Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Christian's Permanency Hearing

Unlike the Team Meeting, the Permanency Hearing is held in a public Court of Law where technically anyone can attend.  That also means that I don't have to keep the information about the hearing confidential.   Yay-finally some details I feel safe about sharing!

Although foster parents aren't usually required to attend hearings of their foster children (unless of course they're asked to testify) I don't see why a foster parent wouldn't want to attend.  Having said that, I wanted to sit close enough that I could hear everything that was going on but at the same time I didn't want to be too conspicuous, so I sat down all by myself in the second row of benches reserved for "spectators".

At the beginning of the hearing the judge asked everyone in attendance to introduce themselves for the record.  I was the last person in the courtroom to do so and as I was in the process of stating my full name and that I was Christian's foster mom (to which the judge politely smiled) I thought, "WOOPS- I just said my last name and I didn't have to!"   I have never shared my last name with Christian or his parents during this placement.   In fact, I've never shared my last name or address with any of the parents of my foster children before and the only reason I've shared my phone number with Christian's parents is because it's from an untraceable cell phone.  It's totally up to foster parents how much information about themselves they'd like to share with birthparents, but that's another topic for a different post.

BACK TO THE HEARING:  At Monday's hearing the State's attorney (the Assistant Attorney General or AAG) and Christian's Guardian Ad Liteum (the GAL) and Christian's father's lawyer (a court-appointed public defender) all argued in favor of placing Christian back into his father's care on a Trial Home Basis for 90 days.  A Trial Home Basis means that Christian would still be in DCFS custody, but rather than foster parents having guardianship rights and responsibilities, his father will be his temporary guardian.  If things go well after that time period Christian's father could then be granted full custody of his son.  It's basically a trial run. 

The judge agreed with this decision which made Christian's father very relieved and excited.

I had all of Christian's things packed and ready to go just in case we had to say goodbye to him right after the hearing, but the caseworker and his Guardian Ad Liteum both agree that it would be beneficial to Christian and his father to have at least 2-4 more weeks of extended weekend visits (3 days and 2 nights on the weekends) before officially beginning the Trial Home Placement so that Christian can get more used to being in his father's care and vice versa. This means we will have Christian in our care anywhere from two more weeks to another month. It's nice to have some answers and a little more predictablilty regarding his future.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Christian's birthfather will be finding overnight daycare for his baby on the days that he works night shifts. He said he purposely wanted to work night hours so that he can be with Christian during the day as much as possible, which begs the question: When does he plan on sleeping?

Just over the past couple of weeks Christian's mother has admitted that Christian's father would be the best option to care for their son, but the sad news (which I only learned from Christian's father after the hearing when we were working out the details of weekend visits) is that at this point Christian's mother and her family have decided that they aren't even interested in seeing Christian anymore. [Unlike Christian's 9 year old half-brother who has been in a kinship placement with his biological father's family]. Were the weekend visits too much for them? Who knows. Thank goodness Christian isn't old enough to understand what's going on- What would it be like to know that your own mother doesn't want you?

As for Christian's half-brother, the State's attorney and the GAL both argued in favor of placing him permanently back into his biological father's care with no more DCFS involvement.  The judge agreed with them and also gave Christian's mother visitation rights.  This decision is what Christian's mother was fearing the most as she is much more bonded to her older son than she is to Christian and she has wanted to do everything in her power to get her oldest son back.

Christian's mother and his maternal grandmother left court abruptly after the hearing, but I did get a chance to talk to his mother briefly in the lobby before the case was heard.  She looked extremely stressed (which is quite understandable) so I asked her how she was feeling.  (Yeah, I know- kind of a dumb question- but I just wanted her to know that I was thinking of her, especially after last week's Team Meeting.)  She just shook her head back and forth without even looking at me.  I took that as a good sign to "back off" so I sat back down on the bench I was sitting on.  A few minutes later she came over and apologized for being "mean" to me, but explained that she thought the hearing was scheduled for 1:00 instead of 10:00 so she wasn't very happy about having to hurry and get to court.

I guess that's the last time I'll ever see Christian's mother again unless she changes her mind about wanting to see her son again.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Team Meeting/Choosing Sides

(Stuff I didn't get around to mentioning in my last post)

A Team Meeting was called last week to discuss concerns about the "incident" and what could possibly happen in terms of Christian's long-term placement as a result of the Permanency Hearing.

