Monday, December 26, 2011

Tis the Season . . . (For Home Inspections)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and that’s not just because this time of year is crammed full of shopping, parties, programs, neighbor gifts, and Christmas cards.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks because three years ago this time of year our adoption homestudy with our private agency was approved.  I remember taking a deep breath after completing all of the mounds of paperwork and interviews and thinking “Now we can RELAX and enjoy the holidays!” 

However, three years later since we have not yet been fortunate enough to adopt, means, out of necessity, this is the time of year we must renew our home study- which also includes paying the annual renewal fee (as if December isn’t lacking in busy-ness or expenses)!
So . . .  not only did our adoption caseworker come to our home last week to do an annual health and safety inspection of our home and “check up” on us through an informal interview, but our licensor through foster care came the same week a few days later to do a walk-through inspection of our home so that we can be re-licensed for the coming year.  We usually wait till after the holidays for our foster care licensor to come as our license doesn’t expire till after the new year, but apparently a lot of people are being licensed or re-licensed [which is a good thing] so she’s been swamped with appointments and asked if we could do it a little earlier.
SAFETY is the top priority in these inspections so medications, firearms, cleaning supplies, and any alcohol must be locked up and out of children’s reach (Fortunately we don’t have any firearms or alcohol to worry about).  There must be working smoke detectors on each level of the home and safety gates must be at the top of each stairway in the home as long as there are children under five years of age, (even if, as with Rose’s case, they are not yet crawling).  We must also have a first-aid kit in our home as well as  one in the car.  A fire extinguisher is a must but it can’t be just any fire extinguisher- size and model are specified.  Those are the big requirements- there are a few others addressing the size and space of each child’s bedroom, too.
I understand the necessity for safety guidelines in the home of adoptive and foster parents, and smoke detectors and outlet covers are something we already use in our home- no big deal- but I totally stress out each year when our home inspections roll around because not only do I feel like our home is scrutinized for safety standards but I feel the need to take CLEANLINESS to a whole new level; hence, I want my home to look like a page out of Martha Stewart Living and I am overcome with the  overwhelming urge to thoroughly organize every single sock and underwear drawer in the entire house and alphabetize all of my spices.  Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but only slight.  Yes, cleanliness is important in inspections, but there are no white glove inspections and the only drawers or cupboards which are opened are those in which medications or cleaning supplies are stored .  
Last week as our caseworker and then our licensor inspected our house and interviewed us I was a little annoyed/discouraged/overwhelmed and even humored at the thought that our family can’t have any children reside in our home without having the right size fire extinguisher!   I was equally humored by being casually asked by two different caseworkers within days of each other- as part of the required interview process- “Any marital problems over the past year?” to which part of me thought. Well, Dr. Phil,  let me tell you all the private details of our family life! 

Such is life as a foster and adoptive family.     

On the Charts and Weekend Visits

At Rose’s four month well-baby check-up last month she weighed over 10 pounds which means she is now officially ON THE CHARTS for weight! Success. We’re looking forward to seeing how much weight she has gained at her 6 month appointment next month.

Meanwhile, Rose's mother has progressed to the point that for one of her weekly visits she is being granted supervised visits outside of the DCFS office on the weekends in a relative's home. So instead of a caseworker supervising the visit, a relative who has passed a background check is the one who supervises the visit.

I was a little surprised about weekend visits being granted so early on in the case because in the past the parents of our former foster children were usually only granted weekend and/or extended visits a month or two before reunification and Rose has only been with us for three months- less than half the total time she’ll be in our care. But the heart of child welfare is what is in the child’s best interest and I’m sure it's beneficial for both child and parent to start spending time together in an actual home-like setting (versus an office) as soon as possible to prepare for reunification. The next step is to start having visits in Rose's mom's apartment [She has an apartment now- which is great progress.]

I have a pretty good relationship with Rose's mother and she’s been easy to work with. We respect the roles that we each play in Rose's life. In other words, I respect the fact that Rose is her child and she is working to get her back and she has learned to trust me enough to know that I'm not trying to "steal" her baby from her. She also frequently expresses gratitude for me which is nice (and rare) for a foster parent to hear. Because of our relationship, I feel comfortable enough that when the caseworker recently asked me if she could give Rose's mom my phone number I said "yes". (My cell phone is untraceable so she still doesn't know my last name or where I live). That way it's much easier for Rose's mom and I to communicate with each other about setting up times for the weekend visits or doctor's appointments, etc. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier for the caseworker as well.

Rose’s parents got to see her for six hours on Christmas Eve. We gave them a framed picture of Rose we got taken last month at a studio. It was so stinkin’cute!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home for the Holidays (13th Annual)

Each year my heart is touched as I watch this special presentation by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Andy's Clan Adoption Fundraiser

Wanna know a pet peeve of mine about adoption? That it can be so darn expensive!

In fact, my friend and fellow adoptive mother, Sheyann, [author of Andy's Clan] addressed that specific issue in this post. As I read what she wrote on the subject I found that many of her thoughts echoed my own.


Jeremy, Sheyann, and hopeful big brother Andy have been hoping to adopt for a couple of years now and are now raising funds for their next adoption through a clever fundraising idea you can read about HERE.  Spread the word!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foster Parent of Chauffeur?

