Friday, November 30, 2012

Parent Rap

For all the parents (and foster parents!) out there:

"I looked on childrearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully interesting and challenging as any honourable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it." -- Rose Kennedy

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Affirmations for Saying Goodbye/Letting Go


Although I collected these quotes specifically because I could relate to them as a foster parent having to say goodbye to another foster child, as I was looking over them (particularly the first two) I was struck by how much they could apply to a birthparent having to say goodbye to their child at placement.  And I am aware that the grief of choosing to place a child or saying goodbye to a foster child isn't just a one-time event! 
Because of that realization and because those feelings of grief and loss are hitting so close to home with me lately, I feel like [quite literally] applauding birthmothers who put the needs of their children ahead of their own wants and desires and are willing to break their hearts for their child.  Especially in light of the fact that such a personal and complex decision may not be understood by others and they may not have the support they need.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It’s our last week with Rose.

Although the good news is that we’ve had a month to prepare saying goodbye to her since learning of the newest developments in her case and Tia has invited us to still remain a part of Rose’s life (still working out the logistics of that situation- it’s complicated and I won’t be going into details)  it’s still hard.
I also think it’s safe to say that I’ve pretty much bounced back and forth between all of the stages of grief this past month.
  (I referred to the stages of grief back in this post, but I thought I’d use a different illustration this time.)
My first reaction at hearing the news that Rose would be leaving us was heartbreak- and shock.  I’ve since vacillated between depression and anger- sometimes several times in the same day.   
We’ve certainly had plenty of bargaining.  And a bit of denial, too.  When Rose toddles up to me and calls me “mom” with a smile on her face or comes up behind me and hugs the back of my leg while I’m doing the dishes I think: “This can’t be happening.  Please tell me I’m just going to wake up from a dream.” 
I think the hardest part for me personally has been having to watch Rose’s reaction the first couple of weeks of transitional visits when I would hand her over to Tia and Rose would immediately start squirming, and arching her back and crying and look at me with her pleading, deep brown eyes as if to say, “Why are you leaving me?”  “Where are you going?”  And I can’t logically explain to a toddler “I’m not leaving you- I have no choice.”
We’ve resigned ourselves to acceptance because, “There’s nothing we can do about it- we’re just the foster parents.”  After all, we went into foster care knowing beforehand that it’s not about us, and that it wouldn’t be easy- it’s about the children, right?
But that’s precisely what’s so frustrating about this whole situation:  if what were in Rose’s best interest were truly being taken into account why not just let her remain in the loving home she’s been in for a almost a year of her life with the family she’s safe with and securely attached to rather than having to be moved and disrupting her security?  Such train of thought always leads me back to anger again.
Rose won’t be with us anymore, but the important thing is that she’ll be in a safe home.  Not all children have that blessing.

Tiffany's Story

I came across this video from a blog post titled Why We Chose Foster Care written by a soon-to-be foster family.  It seems very appropriate to share during National Adoption Month.

On a related note, Tiffany's Story reminded me of an account shared in a fairly recent devotional in which Jeffrey R. Holland related a story a police officer shared with him:

In our conversations he told us that late one evening he was called to investigate a complaint in a particularly rough part of the city.  Over the roar of loud music and with the smell of marijuana in the air, he found one woman and several men drinking and profaning, all of them apparently totally oblivious of the five little children- aged about two through eight years of age- huddled together in one room, trying to sleep on a filthy floor with no bed, no mattress, no pillows, no anything.  Brother Freestone looked in the kitchen cupboards and in the refrigerator to see if he could find a single can or carton or box of food of any kind- but he literally could find nothing.  He said the dog barking in the backyard had more food than those children did.
In the mother's bedroom he found a bare mattress, the only one in the house.  He hunted until he found some sheets (if you could call them that), put them on the mattress, and tucked all five children into the makeshift bed.  With tears in his eyes he then knelt down, offered a prayer to Heavenly Father for their protection, and said good night.
As he arose and walked toward the door, one of the children, about age six, jumped out of bed, ran to him, grabbed him by the hand, and pled, "Will you please adopt me?"  With more tears in his eyes, he put the child back in bed, then found the stoned mother (the men had long since fled) and said to her: "I will be back tomorrow, and heaven help you if some changes are not evident by the time I walk in this door.  And there will be more changes after that.  You have my word on it."
At the conclusion of Holland's address, he said:
"Not many of us are going to be police officers or social service agents or judges sitting on a legal bench, but all of us should care for the welfare of others and the moral safety of our extended community."
"Those children in that home without food or clothing are sons and daughters of God.  That mother, more culpable because she is older and should be more responsible, is also a daughter of God.  Such situations may require tough love in formal, even legal ways, but we must try to help when and where we can."
For the full address click here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

