Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Second Respite Placement- Part Two

Emily’s foster mom dropped her off to our house on a Sunday morning- just a few hours before we left to church.

Emily just turned 2 a couple months earlier and despite her very petite frame she had a very big personality and loud voice to make up for anything small about her.  Although she did cry for a few minutes when her foster mom hugged her and said goodbye (I noticed her foster mom was trying to fight back tears as well) she quickly busied herself with eating her breakfast and getting acquainted with everyone and everything in our household.

Emily was not shy at all and she took an immediate liking to our 7 year old daughter, M.  This was very fortunate because as soon as Jill (just 2 months difference in age than Emily) realized that another little girl was in our home she immediately became possessive of “my mommy”.   

As for my husband, he came home from a church meeting shortly before we left to go to church just in time to meet the latest addition of our family and help me get all of the kids and diaper bag packed up in the car.

Remember how in my previous post I mentioned that Emily’s foster mom told me that Emily preferred males to females and how her foster mom wondered if she would refer to us as “Mommy” and “Daddy”?  Well, as soon as Jack and Jill and M. greeted my husband with hugs and kisses and exclaimed “Daddy!” when he walked in the door Emily followed their lead and you would have thought she had always been a part of our family.

Emily’s preference for male caregivers definitely worked in our favor during church because Emily had no reservations at all sitting on my husband’s lap while I focused my attention on Jill who can be somewhat of a live wire. 

We made it through about the first half of the Sacrament Service without having to take any children out of the chapel (a small miracle in itself!) and when Jill started getting too loud we played a game of musical toddlers with my husband taking Jill out, me keeping Jack entertained, and M. playing the role of little mother to Emily and gently setting her on her lap and quietly looking at a board book with her. 

Occasionally Emily would come over to me and want me to hold her so we would adjust children and lap space accordingly. The funny thing is, I think I may have seen one or two members of our congregation do a double take when they saw me holding a little girl with long, brunette hair on my lap (Emily) rather than my blonde, short-haired Jill.

Foster families are used to getting stares though- whether it’s because you look like you’re running a Day Care or because not everyone in your family “matches” each other or because you suddenly show up with a new child out of the blue one day.

I’ve probably mentioned how our daughter M. has always been a natural with babies and little children.  With this recent placement she was a huge help on Sundays during church and throughout the rest of the week.  M. seemed to be initially flattered to have a new doting toddler become her little shadow- for the first few days that Emily stayed with us, that is.  Eventually, however, M. decided she needed some space and would become somewhat annoyed with Emily’s spontaneous hugs or her propensity to follow her around everywhere like a little, lost puppy dog.  “Welcome to Motherhood!” I felt like telling M. who, by the end of the week, would even go so far as to spend time in her room or a different part of the house in order to have some space and privacy.

Jack is definitely our most mellow and reserved child.  I guess in that respect he is much like me- observing things and seemingly keeping his thoughts to himself rather than having to create a lot of drama or needing to seek attention all the time.  Sometimes I attribute this to the fact that he’s a boy (and males appear much less emotional than females) but other times I feel like it’s because of his birth order as the middle child who keeps a low profile.  Whatever the reason, Jack seemed to not make too much of a deal when Emily showed up all of the sudden at our house- he just kind of went with the flow. 

Jill, on the other hand, probably had the hardest adjustment to make with a new child in our home- especially when that new child was another little girl her age.  Not only are Jill and Emily both active toddlers but they are both very headstrong in their ways and used to being the center of attention.  Jill is the “baby” in our family and in Emily’s foster family she is the youngest child.  Even if I had not known that fact, it became apparent very quickly that Emily is accustomed to having a lot of individualized attention. 

Because of these dynamics I felt much like a referee last week, constantly sorting out squabbles between toddlers when Emily and Jill would compete for a toy or to be on my lap (It was impossible to hold just one of them without the other immediately becoming jealous).

And yes, just as Jill referred to my husband as “Daddy” she would address me as “Mommy!” in her small but commanding voice several times a day. 

There was more than one incident of hitting or yelling between Emily and Jill but afterwards as I would try to redirect the girl’s behavior they would hug each other like they were best friends. 

While Jill had no problem whatsoever asserting her “dominance” over a certain toy or telling Emily how she felt Jack, who also happens to be my most conscientious child, would look at me with a shock and betrayed look on his face and proclaim “She took it from me!” when Emily would steal a toy from him. Nevertheless, he was initially too shy (or perhaps too polite?) to actually take it back from her even though he loomed over her by at least a foot or two since he’s a year older than Emily and taller than average for his age.  It took four or five days till he was finally comfortable enough to take any toys back from Emily or dare to talk back to any of her sass.

