Thursday, November 20, 2014

Keeping Siblings Together In Foster Care

Just in case you didn’t know, November is National Adoption Month.  This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections.”  

Just last month I attended a training on the subject of maintaining sibling connections in foster care and we watched the following video- Brothers and Sisters:  Keeping Siblings in Foster Care Connected:
I was struck by the young woman in this video (see 6:22) who pointed out the correlation between foster children running away after being separated from siblings.  She stated that behavioral problems stem from being separated which I think is very telling. 
Another young woman who was separated from her siblings after entering foster care made the recommendations to child welfare professionals and policy makers in the video that If siblings can’t be kept together in the same home, then at least place them in the same area or school where they can still have contact with one another or ensure that they have frequent visits (at least once a month) with each other or make sure they’re able to call each other or write letters to each other.
The policy and common sense of keeping siblings together leads to the question of:  Why would siblings ever be separated in the first place?  Here’s three reasons why as discussed in the training I attended:
1)      The first obvious reason is limited physical space in a foster or adoptive home to adopt a large sibling group.  Not everybody has the space available to take in three or more children let alone one more child.
2)      Another reason to separate siblings is if they are a danger to each other- specifically in the case of cases of sexual abuse in their home of origin resulting in children “acting out” abuse on each other.  One of the presenters at the training I attended was careful, however, to point out the difference between a child being “sexually reactive” versus being a perpetrator.
3)      I also thought it was interesting that in the past, according to one presenter who works as an adoption specialist matching waiting children with families, that parentification was a reason to separate siblings.  In other words, If one child took on the role of being the parent to other siblings it was figured it was unhealthy and a remedy would be to separate that child from their siblings in order for them to just “be a kid” again.

Everybody needs a sibling connection no matter your age!  I’m a grown woman and I interact with my siblings at least weekly (if not daily) through calls, texts, or e-mails.  The thought of what my life would be like if I had to be separated from my brothers or sisters now or especially if we had been separated while growing up makes me very sad. 
I think it’s important for foster parents, child welfare professionals or anyone wanting to advocate for today’s youth who find themselves in foster care to put yourself in their shoes, as the young woman says at the very end of the video and consider how you would feel if you couldn’t see your brothers or sisters.    

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jack & Jill's Second Permanency Hearing

OF COURSE I had to express my frustrations in this recent post about relatives of foster children coming forward late in a child’s case (as in 90-120 days or longer after the child has adjusted into a stable, loving foster home) to express interest in caring for the child(ren) on either a temporary or permanent basis.  Of course I had to say something because just five days prior to today’s court hearing I got a phone call from Jack and Jill’s caseworker informing me that since things aren’t looking good for their mother, a relative has come forward who is interested in adopting Jack and Jill despite the fact that this relative declined to take them into her home at the beginning of the case nor has she been involved in the children’s lives whatsoever for over a year now and perhaps most significant of all, regardless of the fact that these children have been in our home for 14 months now and that moving them would be extremely disruptive and cause them significant trauma- especially to Jill since ours is the only home she’s ever known. 

THANKS GOODNESS that upon learning this news DCFS’s attorney as well as the children’s Guardian Ad Liteum were both in immediate agreement that such a move would not be in the children’s best interest since this relative failed to meet coming forward within a 120 Day Timeframe and both children are already attached to our family.   Nevertheless, it is up to the judge to make the final decision. 
So when we heard this news about the relative coming out of the woodwork, we figured that the worst case scenario is that we would have to dip into what we’ve been saving up and setting aside over the past five or six years of our private adoption funds to pay for legal fees in order to fight for these children.  The best case scenario is that the judge would be more concerned with Jack and Jill’s welfare than with giving his bio family any more chances than they’ve already been given.  Fortunately, the issue didn’t even come up at today’s hearing which purpose was to determine if DCFS will continue to provide reunification services to Jack and Jill’s mother.
Incidentally, in the same phone call which Jack and Jill’s caseworker told me about the children’s relative coming forward, she also shared another huge development with me pertaining to their case which came as quite a surprise.  I may be writing about that development in the future- especially if it becomes a part of our story.
So what happened at today’s Permanency Hearing?  The judge agreed that DCFS’s Reunification Services to Jack and Jill’s mother would be discontinued and their Permanency Plan has been changed from Reunification to Adoption.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are guaranteed to adopt them, but rather, that the case is now headed in that direction.  Although services to their mother will be discontinued the judge would still like biweekly supervised visits to continue between the children and their mother. 
WHAT’S NEXT is another hearing scheduled next month where DCFS will petition the court to terminate their mother’s parental rights.  Even if the judge agrees with terminating parental rights, Jack and Jill’s mother will have time to appeal the decision which would mean yet another hearing.   Or there is the possibility that she could relinquish her parental rights all together and avoid a trial. 
More waiting.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thought For The Day

I needed to see this today:

Jack and Jill's Permanency Hearing is this week and there are some interesting new developments in their case which could really change the course of things.

