Friday, October 21, 2011

Team Meeting, Two-Month Check-Up, and Multiple Chances

Rose has been with us for three and a half weeks.  The actual amount of time she stays in our care is entirely dependent upon when her relatives complete their background screenings, licensing requirements, and home inspections required of them to provide kinship care for her.  Speaking of which, it turns out that there are actually two different sets of relatives now who have come forward wanting to be considered as a kinship placement.

When I learned this I asked the caseworker as well as a kinship specialist assigned to this case What happens when more than one relative comes forward who wants the foster child in their home?  In other words, how do they decide where the child gets placed?   First and foremost, they explained, it depends on if their background checks clear and if their home passes inspection.  (Well- duh- that’s a given!)  Aside from that it’s ultimately up to the Division, taking into account which environment they feel would be best for the child.  However, it was also reassuring to know that Rose’s mother will have a say in the matter of where her child goes, based on her own personal preferences.
I attended a Child and Family Team Meeting last week after Rose’s visit with her mom [She currently has two 2-hour supervised visits per week with her mom] and I must say, as a foster parent, it was the most comprehensive CTFM I’ve ever attended.  Although I won't share what transpired in the meeting I can tell you what impressed me about it (other than the fact that the caseworker actually called one in the first place, and furthermore, let me know in advance when it would be so I could attend):

1)  It was PACKED- there were at least ten people in attendance including me, Rose (who was bundled up and peacefully sleeping in her mom’s arms during the entire 90 minutes), Rose’s mother, the caseworker, the caseworker’s tech who was copiously taking notes on her laptop for reference as the Service Plan is drafted, Rose’s nurse, a Kinship Specialist, one of the relatives applying for kinship care, a family advocate who has been working with Rose’s mother to help her get all of the resources she needs, Rose’s Guardian Ad Liteum (her attendance was the one that impressed me the most)  an intern just observing the meeting, and a representative from Drug Court giving Rose’s mother some options for her treatment plan/requirements to get her child back. 
2)  I feel like Rose's mother left the meeting feeling empowered, due in large part to the concern everyone expressed for her and her situation.   

3)   There was a good "balance" in the meeting of justice and mercy.  Staff members were “just” in the fact that they knew Rose’s mother would have to be held accountable for her choices and put forth a lot of effort and work to have her child returned to her custody, but they were also “merciful” in showing compassion and expressing encouragement to her that, as difficult as it will be, with the right support and resources she can succeed in doing all she needs to get her child back.  
Rose’s mother is very motivated to succeed and my heart goes out to her- in large part because of her humble attitude.  I think back to one of our other foster children’s parents who was in such blatant denial about his choices that he placed blame for the fact that his child was in state custody on anyone and everyone except for himself.  It didn’t help that his parents (who couldn’t pass their background checks and were bitter that their grandchild was not able to be in their home either) totally enabled him as well. This particular parent made token efforts to do what he had to do just so he could get DCFS “off his back” in his words.  It wasn’t surprising to me that his daughter (Molly) came back into custody a year after reunification. 
I contrast his attitude with Rose’s mother’s way of thinking:  She knows she’s made mistakes but she’s willing to be accountable for them.  And as for the services that the State provides for her (Yes, it’s called the Division of Child AND FAMILY SERVICES for a reason- they’re not just Nazis who take children away from their families for no reason at all)-  she is extremely grateful. 
Parents who have children removed are given not just one but multiple chances* and sources of support and resources to assist them in getting their children back again and in dealing with the issues that caused their children to be removed in the first place.  When you think of it in those terms DCFS is truly a “social service” agency versus a fear-mongering witch-hunting enforcement agency.  Although, I’ll admit on more than one occasion I’ve half-joked about neighbors calling DCFS/CPS on me whenever my daughter lets out blood-curdling screams as I brush out snarls from her hair.