On more than one occasion Jill guarded our toy room door like a bouncer at a bar or night club.  With a furrowed brow and scowl on her face she would say, “Go Away!” and motion Emily away.  M. would start laughing when her baby sister did this and I would have to tell her to stop even though I had to bite my lip from busting up at our little Bouncer the first time I observed it.

Basically, one minute Jill and Emily would be best friends dancing and laughing together and the next minute one of them would be in tears as the result of a sudden clash of wills.

I was grateful that M. was so helpful during the week in giving Emily some extra attention when Jill was particularly clingy to me as Jill has always been a bit of a momma’s girl.   Then again, I didn’t want M. to feel like an older Duggar child taking over the role of parent to younger siblings because that’s not her job.  Because of this I would try and do something fun with M. at night after the younger kids had gone to bed- just her and me- so that she would remember that even though she’s the oldest she’s still my little girl and she can always take time to play because that’s what childhood should be about.

Of all our children I know that having Emily placed with us was hardest on Jill.  How confusing for her to watch me share my attention with another little girl so close to her age who just suddenly appeared in our home one day!  It makes me wonder how blended and step-families must work so hard to adjust to everyone’s new roles and differing personalities without anyone feeling like they are being replaced or that they have to compete with each other. 

This last placement was also a good reminder to me that Yes, it is a sacrifice . . .  but we could possibly take another child into our home.  However, it would be best to stay away from a child so close in age to and the same gender as Jill.  In other words, no virtual twinning- especially for my girls given their dominant personalities- unless the other child happens to be extremely mellow and has a personality more like Jack’s.


Q:  How would fostering affect the children already in my home?

I think there are probably a lot of families who are interested in fostering but they are concerned with how it would affect the children already in their home. It's a highly personal decision to make but I think I would offer up this bit of advice to any such families:

A:  If any of the children in your home meet the following criteria:

1) Have special needs

2)  Are very young in age

3)  Are not totally on board with the idea of more children coming into your home

. . . Then it would probably be best to focus on the needs of your own children first before trying to help anyone else's children.

Having said that (and at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite for not following my own advice), perhaps we'll wait a couple of years till Jack and Jill are a bit older till we take any more permanent placements. But who knows.

Back to the topic of how our children and members of our family reacted to Emily being placed with us for eight days:  I kept thinking of Jack- the poor “neglected middle child” and only boy in our family- being stuck in the middle of all these dramatic girls.  He’s a good sport.  I wonder if the fact that Emily was female rather than male made it easier or harder for him to adjust.  

As for me, by Day 5 of Emily being placed with us I started to wonder, “Is there such a thing as respite for respite care providers?”  Okay, maybe it wasn’t really that bad but the constant squabbling and competing for my attention between two very headstrong toddler girls definitely started to test my patience.  But that’s the great thing about respite care- you know it’s only temporary so even if (hypothetically speaking) the child is a holy terror then you have the assurance that they won’t be in your home forever- just for hours or days.

On another note, when my husband sensed that it might be a good idea for us to get a babysitter so that we could have a date night (and so that I could take a break) I actually became a little resentful thinking “If we hired a teenage girl to babysit for us for a couple of hours we would have to pay her more than we, as foster parents, are reimbursed for the cost of caring for a child for one day.”  I promise I am NOT the type of person to think “I’m going to do this thing for that outcome (reward or whatever)” but my conclusion illustrates the point that as a foster parent I definitely don’t do this for the money.

Now for the good things about respite placements in general (lest you think this is solely a post for me to vent):

When Emily’s foster mom dropped her off she had a daily schedule written out of naptimes, mealtimes, her favorite foods and T.V. shows or songs, etc.  It is SO MUCH EASIER to care for a child when you have an idea of the type of routine they are used to as opposed to getting a “regular” foster placement where you have no idea if the little stranger now placed in your care is accustomed to getting regular meals, has any understanding of what vegetables are, or is even used to bathing on a regular basis without freaking out from the running bath water!  Knowing what routines the child is used to is helpful not only for the foster child in making a smoother transition to their new, foreign environment but to the foster family as well.  

I have heard that if people are unsure about fostering or want a good introduction to fostering, they should provide respite care which is even more temporary than foster care.  Although we never did respite care until after we had some “regular” foster placements, I think that’s a great idea.  Plus, if a placement is a particularly rough one you can always remind yourself, “It’s just a couple of days or over the weekend or for one week”- (whatever the case may be).

I think another advantage to doing respite care is that you are able to get a taste for what ages/genders/severity of needs work best for your family

To sum up the recent experience of our second respite placement:  It was good to be able to help out so that another foster family could go on vacation but I sure will be happy to focus all my attention on my three children and have a sense of “normalcy” return to our family.

Our Second Respite Placement- Part One

Last week our family consisted of our own children- ages 7, 2 ½ and 1 ½ years old- PLUS a 2 year old girl we watched as we provided respite care for her foster family who went on vacation out of state for eight days.  Needless to say, it was a busy week.