BraveLove and The Gift

ME after watching these clips:

And especially after hearing this beautiful line:

"But maybe, every once in a while, a mom and a mother will find each other and join hands and be for the other what they can't be for themselves."

The Gift from Jared Fadel on Vimeo.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Race & Fostering and Adopting

Last month was Hispanic Heritage month (Thank you for the reminder, Disney Junior!) and it occurred to me, “Hey- we have a household member of Hispanic heritage” because quite honestly, I sometimes forget.  One-third of our foster children have been Hispanic, including our current foster daughter, Rose.  Although I initially felt rather “proud” at my color-blindness and the fact that Rose’s skin color isn’t that big of a deal to me, I later felt a little guilty and thought, “Should I do something to acknowledge that our foster daughter is of a different heritage and color than the rest of my family?”  Then again, at just over a year old she’s probably too young to even realize her skin is a darker shade than the rest of ours so would acknowledging her diversity really make a difference?  Opinions on the subject will vary. 
What I do know is that mixed race families never seemed to be something I ever gave too much thought to- I have nieces and nephews who are biracial or who have married inter-racially and as with our foster daughter, I sometimes forget the fact.  But lately such couples and families seem to really stick out to me- perhaps because my own family now fits that description- if only on a temporary basis.
Gerstenzang described this exact phenomenon in a chapter of her book.  Describing what it was like to foster a child of a different race she said,
“During the initial period when Cecelia lived with us and I became temporarily obsessed with race, I noticed every baby that ‘matched’ her mother or father and every one that didn’t.  My eye was like a camera, and everywhere I went I took snapshots of children and their parents: white baby nursing at white mother’s breast; Asian female face in a stroller with white male pushing the stroller; two brown parents with their two brown children.  I was hyperaware of issues that I had thought a lot about before but that now seemed so personal.”
If you’ll excuse my oversimplified analogy, it’s kind of like if you’ve ever had the experience of looking for a new car or even buying a new pair of shoes- suddenly you find yourself paying particular attention to the kinds of cars people drive (or what shoes they’re wearing) and it seems like you notice the kind of car that you’re interested in pops up EVERYWHERE.  Now this is not necessarily because there’s a sudden influx of that particular car on the market, but rather it just seems more apparent since it’s at the forefront of your mind.
That’s how I’ve felt since Rose has been back in our care again in noticing both a prevalence of multi-racial families or the differences in our races and issues- albeit minor- having to do with race which I’ve never had to give much thought to before.
Here’s a few small examples:
Example #1- Last month I was at a soccer game and being the Sunscreen Nazi that I am (because of a history of skin cancer thanks to my British heritage and too much time spent worshipping the sun in my invincible younger years!) I started lathering sunscreen all over my daughter’s fair skin before the game started.  I then looked down at Rose and her golden skin and wondered, “Do I need to apply some to her skin or does her darker coloring serve as protection against the sun’s rays?” I’ve honestly never had to think about it before. 
Example #2- While looking through the Sunday ads and thinking about what toys to get for Christmastime (because I like to prepare early), I decided that a doll would be a great choice for Rose.  But I had to search a little harder than I originally would have because I wanted to find one with brown skin- like hers.  
Example #3-  One day when my family went for a walk and while my white husband was pushing Rose in her stroller we passed a Hispanic man pushing a very fair-skinned looking child (I’m assuming his own) in a stroller.  That’s ironic”- I thought as we passed.  My husband and I exchanged comical glances. 
My mother, who was raised in a small western town during the depression said that when she was growing up it WAS a big deal to see a mixed race family- stares would abound.  But fast forward to nowadays, as an almost eighty year old grandmother, having mixed race grandchildren, foster grandchildren, and great grandchildren of her own isn’t that big of a deal anymore- and I’m grateful for that.  