A Team Meeting is a meeting where anyone involved in the case including caseworkers, birthparents, foster parents, the Guardian Ad Liteum and whomever else is asked, meets together to discuss concerns about the foster child or the case. Although I can't share what was discussed in the Team Meeting because of confidentiality issues, I would like to share some observations of Christian's caseworker and Christian's parents during and after the meeting.

Christian's Caseworker:

I've really enjoyed working with Christian's caseworker because first and foremost, she returns my calls!  She also visits my home once a month, informs me when there's going to be a Team Meeting, and she sends me copies of court reports or any changes to the Service Plan.  Technically, those are all things that caseworkers "should" be doing, but what should be done and what actually gets done are often two entirely diffferent things.

Another reason why I  really like Christian's caseworker is  because although she is sensitive to the feelings of his birthparents, she doesn't let her sympathy for them cloud her judgment of what truly is in Christian's best interest, and since he is the child in foster care it is ultimately his needs that should come foremost.  The reason I mention this is because I used to think that foster care was all about the child- but in reality, it is also about giving parents a second chance and the opportunity to change. 

Another admirable example of Christian's caseworker in regards to interacting with his parents was when Christian's birthmother, visibly full of concern and emotion, asked her a question at the end of the Team Meeting.  Before answering her question, the  caseworker basically restated the concerns that had been expressed to her throughout the meeting and then helped Christian's mom feel validated by assuring her that she knew she loved her boys.   She then went on to sensitively and diplomatically explain that because of recent incidents, there was a concern with placing the boys back into her care and that it wasn't entirely up to her to make that decision.  She explained that she would have to consult with the GAL (who couldn't come to the meeting because she was in court) and even if the the GAL agreed with placing her son back into her care, it was ultimately the judge that would have the final say of what is in the children's best interest.  

A Relative Tangent Regarding Caseworkers . . .

I think one hard thing (among many) about being a caseworker would be that there are so many "sides" involved in each case: first and foremost, the foster child, second, the birthparents, and third, the foster parents.  I've seen firsthand how some caseworkers can "play both sides" and tell the birthparents one thing while turning around and telling the foster parents something entirely different or inaccurate.  It reminds me of a politician running for office and telling people whatever they want to hear just to get a vote.

I've always appreciated caseworkers who were forthcoming and honest from the beginning, even if "the truth" may not be what I want to hear.  I would MUCH prefer to have a caseworker tell me that a child will most likely be going back to his or her parents (which is almost always the case anyway) than to have a caseworker get my hopes up high by telling me that there's a good chance that a child could become available for adoption since there's no way the parents would be able to "get their act together".   [Remember LESSON #7 from this post: If somebody other than a judge tells you that a child is adoptable DON’T BELIEVE THEM!]

Back to the Team Meeting and Speaking of  "Sides" . . .

During the meeting I let Christian's dad hold him but it was a little awkward because Christian kept looking over his dad's shoulder and smiling at me.  Then when he got particularly fussy (nap time) he kept looking in my direction as if to say, "Aren't you going to comfort me?"  and I had to consciously refrain from picking him up.  Instead I reached into the diaper bag and grabbed a binky and popped it in his mouth while his dad continued to hold him.

Since his mom didn't get a lot of time with Christian during the meeting she picked him up afterwards and held him for a couple of minutes before I left.  She reprimanded him every time his chubby little hands would reach up and grab for her hoop earrings:

"NO- We don't touch the earrings!"  she scolded.  It was hard to tell by the sternness in her voice if she was just kidding or if she truly was annoyed by her baby and expected him to understand and obey.   

She suddenly grew more quiet and looked very serious.  She said something barely audible and I figured she was talking to Christian's birthfather.  I looked over at him when he didn't answer and then back to Christian's birthmother to see her response only to realize she was staring directly at me.

"What?" I said, genuinely caught off guard, "Were you talking to me?"     

She had a timid look on her face and repeated what she said, only slightly louder.

"Are we okay with each other?"  She asked me.

I was totally confused.  What did she mean "okay with each other?"

I gave her a quizzical look and asked  "What do you mean?"

