Fire and Pine

It has been over a year since I became a foster mom to a 10 year old boy and 9 year old girl {brother and sister}.  It has been 6 months since I last saw them.  It has taken me 6 months to find the courage to write this. {Names have been changed for privacy.}

***

I was making dinner.

Kristi didn’t want to fold her clothes.

{I couldn’t really blame her, who really likes doing this?}

But she had responsibilities.

It was either fold her clothes or finish her homework.  Those were the choices.  Then she could have free time.  Kevin didn’t have homework that day and she was annoyed that he had more freedom than her.

“Kevin just gets to do whatever he wants!”

Kevin offered to help her, but soon after he offered she was angry at him for sloppily folding her shirts.  She grabbed the clothes out of Kevin’s hands and scoffed at his technique.

They continued to bicker until I told them to stop and get the job done.

“I WON’T DO IT!” She screamed at me.

She ran up into her room, stomping every single stair on the way up.

Their mother had come back into the picture.  Social workers were promising visits and phone calls.  Promises they knew they couldn’t keep.  Kristi was hopeful and then disappointed.  Now she was furious.  And she had every right to be.

Just the week prior, she had threatened to jump out of her second story bedroom window.  {The social workers and her counselor were aware of this incident but did nothing to investigate this further.  They told me to call the police the next time.  I told the social worker that if I had waited for the police she would have already jumped.}

I followed her with the rest of the load of laundry and dumped them on her bed.  I told her she could come downstairs when they were folded.

She’d had enough.

In a rage, she ran downstairs and grabbed the blanket off of the couch, wrapping the blanket around the refrigerator handles and attempted to pull the fridge down on herself.

When I told her to stop she pulled harder.  I put myself between her and the fridge.  When she realized she wasn’t strong enough, she gave up and bolted for the front door.

{She had a history of running out the front door and towards the street.}

When I tried to stop her from leaving, she kicked me in the leg, and bolted for the back door.  She ran out and around the house toward the street.

I followed her, terrified for her life, as I watched her run into the street as cars going at least 55 mph slowed down to avoid hitting her.

She ran a quarter mile down the road.  I continued after her but she was fast.  At one point I couldn’t see her at all.  She had disappeared into a forest of pine trees.

Then I saw her.  In her pastel dress.  In the top of a 40 foot pine tree.

Out of breath and on the phone with dispatch, I tried to explain this surreal situation.

Multiple officers showed up as the dispatcher attempted to reach Kristi’s social workers.  Attempts to reach both of her social workers and the emergency contact line for the agency were unsuccessful.  Kevin, concerned for his sister, came running up to the scene to see what was going on.

In the meantime, one of the officers very cunningly coaxed Kristi safely down from the tree and escorted her to the back his secure vehicle.  I felt a wave of relief, knowing she couldn’t hurt herself there.

Finally, one of the officers received a call from the dispatcher that one of the social workers had been contacted.  He handed me his phone.  I explained my very serious concern for Kristi’s safety, regarding the escalation of her most recent behaviors and attempts to cause self-harm.

I told her Kristi needs a psychological evaluation.

She told me no.

“She doesn’t need a psych eval.  She’s just upset.”

After another much longer even more frustrating conversation, the manager eventually decided that Kristi would stay with another foster family that evening and it would be up to that foster parent to determine her need for the psych eval.

{The psych eval that would never occur.}

As we returned to the house, the officers asked me to provide a written statement.  I invited them inside, only to find the entire house filled with thick smoke.

In the turmoil, I had left the stove on.  Dinner was on fire.

In a matter of minutes, the local fire department {where I volunteered} was there to address the situation.  I was relieved to see friends and familiar faces and I am forever grateful for their help that evening.

By God’s grace the damage was minimal.

I thought the week couldn’t get any worse.  I was wrong.

Ultimately, it was decided that we could no longer keep Kristi safe.  She would stay with the new foster family indefinitely.  Since foster agencies very rarely separate siblings, the agency moved Kevin, too.  On Mother’s Day.

***

Today, despite multiple attempts to make contact, I have no idea where they are or how they are doing.

There are no words.

It is like the death of not one, but two children simultaneously.

As terrible as that particular week was, I try not to let that week define my memory of them.

I knew them for 7 months and I loved them deeply.

Kristi had the curliest blonde hair that I’ve ever seen and could do cartwheels all throughout the house without skipping a beat.  She loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian.

Kevin had the kindest heart, a love for drawing, and the ability to make everyone laugh despite the situation.  He wanted to join the Marines.

I remember two, blonde haired, blue eyed giggly kids, that would run and hug me when I got home.

And that gives me peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Kind

Parenting is incredibly difficult.

