Thursday, November 25, 2010

Legal Aspects of George's Case

George has been in our home for over a month now and the two most frequent questions family members and friends ask us regarding his case are:
1)   How long will he be with you?
2) Is there any chance you could adopt him?  

Up until now I haven’t been able to give any definitive answers to anyone because I haven’t had any definite answers given to me, either.  The information I’ve been seeking is always dependent on court dates or meetings and sometimes meetings get postponed or rulings in court are inconclusive or conditional upon further hearings.  But this week I talked with George’s caseworker who was able to give me the latest information on where his case is headed in regards to reunification or adoption.  It’s nice to finally know- one way or the other- what the future holds for him . . . and for us.

BUT FIRST, before giving an update, let me back up and give a little background about how foster placements “typically” work.  (Of course I do realize that using the word “typical” to describe a foster placement is pretty much an oxymoron since nothing is predictable in foster care!)  But here goes . . .  

In “typical” cases after children are removed from their parent’s or legal guardian’s care the parents/guardians are offered “services” such as counseling, parenting classes, on-going random drug-testing, job training, etc. through the Division of Child and Family Services in what is outlined in a Service Plan.  If, after a court-mandated amount of time, the child’s parents comply with the requirements of the Service Plan, then a judge can order the child returned back into the parent’s custody.  If however, the parents don’t do everything required of them in the Service Plan (and I’ve found that even if they don’t there can always be extensions granted) there is always the possibility of parental rights being terminated (TPR), thus leaving the child legally free for adoption. 

George’s case and family situation are a little different than our previous foster placements have been because his “parents” aren’t legally his parents- (hence the quotation marks around the word parents.)  This begs the question: What makes someone a parent?  In my opinion, a parent is the primary caregiver (or caregivers, if they’re lucky enough to have two) to a child.  That definition, however, doesn’t hold up in a court of law.  I actually did the research and grabbed my husband’s copy of Black’s Law Dictionary (albeit an older edition) from his den and looked up the legal definition of parent.  There were five different definitions by statute and I’ll paraphrase each:  (1) the natural father or mother of a child born of their valid marriage (2) the adoptive father or adoptive mother of a child (3) the natural mother of an illegitimate child (4) a child’s putative blood parent who has expressly acknowledged paternity and contributed to the child’s support and (5) any individual or agency whose status as guardian of the child has been established by judicial decree.

George’s “parents” don’t fit any of these definitions, but I refer to them as his parents anyway since that’s the role they’ve played in his life.  George’s birthmother unofficially “gave” George to some friends of hers when he was less than a month old and those friends of hers have been raising him until he was recently removed from their home.  These caregivers are not related to George by blood nor do they have legal custody of him which is very important because blood relatives ALWAYS take precedence over non-relatives or anyone else when deciding where a child is placed.  (Lesson #2 from this post)

George’s parents did actually try to petition the court for guardianship the last time George’s birthmother was arrested, but because of pending issues and because they’ve had a previous history with the Division of Child and Family Services before George ever came into custody, their petition for guardianship was not honored.  The judge, however, is sympathetic to their case since they have been the ones caring for George most of his life and that is why he granted visitation rights and legal standing to this couple.  Judges have the final say in every decision, regardless of anybody else’s opinions.

This is where the case gets interesting: DCFS did not initially agree with the judge’s decision that it’s in the best interest of George to have ongoing visits with his caregivers- primarily because their goals for George are safety and permanency.  Whether children in foster care end up with a relative, back with their parents, in a group home, or being adopted by their foster family the ultimate goal is to “provide each child with a safe, nurturing, and permanent home” a statement which is taken directly from our region’s vision statement.

Do George’s caregivers/parents love him?  Of course!  But sometimes loving a child and simply being attached to a child are not good enough reasons to have a child returned to one’s care.  Other variables such as a safe home environment, employment, the ability to pass a background check, and a previous history with DCFS should most definitely be taken into consideration for the child’s well-being.