Her lips started trembling and she nodded over in the direction of Christian's birthfather.  "He said you were mad at me."

I looked over at Christian's dad, who had started to defend himself:

"No. . .  that's not what I said . . ." he began, but I interrupted him before he could say anything further.

"Why would I be mad at you?" I asked Christian's birthmother, with confusion and concern in my voice.  Had Christian's birthfather twisted what I had told him on the phone the week before (about me feeling more comfortable with him raising Christian versus her)?   Or did he simply tell her exactly what I said and because she was already feeling particularly sensitive, she took it the wrong way?  I immediately second-guessed my decision to share my feelings on the matter with Christian's birthfather.    

I stepped closer to Christian's mother and continued:  "I'm not mad at you!" 

Her face still wore a worried expression and I felt an urgent need to comfort her.  What I did next surprised me because I am NOT a touchy/feely person- especially when the other person smells like cigarette smoke- but I moved in closer to her and gave her a side hug.  In the process of moving closer I realized I was close enough to see what the cursive writing on her sweatshirt spelled out, directly beneath  the picture of Eeyore: MOODY. 

"An ironic understatement," I thought to myself.

I continued to reassure her, but I was afraid I may have just been babbling: "I'm not mad at you" I repeated.  "I was concerned the day that you didn't have any formula for Christian so I told the caseworker, but I know that you must be feeling totally overwhelmed by everything that's going on right now . . .   We're all here because we want what's best for Christian."  I gave her a couple of shoulder pats.

Her face seemed to relax and I felt relieved.

Christian's birthfather didn't say anything but just continued to watch us all.  Christian's birthmother held Christian a little bit longer and asked the caseworker a couple of questions about court while I just stood there fidgeting with my car keys and was actually a little relieved when Christian's birthfather handed me the car seat and said, "You probably have to go- Thanks for coming."  The meeting had ended over five minutes ago.   
I got Christian settled in his car seat and made sure I had everything in the diaper bag.  As I started to leave the room Christian's mother looked up at me and smiled.  I smiled back.  

I really don't want to see her cry again.  There's so much pain in her eyes. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Overnight Transitional Visits, Etc.

I started this post over a week ago, but never got around to finishing it as there's been too much on my mind and not enough time to write it all out!

Christian started overnight transitional visits with his parents last weekend. Because his parents aren’t together the plan was for him to have an extended day visit with one parent and then he would spend the night and the next morning with the other parent.  His parents would then take turns having him overnight each week.

A week ago from yesterday I planned to take Christian to his mother’s apartment where he would spend most of the day and then he would spend the night at his dad’s place. 

That morning before leaving for the visit I got a phone call from Christian’s birthmother’s mother (his maternal grandmother) explaining that I should drop him off at her trailer instead of her daughter’s apartment since her daughter had been staying with her lately. I thought that was a little odd as I had just talked to Christian’s birthfather a couple of days earlier to work out the details of the locations and drop off/ pick up times for his weekend visit. Christian’s grandma explained that the caseworker had approved it so I thought “okay”.

I speculated that the reason Christian’s mother was staying with her mom might have something to do with the fact that she could be struggling financially- perhaps her disability payments were going to be reduced or stopped altogether. (She lives in subsidized housing and doesn’t work because she’s on disability). I thought back to the previous week’s visit when I picked him up:
The previous week as Christian’s mom and grandma dropped Christian off from his visit (neither Christian’s mom nor his dad drive so unless they take the bus it is usually Christian’s maternal grandma who provides transportation from visits) I asked his mom when he had last eaten so that I could know how soon to feed him. She didn’t make eye contact with me as she told me that she didn’t have any formula so she just gave him water. I was obviously concerned for Christian but I also felt bad for his mom and I wondered if by the way she answered me and her body language I had come across as interrogating her. She had a guilty look on her face like a child confessing something to an adult. At past visits she’s reported how much he’s eaten so this time her response made me figure it must have been because she ran out of formula . . . or maybe she couldn’t afford any? I told Christian’s caseworker about it and even though it’s technically not my responsibility I sent an extra can of formula and some baby food with Christian for his next visit with his mom.
The next morning Christian’s dad called me to tell me that the overnight visit went well except for when Christian was wide awake from one to two in the morning. He then went on to tell me that he had some concerns about Christian’s birthmother and he told me that the reason Christian’s birthmother has been staying with her mother is because she is not emotionally stable right now and she is feeling overwhelmed about the upcoming Permanency Hearing. He told me that Christian’s birthmother had an “incident” a couple of days before she was to have her extended visit which made it pretty evident that she is not ready to care for her baby at this time. The good news is that the “incident” didn’t happen when Christian was in her care.

