Monday, December 22, 2014

I Support Adoption from Foster Care

I am sharing this on behalf of a Bloggin' Mamas Social Good Campaign. Bloggin' Mamas and Element Associates are donating a toy to a child in foster care for every blog post sharing this  information, up to 25.
 
Today, 402,000 children are in the foster care system in the United States. Nearly 102,000 children (under 18 years of age) waiting for adoption. During this holiday season, there is an extra push to help them find homes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids and the Ad Council recently unveiled a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) designed to continue to encourage the adoption of children from foster care with an emphasis on the importance of keeping siblings together. Check out this PSA video from the Ad Council:
 
 
Since the launch of the campaign in 2004, more than 22,000 children who were once photo-listed on the AdoptUSKids website are now with their adoptive families and over 35,000 families have registered to adopt through AdoptUSKids. Many times, there are siblings also listed.  Approximately 23% of children and youth actively photolisted on the AdoptUSKids website and waiting for placement in adoptive homes were registered with one or more siblings. Sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting relationships for children in foster care.

www.AdoptUSKids.org
 
For more information about adoption, or about becoming an adoptive parent to a child from foster care, please visit www.AdoptUSKids.org or visit the campaigns communities on Facebook and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE: I was not compensated for this post. I am donating this space towards sharing this message. Bloggin' Mamas and Element Associates will be donating a toy to a foster child in exchange for my post, in support of AdoptUSKids.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

If the Couple from UP Adopted . . .

The first time I saw the movie UP I was so, so sad at the part when Ellie and Carl are in the doctor's office and Ellie looks downward and is dejected and heartbroken about the apparent news that she won't bear any children.  My heart literally ached during that part. 

I also have to admit, however, that after seeing the movie my husband and I both thought "They could have adopted." (That is not to say that adoption is necessarily a simple process or a decision that is easy to come to for everyone).  But Hey, it's a movie- couldn't the creators have woven adoption into the storyline if they wanted to?

 
Some talented editors from Disney Pixar have merged together characters and scenes from Tangled, Despicable Me, and Toy Story to depict just that: What might have happened if Carl and Ellie had adopted.  Very clever. 

The most touching part to me is how adoption can affect generations- as shown by Carl and Ellie's grandchildren (the little girl from Toy Story 3 times TWO)! 
 
Here's the clip if you haven't already seen it:


Friday, December 19, 2014

Next Step: Mediation and Pre-Trial

Jack and Jill had another court hearing this past week regarding their future.  At their their last Permanency Hearing, reunification services between their mother and DCFS were discontinued so their mother must now fulfill any unmet requirements of her Service Plan without the help of DCFS- even though the Division has provided her with plenty of resources and support over the last 15 months of having her children in their custody and even though the judge has already given her at least one 90-day extension. 

Although services between DCFS & Jack and Jill's mom have been discontinued she still has supervised visits with her children at the DCFS office twice a week for two hours each.  These visits will continue until her rights are officially terminated which leads to the next big question, "Will her parental rights be terminated?  And if so, when?"- which I'll try to explain in a minute.
 
The other major development since the last hearing is that Jack and Jill's Permanency Goal has officially been changed from "Reunification" to "Adoption".
 
The whole legal process regarding their permanency is kind of confusing.  In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago I thought that this past week's hearing was the one where Jack and Jill's mother's parental rights would be terminated but it's a little more complicated than that:  Although the paperwork has been filed by DCFS to terminate her parental rights, there are going to be a couple of more hearings before the judge actually determines if that will happen:
 
The first hearing is not technically a regular hearing but rather a Mediation- which will take place over a month from now.  Although mediation will take place at court, it won't take place in a court room and the judge won't be there presiding or making any decisions.  Rather, a mediator who is also an attorney and an objective third party will talk with both parties (their mother, being one party, and my husband and I, being the other party) and try to come up with an agreement to avoid having to go through another trial.  Other people in attendance are their mother's court appointed attorney, the children's Guardian Ad Liteum (the attorney representing their best interest) and of course, the caseworker or anyone else involved in the children's case.
 
It was a couple of months ago that Jack and Jill's caseworker first mentioned to me that Mediation might be an option in their case.  I had heard of using a mediator in divorce or child custody cases, but had a vague understanding of how it works in foster care cases.  So I did a little research and came across this helpful and very easy-to understand information packet put together specifically for parents and guardians by New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts & The Children's Courts Mediation Program (2007).  (Click on the picture for the entire document). You can find other examples of mediation in different states by clicking here.  I think the Child Welfare Information Gateway is a very helpful resource, by the way.

http://www.shaening.com/projectDocs/Mediation%20%20Why%20Should%20You%20Go%20-%20What%20Should%20You%20Say%20-%20A%20Guide%20for%20Parents%20About%20Participating%20in%20Mediation.pdf
 
"Why Mediation?" you ask.  Here are the reasons why Mediation takes place in child abuse and neglect cases, as explained in the packet.  I circled the reason that best fits our foster children's case.  Click to enlarge.

 
Basically, things aren't looking good for Jack and Jill's mom.  She could very well lose her parental rights.  But rather than having to put her through another trial where "evidence" is presented attesting to the fact that she's an unfit parent, the legal/child welfare system is giving her a chance to possibly voluntarily relinquish her parental rights and thereby avoid having to go through yet another trial.
 
Regardless of the outcome of the Mediation- whether she decides to relinquish her parental rights and we can agree on an open or semi-open adoption, for example, or if she wants to fight till the very end to regain custody of her children-  the results of the Mediation will then be presented to the judge at the next formal hearing known as a Pre-Trial Hearing.  Depending on that Pre-Trial Hearing, there will be another hearing/trial where it will be decided if her rights will be terminated or not.  But like I said, if she decides to relinquish then there will be no need for a hearing to Terminate Parental Rights. 
 