There is a level of expectation and an immense amount of judgement within our society that revolves around parenting.  If people aren’t saying it, they are likely thinking it.  I would never let my child do that!  OR She’s incredibly strict–she never lets her kids do anything fun.

You’re either too strict or you aren’t strict enough.  You’re either too much or you’re never enough.

The truth is that no one really knows what they are doing when it comes to parenting. Kids do not come with a manual.  Yet, it feels as if there are so many expectations of what you are supposed to do.  You need to parent this way so your kids act this way.  There is so much pressure associated with being a parent.  Pressure to be the best Mom, pressure to have the best kids with the best grades and the best manners.  Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.

And if that isn’t enough, then there’s the guilt that comes along with it.  One of my favorite references for foster parenting is a blog written by Jason Johnson.  In one of his posts, he specifically speaks to the guilt that is formed by comparing yourself to other parents:

“Comparison to others breeds guilt in ourselves, and guilt is a horrible motivator. Stop feeling guilty about what you can’t do in orphan care and start pressing into what you can do. What you can do might not be the same as what others around you are doing, but that’s ok, because that’s how the body of Christ works.” {http://jasonjohnsonblog.com/}

Undoubtedly, we parents have this inherent desire to help our kids become the best possible people, but this culture of ridiculous expectations makes it virtually impossible to ever feel like we are accomplishing anything.  I refuse to join this type of culture.  It is damaging and guilt driven.

Now, think about that level of expectation and judgement and throw foster parenting in the mix.  There are multitudes of rules we have to follow.  These rules are put in place by the county and remove the fun out of situations that would otherwise be “normal family fun” in a household.  There is no freedom of choice in being a foster parent.  It is like trying to drive a car with your hands tied behind your back.

I can’t even get their hair trimmed without permission.

In addition, there is an incredible amount of liability placed on foster parents.  If a foster child is injured while in your care, the biological parents can actually sue you for negligence. {WHAT}. This even includes things that happen while the kids are staying with the agency approved friends and family. Yeah, that’s right. The county even controls who our kiddos are allowed to stay with, and if something bad happens while you aren’t there, you could be blamed.

It is terrible and twisted and ugly.  It makes absolutely no sense.  But it happens.  The only person protecting you and your family from these situations is you and your family.

Four months ago, I suddenly became the mother of a 9 and 10 year old. They never before had any type of structure.  They didn’t have rules.  They were lied to and manipulated. They were taught that love is conditional and equal to the amount of attention they receive.  They could do whatever they wanted.  Where they came from, they were sent outside and told not to return until dark.  No adult supervision, whatsoever.

It was chaos when they first arrived.

During parent teacher conferences last week, I received incredible reports on both kids, saying they are both well adjusted and have bright futures.  They have friends.  They have good grades.  As brother and sister, they walk into school arm in arm. Not the typical kind of report you would expect from two kids suffering from years of trauma, including emotional and physical abuse.

One teacher told me, “you and your husband are doing a great job at home if your kids are able to flourish in school despite their situation.”

There may be other parents out there that don’t get why you as a foster parent are so strict.  They will likely never understand.  They didn’t instantaneously become a first time parent of a 9 and 10 year old that never had rules or discipline.  They don’t understand that running a tight ship at home is the only thing that works. They also don’t have the ugly monster of liability hanging in the back of their mind.  It is a completely different way of parenting.

And our priorities are different.

I decide to weigh the good and bad days based upon whether or not they are safe, fed, and have clean clothes.

{teeth brushed? socks? underwear?!}

These are things that they didn’t have before.

Good grades are absolutely a plus at this point.

So for all the parents out there, whether you foster or not, please remember:

We are all just doing the best that we can.

Our role as parents and mothers is to help one another.  Judgement, guilt trips, and unrealistic expectations are not helpful.  We have to take care of each other instead of putting each other down.  Never allow guilt to drive your parenting style.  And the next time you see a Mom struggling to keep her head above water, I urge you to stop and ask her, “what can I do to help you?”.

***

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love One Another

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,

there can be no more hurt,

only more love.”

-Mother Theresa-

I remember when we first started looking into becoming foster parents, I felt overwhelmed that God was calling us to do this.  I knew in my heart that we had a job to do and I wasn’t going to argue that.  I felt a passion stirring within me.  At one point I was reading at least 3 books at one time–from perspectives of previous foster children and foster parents to books on modern parenting–trying to gain perspective and trying my best to understand what being a foster parent {or a parent for that matter!} would entail.

 And every time I heard Mattress Firm’s radio commercial, “Not everyone can be a foster parent but everyone can help a foster child” I got chills.  I remember thinking, yes I can!  I can be a foster parent.