Back to the Team Meeting: After I left the meeting and thought about some of the things that were required of Rose’s mother to get her baby back it was a reminder to me to be grateful for the “resources” I have to care for my children which others, myself included, often take for granted- namely- a home, private transportation (I rode the bus during much of my "poor" college years which has made me greatly appreciate having my own car to use whenever I need) and a husband who has a job to provide for us financially and who is willing to do his share of child-rearing when I need someone else to take a turn getting up in the night with a colicky baby or entertaining a preschooler when I can’t bear to read one more book or do the same puzzle for the tenth time in a row!
Parenting can be hard enough when you have a spouse to help out, so I can only imagine how much harder it would be as a single parent to have to take on both roles of providing financially for your family AND doing all of the homemaking/child-rearing duties as well.  This is the situation Rose’s mother is in. But in addition to all of that, she has a ton of meetings/appointments to attend as part of her treatment plan in order to get Rose back in her custody.  Her obligations are doable when she has a foster family to use as a resource (technically we’re called a “Resource Family”, but most people still use the term “foster family”), but as her caseworker wisely pointed out, What happens in the future when Rose is returned to her care and she starts getting burnt out?  If the only employment that fits into her schedule are swing shifts or graveyard shifts, who will be able to watch the baby overnight?  It reminds me of the predicament Christian’s father found himself in as a young, single parent without family support.  When faced with the scenario of becoming burnt out, Rose’s mother expressed hope that she could rely on the same relatives who are in the process of getting approved for kinship placement.  One slight problem is that one of those relatives lives in a different county.  It takes a village to raise a child, truly.
In other news, Rose had her 2 month well baby check-up and is all caught up on her vaccinations.  Although she’s gained a pound since I took her to the doctor two weeks ago, at 8 pounds she is still technically not even on the charts as she is in the 0 percentile for both weight and height.  Zero Percentile!  Fortunately, we have a pretty good track record of fattening babies up in our home.  If she's still with us for Halloween we'll have to get a newborn-size costume for her.
*Regarding Multiple Chances:  Anyone who is under the impression or opinion that bio parents aren't given enough chances or resources to get their kids back (a pet peeve of mine, as usually these are the same types of people who think that all foster parents are selfish and evil and just want to "steal" other people's kids). . .  is sorely mistaken.  I was reminded of this during the beginning of this placement when I was given some background about Rose's parents.  It's been explained to me that reunification efforts aren’t dependent on the parent’s history of having previous children removed (at least in our state), but rather are based on the child’s history of removal.  In other words, since this is the first time that Rose has come into custody- regardless of how many siblings she has who have been removed from their homes and/or adopted through the foster care system- her mother will be given a chance to get her back.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Matching Mondays: Native American Sibling Groups

I have never done a Matching Mondays post, but today I feel compelled to do so.

The past couple of weeks as I’ve searched through profiles of Waiting Children online, there were a few profiles in particular which kept sticking out to me.  These profiles had something very specific in common: they featured sibling groups of children of Native American descent who are part of a federally recognized tribe.  I must have been born the wrong ancestry because as a prospective adoptive parent who has absolutely no known trace of Native American ancestry in my “boring” pasty white European lineage, but who is drawn to Native American culture and history, I would not be able to make an inquiry about these children due to regulations set forth in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

HOWEVER, someone else out there might be interested in adopting these children who also meets the following criteria:
  1. Has a completed home study or foster care license
  2. Is interested in adopting a sibling group, AND
  3. You (or your spouse) can provide proof of being part of a federally recognized Indian tribe
If you or someone you know meets these requirements, then PLEASE take a look at these beautiful children- perhaps they are meant to be a part of your family!


Friday, October 7, 2011

Mongolian Spots

The day after Rose was placed with us she had a really runny diaper. I consequently gave her a bath for the very first time and as I was drying her off I noticed a dark spot on her lower back- right above her bum- which I hadn't noticed when I changed her diapers. At first I thought it might be something left over from her dirty diaper that somehow didn't get rinsed off in her bath. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a nasty-looking bruise. "Oh dear", I thought. "This little baby has already been through enough- not this, too."

I became even more disturbed as I discovered another deep purple looking bruise on her genitals- located in a place which I wouldn't have been able to notice with just a routine diaper change.  I immediately felt sick . . . and angry. I began imagining the worst and thought "How can anyone do something like that to such a small baby?"  

NOTE: Okay, I don't normally go into details about injuries or allegations of the foster children in my care as that is confidential information, but bear with me- I'm sharing this story with the sole purpose of possibly helping any other foster parent or prospective foster parents out there who are ever faced with a similar situation, because, as you'll discover if you keep reading (or if you haven't already figured out by the title of this post) if I had known at the time when I discovered the "bruises" on Rose what I know now I would have been spared a lot of unnecessary worrying.