At this point I think Jack and Jill's mother is going to keep fighting till she legally can't be given any more extensions or make any more appeals.  On the one hand, she knows her children have been well taken care of  in our home for over a year now and that our family loves them and she has expressed her thanks to me for that.  But even so, Jack and Jill are still her children (even though she hasn't been raising them for over a year now and they've spent more time in our home than anywhere else and she has never technically raised Jill nor has Jill known any other home than ours) and I can't imagine what it would be like to be told by a court of law- not just someone's personal unfavorable opinion of you-but through actual evidence and documentation and a legal trial- that you are unfit to parent and therefore, have to lose your children.  Even if much of where she is right now is a direct result of choices she's made, it's still a crappy place to be in.  For that reason, we've been trying to see things from her perspective. 


 
As for my perspective and my family's perspective, I think I've written enough in the past not just about Jack and Jill's case but with some of our other foster children about how difficult and emotionally draining the process can be of welcoming them into our home as helpless little strangers and loving them as if they were our own children while being very well aware of the fact that they aren't our children and then becoming attached to each other just to get our hearts broken when they leave and in some cases becoming sick with worry about the environment they're returned to live in. 
 
This is a VERY emotionally-charged process for everyone involved and that is why I am very nervous for the Mediation but hopeful at the same time that at least concerns for the children can be voiced in the open and examined and there will be some communication even if there's no apparent resolution.  I guess in a way I'm thinking of the Mediation process as the beginning of closure which is a relief for me because I'm getting really impatient with things being dragged out when it's apparent to many what the best interest of these children is.
 
Summary/Timeframe of Upcoming Events in Jack & Jill's Case:
 
Mediation Hearing- End of January
Pre-Trial Hearing- Mid- February
 
And then . . . Who Knows?!
 
The Best Case Scenario is that we would be able to adopt them sometime in March of next year.  But we have learned that in the world of fostering and adopting NOTHING IS PREDICTABLE and there are always unexpected twists and turns.

Friday, December 5, 2014

His Grace: Unplanned Pregnancy, Adoption, and "The Best Gift Ever"

I saw this video today and was once again touched and amazed at the tremendous amount of LOVE that leads to placing a child for adoption:

"Through a lot of prayer, and sleepless nights a lot of tears I finally came to the decision to place her for adoption."



"I got a glimpse- just a small glimpse- at  how much love God has for me, God has for my little girl, that God has for every single one of us. I never understood love until then."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Keeping Siblings Together In Foster Care

Just in case you didn’t know, November is National Adoption Month.  This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections.”  

Just last month I attended a training on the subject of maintaining sibling connections in foster care and we watched the following video- Brothers and Sisters:  Keeping Siblings in Foster Care Connected:
 
I was struck by the young woman in this video (see 6:22) who pointed out the correlation between foster children running away after being separated from siblings.  She stated that behavioral problems stem from being separated which I think is very telling. 
Another young woman who was separated from her siblings after entering foster care made the recommendations to child welfare professionals and policy makers in the video that If siblings can’t be kept together in the same home, then at least place them in the same area or school where they can still have contact with one another or ensure that they have frequent visits (at least once a month) with each other or make sure they’re able to call each other or write letters to each other.
The policy and common sense of keeping siblings together leads to the question of:  Why would siblings ever be separated in the first place?  Here’s three reasons why as discussed in the training I attended:
1)      The first obvious reason is limited physical space in a foster or adoptive home to adopt a large sibling group.  Not everybody has the space available to take in three or more children let alone one more child.
2)      Another reason to separate siblings is if they are a danger to each other- specifically in the case of cases of sexual abuse in their home of origin resulting in children “acting out” abuse on each other.  One of the presenters at the training I attended was careful, however, to point out the difference between a child being “sexually reactive” versus being a perpetrator.
3)      I also thought it was interesting that in the past, according to one presenter who works as an adoption specialist matching waiting children with families, that parentification was a reason to separate siblings.  In other words, If one child took on the role of being the parent to other siblings it was figured it was unhealthy and a remedy would be to separate that child from their siblings in order for them to just “be a kid” again.

Everybody needs a sibling connection no matter your age!  I’m a grown woman and I interact with my siblings at least weekly (if not daily) through calls, texts, or e-mails.  The thought of what my life would be like if I had to be separated from my brothers or sisters now or especially if we had been separated while growing up makes me very sad. 
I think it’s important for foster parents, child welfare professionals or anyone wanting to advocate for today’s youth who find themselves in foster care to put yourself in their shoes, as the young woman says at the very end of the video and consider how you would feel if you couldn’t see your brothers or sisters.    

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jack & Jill's Second Permanency Hearing

OF COURSE I had to express my frustrations in this recent post about relatives of foster children coming forward late in a child’s case (as in 90-120 days or longer after the child has adjusted into a stable, loving foster home) to express interest in caring for the child(ren) on either a temporary or permanent basis.  Of course I had to say something because just five days prior to today’s court hearing I got a phone call from Jack and Jill’s caseworker informing me that since things aren’t looking good for their mother, a relative has come forward who is interested in adopting Jack and Jill despite the fact that this relative declined to take them into her home at the beginning of the case nor has she been involved in the children’s lives whatsoever for over a year now and perhaps most significant of all, regardless of the fact that these children have been in our home for 14 months now and that moving them would be extremely disruptive and cause them significant trauma- especially to Jill since ours is the only home she’s ever known. 