Christian’s birthfather continued to tell me that he had tried to get a hold of the caseworker, but she is not in on Fridays so she hadn’t been returning his calls. I discussed the situation some more with him and we both agreed to get a hold of the caseworker first thing Monday morning.

During the phone call Christian’s dad also confirmed my suspicions that Christian’s mother is not financially stable at this time and that he is the one who provides all of the formula and food for the baby. He also said that although Christian’s mom wants Christian back she has never actually cared for a baby before. That surprised me since she has another son, a 9 year old boy from a different relationship, who is also currently in foster care in a kinship placement with some relatives of his biological father. Christian’s father went on to explain that it was not Christian’s birthmother who cared for her older son when he was a baby but it was the grandma.

I asked Christian’s birthfather if he thought Christian’s birthmother would be willing to admit to the caseworker or even the judge that she has been feeling overwhelmed- both financially and emotionally- and he said that every time he would bring it up she would become emotional and accuse him of trying to take their baby away from her. “But if she’s just honest, they can help her. They’re not there to judge her, but to do what’s best for her children.” I found myself telling him.

I also told Christian’s birthfather that from the beginning I have felt more comfortable with the prospect of Christian being placed back with him rather than with Christian's birthmother because of these facts:
*The “pros” of placing Christian back with his mother are that she doesn’t work so she would be home all day. She also has family nearby who could help out. The “cons” are that the reason she doesn’t work is because she is on disability for her mental illnesses and she lives by herself, and, of course, the most recent incident is extremely concerning.

*The “pros” of placing Christian with his dad are that he has been extremely motivated and dedicated from the beginning in doing everything in his power to get his son back. He has gone from being virtually homeless (after Christian’s mom kicked him out of her place) to staying with different friends who didn’t have the best backgrounds to getting a place of his own. He now has not just one but two jobs to support his son and he has completed a parenting class which was not court-ordered but which he took on his own free will. He has always shown up for visits early- I think largely due to the fact that he was in foster care as a child and his mother never showed up to his visits. Sad.

*The “cons” are that Christian’s birthfather is just 19 years old, this is his first baby, he lives by himself, and he has very little family support. Because he works full-time he wouldn’t actually be watching Christian during the day but he would have to put him in subsidized day-care or hire a babysitter.  
Maybe it’s not my place to get personally involved with Christian’s birthparents or to take “sides” but after learning this new information it's hard for me not to.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Countdown to Permanency

Five days from today a judge will decide whether Christian will be placed back with his father or his mother . . . or both . . . or neither.

According to Christian's caseworker, the judge hearing this case usually favors placing children back into their mother’s care versus their father’s care when the parents aren't together.  However, the Assistant Attorney General (the lawyer representing the State) and Christian’s Guardian Ad Liteum (the lawyer representing Christian) may not necessarilly argue in favor of placing Christian back with his mother. 

Not that my opinion matters, but I happen to agree that placing Christian back into his father’s care versus his mother’s care is in his best interest for a couple of important reasons which I will write about more in my next post.  I would be very surprised and concerned  if the judge decided to place Christian back with his mother.

That’s the frustrating thing about court hearings involving foster children: the ultimate decision regarding their custody is determined by a judge who may only know as much about the case as is written on a piece of paper, but it’s the caseworkers and the foster parents who really get to know the child and the birthparents best and, therefore, have a good understanding of what truly would be in the child’s best interest.

Although caseworkers speak in court and the GAL (the child’s own attorney) speaks in behalf of the child and makes recommendations, the final decision is up to the judge. Foster parents may be asked to speak in court depending upon the judge, but it is rare. We’re just the ones who take care of the kids.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Christian's Birthmother/Judge Not

When I hear about a birthparent placing their child for adoption I immediately and almost automatically set them up on a pedestal. Are they perfect? Of course not, nobody is! But given the fact that they have been selfless enough to put their child’s well-being before their own wants– especially when it means breaking their heart for their child or having to endure harsh judgments from others- Well, that pretty much makes them a canonized saint in my eyes. For that reason, when I hear the term “birthparent” or birthmother” in reference to those who have voluntarily placed their children for adoption I can’t help but have overwhelming feelings of gratitude and respect for them.

However, when I hear the same exact words- “birthmother” or "birthparents” used to refer to parents whose children are in foster care, I have to admit that the first image that comes to my mind is certainly not one of selflessness, courage, and admiration. In fact, just hearing the word “birthparent” as it refers to parents who have children in foster care brings up some pretty unflattering implications.

In addition to struggling with patience and selflessness I’ve also found it all too easy at times to become overly judgmental of our foster children’s birthparents for the obvious reason that in nearly all cases children are in foster care as a direct result of the choices their parents have made, whether it be choosing drugs or a violent partner over their children’s safety, or neglecting, abusing, or abandoning their children. It becomes almost automatic for me to judge someone when they consciously put their children’s well-being in jeopardy. And yet, I know that it’s not my job to judge.

“Judge not that ye be not judged” –Jesus Christ

One exception of being too quick to judge the birthparents of my foster children is when mental illness is involved because nobody chooses to be mentally ill, just as nobody chooses to have a disease. But drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases, too- nobody wants to be enslaved by addiction, right? While it’s true that some people are born into a life where nature and/or nurture seem to work against them- for example, if they’ve inherited genes of being an alcoholic or drug addict or if they’ve been raised in a family where drinking and drug- use are the “norm”- the bottom line is that addiction is ultimately the result of CHOICE.

As for mental illness, I think most people have experienced some degree of depression or anxiety in their lives, but they are still able to function. The biggest problem is when mental illness involves suicidal and/or homicidal fantasies or attempts- especially when a child’s safety is involved. Which leads me to my next paragraph . . .

The whole reason Christian came into foster care in the first place was because of his mother’s mental illnesses (yes, illnesses plural). Although I haven’t gone into a lot of details about her because I want to respect her privacy, at the same time I feel like if I don’t write about her I am leaving out a very key player in Christian’s story which, by virtue of being his foster parent, has now become my story too.

It’s hard to explain how I feel about Christian’s birthmother because it’s just not black and white. Thinking about her brings up a wide range of emotions and responses inside of me ranging from condemnation and self-righteousness to pity and compassion. Although she wanted nothing to do with Christian or his birthfather when Christian was first placed with us, she changed her mind after a few months as a result of going back on her meds and getting some counseling. DCFS and her therapist both agreed that she was stable enough to see her son again and that it would be beneficial for her to start having supervised visits with him.

I distinctly remember the first time I met her at the DCFS Office and given her history I was quite honestly scared to meet her. I was also relieved that the visit was going to take place in a supervised setting. But after meeting her and looking into her eyes I felt at ease.

“Nice to meet you.“ I said as the caseworker escorted her into the DCFS lobby while she was holding Christian in her arms. I was surprised at how friendly I sounded towards this virtual stranger, but as I looked into her eyes I felt compassion towards her rather than judgment or fear. I chided myself for thinking I should be afraid of her – it was like being afraid of a mouse when in reality, a mouse is a harmless creature who is probably much more afraid of you than you are of them.

A week later at the end of the second supervised visit with her son, Christian’s mom had tears in her eyes and apologized for being “so emotional” but she explained that she had received the news that day which she didn’t expect to hear: that there was a chance she could get her son back.

It was my first time hearing this news as well, so I was as surprised as she was. I looked up at the caseworker who nodded in affirmation.

“Oh, I don’t blame you for crying” I suddenly felt the need to reassure her. “He’s a beautiful baby.” Christian’s mom then turned to me and mentioned with a nervous laugh, almost apologetically, that she would be going in next week to get her tubes tied. I just nodded my head with a half smile on my face but on the inside I wanted to laugh at how ironic life is: she was trying everything in her power not to bring another child into this world while I would love nothing more than to have another child to call my own.