I showed Rose's caseworker the bruises after she came to our home a couple of hours later for the required 48 hours-after-placement visit. She took a picture of them with her camera to document them.

"Hmmm" she said, sounding puzzled, "I don't think the doctor said anything about those. You'll definitely have to ask about that when you take her to get checked" [She was referring to the fact that a doctor's appointment is typically required within the first couple of days after a child is placed into care]

"You'll also want the doctor to order such-and-such tests" she continued, speaking of some other non-related tests which needed to be done based on the baby's and the baby's parent's medical backgrounds.

I then proceeded to tell the caseworker that I had not yet been given a Medicaid card for Rose (nor had I yet been contacted by the nurse assigned to her case) so I couldn't take her in to see a doctor even if I wanted to right then.

On more than one occasion I've needed to take a foster child to a required check-up or to see a doctor, but their Medicaid Card (a new one is issued monthly) has not yet come in the mail; this is obviously problematic.  It’s just one of the frustrating paperwork aspects of being a foster parent: Since the children in your care are in State custody they qualify for and are covered by Medicaid (unless they happen to be covered by their parent's own private insurance plan, which is, in my experiences, a rarity). So anytime I need to take a foster child to see a doctor or any other medical professional I can't unless I have two forms with me:

1) The Placement Verification Letter from DCFS stating that I am the foster parent and as their  guardian I am responsible for the child yet I should not personally be billed for any treatments, and of course

2) Proof of Insurance (usually Medicaid).

If I don't have those two forms then my foster child can't be seen by a doctor.

Oh, make that three forms if you count the Health Visit Report which must be filled out by the doctor at each visit and comes in triplicate copies- one which the doctor's office keeps, one which I mail in to the nurse assigned to the child’s case, and one which I keep with the child's records.

Back to Rose and her bruises: The other stressful thing about discovering a scratch or bruise or reporting an injury of a foster child is that foster parents run the risk of being accused of child abuse. In some cases, foster parents are viewed suspiciously [thanks to the ones out there who have actually abused the children in their care!] and thought of as guilty until proven innocent [through investigation]. So my first concern about discovering Rose's bruises was for her and as I started jumping to conclusions I found myself hating her parents, whom I had never met, or whomever it was that did this to her.

But then . . . . then I started worrying when I realized that the tables could easily turn- that authorities who don't personally know me or my husband- but only know that we've had a child in our care for less than 24 hours and now we're reporting what could potentially be some serious- and definitely not just "accidental" injuries- could have the same suspicions towards me and my family that I had towards Rose’s family. 

The next morning Rose's caseworker called me and asked/instructed me to take Rose to the Children's Justice Center for further photos and documentation of the bruises. When I met the doctor in charge of the examination she mentioned that after she looked at the initial photos which the caseworker took the day before and, according to her professional experience and opinion, there was a possibility that the bruises might be Mongolian Spots. I had never heard of the term "Mongolian Spots" before but quickly surmised what it meant.  Although she is not of oriental descent, Rose is, after all, a bi-racial child: half-Caucasian and half-Hispanic.

More pictures were taken for documentation & investigation and after a thorough examination the doctor reassured me, once again, that she wouldn't be surprised if they turned out to be Mongolian Spots, but the only way to be certain would be for me to keep an eye on the bruises and watch for any changes in color.

When I got home that afternoon and got Rose fed, burped and down for a nap I went to the computer and Googled "Mongolian Spots". This was one of the images that was brought up:

I also found an excerpt from this article particularly pertinent:

Because Mongolian spots can be easily mistaken for bruises, particularly by well-meaning white people who have no experience with them, they have triggered accusations of child abuse against some adoptive parents. For this reason, it is important to be sure that both your child's pediatrician and the caseworker who completes your post-adoption work record information on the presence of Mongolian spots into their records. You can assist in the documentation of this information by taking snapshots of the spots and providing prints to be included in your child's files. Since you cannot take for granted that everyone will know what Mongolian spots are, it is good advice to have their presence recorded from the start.”

Any other foster or adoptive families out there ever had any experiences with Mongolian spots?


It's been a long time since we've had a baby in our home (2 years). It's been an even longer time since we've had a baby girl in our home (4 years). Needless to say, over the past week we've been savoring the experience that only a baby girl can bring into a home. Of course, I would be lying if I said that every moment with Rose has been pure bliss.  A new baby in the house means, among other demands, middle of the night feedings and it's a tiring adjustment to have to make all of the sudden.

