husband would prefer our getaway to be much longer but the separation anxiety is just too much for me to handle.  (And, incidentally, I’m talking about MY anxiety being away from my children- not the other way around!)

As a foster parent, perhaps the most important thing I was reminded of was:

4.      Think of what it would be like to have a child legally removed from your care and be sent to live with not just with kin but complete strangers!  Can you IMAGINE the stress, anxiety and LOSS OF CONTROL?  That is precisely what birth families with children in foster care must go through.  They must be praying that their child’s foster family is, in the least, decent.

If I found myself in the situation of having my children removed from my care and placed into the care of strangers I would be worried sick about my kids. My worry might even border on paranoia- What if this foster family isn’t taking care of my child?  What if they’re just in it for the money?  What kind of home and neighborhood do they live in?  Sure, they may have passed background checks and licensing requirements, but what if they appear presentable on the outside but are mean and terrible on the inside?

 And then to add in the possibility that my parental rights to my children could possibly be stripped away and this family of strangers could potentially adopt my children (if they’re a fost-adopt family).  Horrific!

I think it’s IMPERATIVE for foster families to put themselves in the shoes of the bio families of the children in their care.

A few things I’ve done as a foster parent to ease any fears of the bio parents of the children placed in my care are:

1)     Reassure them that I’m not here to “take” their kids from them, but to take good care of them until they can be placed back in their care.

I can usually tell if this is even an issue for bio parents in the first place based not only upon the CPS or ongoing caseworker’s report of the parent’s reaction to the removal and investigation and/or by the body language of the birth parents or the way they interact with me the first time we meet.

2)    Ask them if there are any routines their child is used to which might make it easier for them while in my care.

I admit that, depending on the background of the case, #2 is a tricky one as children coming from backgrounds of neglect may not be used to any specific “routine” or regularity when it comes to being fed or having a set bedtime or even being bathed or dressed in clean clothes on a regular basis. 

Wouldn’t it be easy if foster parents had a “list” of instructions regarding the child’s bedtime and feeding routine, food preferences or allergies, likes and dislikes, etc.  It is particularly challenging to care for a child when they are a baby or non-verbal and it’s just a guessing game as to how they like to be held or comforted or what foods or formulas they do best with.  One advantage to fostering older children or sibling groups with an older child is that they can at least tell you what they’re used to or the older sibling can fill in helpful information about younger siblings.

3)    Refer to their child as “your child” or specifically refer to the parent in front of the child as “your mommy” or “your dad”, etc. 

This might seem like a no-brainer but I had one caseworker specifically thank me for treating and referring to my foster daughter’s parents at visits and meetings as precisely that- her parents.  This caseworker had noted that a few foster parents would specifically say things like “Come to mommy!” to their young foster child, with outstretched arms in the presence of their foster child’s parents at the close of visits.  I was repulsed to hear of such disrespect.  Regardless of the reasons a child comes into care or what allegations have been made against the child’s parents, they are still, in fact, the child’s parents until a judge deems otherwise, and that needs to be acknowledged.

4)     Give the parents pictures of their children- especially if a special occasion is coming up like Christmas or Mother’s Day.  Bio parents may not have the greatest track record of caring for their children, but they do, in fact, love their children and when foster parents are willing to pass on pictures to them (whether just a snapshot or professionally done) these pictures of their children are sure to be treasured.

I recently attended a conference with a FABULOUS keynote speaker, Donna Foster (yes- that’s really her last name), who is a former foster parent and currently trains foster parents and child welfare professionals.  At the conference, Donna not only discussed fears that bio parents might have but suggestions of what foster parents can do to build better relationships with bio families.  Refer to this write-up for some of Donna Foster’s wisdom.

To read about some additional suggestions of ways  not only foster parents can build a relationship with their foster child’s parents, but ways that social workers can encourage such relationships, enlarge the following  charts which were taken from the Annie E. Casey Foundation website:

 I think we can all agree that every parent wants what’s best for their child and it can be tough to have someone take over parenting your child- whether that be for a couple of days, several months, or forever.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Impact of an Addicted Parent Infographic

-In 2012, drug or alcohol abuse accounted for 31% of the cases of children being removed from their homes and placed into foster care.

-There are 8.3 million children currently living in a home with a parent who suffers from an addiction.

These are just two statistics shared in the following infographic produced by JourneyPure Emerald Coast drug rehabilitation programs.  To view the infographic refer  HERE.

Although the statistics presented in the infographic and the cycle of addiction in general seem very disheartening, to me the most hopeful part of this infographic is entitled, "What you can do if you suspect a child is being neglected or abused by their addicted parent?" 

And if YOU are a parent battling addiction, please know that you are loved and that there is help.

Alcohol Hotline
(800) 331-2900
Al-Anon for Families of Alcoholics
(800) 344-2666
Alcohol and Drug Helpline
(800) 821-4357
Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline
(800) 252-6465
Alcohol & Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 729-6686
Families Anonymous
(800) 736-9805
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hopeline
(800) 622-2255
Poison Control
(800) 222-1222
National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 662-4357
Cocaine Anonymous
(800) 347-8998
National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

Saturday, September 10, 2016

THIS is Why Foster Care is Necessary

When I saw these haunting photos this week of a 4-year old boy's caregivers passed out in their car, leaving him helpless in the back seat till help came, it made quite the impression on me.

Some of my initial thoughts were:

1)  Poor Little Boy.

2)  When I read "overdose" in the headline which accompanied the pictures of the corpse-like countenances I immediately wondered, "heroin?"