The Division’s job is ultimately to look out for the best interests of the child in state custody.  However, they are also there to help the child’s parents which, to me, can present a conflict of interest.  So the big moral/legal dilemma at the heart of George’s particular case and the question on our minds the past couple of weeks has been: Should parental rights and a service plan be granted to “parents” who have no legal rights to a child in the first place?  OR does DCFS pursue kinship options (Legally they must, but so far nothing has panned out which is why George is with us right now).  OR, is it in George’s best interest to be placed in an adoptive home?  

After a staff meeting this week and in accordance with the judge’s ruling, it was decided that despite X, Y, and Z reasons (I won’t go into specifics but all I can tell you is that all of the reasons by themselves are substantial enough not to place a child back with his caregivers into the home environment he came from) DCFS has no choice but to go along with the judge’s ruling and they must give George’s parents full legal standing in the case- meaning, they’re basically being treated as his legal parents- and a Service Plan will be drafted for them so that they can work on getting him back into their care.

In answer to everyone’s inquiries: We will most likely have George in our care for seven more months, the time allotted in the Service Plan,  and then he’ll be placed back with his parents (on the condition that they don’t go to jail during that time or have any further criminal charges against them.)

What are my personal feelings on the matter?  Well . . . I’m grateful to George’s parents for loving him, and I know that they must be going through an extremely difficult time right now, BUT quite frankly, I’m more concerned with George’s well-being than I am with theirs.  He’s the one who is where he is today through no fault of his own.  His birthmother and his parents, on the other hand, are adults who must be accountable for the choices they’ve made- just like the rest of us.  Yet it seems that their “rights” are taking a priority over his “rights” and his best interest.  So regarding the judge’s decision I’m kind of left thinking, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”  

All I can say is, no matter what side of the issue you’re on- whether foster parent, parent whose children have been removed, caseworker, judge, etc. the most important question shouldn’t be “What are the birthparent’s rights?” or if you are a birthparent or foster parent “How will this decision impact me and my family?”  but rather  “What is in the best interest of the child?”.

Yesterday I called my husband to tell him the latest news about George’s case.  After giving him the update the other end of the line grew quiet.  “Are you alright? . . . What do you think about all of this?” I asked.

“I’m okay” he explained.  “I’m just worried about him.” 

That is precisely where the concern should be- with the child.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Visits & Two Mommies

Today marks 15 days (I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago) that George has been in our home. In this short time we’ve had home visits from the CPS worker, our Resource Family Consultant, the ongoing caseworker (twice), and George’s Guardian Ad Liteum, (his personal attorney). I was particularly surprised that his GAL not only called us, but actually wanted to come to our home and meet us in person and see how George was doing. When she called me on the phone and explained who she was I was so surprised that I told her “Wow- in four foster placements you’re the first GAL to actually contact us!” She laughed. Of course, in an ideal world wouldn’t a professional want to meet the client they’re representing, especially when that client happens to be a child and it’s their job to advocate for what is in the child’s best interest? Anyway, it was definitely a first for us as foster parents.

George has also had four supervised visits with his caregivers since being in our care. He had to wait a week for his first visit but in the last couple of weeks the judge over his case ordered that visits be twice a week for one hour each rather than the usual one-hour once a week visit.

Visits with parents are interesting- especially the first visit. I am always a little nervous with what to initially expect but I think it goes both ways: George’s parents were polite and they appeared to be more intimidated to meet me than I was of meeting them. They even asked my permission before giving him a sucker. [Which is nice considering the fact that there are vending machines full of pop and candy in the DCFS lobby and whenever I would take our first foster placement to see his parents each week they would fill him up with so much pop and candy that he wouldn’t want to eat dinner when we got home.]

Anyway, the thing I was dreading most about the first visit was George’s reaction to having to leave his parents and come “home” with me. Based on his night-time separation anxiety I was expecting the worst possible scenario on his part- kicking and screaming and howling for his parents. Instead, after the visit was over he calmly looked in my direction and pointed towards me. When I picked him up he didn’t protest but just came to me like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You’re kidding me!” I thought. No tears? No tantrums? I was extremely relieved. I think the caseworker was expecting to see tears and protests on George’s part, too, because she later commented on how nice it was to see him go to me so easily. At each subsequent visit George has been happy to see his parents, but he doesn’t seem to mind saying goodbye to them either.