God grant me PATIENCE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Foster Children Being Adopted By Relatives

Image courtesy Getty Images
What's worst is that it's in my own home state.
Let me start off by saying that I am not against relatives coming forward to be either a kinship placement for foster children on a temporary basis or on a more permanent basis should they choose to adopt the child(ren) or take the responsibility of legal guardianship.  HOWEVER, in "Mary's Ideal Child Welfare World" these two conditions would have to be met in order for that to happen:
1)  Such an adoption would be IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD (rather than causing additional disruption and trauma to children who are already securely attached to their foster family in a safe and loving foster home)
2)  Relatives need to come forward WITHIN 90 -120 DAYS of the Child being placed in custody.
90 Days for birthparents to track down a relative seems like an extremely reasonable timeframe to me.  By law, DCFS is REQUIRED to search for relatives of children when children are placed into foster care.  Kin take placement precedence over non-relatives.  Every foster parent knows this, which is why, in the past, when a child has been placed in our home I {try} to think of our home and family as a resource for a child to stay as an emergency placement for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months until they are able to be placed with approved family members.  It's usually after the 90 day timeframe that I stop holding my breath and think, "Okay- no relatives have come forward yet so it looks like they'll be staying longer."
Relatives came forward within the 90 day timeframe in the case of our former foster son "George" and in Ty and Ian's case.  And our family was okay with that precisely because the relatives were able to come forward and pass their background checks, get their homes inspected, etc. within 2-3 months.  It's when relatives come forward after the children have spent an extended amount of time in their foster home when I have issues with things.
This story of Liam & Jackson and their foster family stirs up some particularly sorrowful feelings inside of me because it takes me back to two years ago when our foster baby, Rose, was transferred from our care into the care of a relative who eventually adopted her after Rose's parents rights were terminated.  I have nothing personally against Rose's relative who is now her new mom but it's the fact that she came forward AFTER Rose had been in our care for almost a year.  If I read the article correctly, it sounds like Jackson and Liam have been with their current family for over two years now. 
Why move them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Things People Say To Foster Parents

I know most people mean well when they make a comment about our foster children or ask a question, but Oh. My. Goodness. I just had to laugh at how accurate this video is because I think I've heard every single one of these comments!

My personal favorite was "I've always wanted to be a foster parent but I just have SUCH A BIG HEART FOR CHILDREN - that I can't."

$#!+ People Say To Foster Parents from Robert Bethke on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Letting Go of Jack & Jill

(I wrote this less than two weeks ago but didn’t get around to posting it till now; If you read till the end you'll see why my emotions are ALL OVER THE PLACE)

Today I dropped Jack and Jill off to their first transitional visit (outside of the DCFS office and without the supervision of their caseworker) in preparation for them returning to their mother’s care.  When I got out of the car their mother was holding a small bouquet of roses and handed them to me: “These are for you.   Thank you, Mary.”
I was totally caught off guard.  
I’m not a hugger but I was almost tempted to move closer and give her a hug had it not been for the fact that I was also balancing a baby on my hip and had my car keys in one hand and was getting ready to get Jack unbuckled from his car seat and like I said- it totally caught me off guard so I just found myself saying, “That was sweet of you!” out of genuine surprise and sincere appreciation.
The flowers are beautiful.  But as nice (and unexpected) as it is to be appreciated, when I look at the flowers they also make me feel sad inside as if they are for a funeral or are some sort of a consolation prize.  In other words, they aren’t just an expression of “Thank You” or “I’m thinking of you” but of “I’m sorry for your loss.” 

To me, the flowers and their mother’s thank you seem like the easiest way to communicate, “Thank you for watching my children for over a year now as if they were your own.  I know it must be hard for you-  now that they’re coming back to me” without actually having to say something like that out loud.  
Perhaps that’s what hit me so hard each time I looked at the flowers- the realization that Jack and Jill will be leaving because they’re not mine to keep and it’s time to let go . . . once again.
On a more hopeful note (because sometimes I worry that this blog is too depressing or might discourage others from fostering since I don’t just share the rosy experiences), the flowers also remind me of a gift Rose’s mother gave me after Rose had been in my care for about a year and reunification was approaching: She gave me a small plaque with the words “Faith, Hope, and Love- the greatest of these is LOVE.” and the reference of 1 Corinthians 13:13 at the bottom.
UPDATE:  Today as I was returning home from an unsupervised visit, Jack and Jill's caseworker called me to inform me that the children will no longer be having visits outside of the DCFS office with their mother.  I became slightly panicked and thought, "Oh no- something happened to the kids during one of their visits!"   When I asked what was going on I was both relieved for the children and saddened for their mother to learn that although nothing had happened to the children, because of a recent discovery concerning their mother's progress, transitional visits will be coming to a halt. 
Court is 15 days away.  And so the roller coaster continues.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Patience & Waiting

Because some days are easier than others: