Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fresh Air Fund

Click banner to learn more about becoming a host family.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our First Emergency Placement

To get caught up on our latest adventure in fostering start HERE.
A couple of days after our RFC informed us about a possible kinship placement for Precious, we got a call back from Precious’s caseworker that her relative’s background checks had been cleared and they would be approved to have her moved to their home.
Incidentally, it was only a couple of hours after I had told Precious that she would be leaving our home and going to leave with relatives that she said out of the blue: “Mary- Love you!”  And this is the same little girl who’s favorite word is “Hate”?  I thought to myself.  A list of her daily complaints in her little raspy voice echoed through my mind:  “I HATE the toyroom!  I HATE taking naps!  I HATE shampoo! etc, etc. etc.”  
Exactly one week after she was placed in our care, we dropped Precious off at the DCFS building to say goodbye to her and make the transition into her relative’s care. 
As relieved as I am that she’s gone I also felt like I was going to cry after I hugged her for the last time.

A Permanent Family for Precious

After our first weekend with Precious I called our RFC to give her an update on how things went.  Among other things I told her “I think Precious would do best in a family that has either no children or where she is the youngest child with no children close to her age.”

 “Are you still willing to have her in your home as an emergency placement until a permanent foster family is found for her?”  She asked with concern. 
“Of course” I answered.

I went on to explain that the truth of the matter is that if we didn’t already have any children, we would pursue things with Precious as a permanent foster/adoptive family- despite all of her issues.  But the bottom line is that our daughter’s needs come first, which is precisely why we were willing to take Precious as an emergency placement but not willing to commit to being her permanent foster family (and possible adoptive family).  The girls are just too close in age and there is just too much conflict- it’s not a fair situation to either of them.  Precious needs a family who can give her a lot of individualized attention.
My husband and I both agreed that although we want another child more than anything, Precious is not the best fit for our family and vice versa.  So if I know that in my head why do I feel so guilty in my heart about the prospect of her leaving to another family?  I think it has something to do with this quote which another foster mother recently shared:
 “There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child - and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own." ~Robert Brault
Five days after Precious was placed in our care our RFC planned on presenting Precious’s case in a meeting in an attempt to find a permanent foster family who would be the best possible fit for her.  On the one hand, I wanted her to be placed as soon as possible because I knew that the longer she stayed with us the more attached everyone would become to each other and the harder it would be to say goodbye.  On the other hand, such an important decision shouldn’t be rushed.
 As relieved as we were at the prospect of Precious leaving and that our home could be back to “normal” again we were also deeply concerned for her and prayed that her new foster family would be as patient and nurturing as possible.
At the end of the workday on the fifth day that Precious was with us our RFC called us to report that as soon as they had narrowed down a list of foster families to be prospective placements for Precious and were about to start making phone calls, they received word that some relatives had stepped forward who were interested in doing a kinship placement.
Fortunately, these relatives live in our State so there would be no ICPC delays or complications and they were expected to be able to pass their background checks with no problems. 
So the next question on our minds was:  How much longer will Precious be in our home?  The biggest question in foster care [whether in regards to the next meeting, court date, or in this case, transition to another foster home] is  always “WHEN?” or  “HOW SOON?”  
The answer we were told is that it is possible that she could leave our home within a couple of days or she he could stay with us until the beginning of next week.  Of course, one of the earliest lessons I ever learned as a foster parent is that things seldom go as planned.
We were relieved to hear that Precious would be able to stay with relatives rather than strangers.  In fact, before hearing about the relatives and this kinship placement I called a transitional therapist to get her advice on how we could make the transition to her new foster home a little easier for her.  I know that Precious was only with us a week, but that’s seven days of attachment and routine.  My biggest worry was that she would feel rejected.  It almost felt like what a disrupted placement must feel like since I had so many contradictory emotions like worry and guilt and relief all jumbled inside of me at once.

Trust Issues

Besides the ongoing conflict between our own daughter and her new foster sister, trust (or rather mistrust) was the biggest issue we had to deal with during this placement- specifically distrust of men.  It was especially hard on my husband, who happens to be about as threatening to children as Mister Rogers, and who would take it personally each time Precious would scowl at him for no reason or avoid any contact with him.