At the first couple of visits his parents, and his mother in particular, were misty-eyed when it was time to say goodbye. Sometimes his mom will have a look on her face like she’s about to burst out into tears but she’s trying hard to maintain her composure. I think of times in my life when I’ve felt the same way and I feel bad for her.

A couple of weeks ago the inevitable awkward moment happened when George called me “mommy” in front of his parents for the very first time. I hated to see the look of pain in his mother’s eyes as he said it, but at the same time the smile he had on his face as he said it filled me with a sense of pride. I felt justified for all of the times I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tucking him in bed, wiping his nose, changing his poohey diapers, bathing him, feeding him, reading to him, etc. Even so, I still felt a little guilty when I caught a glimpse of resignation and defeat on his mother’s face because, after all, she’s the “real” mom, right? And I’m just the foster mom. (Technically neither one of us count as his “real” mom if you consider that neither of us are his biological mother).

Anyway, I was filled with a sense of mixed feelings and wondered, “How should I be feeling in this situation? Guilty? Prideful? Relieved?” All I know is that I didn’t like seeing the expression on his mother’s face and I felt a sudden and urgent need to say something . . . ANYTHING . . . to break the awkward silence looming in the air. So I gave out a very forced, nervous laugh and I blurted out, “I guess he has two mommies!”

Further silence. “I’m an idiot- did I really just say that?”

Rather than breaking the ice, my sudden announcement about two mommies seemed to amplify the awkwardness in the air. But what could I have done about it, really? George has been calling us “mommy” and daddy” since a couple of days after he was placed with us. Oh well, it could have been worse- I could have snorted when I laughed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Adoption Month Celebration & Giveaway

I wrote about the children's book Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born here.

If you would like to win a copy of this heart-warming book and/or celebrate adoption visit this blog and answer the question,

"Who are YOU celebrating this month?"


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fostering through the State versus a Private Agency

I received an e-mail from a woman in Texas who asked the following question:

   What are the pro's and con's of fostering through the state vs. a private agency?

I am fostering through my state so I'm not the best candidate to answer that question.  But I'm sure one of YOU somewhere out there might have the experience of fostering through a private agency.  In that case, please share your knowledge with the rest of us by LEAVING A COMMENT.  Thanks. 

On a related note, I don't have a formspring, but if anyone out there has any other burning questions that you're dying to ask, please don't hesitate!  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Home is Where You Eat and Sleep

Last week I watched a sign language DVD with my daughter.  "Home is where you eat and sleep" the host explained as she demonstrated how to make the sign for "home".  Although I would like to think that one's home is a little more than just a place to eat or lay your head, she was basically right about two of the most fundamental purposes of a home.  Appropriately enough, those two things- eating and sleeping- are the two areas where George is having the hardest adjustment to his new environment.

This little boy eats like a HORSE!  At dinner the first night after we picked him up he ate more than everyone at the table- including my husband.  When the food was gone he immediately started crying for more.  He spotted some bananas on our counter and exclaimed "nanas!" and desperately began pointing in their direction.  "This poor kid must be starving!" I thought.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to give him a banana even though dinner was over.  He quickly gobbled it up and then started whining for another one.  I gave in but I learned my lesson the next day when he threw up.  As I started cleaning up the mess (thankfully most of it was just milk) I started worrying that he had a bug or something.  But then I realized, "DUH!  Of course he threw up- he's been gorging food and his little stomach just isn't big enough to handle it all." 

Although we're feeding him plenty (he could eat bananas and cheese sticks all day long if we let him) we've learned to limit his food intake no matter how long and hard he cries after mealtimes and no matter how many times a day he points to the fridge or pantry.  It's also not uncommon for him to pull out a chair from the kitchen table and announce "eat" even if the last meal we had was half an hour earlier.  

