foster care

Vacation

Given that we now had two little ones, we decided to take a road trip as a vacation. Two weeks in a compact car and 4000 miles in total. At the time, Mason had just turned 3 and Lucas was 7 months. We did a few test road trips, with the longest being five hours. We reassessed a few things. . . do not put two car seats next to each other, find activities to keep kids busy (ha ha ha), perfect the reach around bottle hand off to the infant, and carry lots of snacks.

Bio parents had already gone missing so we had to have a court order allowing us to take them out of the state. We had to provide addresses and dates for where we were staying. We rented AirBnBs because it was the easiest option for a family. We had a travel pack and play which is a bit smaller than the normal pack and play.

I packed that car so tight we couldn’t fit one more thing. I had diapers crammed into the space between the spare tire and the trunk. I had formula under both front seats. I had the cooler on the floor between the car seats and a plastic container of books and toys between the boys. I hung plastic toy rings from the roof to entertain the baby.

And we left. At 4 am because websites said to drive when the kids slept. Joe and I put them in the car in their pajamas. Mason did NOT sleep one minute during the entire ten hour drive. His toys/activities kept him entertained for at most five minutes. Lucas did well, napping, cooing and crying for baba. Each stop required two diaper changes in less than ideal gas stations.

We saw ran around the Washington Monument, played in the pineapple fountain in Charleston, did silly dances at rest stops and introduced the kiddos to friends and family.

Then we got the text that the parents did not confirm for Tuesday’s visit. I laughed and texted back, “good thing because that would be an awfully long drive.”

Most people adored our kids and interacted well. My mom did not. My mom cancelled on us, didn’t meet us at the place we were supposed to go and finally we went to her the evening before we left my home town area. She chain smoked in front of the kids, told my 3 year old that she’s my only Mommy and threw her own tantrum when my grandmother gave me some childhood books for the kids.

I said some nasty words to her before we left and vowed never to speak to her again and we drove away. Little did I know, she would die two weeks later.

Joe, Mason, Lucas and I drove away, into the mountains for our own little retreat. We spent our one and only night in a hotel and I had Mason run around outside to try and tire him out. It didn’t work. He bounced from bed to bed and Joe and I sat bleary eyed waiting to go to sleep.

Mason usually goes to sleep at 7. I don’t think we ever made it to bed before 8 and the latest he stayed up was 9:30. We’d then have to tip toe around in hopes he slept in and wouldn’t be so cranky the next day.

We saw water falls and did some hiking. We bonded with the kids and showed them off proudly. We found out my beloved eldest cat had died at home and had some heart break on our last day in the mountains.

Then we headed home. We were going to drive through the night to get back. It was a huge mistake. 16 hours in the car, with the kids howling (who ever says kids sleep in the car has never met Mason), Joe cursing and me going, I can drive ya know. Mason had night terrors while sitting upright in the car seat as google maps kept saying it would take longer and longer to get home. Accidents closed roads and we kept on going. It was pure hell.

But we got home. And recovered for five days before I got the phone call about Mom.

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foster care

Visitation

Anyone will tell you the primary goal in foster care is always reunification. Part of supporting that plan, is improving the child parent relationship. Courts set up visitation schedules to allow that. Our boys originally had two visits weekly for an hour and a half each or three hours a week. Visits can be supervised or unsupervised. Generally, parents start out with supervised visits and work their way to unsupervised, overnight and eventually reunification. Our kids were picked up from daycare, brought to either the “office” or playground and the transporter supervised the visits. When it was time to leave, the parents would get all worked up and it would usually take another thirty minutes to get the kids into the car and on their way home. The parents would give the kids sugary drinks, candy and general junk food. Parents are expected to be able to feed and care for the kids at the visits but just in case, I always sent a bottle with formula, extra diapers, etc.

Visits are also set up for siblings because it’s important the siblings who are split up due to foster care (very common) have the ability to maintain their relationships. The parents missed a number of visits and the caseworker and transporter determined the siblings should have visits once a week. So one day it was held near where Fiona lived and the following week it was at our house (due to weather). We got to see the kids play together, made a dinner out of appetizers and had a really good time.