After reading the accompanying article my suspicions were confirmed- "Yes, heroin."  So sad.

Apparently when paramedics arrived on the scene they were able to administer Narcan to the adults before they were transferred to the hospital and consequently arrested.

After reading the article I dared to venture into the comments section.

Some readers were upset that Narcan was administered, basically asserting that the caregivers "deserved to die" for placing a child in such grave danger.

Many other readers came to the defense of the unconscious caregivers stating that it was unfair or unethical of the cops on the scene to publish such photos on their department's Facebook page.  Yet other readers were concerned that the photos were an injustice to the four year old boy and could cause psychological damage to him further down the road when he becomes aware of them- which leads me to my next thought:

3)  I have a hunch this little boy is already deeply aware of the collateral damages addiction can wreak on a family.  This is most likely not the first time he's been in this type of a situation but- Thank Goodness- it is the first time it has come to the attention of someone who is in a position to intervene.

As for the East Liverpool, Ohio's Police Department, I am in agreement behind their motives for publishing the pictures as expressed in the following statement:

“This child can’t speak for himself but we are hopeful his story can convince another user to think twice about injecting this poison while having a child in their custody. We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time that the non drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”

4) Yes, the truth can be uncomfortable, disturbing, and downright ugly but it NEEDS to be exposed, especially when innocent children- or those who cannot advocate for themselves- are at risk.

I am certain that there are many social workers, judges, guardian ad liteums, therapists, medical professionals, teachers, and foster parents who feel much the same way as the Ohio Police Department does when they stated, "it is time that the non drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”

These individuals and professionals deal with the consequences of addiction on a daily basis and want so desperately to bring awareness to the reality and tragedies addictions bring to society including tearing families apart and creating orphans out of far too many children. 

I admit that at times I may have had an attitude similar to some of the readers who were outraged by these photos and demanded that the caregivers of this little boy be locked up forever.  However, experience has taught me that the caregivers of children who are placed into foster care are victims as well.  In my personal experiences as a foster parent, 95% of the children we have fostered came into care as a direct result of a family member's addictionWhether one views addiction as a disease or a choice is secondary to the fact that these caregivers need help and support; hence, my overall thought to summarize how I feel about these photos is:  

5) "THIS is why foster care is necessary."  And there are two reasons why I believe this:

A) foster care is not only necessary to keep children out of harm's way- [after all, shouldn't the top priority of foster care and social services be to protect the most vulnerable of individuals: at-risk, abused, or neglected, children? It seems like a no-brainer!]

B) foster care is also necessary to give families another chance to stay together.

A huge part of foster care is about family preservation.  Believe it or not, but foster care is not just taking kids away from their parents and "giving" them to another family or haphazardly placing children in institutions when they can't be placed in a family setting.  

Unfortunately, sometimes things have to hit rock bottom before families can actually get the help they need or before a child's suffering can come to light.  

For example, let's give this little boy's caregivers the benefit of the doubt.  Let's imagine that they both have the desire to get clean but for whatever reason- perhaps cost-prohibitive treatment options, being born into a family of drug addicts, or overwhelming feelings of helplessness- they just don't see sobriety as a realistic option.  For their sakes- AND MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR THE SAKE OF THIS YOUNG CHILD- law enforcement involvement is honestly one of the best things that could happen to them.  

Perhaps I sound too idealistic in my view, but if law enforcement gets involved then consequences must be faced and since a child is involved then social services will most certainly become a part of the solution.  While law enforcement can ensure that individuals "pay" for or are accountable for their actions, judges and social service workers can mandate and provide options for families to get their children back into their custody by way of required drug testing and/or drug treatment, counseling sessions, mandated parenting classes, vocational or educational training which helps secure not only employment but proper housing.  In this way, what might appear to some addicts as hitting rock bottom and losing everything is actually an opportunity to accept help and become truly accountable for their choices and a chance to get sober.  That is certainly not to say that it is an easy path.

I'm thinking of one foster mother in particular who shared the brutally honest viewpoint of the birth mother of the children placed in her care.  This birth mother was an addict who was so committed to getting her children back into her care (after losing them to the state's custody more than once) and yet so realistic about owning her addiction that she stated, "I wanted DCFS to take my kids because I knew that having my kids taken from me was the only way I could remain motivated to stay clean."

Children who are removed from unsafe homes and/or families enslaved by addiction are not the only victims.   Unfortunately, the children are often the ones left to deal with THE BRUNT OF THE UGLY CONSEQUENCES of addiction!  It's so unfair.

I'm aware that, as hard as at can be to imagine, this four year old boy who has been removed from his family and placed into state custody is probably crying at night for his daddy and mommy or grandma and grandpa (I'm unsure what their exact relation to him was as I read a couple of differing accounts) and there is a foster parent out there trying to comfort him and explain that he is "safe" now.  

That same foster parent is probably struggling with feelings of anger and resentment at their foster child's caretakers for allowing the situation to escalate so far while simultaneously trying to remain calm and offer comfort to their foster child in their new, unfamiliar environment.  

The mind-boggling concept for some to understand is "How could this little boy miss the people who neglected him so?  After all, now he's {hopefully} been placed in a safe and loving home and is cared for by people who have had their backgrounds and home environment thoroughly checked and who have undergone sufficient training to care for children coming from such situations.  So why on earth would he miss his former caregivers?"

The answer is simple: Because they are his family.  And as I've mentioned, foster care is about helping families stay together when possible.