Yet there needs to be a balance between being color-blind and having a “Does it really matter?” attitude and acknowledging that, “Yes- being a member of a transracial family can be a big deal” and that differences in skin color should be recognized and even celebrated rather than ignored.  
I was particularly interested in the chapter in Another Mother about race relations, foster care, adoption, and social policy.  As a white foster parent to a black infant foster daughter (And I use the term “black” rather than African American because not all people with black skin come from Africa- as is the case with Haitians, Jamaicans, and Brazilians, for example) Gerstenzang  had her fair share of curious inquiries, stares, unsolicited advice and opinions and in some cases, outright rude remarks from others, both people close to her and perfect strangers.   
“One of the things I particularly worried about was that some black people might feel upset that we were parenting a black child.  If I could have posted a sign on my back it would have read: ‘We are trying to help a family get back together.  We are foster parents.  We aren’t kidnapping this child.’”  
Incidentally, I also recently read a blog post which a black foster family shared their experiences fostering white children, including a very unfortunate event when the foster father was watching his foster daughters play at a park and a concerned bystander approached the little girls and asked if they were alright or if the man (their foster father) was bothering them.  *Can anyone please tell me where I read that so I can reference it?*  Too bad the foster father couldn’t have been wearing a sign on his back.  
Gerzenstang’s concerns about parenting a black child as a white woman did not just stem from her daily encounters with others, but from her study of social policy.  She recalled a stance made by the National Association of Black Social Worker’s (NABSW) in response to the trend in the early 70s of white families adopting black children:
“Black children should be placed only with Black families whether in foster care or adoption.  Black children belong physically, psychologically, and culturally in Black families in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.  Human beings are products of their environment and develop their sense of values, attitudes, and self-concepts within their own family structure.  Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as Black people.”
Thank goodness that the NABSW has since modified its stance.  Otherwise, there would be even more children waiting for homes.  Gerstenzang continued to explain:
“By 1994, the NABSW had modified its position with a three-tiered statement.  The priority, the top tier, was preserving or reunifying black families; the second tier was adoption by parents of the same race; and the third tier was adoption by parents of another race, but only after appropriate members of the African American community had determined that the second tier was unreachable.”
On a related personal note, I can’t help but wonder, with the new developments in Rose’s case, if the fact that Tia is Hispanic and I’m not has any bearing on DCFS’s decision to move her?  (One of Rose’s parents is white and the other parent- Tia’s relative- is Hispanic)  Is it an issue of race or is it just a coincidence?  If it were about race, it wouldn’t be legal as Gerstenzang continues to explain about American social policy:
“The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 said that race could not be the determining factor when placing a child in an adoptive or foster home.  However, the legislation did note that an agency could consider the capacity of the prospective foster or adoptive parents to meet the needs of a child of a different racial, ethnic, or cultural background as one of a number of factors used to determine the best interests of the child.  Because MEPA is a federal legislation, any state that receives federal money for its public or private foster and adoptive agencies (which is every state) must comply with it.  And in 1996, the law was modified to make it even stricter.  The Inter-Ethnic Placement Act, still commonly referred to as MEPA, said that race couldn’t play any role in adoptive placements.  In other words, the law says it is illegal to consider race when placing a child in a foster or adoptive home.  So if a child is available for adoption and several couples are interested in the child, the couples that match the race of the child cannot be given preference on those grounds.”
Aside from the social policies mentioned in the book, it was interesting for me to read about how this family’s experience with foster care evolved.  I won’t tell you how the book ends, you’ll have to read that yourself, but I do highly recommend it.  And speaking of recommended reading, I urge you to read these posts on racism by an adoptive mother (and social worker) whose two sons happen to be black.
Any thoughts from those of you with backgrounds in transracial adoption or fostering?  What is something you wish people knew or that you’ve learned from your experiences?     

Friday, October 26, 2012

Co-Parenting Book

I googled the term co-parenting and was surprised to come across an e-book, Another Mother: Co-Parenting with the Foster Care System by Sarah Gerstenzang.  It immediately interested me not only because it was about foster parenting, but because the author was a social worker in graduate school at the time she and her family decided to foster.