THANKS GOODNESS that upon learning this news DCFS’s attorney as well as the children’s Guardian Ad Liteum were both in immediate agreement that such a move would not be in the children’s best interest since this relative failed to meet coming forward within a 120 Day Timeframe and both children are already attached to our family.   Nevertheless, it is up to the judge to make the final decision. 
So when we heard this news about the relative coming out of the woodwork, we figured that the worst case scenario is that we would have to dip into what we’ve been saving up and setting aside over the past five or six years of our private adoption funds to pay for legal fees in order to fight for these children.  The best case scenario is that the judge would be more concerned with Jack and Jill’s welfare than with giving his bio family any more chances than they’ve already been given.  Fortunately, the issue didn’t even come up at today’s hearing which purpose was to determine if DCFS will continue to provide reunification services to Jack and Jill’s mother.
Incidentally, in the same phone call which Jack and Jill’s caseworker told me about the children’s relative coming forward, she also shared another huge development with me pertaining to their case which came as quite a surprise.  I may be writing about that development in the future- especially if it becomes a part of our story.
So what happened at today’s Permanency Hearing?  The judge agreed that DCFS’s Reunification Services to Jack and Jill’s mother would be discontinued and their Permanency Plan has been changed from Reunification to Adoption.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are guaranteed to adopt them, but rather, that the case is now headed in that direction.  Although services to their mother will be discontinued the judge would still like biweekly supervised visits to continue between the children and their mother. 
WHAT’S NEXT is another hearing scheduled next month where DCFS will petition the court to terminate their mother’s parental rights.  Even if the judge agrees with terminating parental rights, Jack and Jill’s mother will have time to appeal the decision which would mean yet another hearing.   Or there is the possibility that she could relinquish her parental rights all together and avoid a trial. 
More waiting.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thought For The Day

I needed to see this today:


Jack and Jill's Permanency Hearing is this week and there are some interesting new developments in their case which could really change the course of things.

God grant me PATIENCE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Foster Children Being Adopted By Relatives

 
Image courtesy Getty Images
 
What's worst is that it's in my own home state.
 
Let me start off by saying that I am not against relatives coming forward to be either a kinship placement for foster children on a temporary basis or on a more permanent basis should they choose to adopt the child(ren) or take the responsibility of legal guardianship.  HOWEVER, in "Mary's Ideal Child Welfare World" these two conditions would have to be met in order for that to happen:
 
1)  Such an adoption would be IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD (rather than causing additional disruption and trauma to children who are already securely attached to their foster family in a safe and loving foster home)
 
AND
 
2)  Relatives need to come forward WITHIN 90 -120 DAYS of the Child being placed in custody.
 
90 Days for birthparents to track down a relative seems like an extremely reasonable timeframe to me.  By law, DCFS is REQUIRED to search for relatives of children when children are placed into foster care.  Kin take placement precedence over non-relatives.  Every foster parent knows this, which is why, in the past, when a child has been placed in our home I {try} to think of our home and family as a resource for a child to stay as an emergency placement for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months until they are able to be placed with approved family members.  It's usually after the 90 day timeframe that I stop holding my breath and think, "Okay- no relatives have come forward yet so it looks like they'll be staying longer."
 
Relatives came forward within the 90 day timeframe in the case of our former foster son "George" and in Ty and Ian's case.  And our family was okay with that precisely because the relatives were able to come forward and pass their background checks, get their homes inspected, etc. within 2-3 months.  It's when relatives come forward after the children have spent an extended amount of time in their foster home when I have issues with things.
 
This story of Liam & Jackson and their foster family stirs up some particularly sorrowful feelings inside of me because it takes me back to two years ago when our foster baby, Rose, was transferred from our care into the care of a relative who eventually adopted her after Rose's parents rights were terminated.  I have nothing personally against Rose's relative who is now her new mom but it's the fact that she came forward AFTER Rose had been in our care for almost a year.  If I read the article correctly, it sounds like Jackson and Liam have been with their current family for over two years now. 
 
 
Why move them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Things People Say To Foster Parents

I know most people mean well when they make a comment about our foster children or ask a question, but Oh. My. Goodness. I just had to laugh at how accurate this video is because I think I've heard every single one of these comments!

My personal favorite was "I've always wanted to be a foster parent but I just have SUCH A BIG HEART FOR CHILDREN - that I can't."


$#!+ People Say To Foster Parents from Robert Bethke on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Letting Go of Jack & Jill

(I wrote this less than two weeks ago but didn’t get around to posting it till now; If you read till the end you'll see why my emotions are ALL OVER THE PLACE)

Today I dropped Jack and Jill off to their first transitional visit (outside of the DCFS office and without the supervision of their caseworker) in preparation for them returning to their mother’s care.  When I got out of the car their mother was holding a small bouquet of roses and handed them to me: “These are for you.   Thank you, Mary.”
I was totally caught off guard.  
I’m not a hugger but I was almost tempted to move closer and give her a hug had it not been for the fact that I was also balancing a baby on my hip and had my car keys in one hand and was getting ready to get Jack unbuckled from his car seat and like I said- it totally caught me off guard so I just found myself saying, “That was sweet of you!” out of genuine surprise and sincere appreciation.
The flowers are beautiful.  But as nice (and unexpected) as it is to be appreciated, when I look at the flowers they also make me feel sad inside as if they are for a funeral or are some sort of a consolation prize.  In other words, they aren’t just an expression of “Thank You” or “I’m thinking of you” but of “I’m sorry for your loss.” 


