Thursday, March 28, 2013

The 4-1-1 on #8 and #9

I haven't written much about our current placements, so here's an update:

-It's been a little over three months since they've been in our care, and now Ty and Ian will be leaving our home to live with some relatives (pending background checks) within the next month. 

-Usually when we get ready to say goodbye to a foster child we brace ourselves for the grieving process, but this time things are a little different.  As cute as they are, both boys have each needed a lot of individualized attention and it's been a lot of work (including MANY appointments).  Because of this, I admit that any grief at seeing them go is also mingled with a fair  amount of relief as well as some worry- mostly that their next caregivers will be as patient as possible with them and that they will follow-up with appointments and services for both boys, but especially for Ty. 

-Another reason there's not as much grief with this placement leaving is because although we didn't know what the permanency plan was until recently, this is the first placement we've had in which the Primary Goal listed in the Service Plan was Reunification (which it pretty much always is)  with a Concurrent Plan- or "Back-Up" Plan, if you will- of "Guardianship with Relatives" rather than "Adoption" by us as the foster family- which has been the case with all of our other placements.  So, when we learned that there were relatives in the picture it took away any of the emotional drama or speculation of a possible adoption out of the picture.

The only uncertainty in this particular case has been which relatives the boys would be placed with:  On one hand, just because relatives have the room in their house or a desire to care for a child who has come into foster care, doesn't necessarily mean that their home would be a suitable option or that they would be able to pass a background check and become licensed.  On the other hand,  just because someone can pass a background check doesn't necessarily mean they're the best option for placement (as is the case with the boys great-grandmother in her 70s who was very quick to be licensed- to her credit- but realistically is not the best option of a permanent caregiver for two young active boys).   On a related note, I found it somewhat flattering and yet disturbing when early on in the case Ty and Ian's mother expressed preference that her sons stay with me rather than being moved to the care of some of her relatives; nevertheless kinship options always take legal precedence over a non-related foster family of the child in care.
-Ty recently turned three and in addition to getting him into speech therapy and counseling we also had him evaluated and enrolled in Special Education Pre-School which he qualified for because of his speech delays.  I think pre-school will be a great benefit to him- not just academically speaking, but socially and emotionally, so I'm really hoping (along with his early intervention team) that his new caretaker follows through with taking him to school and keeping him up to date with all of his appointments.  Apparently, kinship placements aren't held to quite the same standards as regular foster placements, so say, for instance, that his relatives don't feel like taking him to pre-school or having him continue speech therapy, they don't necessarily have to.  

-Speaking of appointments, both boys are now caught up on all of their immunizations- [the ones their mother didn't object to them having, that is].  That's the ironic thing about being a foster parent- I have all of the responsibility for a child- but I have no rights.  I make sure their hair is washed every day but I am not able to clip a hair of their heads without their parent's permission.  I'm the one who takes them to the doctor or comforts them when they're sick during the middle of the night  but I can't prevent them from getting sick if getting them vaccinated is against their parent's wishes.
In addition to the responsibility of taking them to their weekly visits to see their parents I also have the responsibility of consoling a screaming child when their parents don't show up for a visit- again.  After one such visit when his mom was a no show, I had the additional responsibility of attempting to calm Ty down afterwards.  We stopped at the grocery store before returning home and he kept throwing the biggest fit.  I got a lot of judgmental "Why can't you control your child!" stares from onlookers and I just had to suck it up and thought to myself, "Please don't judge unless you know the whole story:  First of all, I'm not his mom.  Second, this child has every right to be angry/scared/hurt/confused because his real mom- the one with all of the rights but none of the responsibility- can't show up to see him just one hour once a week!"   What kind of a message does that send to this little boy?
As for Ian, who just turned a year old, he is (thankfully) too small to really comprehend or feel rejected if his mom doesn't show up for a visit.  As for his father [the boys have different dads] he hasn't even bothered to see him.  Not once. 

-Over the past couple of months Ian has learned not only to  walk but to RUN and CLIMB ONTO EVERYTHING!  Scrapes, bumps, and bruises are not uncommon in rambunctious toddlers, but they are particularly nerve-racking for me as a foster parent because I must document and report anything which might possibly be mistaken for abuse.  Fortunately, we only had one major climbing incident/attempt with Ian which resulted in him having to get two stitches.  His mom seems to like me and has learned to trust me, so thankfully she didn't make a big fuss (or any accusations) out of it.  I wish I could say that was always the case in such circumstances.
So that's the latest with our eighth and ninth placements.  We'd like to take a bit of a breather before saying "yes" to a tenth placement, as I'm feeling rather drained and burnt-out- How many times have I said that before?  We'll see what happens.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Grief: A By-Product of Love

I read two articles about grief a couple of weeks ago and felt impressed to post them (but I never got around to it) so I'm sharing them now:
"The Refining Fire of Grief" by Ashley Isaacson Woolley
What stood out to me most about both of these articles is the concept that although grief is uncomfortable it is also a "by-product of love".   Grieving over the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or dream is the natural result of the investment of love and hope that went into the loss.
"Grief is the natural by-product of love.  One cannot selflessly love another person and not grieve at his suffering or eventual death.  The only way to avoid the grief would be not to experience the love; and it is love that gives life its richness and meaning"  -Lance B. Wickman


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: Another Forgotten Child

I was invited by TLC Book Tours to review Cathy Glass's newest book, Another Forgotten Child, a true story which centers around foster care.