I already pulled a few pertinent quotes from the book in this post, but now that I’ve read the whole thing I’d love to share some of the things I read which really resonated with me-  (which I’ve CATEGORIZED for easy reference and bolded the parts which I could relate to.)
During Gerstenzang’s  last year of graduate school she interned with a prevention program in New York City intended to help parents whose children were at risk of entering foster care through parenting classes and counseling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, among other services.
“When reading files and meeting clients, I was overwhelmed by their stories, which almost always included poverty, little education, few family or social supports (or at least not positive ones) and often a history of being sexually assaulted.”
Shortly after she finished the internship and after becoming licensed, she and her husband asked to be put on the list to provide foster care.  At the time they had two young children, a boy and girl, ages six and eight.  She described her mixed feelings like this
While excited about our new venture, I also felt somewhat predatory waiting for another parent to stumble so that we could pick up the pieces.  I felt that I knew too much.   These birth parents weren’t evil monsters- (or most of them anyway) they were unlucky people who had difficult lives.  I also knew that children almost always want to be with the parents they know, regardless of how they are treated.  I wrestled with my ambivalence.  What is really best for these children?  How bad do parents have to be to justify taking their children away? 
Gerstenzang further wrote about how social class and culture affect those involved in foster care, by first comparing the demographics stated by an Australian social worker with similar demographics in the U.S.:
“Brenda Smith, an Australian social worker has written that in her country ‘the majority of foster children come from the most socially disadvantaged and stigmatized families, particularly those headed by mothers, and are mostly cared for by upper-working class foster mothers and supervised by middle-class welfare workers.’
This is true, too, in the United States, where except via the professional roles of lawyers or social workers, foster care rarely touches the middle class.  The first time I took Cecelia (her foster daughter) into the agency medical office, the doctor asked what my husband and I did for a living   (Her husband is a lawyer and she was in graduate school)  She then asked why we chose to become foster parents.  The real curiosity in her voice made it obvious how unusual we were.
The people I know who can’t or choose not to have birth children have adopted through domestic private adoptions or internationally, at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000.  The majority of children in foster care are placed with and sometimes eventually adopted by working-class people in their own neighborhoods.    A conundrum that would nag at me over the next months was why middle-class Americans showed little to no interest in these children (aside from shaking their collective heads at the occasional horror story in the media) but would go to so much trouble and expense for children in other countries.  (I’ve wondered the exact same thing!)  I wondered if it was race, class, the bureaucracy , the stigma of U.S. foster care, or the excitement of a foreign language and culture?  Ignorance?  The discomfort of being too close to the reality of the child’s birth family?  (Understandable- I’ve been guilty of making that a concern.)
It is hard to discern the cause of this phenomenon, which involves such complex and emotional issues. Of course, many people are simply desperate to adopt, and it is understandably appealing to them to go to poverty-stricken countries and adopt young children where there is virtually no chance of ever having contact with the birth family.  Distance and race must also have something to do with it as there are healthy African American infants who are adopted by Australians and Canadians each year.  However, others adopt for humanitarian reasons-something I have considered, as it is so hard to read about the intense suffering of other people, especially children.  Why don’t these people ever become foster parents or adopt one of the thousands of children in foster care who are already freed for adoption in the United States?  Then they could send the thousands of dollars they would save to other countries to aid many children instead of just one.”
I thought that last idea was BRILLIANT.  However, by agreeing with her I am not necessarily judging others for adopting internationally versus domestically because I think some people feel “called” or drawn to adopt from a certain country or race or culture (or even to adopt children with specific disabilities and medical conditions) just as others feel the call to foster.  It’s such a personal decision and it is my hope that any family or individual who makes such a decision would have an outpouring of support from others rather than judgment and criticism heaped upon their heads.
I will save my thoughts for the rest of the book (mostly about race & fostering and adopting) for another post.

Or So She Says Adoption & Foster Care Resources

If you have never browsed through Or So She Says, do it NOW!  Not just because I was a guest poster this week but because there is literally something for everyone- from recipes to home improvement projects to holiday gift and craft ideas, and a section on adoption & foster care resources
I think you'll agree that Mariel has quite a fabulous and comprehensive blog.  Check it out.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Rose has been back with us for almost two months now.  She is 14 months old and has spent roughly ten of those months in our care.  Perhaps that’s the reason why whenever I drop her off to a visit with her parents (the visits they haven’t missed, that is) she immediately starts crying and reaches out her little arms to me.  It’s really awkward when that happens- especially when it happens week after week.   Not only do I instinctively begin to comfort Rose when she cries out and reaches for me by saying, “I’ll be back- go see your mama” in a consoling voice, (while nodding in her mother’s direction and placing extra emphasis on the word “mama”) but as soon as I see the dejected look cross her mother’s face at her daughter’s reaction I suddenly feel the need to offer some comfort to her, too. “It’s only because she spends more time with us.” I quickly explain to her and try to brush it off as no big deal so that she doesn’t feel any worse than she already does.

Last month when the question of how many more chances Rose’s parents will be given to get her back in their custody was being addressed, the CPS worker informed us that technically DCFS doesn’t even have to offer reunification services to parents.  (I’ve heard different things from different caseworkers and it would be convenient if there was an easy “one, two, three strikes you’re out” policy or answer, but each case is different.   Regardless of federal legislation, my state is very pro-reunification when it comes to child welfare issues).  However, in Rose’s particular case, it was explained to me that her parents will be given one more chance.  Certainly their histories and track records of both having children other than Rose previously placed into state custody and losing their rights to those children has some bearing on DCFS’s decision. 
If, after seven more months, her parents have completed everything required of them in their Service Plans, (eight months is the maximum amount of time our state ever likes to keep babies separated from their parents, unlike older foster children who could remain in foster care much longer) she will return to their care.  If not, it is possible that their parental rights could be terminated.
Her parents are motivated to get her back considering this is their last chance.  I would be, too.
Just a few weeks ago, it was very surreal when Rose’s caseworker [not the same one who was over her case the first time Rose was in our care, unfortunately- although I am beginning to like her new caseworker just as much as her previous one] asked my husband and I to fill out an “Intent to Adopt A Child” form, which, although not legally binding, basically provides DCFS with an official back-up plan of adoption should the case take that direction.  The reason for doing so was that, as required by law, kinship options had been explored, but so far there were no good options which is precisely why she was placed with us again rather than with a relative.  This also meant that in the event of TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) we would be able to adopt Rose.  Even so, I didn’t even want to entertain thoughts about the “a” word just yet or even TPR for that matter to avoid too much of the fost-adopt roller coaster. 
Well, yesterday I took a huge nausea-inducing PLUNGE while riding the fost-adopt roller coaster:  As Rose’s caseworker was making her required monthly home visit she took a deep breath, raised her eyebrows, and cautiously announced, “There’s been a change of plans. . . .” 
I braced myself as she proceeded to tell me that a relative has come forward who initially thought that taking Rose as a kinship placement wasn’t do-able but has since “changed her mind.”  This relative is the same woman who had supervised visits for Rose and her parents in her home last year as Rose was transtitioning back into her parent's care, so she has already passed a background check and the only thing standing in the way of getting her home study approved and her licensing requirements finished is time. 
“How soon will Rose be leaving?” I asked the caseworker and as soon as I said the word “leaving” my lips immediately started quivering and the tears started forming in my eyes.  I apologized for not being able to keep my composure but the caseworker assured me there was no need to apologize and that it was totally understandable.  In fact, she confessed to being a little more than perturbed about the timing of everything and how Rose’s case seemed to be unfolding lately and apologized for having to be the bearer of bad news. 
Although there is no definite answer time-frame wise (is there ever any predictability in foster care?) it’s possible that Rose could be leaving us (again) within a month or two, rather than in the spring, as initially expected. 
The reason this relative, who I will refer to as “Tia”- decided not to foster Rose the first time she came into care, is that she is a single mom who works full-time.  It just didn’t seem feasible.  However, her work schedule has changed so that she works only four days a week now- instead of five, which allows a little more flexibility for taking Rose to visits and appointments.  My next obvious question for the caseworker was “So who’s going to watch Rose while Tia works during the day?”  “Daycare.”  she answered.
I don’t have anything personally against Tia- she is a very nice woman, and I know she sincerely cares for Rose.  But I’m just left wondering, “Why now?”  “Why did she have to decide to become licensed after Rose has had almost a year of attaching to us and becoming a part of our family?”
Is it really in Rose’s best interest to be moved from the family who’s cared for her for two-thirds of her life and whom she is securely attached to into another home- especially when her new primary caregiver isn’t even going to be around to care for her most days because she’ll be at work?  Not only will Rose have to adjust to her new home environment but to her new daycare providers as well.       
I was still trying to soak in everything Rose’s caseworker had just told me (I still am), but I had one additional question for her to answer:
“If Rose’s parent’s rights are terminated, is Tia interested in adopting her?”

