Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Three Months with Jack & Jill

Jack and Jill have been with us for three months now.  In past placements, this could have been considered the "halfway point" of their time with us since babies and younger children in our care have typically had anywhere from 6-8 months until their parents have a chance to get them back into their custody [depending on what the judge rules at their Permanency Hearing].  However, just this year a bill was passed in our state which has extended the amount of time birthparents have to complete everything required of them in their Service Plan to up to 12 months.  I think the main reasoning behind this bill is to give bio parents a better chance at getting their children back rather than having foster children be reunified with their parents after six to eight months of being in foster care only to come back into custody again shortly afterwards. 
As a foster parent I have mixed feelings about this legislation.  First and foremost, I think it's a good step towards making sure bio parents and foster children have a better chance at achieving more successful (meaning permanent) reunifications.  Then again, a year of attachment with a foster child as part of your family equates to even more time getting attached and therefore more grief when they leave. I also admit that I've been a little frustrated in the past when after 6 to 8 months of having a foster child in our home and expecting either TPR or Reunification at the scheduled Permanency Hearing (because I much prefer certainty and predictability to living in limbo-and to think that I'm a fost-adopt parent- HA!) the judge decides that the bio parents aren't quite ready so they get an extension for another 3 months or so till the next Permanency Hearing.  With the extended timeframe of up to 12 months until permanency is decided upon, hopefully such extensions would be unnecessary. But regardless of how I feel about things, foster care certainly isn't about what's easiest or most convenient for the foster family, but rather what is in the best interest of the child.
Three months from now Jack and Jill's parents will have a Review Hearing and in about eight months from now (just short of one year after they will have been placed in our care) their Permanency Hearing will take place.  At this point in time no relatives have worked out for kinship options so their permanency options will basically be either reunification with their parents or termination of parental rights and being adopted by us. 
Another interesting thing about these upcoming hearings is that for the first time in my fostering experiences, the judge has requested that the children appear in the courtroom during the hearings. I've attended some of my foster children's hearings, but I've never brought my foster children with me- mostly because they've been so young and I wouldn't want to be disruptive (Courtrooms make me nervous- everything's so formal- it's not exactly a child-friendly atmosphere).  A baby and a toddler in a courtroom should be interesting.
At this point in time I'm trying not to entertain the possibility of adopting Jack and Jill (though it's obviously in the back of my head) because although both parents have had some major setbacks and have not completed anything required of them in their Service Plan, they do make the effort to show up to the majority of their weekly supervised visits with their children when they can.  However, purely hypothetically speaking of course- if this case did end up in an adoption, one good thing is that Jack and Jill's parents seem to have a good relationship with us- they've expressed thanks to us from the beginning (rather than resentment) and they trust that their children are in good hands.  In fact, last month as the caseworker was visiting with me in my home she said, "I don't know why but she [their mother] seems to really like you."  I kind of laughed at the way it came out, but I'll take it as a compliment.

Now, for a little about how the children are doing:
Jill is thriving.  Although she was slightly premature she has outgrown not only her preemie clothes but a few of her newborn clothes as well.  I was so elated when she doubled her birth weight at her 2 month check-up last month that I shared this on Facebook:
The only time I ever get excited about numbers on the scale going UP is when a foster baby has DOUBLED their birth weight! #weknowhowtofattenthemup
Jill is still not sleeping through the night but having to get up once or twice during the night to feed her rather than every 2 hours is a great improvement for my sleep-deprived state.  She is starting to smile more, coo, and even laugh so being greeted by her cherubic smiling face makes the sleepless nights worth it.
As for Jack, he has made great improvements over the past 3 months, but he still has a way to go.  The first couple of weeks after he was placed with us he would scream and totally freak out whenever I gave him a bath.   This led me to believe one of two things:  1) Either this child is not used to having baths or 2) Something very traumatic happened to him during bath time.  I tend to believe the first option given what I know about his background.  Fortunately now he LOVES splashing, playing with the bubbles and his bath toys, and doesn't fuss at all when I rinse his hair out.  I was so relieved the first time I was able to give him a bath without any protests on his part- it was a huge deal.
We were also very worried about Jack the first couple of weeks he was in our care when he would panic anytime I left the room- even if it was just for 30 seconds or so just while I went to the bathroom or had to change the laundry.  It reminded me a lot of Ian's reaction the first couple of weeks he was in our care.  Jack seems to be much more dependent than Ian ever was though, and whenever I would come back into the room and pick him up he would cling on to me for life.  It made it nearly impossible to put him down- which is especially hard when you have a newborn to care for as well. 