First, some background on Cathy Glass and a brief synopsis of the story:  Cathy Glass (her pen name) is a foster parent- or "foster carer" as they are called in her native U.K., who has cared for over 100 children.  The book Another Forgotten Child documents Glass's time spent caring for Aimee, a severely neglected and abused eight-year-old girl who was removed (not soon enough, unfortunately) from her drug-addicted mother's care.  Aimee's mother, Susan, had five other children, all by different fathers, who were permanently removed from Susan's care previous to Aimee being placed  into foster care.  The baffling and upsetting part of this account is that despite the fact that Aimee was listed on the Child Protection Register at birth, she somehow slipped through the cracks of the child welfare system- hence the title of the book: Another Forgotten Child
When Aimee first comes to stay with Cathy she has been so badly neglected, [and eventually we discover that she has been abused as well]- that she has never had a bath because there was no hot water in her mother's flat for bathing or showering.   The cupboards in Aimee's flat are always bare and about the only furniture is a urine-stained mattress on the living room floor.  Aimee's hair is ridden with lice and her teeth are rotted out from eating biscuits (cookies) for every meal.  In addition, because of her severe neglect she does not even know how to dress herself, is intrigued by a seat belt the first time she rides in a car, and she looks at eating utensils as if they are foreign objects.  Have any other foster parents ever felt like they were living with a foreign exchange student or a child from a different planet because the children in their care have been so neglected they don't know what the "norm" is?  On a personal note, when Glass mentioned not being able to dress oneself (or throwing a fit when asked to do so) or not being familiar with forks and spoons I was reminded of a few of our older placements. 
Needless to say, Aimee naturally struggles with new hygiene routines of having her hair washed, bathing regularly, changing into clean clothes every day and brushing her teeth.  She is also very resistant to the structure and rules her new foster mother puts in place because she must eat well- balanced meals (as opposed to cookies), she can't watch TV all day and must go to school- not just for a couple of hours a day as she is accustomed to doing- but during the whole school day.
In addition to the neglect she's suffered Aimee eventually (and fortunately quite quickly thanks to concern and gentle prodding on Cathy's part) trusts Cathy enough to disclose some abuse she's suffered.  As Cathy learns more of Aimee's background she is saddened and surprised- though not   necessarily shocked given the circumstances- at how much knowedge Aimee has acquired about street drugs and sex as a result of accompanying her mother to different "drug dens" and witnessing her mother sell her body to support her heroin addiction and being exposed to pornography from some of her mother's boyfriends and acquaintances, among other experiences no child should be subjected to.
Aside from the physical and sexual abuse which Aimee discloses to Cathy, the most stress-inducing parts of Another Forgotten Child for me to read about were the adversarial interactions and relationship between Cathy and Aimee's biological mother, Susan.  I was amazed at Cathy's ability to keep her composure and remain relatively calm amidst numerous complaints, harrassments, and false allegations heaped upon her by Susan.  I was also touched by the interaction Cathy and Aimee's mother, Susan, had in one of the later chapters of the book because they were meeting more as casual acquaintances rather than "foster provider" verses "bio parent" which can sometimes, but not always, be an awkward relationship if there is resentment or judgment on either side. 
Now for the good news amidst all the horrors and frustration of Aimee's story:  Aimee does NOT get returned to her mother's care which is a great relief in her case as returning to live with her mother would invariably subject her to further neglect and abuse and perhaps a lifetime of poverty, drug-addiction, or even prostitution.  She does end up with a forever family (although not with Cathy) and I was pleasantly surprised to see whose care she was transitioned into.  Now you'll have to read the book to find out how this true story ends!
Now for more of my personal opinion of the book:
I had vaguely heard the name Cathy Glass before I read this book, but as I started reading Another Forgotten Child my immediate reaction was "For someone who has been fostering for seven years now, WHY have I not read any of her books sooner?!" As a foster parent, I could relate to much of what Cathy went through (though perhaps not quite to the same extent) and I found this book to be not only a disturbing yet touching story- very comparable to what I have felt when I've read any of Torey Hayden's books. In addition, I was also reminded of some caregiving tips & strategies from Glass's experiences as a foster care provider so this book served as a valuable tool in that respect. Cathy Glass's books should be recommended reading for all foster parents! 
I appreciated Cathy's easy to read narrative style because she is, after all, just sharing her experiences with others. However, others may find Glass's writing rather dry. But it must be remembered that this book is more or less of a journal documenting her experiences (like my blog) rather than an intriguing novel.

As for the general public, I think this story, as hard as it is to read, brings awareness to the crucial issues of child abuse and neglect, dishes out some very necessary constructive criticism about children falling through the cracks of the child welfare system, and it contains some very touching human interest elements such as the resiliency of children and what a difference a little kindness and direction can make in one child's life. Another Forgotten Child is an obvious pick for anyone with an interest in child welfare or the social services.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend this poignant and sobering book to others and feel that it should be required reading for foster parents or anyone with an interest in fostering or the child welfare system.
Thank you, TLC Tours, for providing me with a free copy of Another Forgotten Child and for inviting me to take part in this tour.