To me, the flowers and their mother’s thank you seem like the easiest way to communicate, “Thank you for watching my children for over a year now as if they were your own.  I know it must be hard for you-  now that they’re coming back to me” without actually having to say something like that out loud.  
Perhaps that’s what hit me so hard each time I looked at the flowers- the realization that Jack and Jill will be leaving because they’re not mine to keep and it’s time to let go . . . once again.
On a more hopeful note (because sometimes I worry that this blog is too depressing or might discourage others from fostering since I don’t just share the rosy experiences), the flowers also remind me of a gift Rose’s mother gave me after Rose had been in my care for about a year and reunification was approaching: She gave me a small plaque with the words “Faith, Hope, and Love- the greatest of these is LOVE.” and the reference of 1 Corinthians 13:13 at the bottom.
 
UPDATE:  Today as I was returning home from an unsupervised visit, Jack and Jill's caseworker called me to inform me that the children will no longer be having visits outside of the DCFS office with their mother.  I became slightly panicked and thought, "Oh no- something happened to the kids during one of their visits!"   When I asked what was going on I was both relieved for the children and saddened for their mother to learn that although nothing had happened to the children, because of a recent discovery concerning their mother's progress, transitional visits will be coming to a halt. 
Court is 15 days away.  And so the roller coaster continues.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Patience & Waiting

Because some days are easier than others:

 
 
 
 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reunification & Reentry into Foster Care

After I wrote my last post about concerns and the prediction I have about my foster children coming back into care if they are placed back with their mother, I Googled "Reunification & Reentry into Foster Care" just for fun and came across three scholarly articles or pieces of information including the following power point presentation:


Although I didn't examine the entire study the statistics were pretty telling to me.  I think the most important piece of info or keyword of what birth families need is SUPPORT.



After reading a brief  titled "Supporting Reunification and Preventing Reentry Into Out-Of-Home Care" from the Child Welfare Information Gateway I was pleased that strategies and policies are being implemented with child welfare professionals which place an emphasis on post-reunification support and follow-up.  To quote one listed objective to prevent reentry: "Ensure an adequate network of support to provide a safety net for parents experiencing stress after reunification and help prevent reentry".  YES- So important!

After skimming through a journal article about Family Reunification and searching for specific patterns/predictors and risk factors of reentry ('cause I'm a social science nerd like that) I thought to myself:  "Well, there's good news and bad news.  The GOOD NEWS is that the data from studies show that there are definite identifiable risk factors for foster children coming back into care after reunification" such as 'parental substance abuse, noncompliance with service plans, problematic parenting skills' as well as "structural factors such as single parenthood and financial or housing difficulties'.  (I squirm when I read those risk factors because they accurately describe my foster children's mother and her situation.  I know it's not her fault she was born into the kind of family she was born into, but now it is up to her to break some very difficult cycles and how does she do that when it's been the norm for her growing up and she really doesn't know any differently?)

 And for the BAD NEWS: I can't help thinking to myself, "Unfortunately, those same risk factors which place children at greater risk for reentry into the foster care system are the exact same reasons they end up in foster care in the first place."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Factors Influencing Successful Reunifications

A little background for any first-time readers: Jack and Jill (not their real names) are our current 2 year old and 1 year old foster children who have been in our home for over a year now, ever since Jill was born and we brought her home from the hospital.  At their Permanency Hearing a couple of months ago their mother was given a 90-day extension to finish up all of the requirements set forth by the court and DCFS in her Service Plan in order to have her children returned to her custody.
 
Jack and Jill's next Permanency Hearing is just one month away and although their mother has made progress over the past couple of months, she still will not have completed a major requirement of her Service Plan due to the fact that she put it off for almost a year and this particular component requires several months to complete.  Because of this and other concerns about her readiness to safely parent her children, both the State's attorney and the children's attorney (their Guardian Ad Liteum) asked that services to their mother through DCFS be discontinued and that their Permanency Goal be changed from reunification to adoption.  Nevertheless, the judge has given Jack and Jill's mom another chance.
 
I wish I could look into a crystal ball and know the outcome of next month's hearing.  That way I would know whether these children will be a part of our family on more than just a temporary basis or whether we will have to say goodbye.  The thing that worries me the most about Jack and Jill returning to their mother's care is that up to this point she hasn't even visited with them for more than five hours a week and has only had one unsupervised visit outside of the DCFS office.  And in less than a month she is expected to care for them 24/7 with very little support! 
 
There have been no transitional visits up to this point for basically three reasons: 1)  Their mother hadn't made enough progress to "earn" more visits with her children until quite recently 2) She hasn't had a place outside of the DCFS office which is suitable for the children to have visits at.  However, part of her progress over the past couple of weeks has included finding a place for the children to return "home" to.  Lastly, 3) Jack and Jill's mom was not able to find any family members or friends who were suitable [and by suitable I mean who were able to pass a background check and be approved by the Division and the GAL to supervise visits] until just last week. 

This week I will meet the family friend who, to my knowledge, has never even met the children.  If my foster children were older and could speak for themselves, certainly they would have a voice in things because it wouldn't just be a question of who their bio family knows who could supervise a visit for them but who the children have actually had a relationship with and can count on to be there for them.
 
Anyway, the reason I mention these points is because I'll admit- my family is going through a pretty upsetting time right now as we are preparing for what could be another heart-wrenching reunification. But when I put my personal feelings on the back burner (because I know- this case is not about ME) and instead I try to see things from a somewhat objective manner and learn from similar experiences in the past it can make it slightly easier to know what to expect with the future.