The first time we got Precious into our car and my husband tried helping her in her carseat since I was buckling our daughter into hers, Precious immediately became panic-stricken.  “HER!” she yelled, pointing a finger in my direction.  “I want HER to do it.”  Thereafter we quickly learned that I am the one who buckles and unbuckles Precious and my husband is the one who buckles and unbuckles our daughter- even if it’s inconvenient.
“She hates me!” my husband dejectedly told me after our first night with her.  I tried to reassure him it wasn’t something to be taken personally and that Precious was just acting out of self-preservation.  From her perspective he was still a stranger to her and a potential threat and her defensiveness served as a way of protection.
It took Precious four days to figure out that my husband was “safe” and then trust him enough to do the things she wouldn’t let him do initially- fasten her car seat, carry her in the house, or push her on the swingset.
Because of her distrust in men, I was especially nervous when I found out that the Guardian Ad Liteum assigned to her case happened to be male and he needed to meet her in our home.  Precious was initially resistant to meeting him when I introduced him to her and pretty much stone-walled when he tried to talk to her.  “I’ll just try to establish some rapport” he told me after sensing her apprehension. He only stayed for about 15-20 minutes and did a great job of putting her at ease by spending most of the visit reading one of her favorite books which happened to be in the room, with as much gentleness and enthusiasm as a kindergarten teacher, and asking her questions about the book.  She was even willing to give him a high-five before he left- which wouldn’t seem like a big deal to most kids, but says a lot for Precious.  It turns out her Guardian Ad Liteum used to be a counselor for the State before going to Law School. 
We also had two home visits with Precious’s caseworker (or rather her caseworker’s supervisor since the caseworker was out of town) since she’s been with us.  During the first visit the caseworker shared some more information with us about Precious’s father and her case.  After hearing what she had to say about him, and especially when she confessed that “he makes me nervous” (and this is coming from a woman who has had years of experience working in the child welfare system and is no wimp) and that she would need to sit in the same room as Precious and her father during their entire supervised visit- rather than just outside of the door in the hallway- I began dreading taking Precious to her first supervised visit.  Sure, I’ve been nervous before about meeting the parents of the children I foster when I hear about their criminal backgrounds, mental histories, or the allegations against them, but I can honestly say this is the first time I was actually “scared” to meet a bio parent in person. 
Precious’s father never returned any of the caseworker’s phone calls or messages regarding visiting his daughter so I never had to meet him in person.


A couple of times our daughter accidentally called Precious the name of the little girl who we had recently hoped to adopt- which makes me kind of sad.  However, unlike that little girl [who was a year younger than our daughter and who was very mellow and would happily succumb to her role of being “bossed around” by a big sister] Precious is the same age as our daughter and is certainly just as headstrong as her, too.  Herein lies the problem:

-Both girls are typically egocentrical THREE YEAR OLDS
-Both girls are accustomed to being ONLY CHILDREN
-Both girls can be DRAMA QUEENS
-Both girls are, in fact, “GIRLS” – so much estrogen in two small packages!
Needless to say, our home was full of conflict and rivalry from two three-year-old Drama Queens who both believed they should take center stage and be in the spotlight at all times.  The problem is that neither one of them was willing to settle for being in the limelight.
For the most part, Precious and Madison played well together.  However, like all children, they  had their squabbles.  Things overheard (repeatedly) over the first 24 hours include:
“I had it first!”
“I’m not a baby- YOU are!”
“You’re not going to be my best friend anymore!”  (Are they three years old or thirteen years old?)
I can handle that kind of tension, but the conflict escalated and included something that we’re not used to in our home: physical aggression.  I guess the good news is that Precious is so teeny that when she did hit or push it doesn’t cause serious harm to our daughter. However, it is very emotionally upsetting and confusing for my little girl who didn’t understand why she did it each time:  “She just hit me again!”  “Why did she just push me?” my little girl would turn to me and ask with tears in her eyes.  It’s very difficult (and annoying) to watch another child- who is a “guest” in your home nonetheless- mistreat your own children.    My first instinct and priority was to comfort my own daughter, but at the same time I had to stop Precious’s behavior and explain to her that hitting is not something we do in our home.  I don’t know how many times I  had to explain “We don’t hit in our house.  It’s okay to be angry or frustrated, but it’s not okay to hit.”
As much as I resented Precious for acting out I also know that she was doing just that- “acting out” the behaviors that she’s used to.  I had to continually remind myself that she’s a product of her environment, so although hitting and shoving may be unacceptable to us it is the “norm” for her.
I mentioned that both our own daughter and our foster daughter have a tendency to be “drama queens.”  But my husband was spot on when he pointed out the difference between the two:  Precious’s drama is trauma drama.  Not only does she have a hard time sharing toys & taking turns, but she becomes overly upset SO easily (either yelling, crying like it’s the end of the world, or saying how much she “hates” something) over seemingly little things: not being able to play with a toy, bumping into something and getting an owie, not being able to get her shoes on correctly, etc.   I would try to give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to how scared and confused and out of control she must be feeling rather than attributing it to a naturally sour disposition.
The good news is that she would let me comfort her and she was able to attach to me.  In fact, she even developed a slight separation anxiety so that sometimes if I went in the other room she would immediately ask, “Where are you going?  Stay here!” 
The first couple of nights with us she did fine at bedtime, but the last few days ever since she had a nightmare/night terror (flashback maybe?) she insisted that I stay in her room- so I would bring my pillow in and sleep on the floor until she fell asleep and then I would sneak out.  If she woke up in the night she’d walk into our bedroom (across the hall from hers) and wake me up and say “Come back.”
The tragic part is that each time I heard Precious tell me to “Stay Here” or “Come Back!” I read a deeper meaning into her words.  After all, this is the same little girl who nonchalantly told my daughter over breakfast cereal the second day she was here “My mommy ran away.”  My daughter got a confused and disbelieving look on her face and turned to me and said, “Mom, she said her mom ran away!” as if she were tattling on another child for saying something as absurd and untrue as “I have a dinosaur for a pet.” 
I turned to my daughter and said in a lowered voice “Honey . . . that’s part of the reason she’s staying with us.” 
A mommy running away from a child is a hard enough concept for me as an adult to understand.  I could only imagine what my little girl was thinking as she grew suddenly quiet and soberly went back to eating her cereal.  A couple of days later I found myself pulling my daughter aside after yet another fight, and when Precious was out of earshot I explained “The reason Precious hits so much is because there was a lot of hitting at her house.  That’s another reason why she’s staying with us.”  I wish my daughter didn’t have to learn at such a young age that not all families and homes are safe like ours.  I basically lied to her about our last placement and told her we were taking care of George because his parents were “sick” because how do you explain things like drug addiction and neglect and parents being in prison to a little girl who’s grown up in a stable, loving home?  Those things are about as foreign to her as the concept of mommies running away.  