The day when I saw Christian’s mother‘s eyes fill with tears because she was given a second chance to get her child back I felt something inside of me which is hard to put into words. I guess charity, or pure love, comes closest to describing it. I didn’t see her as someone to compete with or someone to judge, but rather someone who I could relate to: a woman who loves her child. The love we both share for the same child welds us together in a type of symbiotic relationship.  Christian’s mother has something I don’t have: the ability to bear children, but I have something she doesn’t have: emotional stability and the ability to raise a child in a safe environment. My needs to nurture and mother are met by caring for her son and her need for someone to watch her son when she is unable to do so is met.

God works in mysterious ways and I think he puts us into each other’s lives to help each other rather than judge each other.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” –Mother Theresa

Learning Selflessness & Patience

DISCLAIMER: This post contains elements of whining and venting. If you’re not in the mood I suggest you skip it.

Although foster parenting has given me opportunities to improve upon the qualities of compassion, patience, selflessness, and longsuffering, I would be lying if I said that my heart is a never-ending font of these qualities.

The truth is that doing foster care has made me realize that I’m not as patient or selfless as I’d like to be. The fact that the children who come into our home through foster care are not ours (even though we love them as if they were our own) can at times create some intense feelings of confusion, frustration, and resentment on my part. As hard as it is for me to admit, these feelings all basically stem from selfishness or impatience on my part.

Here are some examples of impatience and selfishness on my part with this particular placement:

Learning Patience:

All babies require a lot of work, but some babies have temperaments and conditions that are easier to deal with than others. Christian hasn’t been a particularly “easy” baby to care for considering his reflux, colic, inability to self-soothe and developmental delays in his motor skills (which is why I was so thrilled to announce that he had rolled over the day after he turned six months old!) The good news is that he has been receiving occupational therapy and is slowly but surely making progress. Just last month, at eight months old, he was able to hold his bottle by himself for the first time which was a big relief for me. I admit that I’ve had to be patient as I’ve waited for him to reach milestones that other babies his age have already reached and I’ve had to constantly remind myself to stop comparing him to other babies because all babies develop at their own pace. I think my biggest problem is that I’ve been comparing his development with my “preemie” and even she was doing things earlier than he was.

Learning Selflessness:

Christian’s father definitely has a great love for his son, but I do worry a little about his inexperience with parenting because playing with a child for a couple of hours a week at a weekly visit is certainly different than caring for a child 24/7.

On more than one occasion at visits Christian’s dad he has scooped his baby up in his arms and said, “Oh, I can’t wait to get him back!” with a great big smile on his face. Although I’ve thought, “That’s sweet” and I do want him to succeed one particular day after he said that I had the following imaginary scene playing out in my head:

CHRISTIAN'S FATHER: “I can’t wait to get him back!”

SSELFISH, BITTER ME: “You can’t wait to get him back, huh? Feel free to come over at three in the morning when he needs to be fed and why don’t you come over and change his outfit 3-4 times a day every time he spits up. You can also help with the laundry while you’re at it and you are more than welcome to change his poopy diapers which incidentally are made worse by the medicine which is supposed to help with this reflux. I’ll give you a call when his colic starts acting up or when he wakes in the middle of the night with teething pains.”

I think you get the picture.

“Why am I feeling so irate about things?” I asked myself when I felt the bitterness rising up inside of me. I think it’s because I had an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” and I was feeling sorry for myself that I am “just” the unappreciated foster mom who gets to do the dirty work of changing diapers and cleaning up spit-up or comforting a colicky baby but I will never get to see the fruits of my labors. I won’t be able to see Christian off to his first day of pre-school or kindergarten and I won’t be able to cheer him on when he learns to ride a bike for the first time. I’m just the one taking care of a baby who won’t even remember me a year from now.

Time to remember LESSON #10: Foster care is not about “US” and our needs- it’s about the children!

Incidentally, I was recently having some of those same feelings of resentment creep back up inside of me and as I was sitting in church the words to a song gently chastised me:

Go forth to serve and do your best with no thought of reward
Then you shall know the boundless joy of serving Christ our Lord.

(Isn’t it interesting how you come across a certain quote, lyrics, scripture, or something someone says at the exact time you need to hear it?)

True joy does not come from focusing on yourself, but in reaching out to others. This brings to mind two of my favorite scriptures about serving others:

“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God”

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me”
Enough said.

Father's Day Frosty Weekend

Who doesn't like a Frosty, right?