We started setting up our own visits. It started out meeting Fiona and foster mom at a park. A few weeks later we picked Fiona up and spent a few hours at the water park. Then we did a few hours each weekend. Then overnights every other weekend until she was at our house every Saturday night. Our transporter got another job and the weekday sibling visits transformed into our responsibility.

I think we had daily discussions about whether or not we could handle Fiona or handle three kids period.

foster care

Sister Sister

So here we are, getting used to a toddler and an infant. Sleep deprived, overwhelmed and figuring it all out step by step. We get through our first staffing (see prior post), minor surgery on one of the kiddos, meeting the bio parents, and our judicial review (JR). The bio parents swore they were going to detox and even had a relative text the caseworker that they were in detox the morning of the JR. A Judicial Review is a court proceeding to review how the kids are doing in their placements and how the parents have done in their case. A judge or panel is in attendance along with caseworkers, guardian ad litem or casa, parents attorneys, foster parents and any other professionals associated with the case. AND the parents, if they show.

With no evidence that the parents were in detox (hearsay) and due to the fact that the parents had not done one item on their case, the goal was changed from solely reunification to concurrent or reunification and adoption at the same time. This means the court is prepared to give the parents the necessary chance to prove they can care for the children but is already planning ahead for if they do not do this.

Then we get the text.

Can you take the sister?

For the first two months, we knew very little about the boys’ sister. She had serious medical issues and was in another foster home an hour plus away from us. Her foster mom adored her. We just assumed she was in the same boat as us, willing to adopt. We were wrong. When the case changed, she asked if we’d be willing to adopt Fiona. I was purely dumbfounded. All I could say was we only have a three bedroom house and two compact cars. And not enough money for three kids, never mind two.

Soon after the visits stopped. Parents have to confirm their visits the night before. We had two weeks without visits, then one confirmed. I wanted to take the boys to the doctor so I was able to set a time toward the end of the visit and drove the boys myself. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Fiona was crying. Next thing you know, it’s time to go to the doctor and the transporter was ready to take Fiona home. She threw herself on the floor screaming, crying and kicking.

It was really my first interaction with Fiona and such a powerful one. I saw a little girl whose heart broke.

 

foster care

Staffings

If you are involved in foster care, you will likely attend a staffing. They occur about every three months. If you are lucky, you will be given notice of these far ahead. More than likely, you will find out about them three days before and have to scramble to get time off from work or rearrange your other appointments. Kids are not allowed to attend, so you’ll to calculate if you can make the 1:30 staffing an hour away from daycare and get back in time to pick up the kiddo at 3. You will not.

What is a staffing? It’s a group of professionals involved in the case. The case is usually a sibling group. You have the caseworker, the caseworker’s supervisor, some people from quality control, a guardian ad litem or casa if you are lucky enough to have them, an attorney ad litem if your kids are appointed one, some people from quality control who ask lots of questions that amount to “is everything being done,” biological parents and foster parents. Biological parents may or may not show. Same for foster parents.

Our first staffing was intense and serious. Bio parents did not show. We had had the boys for a few weeks. We stated their needs, updated them on our situation, and listened to everyone’s spiels. This occurred before a court hearing called judicial review. We were asked if we were willing to adopt the boys, and being that the parents hadn’t done anything toward their case plans (stop taking drugs, show up for counseling, get jobs, get housing etc. . .) the professionals involved in the staffing stated they’d recommend changing the goal from reunification (kids go back to bio parents) to concurrent goals of adoption and reunification (bio parents aren’t doing what they are supposed to so we are planning ahead).

Joe and I left perfectly exhausted, rushed home, rushed to day cares. It felt very dramatic.

foster care

Daycare

I truly think this is the biggest shock going from no kids to two foster kids 3 and under. Daycare is pure hell.

Finding a spot for an infant is nearly impossible. A three month old with three days notice, forget about it! If you are lucky enough to live in an area that pays for daycare, then you have to find one that accepts the subsidy. I say subsidy, because little did I know, many will charge you the difference between their rate and the state rate.

And you need a form, which they won’t give you until three days before you take placement.

Then you need to fill out more forms and provide proof of immunizations.

We found a family daycare that could take baby Lucas twenty minutes away. We found another that would take Mason until 3 that was ten minutes in the other direction. It was a new daycare, in one big room with ages 2-5. And we had to get uniforms. And pay the difference between the market rate and state rate. We found all of this out weeks after Mason started.

Then the kids got sick. Over and over. Every sniffle involved a phone call from daycare.

Forget potty training. Our bright wonderful daycare run that was pricey, local and “international” returned Mason with wet shoes, complained about him throwing books and called for me to pick him up early 2 out of every 5 days in attendance. They followed the school calendar and were constantly closed. Joe cut his hours back to pick Mason up at 3.

I had to provide lunch and two snacks. They complained about zip lock bags because they weren’t sustainable.

The boys were constantly sick from two separate day cares. Mason wouldn’t nap, wouldn’t listen and I was at the end of my rope.

Then came the day “international” said they were no longer be participating in the state program because they were ill equipped to follow the standards required. I think it was they couldn’t handle my kid.

So Mason moved to Lucas daycare. Then we went on vacation. The family daycare informed us we’d have to pay full price for the two weeks we gone. I couldn’t prove it but I knew the other families were not paying what we were quoted at. x2 kids!

We returned. There was one drop off and one pick up. We discovered the kids never left the house, despite a whole play yard filled with equipment. Mason cried and hid before going into the house. Every time we picked the kids up, whether 10 am, 1 pm, or 4 pm, the television was on and the kids were laying on nap sacks. They ate spaghetti and macaroni and cheese every day. We put Mason on two waiting lists and were told kids from our community were unofficially never enrolled.

Finally we got the call to move him. Mason would go to a school like facility, with cafeteria lunches, lesson plans, small classrooms, play time outside, and teachers who were both interactive and able to handle behaviors. We are still waiting to move Lucas.

Mason forgot his manners, started emphasizing grandparents out of the blue, and flat out refused dinner. He was a menace from the moment he got in the car till he fell asleep.

Daycare #3 was giving him sugary drinks (capri sun drinks) and meal sized snacks at 3 pm. We got a doctor’s note for no sugar due to dental issues and deal with behaviors as they come. He currently likes to tell us everything is disgusting. He puts his emphasis on Ting.

The kids don’t get sick as often or sent home as often. We don’t get much notice when they do close and it disrupts our already chaotic life. But that’s life.

 

foster care

Bio-parents, the system, judgement and guilt

So you want to be a foster parent?

Do you want someone in your house, twenty four seven, judging your every move?

Great!

Being a foster parent, per websites, others opinions and of course, the fun filled Facebook groups:

They are not your children. Okay, they are your children but they are not your children. But they are your children. They should call you Mommy and Daddy.  They should never call you Mommy and Daddy. They should call you what ever they are most comfortable with. You should recognize them as your children. You should recognize that they are their biological parents’ children. You shouldn’t change their identity. You should give them a fresh start. Reunification should always be the goal. Reunification should not be the goal if it’s not safe. You should give the bio parents every chance. You shouldn’t give the bio parents a chance if they don’t put their kids first. The foster system is broken. The foster system in definitely broken.

As a new foster parent, I was afraid. I was afraid of forgetting a rule, not having the right paperwork, angering the bio parents, being judged by the caseworker, etc etc etc. I felt like my family was Joe, Mason, Lucas, the state, the caseworker, the bio-parents, daycare and the transporter. And the GAL (guardian ad litem.) Luckily the GAL is completely awesome and a lifesaver.

Bio parents complained constantly about the condition of the baby. He never ate enough, he was too fussy, and pointed out every scratch. I started documenting everything and sending it to Aaron, our transporter. I was constantly on the defensive. Of course, the kids (and I) were constantly sick over the first few months. We had colds, ear infections, skin infections and even a case of MRSA!

On the same note, can you imagine not knowing your infant/newborn child and only seeing him for two hours twice a week? Of course, you’d judge the caretaker unfairly. I can’t imagine the pain those two are in.

And we were told, we are not Mommy and Daddy. We are Joe and Kate. But a two year old can’t understand that. At that point, women were Mommys and men were Daddys.