The truth is that nothing can prepare you for being a foster parent, until you are actually doing it.  The books, the foster parent training, even talking to other foster parents or people familiar with the system–these are all really great things to do, and you should do them.  I am not discounting their importance.

But nothing can prepare you for your first placement.  The first time you see your kiddos turn the corner and walk onto your porch.  Waiting. Wondering.  Scared.

Nothing can prepare you for the bad times, the good times, the moment they start calling you Mom and Dad.

Most importantly, nothing can prepare you for LOVE.

Yes, love.

When my husband and I began telling our friends and family we would soon be foster parents, we had a lot of people say:

“Have you thought about how hard it will be to give them back, when the time comes?”

“I could never do that!  I would get too attached.”

To be honest, I didn’t really know how to address those things.  All I could say is that we felt called to do it and we were doing it, regardless of the outcome, regardless of how we ended up feeling.  After all, it isn’t about us.  It’s about them.

I remember telling myself in the very beginning that I would try to distance myself a little. I wasn’t sure if I should allow myself to get close to them, because at any moment they could be removed from our care and taken somewhere else.  I was afraid I would get hurt too.

I still don’t know what the outcome will be and how I will react to it.

I do know, that today marks the third month that we’ve had these kiddos with us–our first foster placement.

Do you know what gives me chills now?  My foster son, calling me Mom.  I still look around the room, half expecting my own mother to be standing there.  He can’t be talking to me.  Oh, wait, he is talking to ME!

I get chills when my foster daughter, lover of all animals great and small, tells me she wants to be a veterinarian.  I see her eyes sparkle when I tell her, “You are very smart.  You can be anything you want to be.  Don’t ever forget that.”

I am Mom.  I have known you for 3 months–such a small fraction of your life, and an even smaller fraction of mine.  Yet, you call me Mom.  You hug me, just for coming home from work, and sometimes, for no reason at all.  I’ve seen you at your best and your worst.  I come into your room at night when you are sobbing.  I hear you tell me, “I never want to leave here, what is going to happen to us when we leave here?”.

You listen to me when I tell you that you need to say your prayers everyday and that we are not in control of the future, and we have to have faith.  You stop crying when I tell you God is watching over you and that He will take care of you.

I am Mom and I am human.  I can’t help but love these kids.

And I’m not afraid to lose them, knowing that they’ve loved and been loved in return.

***

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34

 

A Heavy Burden: Part 2

Challenges

Over Christmas break, the kids really started to test us.  No school meant more time at home, more idle time.  Trying to keep two smart kids busy is serious work {all you teachers  out there, you are my hero!}.  Throw in the busiest time of the year, and it is complete and utter chaos.

Of course there is always the typical kid stuff: crying when you ask them to do something they don’t want to do {please pick up your shoes = sobbing}, the occasional lie, sibling rivalry, etc.

But to be honest, this was the first time we had seen a prolonged extension of those behaviors–a window into deeper troubles and evidence of chaotic thinking.  I don’t plan to go into the details of what they did, because honestly that doesn’t matter.  It is the why that matters here.  You can tell these kids are really hurting, and it sucks for you and for them.

We tried to keep somewhat of routine; bed time didn’t change and we did let them sleep in, even though they still got up pretty early.  We stayed pretty busy with holiday festivities and family events.  However, the lack of a real routine was detrimental.  It also did not help that they had just received the jail letters and none of their visitation had occurred yet.

Then, having almost 2 weeks off from school gave them a ton of time to think about all of that.  No homework or school projects to redirect them; instead, David and I became the constant re-directors.  It was exhausting to say the least.  I admit I ate chocolate in my closet and cried a few times.  {Hey Moms, can I get an Amen?}

Also, missing out on holidays and birthdays for the first time without their family members made their situation more real to them.  Instead, they were forced to spend it with strangers they’ve only known for 3 months.  Even though we have made a welcoming and safe home for them, it honestly isn’t enough to fill that void.  And I had to realize and accept that we are not always enough.

I think that desire to see someone they knew–a parent or sibling– and not being able to see them, creates a painful anger within them.  Have you ever missed a loved one so much that it pains you?  Even if you know you may see them again, it still hurts.  You just want to talk to them and hear their voice.  But you can’t.  You have to wait.

The difference here is that we are talking about 9 and 10 year old kiddos.  Not adults, who in most instances, can decipher in their minds what is causing the pain, what is making them feel angry, and then plan to make a positive change.  This is learned behavior for all of us.  I think right now, the kids feel weighed down, but they can’t always determine the reason or cause.  They also don’t know what to do to change it, or if there is even a way to do so.  It is incredibly frustrating to them.