I've come up with three factors, based on observations of previous foster placements, which lead to successful reunifications.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say factors which lead to UNsuccessful reunifications. To me the definition of a successful reunification is when children are able to return to the care of their bio families without having to come back into foster care again because their parents or family members are PREPARED for them to return

When I look back at the children we've fostered who went back to live with their parents and then came back into care again, I can definitely see some patterns and things they have in common and these are what they are:
 
1)  Bio Parents waiting till the last minute to finish up the requirements of their Service Plan.
It doesn't show the court that someone is committed to getting their children back when they pick and choose which requirements they'll complete or only half-heartedly make an effort or wait till the last minute to complete everything.  It appears to me that when bio parents wait till the last minute it's a combination of feeling overwhelmed by all that is required of them as well as the realization finally hitting them (after multiple extensions and chances) that they could permanently lose their children if they don't complete court-ordered services.  

A major advantage to bio families not putting off completing services is that the more they get out of the way the more time they'll be able to spend with their children before having them returned to their care- It seems like a win-win situation for the children in care and their parents  Not to mention giving foster parents some peace of mind about their foster children going back to parents who are ready to care for them!
 
2)  Bio Parents having very little or no family support who can be approved to help watch children or supervise visits.  Domestic violence and addictions are so cyclical; it's disheartening to watch history repeat itself!  This is the reason some foster children are eventually adopted by their foster families (who are many times technically "strangers" to the children at the start of the case) rather than being placed with relatives or family friends.  
 
3)  Lack of sufficient transitional visits before being returned to the full-time care of their bio family.  Numbers one and two lead into number three which is CRUCIAL, in my humble opinion, to  successful reunifications. 
 
In my ideal child welfare world, at the close of a child's case, the children should be spending as much time with their bio parents (or whomever's care they are returning/transitioning to) as they are with their foster family.  In other words, it should kind of look like a healthy joint custody relationship with the foster parents and bio family working together for the good of the child (and putting aside differences- if necessary) so that when a judge decides that it's safe enough for a child to go back it's not a sudden change and disruption to the child nor is it a major stress for the bio parents because the transition to reunification has already taken place rather than just getting started.

Children transitioning to a completely new home environment and attaching to new caregivers is especially important in the not-so-hypothetical case of two babies who have been in the care of their foster family for longer than they've ever been with their bio family and in the case of one of the babies, she has never even spent more than three hours at a time with her bio mom because her foster mom is the only mom she's known since birth.  Not to mention that both of these babies are in a stable, loving home with more than one parent and a big foster sister to whom they are all securely attached and they are both used to regular mealtime, bath time, bedtime routines as well as their own cribs and bedrooms.

"But her place has carpet!" is what Jack and Jill's mom's attorney argued in court when it was brought up at the last hearing that their mother had absolutely no furniture in her new home because all of her money has gone to making the down payment on her new place.  "How nice!" I sarcastically thought to myself "At least the children can have a soft place to lay their heads at night."  And, by the way, if their mom still does not have cribs for her children if the judge orders reunification and it's time for them to go back we'll definitely be sending ours with them so that they can have a place to sleep."   Woops- so much for putting my own feelings and biases on the back burner!
 
But seriously- can you see why I'm so worried about my foster children returning to their mother's care when there have been NO transitional visits and the hearing which basically determines their future is just weeks away?  It's not just for their sake, but for their mother's sake that I'm worried as well.  I worry that she doesn't have a realistic idea of what it's like to care for two children under the age of two as their full-time caregiver. 
 
Case in point: At the end of one three hour visit last week Jack and Jill's mom turned to me in exasperation and said, "They're a handful!"  I smiled, knowingly.  Yes, they can be- even for the most patient and nurturing caregiver.  When curiosity and independence are the norm for a toddler's stage of development and the demands of parenting just one such child requires constant supervision and energy- just imagine the patience and energy (and to some degree refereeing) that caring for two toddlers requires.  Yes, Jill is walking now and actively exploring as much as her older brother- two toddlers!

 "He doesn't like to share." was another comment their mom made to me about Jack after the end of the same visit where she made the comment about them being a handful.  I was a bit concerned about her comment not so much because of what she said but because of the way she said it- with a combination of annoyance and puzzlement.  I hate to admit that  the sarcastic side of me  immediately thought, "What 2- year old does like sharing?" But after analyzing why I was so bothered by her comment I realized that it's out of a deep concern that this grown woman realistically doesn't have a basic understanding of child development that even a pre-teenager or older child might have. 

Keep in mind that Jack and Jill's mother has only cared for one child at a time before- when Jack was a baby.  And that was with the help of her ex-boyfriend (who is the father of both children) and who is voluntarily out of the picture which is unfortunate for many reasons including the fact that I considered him to be the more mature, competent parent.  Jack and Jill's maternal grandmother also helped her daughter care for Jack (as evidenced by their relationship with each other at visits) but as much as she would like to do so, their grandma is not approved to care for Jack and Jill due to her own previous involvement with DCFS. 

This lack of support is what I see as a major red flag for Jack and Jill's well-being if they go back to the full-time care of their mom. I have the advantage (some might even call it a "luxury") to be a stay at home mom and focus all of my energy and time on raising children and keeping a house.  And the reason I'm able to do that is because my husband has a job which provides for us.  I also feel very fortunate that my husband happens to be a great partner in parenting.  On days when it's been especially hard I can always hand a child over to him and say, "Your turn."  But Jack and Jill's mother doesn't have that option of tag-team parenting.  She is a single mom without a high school education who will not only be focusing her energy on working a minimum-wage job so that she can provide the basics for her family but she must take the time and effort to finish up the unmet requirements of her Service Plan in addition to single-handedly caring for her children.  So what happens after a long day at work when she's exhausted or stressed and has two young children vying for her attention?  Who, or more importantly what- is she going to turn to for support?

Although I don't have a crystal ball to look into, my prediction for next month's hearing is that even though Jack and Jill's mom won't have finished ALL of the requirements of her Service Plan but since she's made recent progress and done "enough" since her extension was granted, these children will be returned to her full-time care.  However, based on similar past cases of our foster children, I think the judge will be slightly cautious and heed some of the concerns of the State's attorney as well as the GAL's concerns and return the children to their mother's care on a Trial Home Placement basis, meaning they will reside with their mother but will still be in custody of DCFS and monitored (Thank Goodness) by DCFS. 
 
I also predict that even if these children make it through the Trial Home Basis and are returned to the permanent care of their mother that they will come back into our care again.  The question is how long until they do and how much they will have to suffer in the meantime?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Got Inspiration? #ShareGoodness

These quotes/pictures/counsel inspire me to be better.
 
Please share something that inspires you in the comments! 
 



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Removed Part Two

If you haven't seen ReMoved, click HERE.



Part Two is in the works . . .

Friday, September 12, 2014

Adopting A Waiting Child From Foster Care

If you have ever wondered how the adoption placement process for waiting children works (because I sure have), then I highly recommend reading this post from Attempting AgapeWhy Can't I Adopt a Young Child From Foster Care?? which answers the following questions:

-Why are there so few babies and toddlers available to adopt in foster care?

-How does a child become a "waiting child"?

-What are the placement preferences for families wanting to adopt a child through foster care?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jack & Jill's (First) Permanency Hearing

I recently looked up some synonyms for the words "permanency" and "permanent".   These are some of the words with similar meanings which stood out to me: stability, dependability, established, unchanged, intact.

Jack and Jill's Permanency Hearing was last week and although one might assume by the name "permanency" that a final decision was made on their behalf, things are just being dragged out. 

"These children need permanency in their lives" is what the attorney representing DCFS stated to the judge as he recommended that reunification services to their mother be discontinued.  "YES!" I thought.  Truer words were never spoken.  The children's Guardian Ad Liteum argued in favor of the same thing and requested that their permanency goal be changed from reunification to adoption.

I guess I'm na├»ve because before I started fostering I thought that foster care was all about the best interest of the children and protecting them and their rights.  But children who find themselves in foster care make up just one part of the equation.  Bio families have rights and legal representation as well and although it may be different in other states, the court system in my state appears to place a heavy emphasis on preserving the rights of the birthparents at all costs and emphasizing reunification above all- even when it may not necessarily be in the best interest of the children.

Although the children's attorney (their Guardian Ad Liteum/Guardian or GAL for short) and the attorney representing the state (The Assistant Attorney General or AAG for short)  and the caseworker's detailed Court Report all made a strong case towards terminating their mother's services, Jack and Jill's mother's attorney as well as their father's attorney (their dad was a no show in court) argued in favor of giving more time to their mom to finish the unmet requirements of her Service Plan.  Apparently almost a year isn't enough time.  The judge listened to their mother's pleas as well and seemed sympathetic to her tears when she reported feeling "picked on" and since the judge is the one who has the final say, mercy was granted and he gave her a 90 day extension.

Now don't get me wrong- I'm all for reunification IF it is in the child's best interest.  But when it is clearly not in their best interest [and that happens to be the case in this situation]- that's where I have issues with things. 

I expressed my concerns of the children returning to their mother's care to their Guardian Ad Liteum weeks ago and thankfully she was able to listen and respond.  But it wasn't just concern for the children that I brought up- I also expressed how nervous I am for their mom to suddenly become the full-time caregiver to her children (should the judge order in favor of reunification) because as much as she loves them, ACTIONS ultimately speak louder than words and her actions show that she is just not ready and very ill-equipped to care for two young children under the age of two.  Although I won't go into details one huge concern is how she can care for them when there's no suitable place for them to return to?  Stable housing is just one of the unmet requirements of her Service Plan which is why she will have 90 more days (after almost a year and plenty of resources have been given to her by the state) to find appropriate housing.  And by finding housing I don't mean she's living in the streets or in a shelter, but she needs to find a place to live where everyone 18 years or older residing there is able to pass a background check. 

I mentioned before how important transitioning is before reunification and to this date Jack and Jill's mother has only had one unsupervised visit with her children outside of the DCFS office for three hours.   Unsupervised visits were abruptly discontinued as a result of other violations of her service plan.  Their mom will continue having her weekly supervised visits at the DCFS Office for five hours a week which will be extended according to the progress she makes. 

One good thing to come from the hearing is that the judge ordered that Jack and Jill's mother be the only one at the supervised visits since her own mom (the children's birth grandma) was the one taking care of the kids during part of the visits that she was able to come to rather than their mom actually watching them.  Family support is great but in this case their mother needs to learn to be the primary caregiver since birth grandma can't pass a background check and is not an option for temporary or permanent care in the future. 

The next Permanency Hearing is scheduled for November- the week before Thanksgiving to be precise.  Three more months of attachment and prolonging permanency for the children.  By that point Jill will have spent all of her life with our family (14 months) and Jack will have spent 14 of his 25 months of his life with us.  My head and heart hurt when I think about the trauma these babies will go through if they are removed from our home and the conditions they will be returning to make me very nervous.  I try not to think about it and just focus on the time we have with them now.

As frustrating as the results of the recent hearing have been, the other good thing to come out of this first Permanency Hearing is that since no more extensions can be given (the judge was just as well as merciful) at least in three more months we will know one way or the other if Jack and Jill will be staying or going.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fost-Adopt Roller Coaster Continues

I laughed when I saw this cartoon and it reminded me of fostering:


The emotional roller coaster of Jack and Jill's case continues with ever more unexpected twists and plunges.  Two short weeks ago I shared the news that Jack and Jill's father had decided to relinquish his parental rights.  I even expressed my concerns and speculations by saying:
 Is it possible that Jack & Jill's father has come to the realization that he is not in a good position to raise his children and that even if their mother's rights are terminated they would be adopted into a loving stable home?  I don't know what is going through his mind but I think it's sad that he just stopped coming to visits without formally saying goodbye to his children.  Then again, maybe it would be too painful to have to say goodbye.

