Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lesson # 3 Revisited

This post was originally published in MEM's MEMOS on April 16, 2009.

LESSON #3- When doing foster care, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED!

I first mentioned Lesson #3 in this post. After reading what we went through last week you'll understand the title for this post.

Last week I got a call from DCFS informing me that Molly was back in State Custody.

Remember LESSON #2 from this post?

LESSON #2- Whenever possible, all efforts are made to place foster children with a blood relative. Placement with relatives ALWAYS take precedence over strangers (provided they can pass a background check).

There didn’t seem to be any good possibilities for kinship placements for Molly and since Jared and I had cared for her for nine months and already have an established bond with her, we are given precedence over any other foster families for her placement. But the caseworker tells us there’s a catch: Molly’s baby brother (who was born while Molly's mom was serving a jail sentence- just a month before Molly left our care to be reunified with her parents) was removed from the home and needed to be placed with her as well.

Here’s an addendum to Lesson #2 worth mentioning:

LESSON #2B- DCFS makes every possible effort to keep siblings together after being removed from the home.

The caseworker also informs me that Molly had surgery about a month ago to have a tumor removed near her optic nerve. The GOOD news is that the tumor was benign. The BAD news is that as a result of the surgery, Molly has lost all of the sight in her right eye!

My husband and I talk things over and agree that if taking Molly's brother is the only way we can have Molly back we'll do it. The caseworker calls me back a couple hours after her first phone call with some additional information she’s learned: In addition to Molly's one-year old brother, Molly's five year old half-sister needs to be placed in a home as well. This is the third time Molly's half-sister (same mom as Molly, different dad) has entered the Foster Care System. Evidently she has been living with Molly’s family since her last stay in foster care.

My husband and I discuss the situation further and reluctantly say no to taking all three children. A 24 month old (Molly), a 19 month old (M.), and a 12 month old (Molly's brother) under one roof are going to be a handful. Our car only seats five and it will be crowded enough with three car seats crammed in the back. I'M NOT OCTOMOM and we just don’t have the room!

The caseworker tells us she will continue to look for a foster family who is willing to take all three children. She is eager to place them within 24 hours as they were removed from their home the previous night and had been staying at the Christmas Box House. The caseworker calls us 3 or 4 hours later with news that she's found a family willing to take all three children. "So that's that" we think . . . 45 minutes later the caseworker calls us back in exasperation. She informs us that the family who was going to take the children picked them up, drove a couple of blocks and then turned around to drop them back off after changing their minds about taking them. The caseworker asks if we are still willing to take Molly and her little brother. "Of course."

Wednesday night around dinnertime I head up to the Christmas Box House to pick up Molly and her little brother. When I see Molly I am happy to see her again but heartbroken at the way she looks: she's always been underweight but she seems very frail. Her hair is thin and straggly, like a chemotherapy patient, only she hasn't undergone chemo. She has a bright red vertical scar on one side of her head from the incision of the surgery and her right eye is recessed and droops about an inch lower than her left eye. She still has the same sweet smile and the caseworker is pleased when Molly comes to me after only a brief hesitation. It’s been a year since we've seen each other and I wonder if she remembers me.

I then meet Molly’s baby brother who is the spitting image of his father. I've actually seen him once before when he was a newborn. (The day after he was born my husband and I took Molly up to the hospital to visit with her birthparents and meet her new baby brother. That was about a month before Molly went home.)

There is a year's difference in age between Molly and her younger brother and I am informed that he is not yet walking, but on the verge- just as Molly was when she left our care. As I hoist his chunky body up into my arms I decide that he definitely weighs more than his older sister.

The caseworker tells me that the kids have a visit with their mother the next day. After being handed their scanty belongings, borrowing a car seat, and getting some help settling them into my car I head home. I have no idea how long these children will be in my care- it could be a week, a couple of months, or possibly forever.

The only thing I do know for certain is that there is going to be a hearing on Tuesday to determine if their removal was warranted and if they will be placed back with their parents, with family members, or in another foster home. It’s all up to the judge and the particular judge hearing the case is very lenient in restoring parental rights and prefers placing children with family members rather than placing them in foster homes.

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