(Besides someone who is lactose intolerant or sugar-free or watching their calories)

That was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but anyway BUY A FROSTY this weekend and help support adoption and foster care!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Foster Placements: Destiny or Chance?

Christian will be leaving our home in less than a month and it’s causing me to become very reflective. Although we’re going to miss him (How could we NOT- We’ve been taking care of him for over six months!) I also have to admit that unlike our first two placements we’re not expecting to be totally heart-broken when he leaves. This makes me feel somehow guilty (and introspective and overly analytical which is why I’m writing about it): Does this mean that we’re becoming more calloused in our role as foster parents? Does it mean we haven’t loved Christian as much as our first two placements? No, that’s not it- we’ve cared for him like he was our own. Is it because he hasn’t been an especially “easy” baby to care for? Or is it simply because there are certain people in life, including babies and children, whom you just seem to “click” with and bond with easier than others?

We love Christian and we’ll miss having him in our home, but from the very beginning of this placement neither Jared nor I felt like he was “supposed” to be ours. Of course, most foster children aren’t supposed to be adopted by their foster parents- they are just staying in a temporary home while their parents work things out . . . BUT, even with our first two placements despite the fact that we didn’t end up adopting them we both had undeniable feelings that they were meant to be in our home when they were. I felt a very strong bond in particular with the first little boy we fostered- it’s almost like our spirits “knew” each other. We had the same kinds of feelings towards our foster daughter- we would have loved to have adopted her if it came to that.

I’ve heard accounts from other foster parents and caseworkers who have said that the children who are placed into homes of foster families- whether they end up adopting them or not- were “meant” to come into their lives. There's something magical about that and I would like to believe, as the German philosopher Friedrich von Schiller believed, “There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.”

On the other hand, I’ve also heard some horrific tales about children being abused while in foster care (before reforms were made about who could become a foster parent) which is extremely upsetting and especially tragic. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to say that those children who had traumatic experiences while in foster care were “meant” to suffer even further than they already have. 

In our imperfect world people sometimes suffer because of the selfish choices of others.  Therefore, both fortune and misfortune are not just left to chance but are the result of the choices people make, which brings this appropriate William Jennings Bryan quote to mind (I'm into quotes lately): “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

So while I can’t deny that divine intervention was at play when it comes to our experience with adopting Madison and with our first two foster placements, when I try to apply this “destiny theory” to our current placement and to other foster children who live with families on a temporary basis, the more cynical part of me wonders “Is it really destiny or is it just random chance?” Was Christian actually destined to come to our home right now or does he just happen to be here because we said “yes” to a placement?

I’ve come to a couple of different conclusions as I’ve tried making sense of my feelings:

1) Maybe it doesn’t really matter if it was destiny or chance that Christian came to our home. We’ve provided a safe home for a child who needed it. That’s the most important thing.

2) Perhaps a more useful question to ask would be What have we learned from having Christian in our home? I think the top two answers to that are patience and selflessness, which I may write about in more detail at a later time. Perhaps we needed him in our lives at this point in time to help us improve those qualities, which happens to remind me of the following quote:

"God doesn't give you the people you want, he gives you the people you NEED. To help you, to hurt you, to leave you, to love you and to make you into the person you were meant to be."

[I think the part about “leaving” is especially applicable to foster parents seeing their foster children leave].

Perhaps being a foster parent is helping to make me into the person God wants me to be.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Forget She's Adopted!

This afternoon I took Madison to the doctor's office.  Before our appointment I began filling out some required paperwork the receptionist gave me.  I got to the bottom of one section entitled "Patient's Family Medical History" and was about to start checking the appropriate boxes and filling in the blanks with information when Jared [who met us on his lunch break and was glancing over my shoulder as I was filling out the forms] gave me a funny look.

"What?" I looked up and asked. 

"Are you going to start filling out YOUR family's medical history for her?" He questioned with a smirk on his face.

"Oh yeah. . ."
(Sometimes I have to remind myself that my daughter does not have my DNA.)  I forget that she's adopted!

I went back to the medical form, crossed out that section and wrote a large "N/A" across it with the word "Adopted" in parentheses because I honestly don't know about Madison's birthmother's (or birthfather's) family medical history.  

That is one thing we would like to do differently with our next adoption- get as much medical information as possible from our child's birthparents.