We were equally concerned about Jack when we would try playing patty-cake or peek-a-book and he would just stare at us with a solemn or confused look on his face.  If you want to work wonders for a neglected child NEVER underestimate the importance of the "little" things which can make such a HUGE difference in a child's development- playing patty-cake, peek-a-boo, or wiggling their piggy toes, saying nursery rhymes, reading to them, rocking them, singing to them, cuddling them- really just the "basics" most parents do out of instinct.  These seemingly silly or insignificant activities are not only crucial for building neurons and pathways in little brains but for building bonds which make attachment possible in the first place.  Jack now smiles and giggles anytime I ask him to play peek-a-boo and he is very proud when he can correctly point to his nose or clap his hands on demand.
Jack turned 1 year old a couple of months ago and his parents were able to celebrate his first birthday the day of their weekly visit with a Birthday Cake and some presents for him.  Although he's technically "toddler age" he is not toddling.  He refused to try to practice walking with us up until about a month ago- not because anything is physically wrong with him but just because he preferred to crawl or be held ALL THE TIME.  Although he still prefers to crawl, he has learned to lower himself while standing at the coffee table compared to the first couple of weeks with us when he would freeze and panic if he dropped a toy or wanted to move and he just didn't know what to do to solve the problem.  He will now pull himself up to the coffee table or furniture and take a few steps while holding on to furniture without panicking or becoming frustrated. I know that every child develops at their own pace, and I probably shouldn't worry as long as he is walking by 18 months (which is less than two months away) but just in case he does need a little extra help developing  his gross motor skills or in other areas, Early Intervention will be doing an official assessment on him after the holidays to see if he qualifies for help. 
Jack babbles away and says a few basic words, but I'm particularly worried about the latest addition to his vocabulary: "Mom".  The reason I'm so worried is that he is clearly referring to me when he says it and he has not yet said it in front of his actual mom yet since it's been a couple of weeks since she's made it to their visits.  It's hard to logically explain/clarify to a small child, "I'm not your mommy- I'm the one who changes your diapers, bathes you, feeds you, kisses your boo-boos, and tucks you in at night- but I'm not your mom." And yet I was so excited inside the first time he called me "mom"- I felt like I had earned the title.  Nevertheless, it's always very awkward when a child in my care calls me "mom" or "mommy" for the very first time in front of their mom. 
I am prepared to tell his mom, "He hears my daughter call me that all the time" as an explanation and just brush it off so she doesn't feel any worse than she already may feel considering the fact that she openly cries at the end of every visit when she has to say goodbye to Jack. 


Shine said...

You are wonderful. Love and sacrifice make you a mother, not sharing DNA. I understand the hesitation and bittersweet moment nonetheless.

Cindy said...

It's fun to hear about your experiences. I relate so much! We've had a new placement the last 8 weeks, a baby and a toddler, too. It's definitely made my life WAY more busy. Fun though to have a newborn. Struggling a lot with the 3-year-old though. Our last case was the only case we've had where a judge asked me to bring the kids almost every time, 5 years old and 8 months. It was a joke. I really don't know why they do that with such young kids. I can see how it would be beneficial for older kids to go to court. I always ended up spending the whole time just trying to keep them quiet and couldn't even focus on what was going on or hear most of what was said. Hopefully they won't make you take them every time. You are a fabulous foster mom! These kids are so lucky to have you!