This was the first placement we have taken since Jack and Jill were adopted and, therefore, it was also the first placement where we’ve had more than one child of our own to take into consideration when trying to decide if the placement would be a good fit for our family.* 

I expected- simply because of the factor of ages alone- that having three children under 3 years of age would be a bit challenging- regardless of if our 2 year old placement, whom I will refer to as “Emily”, were the best-behaved child in the world.  Age is probably the biggest factor in predicting how this particular placement would affect my children but I think that the personality types and the genders of my children also played a big part (I know, I know- I analyze things too much).  Each of my children acted a little bit differently to Emily coming into our home and I’ll elaborate on that later.

After getting the call from our Resource Family Consultant [the caseworker who works with us as foster parents and calls about potential placements which might be a good fit for our family] I asked my 7 year old daughter, M. how she felt about the idea of us watching a 2 year old girl for a week.  She seemed pretty excited and my husband was on board as well (largely due to the fact that it would only be for a week).   I was curious as to how Jack and Jill would respond to having a child so close to their own ages in our home but with their young ages I obviously couldn’t put the issue to a family vote, so I simply explained to them that we would be having a “friend” come stay with us for a week.

I was able to talk with Emily’s foster mom on the phone a few days before Emily came to our home which was very helpful.  As she was sharing information with me, Emily’s foster mom explained that this was actually the second time that Emily had come into their care.   She was with them for several months as a baby, was reunited with her father, and then just a few weeks ago she came back into their care again. 

I remembered how hard it was for me to leave Jack and Jill with another foster family last year when our family went out of the country on a family trip that had been a long time in the planning and it obviously wouldn’t have been possible to take them with us.  Even though (at that point) my foster children weren’t technically “my” children I wanted to make sure that they were going to a good home while we were gone.  Because let’s face it, foster families are like all families- there are some good ones out there and some not-so-good ones.  Fortunately, with the help of our RFC, Jack and Jill were placed with a wonderful foster family while we were gone.  It was a huge relief and blessing for me.

On a side note: Another good reason foster families should get to know other foster families in their area (besides being a source of support for each other) is to learn which families you can trust if you ever need to use respite.

I also remembered feeling guilty when we had to use respite for a few other family vacations over the years- including an anniversary trip to Hawaii.  But foster families shouldn’t have to put their lives on hold just because they have a placement.  Because of this, I wanted to reassure Emily’s foster mom that she should just try to relax and have fun with her family because we would take good care of Emily.  The morning she dropped Emily off to our house she confided, “I know that she’ll be alright while we’re gone- it’s ME I’m worried about.”  Totally understood.  

In our short phone conversation with each other, Emily’s foster mom also mentioned that their family had adopted Emily’s half-brother which is why she was placed with them in the first place.   She also mentioned that because Emily was returned to the care of her father she actually preferred male caregivers to female caregivers and she was curious to see if she would prefer my husband over me as she preferred her foster father over her foster mother.  She was also curious to see if Emily would refer to us as “mom” and “dad” which is what she calls her foster parents.

*I think it was much easier to open our home to foster placements when my husband and I had no children because it was just a matter of US adjusting to having the child in our home and adapting to their personality and needs.  Plus, we could shower a ton of attention on any foster children without having to worry about dividing up our time and efforts with any other children in the home.

It was a little more difficult after our daughter was adopted because then we had to examine how any placements would affect her as well.  [And, of course, being first-time “official” parents who were totally overly protective of her we would often imagine the worst case scenario which has a lot to do with why up till now we have only taken foster placements younger than she is].  Similarly, now that we have three children we have to assess how any future placements or adoptions might affect each of our children -taking into account their different personalities, stages in life, and particular needs.

In retrospect, I think that a childless couple would be a great candidate for fostering or adopting a sibling group.  We were too hesitant to take more than one child at a time until after we had been fostering for five or six years.  Ironically, now that I feel more open to fostering or adopting [another] sibling group I get disappointed when I am drawn to a profile of a sibling group or older child only to discover that they “must be the youngest or only child” in the family.  Families with no children in their home would be a perfect fit for these kids!  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Demystifying Foster Care Infographic

 In an effort to spread awareness to encourage others to better support foster youth and people who care for them, Simmons College School of Social Work has produced this infographic:

Demystifying Foster Care, SocialWork@Simmons

I am familiar with many of the statistics of outcomes for foster youth such as homelessness, incarceration, and PTSD, but as a foster parent I was particularly interested in the "Profiles of Foster Families" section (and I immediately compared my family's demographics to other foster families.)

I also thought it was interesting to "morph" all of the demographic info into a profile representing the "average" child in foster care:

Any other thoughts on the infographic?