At one point, my foster son became enraged when I asked him to please fold and put his clothes away.  I even offered to help, but that didn’t matter.  He stormed and stomped up the stairs, huffing and his face red.  It took a long time for him to calm down.  I sat on the floor in his room and waited patiently for him to talk.  Then he said to me, “I don’t know why I am so angry.”

I assured him it was okay for him to not know why.  I knew why.  You are 10 years old.  I told myself.  I thought about what I was doing when I was 10–irritating my sister, likely hanging in the barn with my cats and bunnies, petting them and thinking about catching butterflies later in the day.

What an incredible burden to bear.

Counseling

One of the best things that happened over Christmas break was that counseling started.  It has taken since the first week that we’ve had the kids for this to happen.  We’ve been waiting this whole time for paperwork to go through and for a few hiccups regarding the paperwork to be resolved.  And really the only reason the kids were getting this service is because I pushed for it in the very beginning.  Otherwise, it likely wouldn’t have happened at all.

The first meeting over break was for her to ask the kids and I questions and complete mental health assessments on each child {to assess what each of the kids are dealing with and identify what their needs are}.  I was taken aback when the first question she asked me was:

“So, why am I here?”

Then I told her everything.

The kids helped, too.  They would try their best to answer all of her questions and I would fill in the blanks the best I could.  We drew for her the complex web that is their case.

“They’re just sitting with it, with no way to really deal with it,” I told the counselor as I explained to her that my husband and I felt unequipped to give the kids the right tools they need to cope.

By the end of that meeting, she was telling me that the kids would benefit from individual, hourly, weekly sessions!!!  Thank God!  I thought.  It was a weight lifted.  Finally, the kids would be getting the help they desperately needed.  Foster Mom WIN!

***

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

A Heavy Burden

It has been almost 2 months since my last post.  Since then, we’ve encountered a lot; too much for just one post. These next few posts will likely be a mini-series to give you a better view of what has been going on, since it is too much to try and discuss all in one post.
I’ve been struggling with what to talk about and what to focus on.  Each day with the kids is so different from the next that it has been difficult to put my finger on exactly should I write about.  I could honestly very easily throw together a few hundred page novel of what we’ve been dealing with in regards to these kiddos and their case these past few months.
To give you an idea of what’s been going on, the past 2 months we’ve gone through: Thanksgiving, receiving letters from jail, Christmas break and multiple festivities, numerous caseworker visits, visitation attempts failed {X5}, counseling {finally!}, and the kids getting appointed a GAL {Guardian ad Litem: a lawyer that is court appointed to testify for them on their behalf, aka, their “voice” in court}, my foster daughter’s birthday, New Year’s!, and back to school.  All the while, we’ve been seeing the kids exhibit new behaviors and challenge us in ways we never expected.
Failed Visitation
If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Instagram, you already know that visitation hasn’t occurred with our kids yet.
To give you some perspective, “visitation” is referring to court ordered visits with a family member with the goal to reunify with this family member, if all criteria are met.
If the court ordered visits occur consistently with the family member, then the case moves forward, closer to reunification.  The family member must complete a background check and home study {kind of a mini version of what we had to do to become foster parents.}
Usually, visitation occurs every week at the same time and place.  They are supervised initially, then the goal is to work up to 4 hour segments of unsupervised visits.  The way ours was supposed to work is that we take the kids to the county’s “visit house”, drop them off with a Case Aide who supervises the visits, and pick the kids up after 2 hours.
At first, the kids did not want to go at all.  To be honest, David and I were pretty nervous about it too.  We saw it as dropping our kids off at this strange house with a stranger {no, we’ve never actually met the Case Aide}.  If it didn’t go well, I was afraid the kids would blame us and we would lose their trust.
After a lot of encouragement, we were able to get the kids interested in going.  It took a lot of strength for us to encourage it despite being wary, but we accepted that as a part of our job and realized that we have to participate in this whether we like it or not.
They were actually excited at one point!
“Do you think they will bring gifts for us?” The kids would ask with hope in their eyes.
Then, the day before the visit, I got a phone call.  The visit was cancelled.  Then it was the next week.  The visit was cancelled again. And again. And then two more times after that.
When I broke the news to the kids, they were disappointed but they handled it pretty well, initially.
However, the closer we got to Christmas, the clearer it became that things were not all good.  In fact, you could almost see the weight they carried around.  They would smile but as a parent, I’ve learned the difference between their smiles and what each one means.  {I’m sure all of you parents out there can relate!}
Then, we got the letters.
Letters from Jail
I have never witnessed a child’s heart literally break in front of me until my 9 (then 8 year old) foster daughter read her letter from her estranged family member at the dinner table a few days before Christmas.
The night we received the letters, I was at work.  The County caseworker stopped by to see the kids for her monthly visit.  She has proven to be an awesome caseworker, very concise and efficient, she always gets things done and works for the best interest of our kids.  {I thank God for her!}
She gave the letters to my husband and he texted me that he had them, tucked away, for us to review before having the kids read them.
When I got home from work, we got the kids to bed and then got the letters out.  A lot of the information in them was blacked out; “redacted” was the word that was used by the caseworker.  Any inappropriate statements, false promises, or contact information was concealed.  But that didn’t stop me from reading the entire letter.
If you hold it up to the light just right, you can see it.  Every word.
Confusing. That’s the word I would use to describe the letters.  There were two of them, each about 5 pages long, handwritten, and confusing as hell.  Even with the “redacted” parts of the letter, I personally felt the entire thing was a false hope.  And after reading them, I felt so unsettled.  I had a lot of questions that would never be answered. I knew the kids would feel the same way, except 100 fold.
The next day, we gave the kids the letters to read.  Our foster son read it, and was on to the next thing.  Our foster daughter read it, then read it again.  Then she would carry it around the house.  Wherever she went, so did the letter.  It was a security blanket for her.  I would find it laying around and find myself getting lost in it and my own questions, knowing what lay beneath the layers of black sharpie.
One night after I came home from work, I sat at the dinner table talking to my husband. My foster daughter sat down too, and read her letter out loud to me while I ate.  She read each word, all 5 pages, sighing in between paragraphs.  Hearing it out loud was different for me.  It was different for her, too.
After she read it to me, she sat at the dinner table somnolent.  Then, she got up and went to the front door, looking out the window.  She was searching for something, or rather, for someone.
I walked over to her and told her, “It is okay to miss your {family member}.  It is okay to be sad.”
Tears running down her face, she turned from the window and gave me a hug and said with the most sincere voice:
“Thank you for taking care of me.”
***
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'”