In addition, Rose has some problems with colic and acid reflux so I've had to experiment to see which burping position is most comfortable for her and exactly how much and how often she needs to be fed, and which formula (since she just changed formulas) and which medicines (fortunately she only has two) work best for her. It sure would be convenient if foster babies came with detailed notes from their parents of when they eat, how much they eat, when they sleep, how much they sleep, how best to soothe them, etc. but the sad fact is, especially if a baby or child is coming from a situation of neglect, there may not be any "norm" or routine at all when it comes to when and if they get fed or if they've been cared for at all. It's pretty much a guessing game of trial and error for the foster parent. Having said that, here's what I've discovered regarding Rose's care:

-She has to eat much more often than every four hours- more like every two or three since when she does eat she ends up spitting half of it back up.

-She prefers a to be held in a football hold- face down, with pressure on her stomach-after she's eaten or when she's particularly fussy- rather than the more traditional over-the shoulder, upright position.

And here's a couple of things I re-learned based on my past experiences in caring for colicky babies, particularly Christian*, who was a perpetual "Niagara Falls":

-Sometimes it's more comfortable for the baby who spits up frequently (or who has a stuffed up nose) to be placed back to sleep in their car seat- in an elevated, upright position- rather than back down in their crib.

I remembered the car seat technique when, during middle of the night feedings, I would finally get Rose to sleep or calmed down and as soon as I would place her face up in her bassinette she would become uncomfortable and fussy and prone to wake up and/or spit up even more.  If you don’t have a wedge pillow for reflux, a car seat or baby swing works pretty well, too.

-Acid reflux in babies equates with going through multiple changes of outfits, bibs, burp cloths, and blankets throughout the day . . . and consequently, having much more laundry.

I invested in some Dreft laundry detergent.  What can I say?  I love the smell!

Rose is so tiny that although she is already two months old, she looks and weighs (7 pounds) the same size as a newborn. It's amazing how many outfits a little one with acid reflux can go through! She came with only a few changes of clothes and I realized, because of her excess spitting up, that they would definitely not be enough for her. Since Rose will only be with us for a short time and we won't be given an Initial Placement Clothing Allowance I dragged a bin out of storage full of our daughter's old baby clothes. Oh the memories that come with looking through your children's old baby's clothes! Even some of our daughter's old 0-3 month clothes were far too big for Rose, so I resorted to using some of our daughter's old preemie clothes.

Some medications for colic just cause diarrhea.  Thank you, oral Zantac! Very counterproductive- it may keep their food from coming out one end- but certainly not the other.

I also bought some Gripe Water which I’ve never used before, but I’m willing to give it a try.  What I like about it is that since it’s not over the counter but a natural mix of ginger and fennel, it can be given as often as 6 times in 24 hours.  What I don’t like about it is that it needs to be refrigerated, so you can’t take it with you if you’re out and about.  In that case, colic tablets sound like a good choice- another thing I haven’t personally tried, but have heard mentioned.

*I attended a training a couple of months ago and when I sat near a familiar looking foster mom I recognized her as the woman who did respite care for me one day a couple years ago when I was sick. After talking to me at a break and making the connection she said-  “Oh. . . you're the one with the foster baby who barfed a lot.”  Not quite sure that’s how I want to be remembered in life, but Enough Said.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Did You Know Steve Jobs Was Adopted?

I thought I had a fairly good list in my mind of "Influential Adoptees" when I saw the following video for the first time on You Tube:

But I must have forgotten that Steve Jobs was on the list (and in the clip) until recently when I came across this blog, created by a former foster child, and I saw a post dedicated to famous people who were foster children or adopted.  Interesting.  It looks like Cher and Willie Nelson were fortunate to have family members who were able to step in and take care of them when their parents were unable to do so.

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs.

Thank You for the contributions you've made to the world of technology.

Incidentally, while I was Googling a picture of Jobs for this post I came across Top 10 Things You Didn't Know about Apple's Co-Founder.  More interesting stuff, of course, but I cringed at the innapropriate adoption language they used in Fact #2:  "Steve Jobs' biological mother gave him up for adoption one week after giving birth." 

A GENTLE REMINDER:  Birth mothers don't "give up" their children, they place them!