Rose’s caseworker nodded her head in the affirmative.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Protect the Children

My heart was touched this weekend as I listened to a talk, “Protect The Children” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of Jesus Christ and former state Supreme Court Justice.  Here’s a brief video segment from his message followed by a heartfelt plea:

“None should resist the plea that we UNITE to increase our concern for the welfare and future of our children- the rising generation.

We are speaking of the children of God and with His powerful help we can do more to help them.  In this plea I address not only Latter Day Saints, but also all persons of religious faith and others who have a value system that causes them to subordinate their own needs to those of others- especially the welfare of children.”

Certainly not everyone will agree with what was said in this talk, and that’s okay, but regardless of your marital status, sexual orientation, or religious background I think we can all agree that protecting children is crucial.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Stereotypical Large Foster Family/ Making Room for More

Earlier this year I heard a teenage boy in foster care speak on a panel and share his experiences with a group of foster parents.  When asked what he preferred in a foster family he said, “I didn’t want to be placed in a home with lots of children because I didn’t want to be somebody’s babysitter.”  Sadly, this teenage boy had enough experience parenting his younger sister throughout most of his life before being placed in foster care.  He needed a chance just to be a kid.

This past year I also came across some comments from birthmothers and expectant mothers in an online adoption forum in which one expectant mother posed the question, “Would you ever consider placing your baby in a home that does foster care?”

Perhaps I was being too sensitive, but the implications of the question kind of bothered me because Are foster children (and foster families) really that different from biological or adoptive children and families?  Then again, maybe this particular birthmother imagined all foster homes being packed full of children- like sardines in a can- and was worried that her child would have to compete for time and resources.  If that’s the case, it made me think “Just because a family does foster care doesn’t necessarily mean they have 500 kids running around!”

Both of these scenarios suggest that the stereotype abounds that all foster families have huge numbers of children in their home at one time.   Perhaps this stereotype goes hand in hand with the assumption that foster families take in children just for the money.

As for my family, we certainly do not fit the stereotypical mold of a large foster family with a dozen children of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds filing out of a large passenger van everywhere we go.

First of all, we only have one child of our own and up to now we’ve only taken one child at a time as a foster placement.  Part of the reasoning that my husband and I have stuck to taking only one placement at a time is that we’ve both developed some pretty strong feelings and preferences over the years of being able to give the children in our home the quality and quantity individualized attention they need.

I would never want to have any of the children in my home feel like they’re a permanent “babysitter” to other children, as the teenage boy on the panel felt.  That is a responsibility that belongs to a parent, not a child.  Nor do I ever want any of the children in my home to ever feel overlooked or like they have to compete for attention- especially if they’re more likely to have special needs which require additional care.

Despite these concerns, we’ve decided to get out of our comfort zone and do something we’ve never done before:  We’ve become licensed to take two foster children at a time, if needed.  I suppose the term “if needed” is an oxymoron since there is ALWAYS the need for homes for foster children!   We did some rearranging (since space is another big factor in determining how many children we can potentially care for) and made another bedroom available for one more child.   

Although the self-centered part of me is hoping that the end result of making room for more is that we could end up “keeping” the next child that comes into our home on a permanent basis [Please just once can we adopt one of our foster children?!  Please can a birthmother find us soon so that we can be an answer to each other’s prayers?] the more humble, submissive part of me (the part that takes much more discipline to listen to) wonders if maybe God intends to keep using us to help more children if only for a little while,  regardless of what’s in it for us.