These were our days for a few months. They’d be picked up from daycare, brought to a park or visitation room and then dropped off at 7 pm. That’s when Joe and I really started to meet the older sister. She was a bright and happy five year old that mumbled quite a bit. She’d run inside to use the bathroom before being driven another hour to her foster mother’s home. After using the bathroom, she’d have to be cajoled back into the car, because she’d rather play with Mason’s toys in our living room. We’d whisk Mason into the bathtub and then straight to bed.

Aaron, our transporter, would tell us how they did with the parents, that the bio parents were planning on going to detox, that they were getting it together, etc. He was so hopeful back then. The transport worker is the closest to both the bio parents and the kids. They get to see the interactions and the relationships. They meet the foster parents and talk with them. They are the go-betweens when they should be the caseworkers!

So we continued, visit, daycare, doctor, sick day, visit, caseworker, visit, doctor, daycare.

 

foster care

Week 1, everybody lies

One thing to remember in foster care, everybody lies. Most often, it is well intentioned fibs. There were some outright lies, like he sleeps through the night! He naps. He eats everything. The caseworker will contact you.

Day 1: The boys are dropped off. Mason and the foster parents toddler begin tearing through the house. We lay 3 month old Lucas in the baby swing. Box after box of toys and clothes are brought in the house. The foster parents leave quickly. They had warned us they would. It is hard saying goodbye.

Mason won’t nap. He runs through the house like a tornado. Lucas cries and cries and cries. The swing doesn’t seem to work properly so we just manually get it going every few minutes.

Night 1: Lucas screams anytime we lay him down. I can’t get him in the bassinet. I walk outside and he finally falls asleep. As soon as I stop moving, he wakes screaming. I wonder if the neighbors hear.

Day 2: Mason gobbles down breakfast. Joe and I are exhausted. Lucas might have slept for an hour. The swing is the only thing that calms him down.

Night 2: Lucas cries nonstop. I’m not sure if I even tried the bassinet.

Day 3: Joe leaves for work. I want to cry. I have been unable to set up daycare for both kids. Lucas goes to one fifteen minutes away. I leave him, bleary eyed and guilt ridden. Mason’s daycare will take him Tuesday but they are technically closed this week for the break. I had no idea. I find myself having to help Mason constantly. Two sets of diapers is not fun and changing a nearly three year olds’ poopy diaper is pure torture. But I signed up for this. I pick Lucas up early and daycare complains that he is fussy.

Night 3: We realize the air conditioning is too low for Lucas to sleep. We raise the temperature and we are able to get him to sleep for two hours at a time.

Day 4: Transportation calls to set up visitation. No problem. I don’t remember much after this. I arrange to pick up a stroller the next day.

Night 4: Did I sleep? Did the baby sleep? Who can remember?

Day 5: I will never make another crack about maternity leave being a vacation as long as I live. It’s visitation day! Kids come home at 7, dirty and the baby slept during the whole car ride home. Great! The good news is Joe and I put together the crib while the kids were out. The bad news, the parents are complaining about dried blood in the baby’s ear.

Night 5: Lucas goes in the crib. Lucas goes back in the swing. Mommy lays on the couch. The neighbors must hate us.

Day 6: Parents complained to caseworker about the dried blood in the ears. She calls me when I’m an hour and a half away from daycare, with a compact car filled with baby stuff. I make an emergency doctor’s appointment, clear one spot for Lucas’ car seat, and speed to daycare, then an hour away to the doctors’ office. Apparently he has reoccurring ear infections and has to be on antibiotics.

Would some one please explain why you have to completely undress the baby at the doctor’s office and have to wait in the cold room for thirty minutes? Lucas threw up on me and I cried onto his bare back while the doctor said a prayer for both of us.

I drop Lucas at the visit, where Mason and his older sister are playing. Mom grabs him, frantic and immediately changes his diaper and prepares a bottle. Dad shakes my hand. Both are nice but dramatic.

They see I’m a person, not a monster. A very very tired person.

Night 6: Lucas spends the night in his room, bundled up, temperature raised, and sleeps for about two hours at a time.

Day 7: Joe is home. I take Mason out as he doesn’t have daycare. We go to the playground. I discover that I have to follow Mason on each piece of playground equipment, and convince him the big slide isn’t the best place to play. I am so unprepared.

Night 7: Two hours of sleep, an hour of feeding, two hours of sleep.