Moms wear many different hats- chef's hat, maid's hat, coach's hat, and nurse's hat to name a few (not that nurses wear hats anymore- but for the sake of this analogy stick with me).   The job description of a foster parent is to be a substitute parent for a child.  Therefore, foster parents have all the responsibilities and roles (minus the rights)  that a legal parent would have in caring for their children.  As with "regular" parenting, one such responsibility I've found myself spending a lot of time with each week as a foster mom is the role of "chauffeur" as I transport Rose to appointments and visits with her parents.  In other words, my chauffer hat has been getting a lot of use lately.

Over the past month Rose has had twice as many visits as usual because another recent development in her case is that as of last month, her father would like to start having regular visits with her.   As with her mother’s case, these visits will be supervised at the DCFS building and they will be two hours twice a week.  Babies generally get more visitation time with their parents than older foster children since the bonding is especially crucial at such a young age.  However, because of some legal and personal issues her father's visits will have to be separate from her mother’s visits, hence, twice as much travel time to visits.   

In addition, Rose’s mother recently enrolled her in an Early Intervention Program with an occupational therapist about an hour each week so I have been transporting her to those appointments as well.  A couple of years ago when we were caring for a foster baby with some developmental delays it was very convenient to have his occupational therapist come to our home for his appointments once or twice a week.  But in Rose's case, these appointments aren't necessarily for her as she seems to be on track developmentally, rather they are for the benefit of her mother as she learns from the therapist to respond to her baby's cues and be more attuned to her needs.  They also provide a parenting requirement which she needs to complete as part of her Service Plan. 

So, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the prospect of travelling five different times during the week to transport Rose to two visits with her mom, two visits with her dad, and one weekly occupational therapy appointment with her mom.  I understand that driving is part of my responsibility as a foster parent, but at the same time I was thinking, "Our family has our own life filled with appointments and schedules, too!" and that's more times a week than I spend driving my own child to activities or carpooling to school.  Perhaps I didn't initially complain because I'm too much of a pushover and I'd rather keep the peace than rock the boat or upset anyone.  I've also had  a great relationship with Rose's caseworker so I was afraid of complaining and coming across as being a whiner, but I'm proud of myself because I did call her and expressed my concerns.  She was very understanding once I brought it up. (Foster care has definitely taught me to be more assertive- not just as an advocate for my foster children, but on my own behalf as well.) 

The good news is that Rose's caseworker was very accommodating as I suggested we work out a schedule where we could have visits either back to back or at least on the same day so that I wouldn't have to make numerous trips a week to the neighboring town where the visits are held.  The even better news is that a couple of weeks ago the status with Rose's parents' relationship changed so they were able to combine their visits with each other at the same time, which meant only three total days of transportation a week for me!

However, things change, and as of this week, it looks like Rose's parents may need to start having separate visits again.  For me, this means that I will be transporting Rose to visits and appointments four times a week, which is slightly better than five times a week, but I still feel very much like a chauffeur.  
Sometimes "sharing" a child with two other parents (Rose's parents) and setting up times for visits and drop-offs and pick-ups, etc. makes me feel like I'm in a relationship where I have joint custody of a child.  But as I said before, foster parents have no custodial "rights" to their foster children at all- just all the responsibilities of a guardian.  It can be frustrating at times to be the one with all the responsibility but no rights and at other times things can get a little complicated. 

I can’t imagine how much more complicated the role of chauffeur would be for foster parents who have   two unrelated foster children in their care and have to accommodate different family visitation schedules, different court hearings with different judges, different case reviews with different caseworkers, different Parent Teacher Conferences at different schools, different doctors for check-ups, etc.                

Monday, December 5, 2011

Voices of Foster Children

One of my dearest friends from high school was in foster care. Fortunately, she was able to stay with family members. Unfortunately, she was separated from her younger siblings. This was particularly devastating for her because she was essentially the “mother” to her younger brother and sisters. Although I wasn’t familiar with the term “parentification” back then, it fit my friend to a T! 

My friend never hid the fact that she was in foster care from me because it was just a part of who she was. She has always been open about things and as I learned more about her home life I realized how relatively sheltered I was. After all, I’ve never been separated from my siblings, I’ve never had a caseworker from the state assigned to me, I’ve never had a parent deemed by a court of law to be “incapable of parenting” and I’ve certainly never had a parent in prison. Considering everything my friend had been through, she turned out REMARKABLY well. She had some downright terrifying things happen in her past, and although they were a crucial part of my friend’s life, she didn’t let those experiences define her.
Most of what I write on this blog is about my experiences and perspective as an adoptive and foster mother- because that’s what I know. I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be in foster care, but I think it’s beneficial for me (and all of us) to learn from others who have been in that situation. Having said that, here are a couple of links to a blog I recently discovered written by a former foster child:
Imafoster wrote about the stigma attached to being a foster child here, and about learning from the past, without dwelling on it, here.
I was also pleased to come across some success stories of former foster children going on to attend and graduate from college thanks to a charitable organization called Foster Care to Success, which was started by a foster care alumni with the purpose of mentoring foster children and providing scholarships and grants making it possible for them to start (and finish) their higher education. Very praiseworthy.

Like my high school friend, foster children may come from rough backgrounds, but that doesn’t have to define who they are. As the Soothsayer told Po in Kung Fu Panda II (a great adoption-themed movie, BTW):
“Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are, it is the rest of your story, who you choose to be . . . So who are you, Panda?"