I'm guessing that the only thing that's keeping George from taking and hiding food is that he can't actually open the fridge or pantry door himself.  At least that's what we learned to expect in our training as it was explained to us that hoarding behaviors are very common among children who come from backgounds of poverty or neglect.  I've heard other foster parents share similar stories. 

The night we picked up George from DCFS, his CPS Worker passed on some information to us from his caregivers about his eating habits: they said he was a picky eater and that his favorite foods were french fries and Captain Crunch- the staples in life, right?  I haven't found him to be particularly picky about what he eats, but rather how he eats.  The first time I gave him cereal he ignored the actual cereal and went straight for the milk- picking up his bowl and slurping it down.  He also doesn't quite seem to understand the concept of using utensils either but we're working on it. 

When George discovered our Lazy Susan he immediately started scavenging through the food.  When he got to the cans of soup and tuna fish he set them aside when he realized he couldn't open them.  But when he came across a package of Ramen noodles (another one of life's staples) he looked like he hit the jackpot and started chewing right through the package without seeming to mind the plastic wrapper.  

He did the same thing when I took the kids to my husband's Halloween work party: I dressed them up in their Hallowen costumes for trick-or-treating amongst co-worker's offices.  As soon as George spotted someone's candy he's excitedly said, "Num-Num!" and grabbed for it and then proceeded to chew right through the wrappers.  Fortunately, most of my husband's co-workers seemed very understanding, especially when they learned of his special circumstances.  I was a little worried that some might have an attidute of  "What terrible manners!  Don't these parents know how to control their children?" but that didn't seem to be the case.  If you think it's hard to control your own kids try "controlling" somebody else's child!"

Although George's hoarding tendencies will take some getting used to I hope he eventually realizes that there will always be food in this house and he won't ever have to go hungry.  As one friend said to me, "How do you explain to a toddler that there will always be food in the house?"  Exactly.  He's just acting out of survivial.  I must admit though it's been quite amusing to watch a child get so excited about eating vegetables.  The night I made Stir-Fry George happilly gobbled down green beans and broccoli like they were candy!


Sleep is the other hard adjustment for George.  The CPS Worker also passed on some information to us about his sleeping habits- namely, that George has never slept in his own crib or bed, but has always slept with his caregivers in their bed.  "Great." I thought. 

It's hard enough for me, as an adult, to adjust sleeping in a bed other than my own-even if it's for a seemingly trivial reason.  Take, for example, whenever I go camping or I'm on vacation and I wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and get that disoriented feeling and look around and think, "Wait a minute- this isn't my bedroom . . . Where am I?"  Even if the confusion only lasts for thirty seconds before I can reorient myself and realize that I'm in a tent or at a hotel it's still a somewhat disturbing feeling.  So when I thought of the prospect of George having to sleep not only in a totally new environment but all by himself when he's used to sharing a bed I felt bad for him.  

Nights and even naptimes have been particularly hard for George.  At times I feel like a prison warden sending him to his "jail cell" when I announce that it's naptime or time for bed because it's such a traumatic experience for him.  The first three or four nights he was so upset and confused that he would look at me between sobs and wails as if to say, "Can I go home now?  Where's my mom and dad?"  All I could do was pat his back and try to comfort him while he cried out for his "mommy" and "da-da."  The worst part was that I couldn't honestly tell him, "It's going to be all right- you'll go back to your mommy and dada soon" because I don't know where he will end up for sure.

It was absolutely HEARTBREAKING and although I was left feeling very sad for him I was also surprised at how upset I was, too- towards the whole sad situation and in particular towards his caregivers.  A lot of angry feelings started creeping up inside me and as I talked it over with my husband the next day he wisely pointed out that his caregivers must be going through torture being separated from him, too (which is not exactly what I was in the mood to hear, but he's absolutely right).