Our Fifth Foster Placement

A week and a half ago our Resource Family Consultant called us about a placement:  A 3 year old girl, seven months younger than our daughter, who had been taken into custody and was on her way to The Christmas Box House until a foster family could be found for her.  Our RFC passed on as much info as she had for me including the fact that this little girl had already been in foster care previously- as a toddler- and then had been returned to her mother’s care.  Her bio mom is no longer around so she has been in the care of her father.  Unfortunately, while under her father’s care, she found her way back into the system.

When our RFC first told me this little girl’s name on the phone I repeated it back to make sure I heard her correctly.  It’s not that I had never heard it before- just not as a name.  When I  addressed her I would have to consciously think “Wait a minute- her name is what again?” because it’s so unique and I kept  wanting to call her “Precious” or “Princess” until I would remember her actual name.  Incidentally, my husband said the very same thing- “I keep thinking her name is ‘Precious’”.   Hence, I will refer to her on this blog as “Precious”.  It’s as unique as her real name and as corny or trite as it sounds, it’s a good reminder that all God’s children are precious in his sight.
A couple of hours after receiving the call from our Resource Family Consultant (and as soon as my husband got home from work) we installed our extra car seat into the car and headed up to the Christmas Box House to meet our fifth foster placement.  Our daughter was excited about the prospect of “babysitting” again- especially since this time it would be a girl her own age.  However, one of the concerns my husband and I both shared about this placement is the possible conflict between two young children of the same gender so close in age.  We were also unsure of the extent of behavior and emotional problems this little girl might have, and we were a little nervous that any of those possible behaviors might rub off on our sensitive, impressionable, and somewhat sheltered daughter.  
We explained these concerns to our caseworker who told us that Precious could stay with us as an “emergency placement” until a permanent foster family could be found for her.  It’s much better for children in foster care- especially the youngest ones- to be placed in a home environment as soon as possible after being removed from their home rather than an “institutionalized” setting- or so the research has shown.  Additionally, protocol is that all efforts should be made to place children in a family within 24 hours, which is why we had to decide so quickly if we were open to taking her.  I didn’t like the thought of a three year old girl spending the weekend at The Christmas Box House- as great as their staff may be- rather than being in a “home”- especially when I considered one of the trainings I attended last month by a transitional therapist who sees first-hand the effects of removals and transitions on children. 
A couple of hours after receiving a phone call we suddenly found ourselves with another child in our home.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that part of fostering- it’s a surreal experience.  And so began our week with Precious.