Incidentally, a few days after writing that particular post I asked the caseworker if Jack & Jill's father had any plans of coming to any more visits with the children or of formally saying goodbye.  The caseworker then shared a text with me from their father which answered a lot of my questions.  In the message to her he basically said that he knew that Jack was bonded to me as was evident by the way he would come to me after visits or when he needed to be comforted and that he knew I was taking good care of Jack as well as Jill.  Because of this, relinquishing his rights was an easier decision to make.  I felt better about things- not just for their father's sake but also because I was fast forwarding 15-20 years and thinking about if we did adopt Jack & Jill I could tell them that their first father did in fact love them and care about them very much.

So the past couple of weeks my concerns have been focused on their mom and with the kids returning to her care.  I even contacted the GAL and expressed some of these concerns. 

Then just a few days ago I was in the lobby of the DCFS building with the kids and their caseworker waiting for their mom to arrive for their visit.  Their mom arrived but so did their dad- just a few steps behind her.   Long story short: Their parents got back together and the permanency hearing is just a month away. 

That should be a good thing right- a family coming back together?  I wish I could say that I am overjoyed for them but I've fallen into the trap of "US vs. THEM" thinking and have had to remind myself that it isn't a competition between my family and Jack and Jill's parents. 

I was also extremely humbled when the thought came into my mind "Heavenly Father loves her (Jack & Jill's mom) as much as he loves you."   And then when I came across this thought just yesterday I knew that it wasn't just a coincidence but that God was trying to teach me something.


I know that LOVING rather than judging is the right thing to do- but sometimes it can be so hard!
  
POST-SCRIPT:Jack & Jill's parents stayed together less than a week before breaking up again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

LDS Family Services No Longer Doing Adoptions

A Little Background:  LDS Family Services is the agency we went through for our first adoption.  I've written about them here and  here.  Overall our experience with LDSFS has been positive- especially when our family was involved with the adoption advocacy group Families Supporting Adoption, which was sponsored by LDS Family Services but which has (sadly) dissolved over the past couple of years.  Thankfully, another advocacy group, United For Adoption, with the same purpose as Families Supporting Adoption is quickly gaining momentum.

Last month as I was grocery shopping my phone buzzed and I got a message from a very active member of the LDS Adoption Community referring me to a news article announcing that LDS Family Services would no longer be doing adoptions.  Even though I've known that this would be coming for a few years now, I still felt very sad to learn that it was now "official". 
 
My husband and I feel very fortunate that we were able to use LDS Family Services- a social service agency administered under the direction of our Church- for our first adoption because it greatly subsidized the costs for us to adopt a child.  I know that for many other LDS couples, adopting through LDS Family Services is the only possible way they were able to afford to adopt a child.  Adopting through LDS Family Services is 10% of a family's gross annual income- not to exceed $10,000 whereas other private adoption agencies can range anywhere from $25K to $40K. 
 
Incidentally, I chuckled to myself when I read the title of one article announcing the recent changes:  "Mormon church drops adoption business".  Adoption is not, nor has it ever been, a "business" for the LDS Church.  The word "business" implies that money is made but the truth is that the Church loses money on each adoptive placement through LDS Family Services. 
 
Because LDS Family Services falls under the administration of Humanitarian Services/Welfare Services of the church the first explanation I heard about why Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) and adoptions through LDSFS would be coming to a halt is the costliness of adoptions.  From a cost/benefit analysis adoption is a very noble cause but could $25,000 be spent to benefit more than just one family but perhaps an entire village or community through projects such a building wells to provide clean drinking water or to build a school or start a farm in an underdeveloped area?  In other words, what would be most beneficial to the greatest amount of people? 
 
The second reason I heard for LDS Family Services stopping adoptions is simply the fact that less women are choosing to place their children for adoption.  This is evident by the number of prospective adoptive couples signed up with LDS Family Services (or any adoption agency for that matter) in contrast to the number of unwed mothers who choose to place their children for adoption.

On a related note, not all expectant parents who go through LDS Family Services for support choose adoption, nor are they required to do so.  Some, like a high school friend of mine who became pregnant shortly after we graduated from high school, choose to parent but still receive support from the agency.  (I know this because I accompanied her to a support group on one occasion).   Basically it is the role of LDS Family Services to provide resources to single expectant parents and help them explore their options but they will respect and support whatever decision is made- whether that decision includes to parent or to place.  This is exactly what David McConkie, the current group manager for adoptions for LDS Family Services, said in another article:  "We are trying to expand our services to that group [single expectant parents] and let them know that whatever their choice, we will help them as much as we can to be successful- whatever their choice may be."
 
Of course there has been speculation that LDS Family Services is getting out of adoptions because they don't want to feel "forced" to place children with homosexual parents against their religious conscience, as has been the case with other religious-based agencies such as Catholic Community Services, but none of the articles I read or any of the spokespeople for the agency cited that controversial issue as the reason for this shift in focus.
 
So what does this mean for adoptive couples who have been waiting to adopt through LDS Family Services?
 
Well, the good news is that the changes didn't go into effect immediately when the announcement was made, but will take effect at the end of this year OR when a couple's Home Study with LDS Family Services expires.  Hopefully this will give at least a couple of months for many of the roughly 600 prospective adoptive families to come up with alternative plans.  Since LDS Family Services will no longer be a child-placing agency they will no longer be doing home studies for adoptive couples but they will continue to provide counseling to adoptive couples. 