I love the imagery of “making room” from this poster:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

In It For The Money

Most of the stories in the media about foster care seem to take the most horrendous cases into account, portraying foster children as extremely disturbed or dangerous delinquents and painting foster parents in an equally unflattering light. 

One such unflattering assumption about foster parents which makes me laugh is that “Foster parents just take in kids for the money.”  Clearly, anybody who believes this has never done foster care.  
Michael and Sarah Gerstenzang were an upper middle class couple who were living in New York City with two young children when they took their first foster placement because, among other reasons they wanted to “give back to society and help a child.”  Michael was an attorney and as a social worker Sarah always had an interest in child welfare.  When reflecting on her personal experiences, Sarah shared her feelings about the low reimbursement rate foster parents receive:
[My husband ] “and I were asked numerous times by our friends and acquaintances if we thought that many foster parents were “doing it for the money.”  (I think middle class people sleep better when we assume that adults are being paid to care for children whom we as a society are responsible for.)  We would first explain that there wasn’t much money in foster care for foster parents, to which some people replied, “Yeah, but if they take in like ten kids?”  And then we would patiently explain that taking in ten kids wasn’t permitted.  But for argument’s sake, if one could take in ten kids, economize, and have a little left over, would it be worth it to have to live with ten kids?”
Thank goodness for reforms which limit the number of children in a foster home and thoroughly screen families before giving them a license to make sure they’re fostering for the right reasons.  In our state, one of the requirements for fostering is that the family must be financially independent enough that they don’t have to rely on foster care as a source of income (as verified by income tax returns and paycheck stubs) which hopefully helps to weed out the people who are just doing it for the money versus those who are truly interested in making a difference in the life of a child.
Realistically, it’s not accurate to say that you get PAID for doing foster care- you get reimbursed with a stipend because children not only require much of your time and attention, but cost money to raise.  I love how Gerstenzang continued to explain about stipends, drawing on her background of studying social policy as a graduate student:
 “The practice of reimbursing foster parents for some of the costs of caring for a child dates back more than one hundred years.  Stipends were initially paid to discourage families from putting children to work to earn their keep.  They were intentionally set at levels slightly lower than the cost of covering the child’s expenses.  The basic argument for the low level of reimbursement applies today:  Foster parents have to want to foster for humanitarian reasons, not for profit. So the people who make the most significant difference in quality of life for the foster children, the foster parents, are the only ones not getting paid; who does get paid are lawyers, judges, social workers, and administrators.  Because they are not employees, foster parents also forgo health insurance and Social Security benefits.  Since the foster system depends on career foster parents and children benefit from their experience, it is a shame that the system doesn’t support and encourage these parents.  And if children can’t be cared for in foster homes (due to either a lack of homes or the child’s difficult behavior) the next step for them is often a group home, which can cost two hundred dollars per day or more, depending on the level of care.”
On a related note, because of a legislative audit last year, my state’s Division of Child and Family Services is shifting its focus on how to spend funds for children in foster care, including less reliance on group homes as well as investing more money on in–home services in an attempt to reduce the number (and cost) of children being placed in out-of-home placements.
A newspaper article explaining the changes the recent audit prompted stated, While in-home placement provides better outcomes for children, it is unsafe for some children to remain in their own homes.” 
Hence the need for foster families!  Herein lies the problem, which the article continues to state:
“The low basic financial reimbursement rate may discourage some people from the 24-hour, seven days a week commitment that foster care requires, national advocates say.”
Props to Utah DCFS Director Brent Platt who was quoted in the article as saying "The reality is, people don’t do it for money.  These are people who want to help children, to give back to their communities."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Fost-Adopt Roller Coaster

There are two types of foster families:   1) Foster families provide a temporary home for children in foster care until they can be reunified with their birth families but they {usually} have no intent of adopting their foster children and 2) Foster-Adopt or Fost-Adopt families, provide a temporary home for children in foster care as well, but they also agree to adopt their foster children if things don’t work out with the child’s bio family and reunification isn’t an option. 