I thought about why I was so angry and here's my explanation:  When I hear about children who become separated from their families or become orphans due to a natural disaster, like a typhoon,for example, I am filled with pity and compassion not only towards the children who are victims of the disaster but to their parents and relatives who have become casualties of the disaster as well.  I think most people feel pretty much the same way because nobody likes to see children suffer- that's a given.  But there is one huge difference between children who are orphaned because of natural disasters or extreme poverty and children who are separated from their families or "orphaned" due to addictions or abuse or neglect and one word that sums up the difference between those two scenarios is PREVENTION.  Natural disasters cannot be prevented- nobody has a choice when it comes to suffering from that kind of tragedy, but people do have a choice in how they treat their children and wether they use drugs or take their first drink when they are aware that alcoholism runs rampant in their family. 

I'm aware, as my husband pointed out, that George's caregivers must be suffering greatly as a result of their choices, but when I'm the one who has to listen to a little boy wail for his parents at night and I'm the one who has to wipe away his tears and change his pillowcase because it's covered with puddles of tears and snot as a result of his heartbreak I do not exactly become a font of overflowing compassion for the very people who could have prevented the whole situation in the first place.  

Back to George's sleeping/separation anxiety:  My biggest dilemna as a foster parent is trying to find the balance between nurturing and discipline.  Do I totally "baby" him and rock him to sleep each night or do I take a tough-love approach?  I usually take a moderate approach but I tend to err on the side of too much nurturing.  For example, the first couple of nights I stayed in his bedroom till he fell asleep and then I would quietly sneak out and go back to my own bedroom . . . until he noticed I wasn't there and then the crying would begin afresh.  I even considered bringing an air mattress into his room and just camping out, but I thought "No, if I do that he'll just expect it every night."  I've already made the mistake before of letting my daughter sleep in our bed "just for one night".  One night inevitably turns into more than one night. 

One thing is for certain: The times I've  rock-a-byed him and held him have been the greatest tools for bonding- not just for him bonding and attaching to me, but me attaching and bonding to him.  


Last weekend I attended a 5k Adoption Walk to kick off National Adoption Month. If any of you happened to be there you couldn’t miss all of the ORANGE everyone was wearing. I wasn’t certain if orange was the “official” color for adoption awareness or not so I consulted the ultimate source on answers to all of life’s serious questions . . . Wikipedia. I discovered that WHITE is actually the official color for adoption awareness.

More specifically,

WHITE is the color for those who were adopted,

PINK is the color for birth parents, and 

YELLOW is the color for adoptive parents.

Incidentally, orange is also the awareness color for leukemia, hunger, cultural diversity, humane treatment of animals, and self-injury awareness.  Who knew! 

I had to scratch my head and wonder “Why Orange?” Is it because orange fits in with the fall colors of November or because topaz is the traditional birthstone for November? Or is it simply because as nice a color as white is orange is just much more bright and noticeable?

I found the answer in this blog written by the woman who is responsible for starting the Annual 5K Adoption Walk. To quote Alison Lowe:
“Orange is cheery, uplifting and boisterous. It is also made from mixing two primary colors and yellow. Hmmm . . . kind of like adoption!

Why orange? Well that is easy! "Orange' you glad for adoption"! I know I am. Orange is a strong, bright colour which helps me keep a light alive for adoption.”
If anyone asks my humble opinion on which color I will be using to celebrate National Adoption Month- orange or white- the answer is quite simple: BOTH.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

National Adoption Month 2010

So I'm feeling like a bit of a slacker considering we're already into the second week of National Adoption Month and I haven't posted ONCE!  To appease my guilt, I did contribute (err. . . copy and paste that is) this item and this item from and Adoptive Families Magazine to celebrate and advocate for adoption.  And my family walked in our local Annual Adoption Walk With Me 5k over the weekend- very inspiring!  

I'm looking forward to catching up on my blog reading [eventually] and checking out all of the great guest posts, giveaways, and spotlights some of you adoption advocate bloggin' overachievers (you know who you are) have posted this month.  I have actually started a couple of posts of my own, but most of my time and energy has been spent focusing on George and making as smooth a transition as possible for him.  Which, come to think of it, seems like a very appropriate thing to do considering the history and intent of National Adoption Month was to raise awareness of the need for loving and permanent homes for children.  The "loving" aspect I can control but as a foster parent the "permanent" part of the equation is totally out of my hands!
Stay tuned . . . more posts to come.