Services to expectant parents and birthparents will basically remain unchanged.  It is my understanding that LDS Family Services will continue to offer support and counseling as they always have, but since the agency no longer does home studies of adoptive applicants they will refer birthparents to other reputable adoption agencies.   Birthparents will still have access to profiles of prospective LDS adoptive couples online through the itsaboutlove.org website. 
 
Speaking of which . . .  just for fun  I looked up our profile on itsaboutlove.org this morning and discovered that after five and a half years of waiting to adopt this time around with LDS Family Services our family made it to the TOP 15 of couples who have been waiting the longest to adopt!  That is, out of 561 families currently listed on itsaboutlove only 2% have been waiting to adopt longer than we have.)  Too bad it's not a contest to see how long you must wait to adopt because Top 2% sounds pretty impressive if I do say so myself! 

By the way, I can personally vouch for two families in the "Top Ten" who have been waiting to adopt longer than we have- Jo is my childhood friend and I met Doug and Marianne at an adoption conference four or five years ago and instantly liked them.  Any child would be lucky to be in either of these families.  Seriously.
 
One major advantage of having to wait more than five years to adopt is that it gives you more time to explore other options and save up money.  Because of this, our family has continued to stay licensed as a fost-adopt family through our state and we have not entirely given up inquiring about waiting children.  We feel fortunate to be able to be signed up with two other adoption agencies in addition to LDSFS including Premier Adoption and Forever Bound Adoption which was founded by Steve Sunday, a very reputable adoption professional who has had over 30 years of experiences heading adoptions with LDS Family Services and who currently sits on the Board of Directors of Utah Foster Care.

This change in LDS Family Services adoption services is not the end of the world for our adoption hopes but I know that other prospective adoptive couples going through LDS Family Services have been absolutely devastated by the news that LDSFS will no longer be a child-placing agency.  My heart truly goes out to these families.  In answer to the question I posed earlier: what does this mean for adoptive couples who have been waiting to adopt through LDS Family Services?  These families who have been using LDS Family Services must now find another adoption agency or pursue an adoption with a lawyer but no agency involvement (which means they'd have to network like CRAZY to find a birthmother who is in a position to place a child).  Or they could always pursue foster adoption through their state, look into domestic adoption, pursue infertility treatments (if that is an option for them and if they haven't already exhausted their financial resources and/or health in the process, that is) or simply give up.  None of these options will be easy.


Because I'm slightly biased in favor of providing foster care regardless of if the outcome is adoption, I did offer up this piece of advice in an online forum to any who find themselves in such a position:

"For any hopeful adoptive couples out there who may not be able to afford the costs of a private agency outside of LDSFS and who have ever considered it, I would strongly encourage you to look into FOSTERING or FOST/ADOPTING THROUGH YOUR STATE which is not only FREE but more importantly can make a huge difference in the life of a child! Here's the link to a downloadable Prospective Foster Parent Packet from Utah Foster Care: http://utahfostercare.org/beco.../prospective-parent-packet/ and here is a link to finding more info about fostering in other states: http://www.adoptuskids.org/.../state-adoption-and-foster...."
 
Any other thoughts on the changes with LDS Family Services and adoption?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Relinquishing Parental Rights of a Child in Foster Care

This is what I wrote about the status of Jack and Jill's case in this post:

" it seems like there is literally some new development in the case every. single. week."
 
Last week we learned of another major development in the case:  Jack and Jill's father has decided to relinquish his parental rights, which means IF the judge rules in favor of reunification the babies will be returning to the care of their single parent mom who must use her minimum wage earnings to put them in subsidized day care while she works.  (No friends or relatives have been approved to provide temporary or permanent care to the babies which is a big reason why there hasn't been any opportunity for unsupervised or extended/transitional visits in a home environment outside of the DCFS office.)  Transitioning is SO important- not just to the children whose needs should come first but to birth families as well! 

My biggest concern is that if the children are placed back with their mom it will be too overwhelming for her to care for them because she's just not used to it.  I've said it before but playing with your kids for a couple of hours a week during a supervised visit is VASTLY different than caring for them 24/7- especially considering the fact that she will have such limited support.  What a tough situation to be in.
 
To the credit of Jack & Jill's mother, she has been able to keep a job the last couple of months and she always shows up to their weekly supervised visits.  However, after ten months she has yet to find housing nor has she started on another major requirement of her Service Plan which could realistically take months to complete.  
 
The Permanency Hearing is only six weeks away and although the caseworker and the children's Guardian Ad Liteum will not be recommending reunification with their mother since she has completed less than half of her Service Plan Requirements, I will not be surprised if the judge (who seemed rather lenient towards birthparents at the last hearing I attended) will offer an extension rather than terminating parental rights.
 
Another note about relinquishing parental rights:  I hate to say it, but I think financial responsibility is one big factor in Jack and Jill's father's choice to relinquish.  He will no longer have to legally provide financial support to his ex-girlfriend (the children's mom) or the children.  Nor will he have DCFS "on his back".   
 
I have only had one other foster child who had a parent relinquish their parental rights and it was not the first time this parent had done so.  It was also only after he knew his child would be adopted by relatives which makes me wonder: Is it possible that Jack & Jill's father has come to the realization that he is not in a good position to raise his children and that even if their mother's rights are terminated they would be adopted into a loving stable home?  I don't know what is going through his mind but I think it's sad that he just stopped coming to visits without formally saying goodbye to his children.  Then again, maybe it would be too painful to have to say goodbye.