Our family is a fost-adopt family and if you’re a fost-adopt family, too, or if you follow along with my blog, then you know what an emotional roller coaster being a fost-adopt family can be- full of so many mixed and conflicting emotions.  I’ve learned to deal with most of the uncertainty by not getting my hopes up too high and remembering that the most important thing for me to do is to provide a good home for my foster children. Whether they stay with us for months or if they become a part of our family forever is always secondary to fulfilling their needs.
However, as much as I’d like to think that I keep a realistic attitude and an even keel it can be nearly impossible not to imagine the possibilities when you find out, for example, that your foster child’s mom or dad spent the weekend in jail, or has missed more than one visit or appointment in a row, or you learn that they got evicted from their apartment, or decided to move out of state, or that there are no possible kinship options.  I’ve encountered literally all of these scenarios. 

But just as you start getting your hopes up high and jumping to conclusions guess what happens the very next week (or in some cases, within a matter of days)?  Your foster child’s parent served their time (or got bailed out) and shows up early to the next visit and seems extra motivated and tells you about the new job or new place they got, which is one of the things required of them in their Service Plan- and when you look into their eyes and see the look on their face as they share their good news with you, you can’t help but be proud of them.  And you’re suddenly brought back to reality and think “Things are turning around.  People change.  Everyone deserves a second chance and this child- their child is going to go back.  Why do I ever torture myself with thoughts of adoption?”
Last week at a training I picked up a flyer entitled “Foster-Adopt Parents:  Challenges for Shared Parenting with Biological Parents” compiled in August 2012 by an LCSW by the name of Marty Hood.  I’ve never met Marty but wanted to give her credit for her work.  As I looked over the flyer I found myself nodding my head in agreement at so many of the points and thought “Yep- that about sums it up!”
I was also particularly touched and somewhat comforted by the quote at the bottom of the flyer since one of the most frustrating parts of helping to raise a child and then letting them go is that you very well may never get to see the “fruits of your labors”.   
You can count the seeds in an apple but you can’t count the apples in a seed.
Your influence may grow for generations to come.

Fost Adopt Parents

The following was written by Marty Hood, LCSW in August 2010:

FOST-ADOPT PARENTS:  Challenges for Shared Parenting with Biological Parents
It is difficult to be a Foster-Adopt parent.
On the one hand, a Foster-Adopt parent is hoping that his child might become part of their family.  They want to dream and plan.  They want to begin taking them into their heart so that if by chance, it works out, the child will already feel loved.
However, they are expected to keep this hope on the back burner while they try to help the child and parent with reunification efforts.
This puts them in a very challenging position.  It is a challenge to open your heart and then be disappointed.  It is a loss and requires going through the grieving process.  It would be nice if we could all see ourselves as a temporary but safe haven where we do the best we can to provide love, security, safety, and hope.  Perhaps seeing yourself as the Safety Net Grandparents who wants what is best for your own children and for your children’s children.  If these foster children were the children of your own child, you would hope and pray that your daughter/son would get their priorities straight and be successful, loving parents.
-It is difficult to remain non-biased when you get the information about why the child was removed.
-It is difficult to put yourself in the bio parent’s place because you can’t imagine allowing yourself to become “like them.”
-It is a challenge to realize that a meth mom in person is very different from just hearing about the meth mom.
-It is a challenge to try to partner with someone who has hurt their child.  It is a challenge to remember that you don’t know the history or experience of a person.  (It is a challenge not to judge).
-It is challenging to remain strength-based when a child complains when they come back from visits.
-It is challenging to remember that negative behavior after a visit does not automatically mean that the visit was bad or that it is evidence that there should be mo more visits.
This is a myth that perpetuates itself when looked at in a simplistic way.  Bad behavior=bad visit= bad parent.  Even in the best circumstances where divorced parents are consistent, loving, and kind, children will have a transition period where their behavior is negative.  It is natural and normal to have a difficult time adapting to different homes, different rules, different personalities and feeling a division of loyalty.  It’s hard to go and it’s hard to come home.  It’s a bit like jet lag.
-It is a challenge to keep from wishing that the biological parent will fail.  Just be aware of this challenge and fight the urge to filter out the good things while looking for the bad.
-It is a challenge to try to disconnect gracefully when it looks like everything points to the child returning with the parents.  This is especially difficult when your heart says that the child would be better off with you.
You must trust that somehow in some way, that things will be as they should be.
You did your best and provided a temporary safe haven of love and care.