A Battle Worth Fighting

We’ve had our kiddos for almost 5 weeks now {can you believe it?!}.  We’ve had a lot of struggles and many victories.  This post discusses some important revelations I’ve had.

First of all, I’m so thankful for everyone {family and friends} who have stopped over to help, the prayers {keep them coming!}, all the donations of clothes and toys, monetary gifts, fun mail and packages we’ve received, asking about the kids, even following my Facebook and Instagram posts.  This all means more to me than you realize–it keeps us going knowing we have a community of people behind us.

Being a foster parent is tough work.  It is an emotional roller coaster and you are along for the ride, no matter how long or short.  I’ve been overwhelmed and exhausted.  Becoming a parent instantaneously with no transition period is overwhelming.  As they become comfortable with you, they disclose things to you that are overwhelming and make you angry.  Most times I don’t even have time to digest the last awful thing they told me before they are telling us something else terrible.  Also, the agency wants to know every single detail, yet they don’t appear to be doing anything about it.  It just gets tucked away in a file until a later time–maybe this will be helpful later?  I wonder.  Being a Mom and working full time is also a challenge.  {Homework, and laundry, and dishes, OH MY!}  My husband and I finally went out for 2 hours by ourselves one evening last week for the first time in 27 days.

If you are thinking about becoming a foster parent, please remember this:

You absolutely cannot do this without a support system.  Your friends have to support you and your family has to be there for you.  You have to love your spouse and he has to love you, and you have to support each other constantly.  You have to pray for help and guidance.  You cannot do this alone.  If you rely on your agency for any kind of support you will certainly drown.  This was a hard lesson learned.

To be honest, I have been infuriated with the foster care system for the past 4 weeks.  Most of my frustrations lie with interactions with the social workers.  It started with the lack of communication and phone calls that weren’t returned, then waiting on paperwork to be signed.  I’m starting to realized that this is actually pretty normal {ugh}.  Then, last week during a visit, one of the caseworkers wanted a tour of the house.  During the tour, she pointed out that the kids rooms were “disasters.”  Gee, thanks!  I had just worked 6 days in a row, and it was taking every ounce of energy I had to help the kids finish their homework before she arrived.  {She was lucky I even showered.}  We have priorities in this house, and cleaning rooms is low on the totem pole.  At the end of the meeting I made our frustrations clear and we were told, “You’re doing a great job!” but I was still so furious from the previous statement that it negated the compliment.

My anger continued to grow.  We’ve accomplished so much, and that is what you see?  Hearing that while we’ve been treading water swimming upstream the past 4 weeks with little to no support from the agency was incredibly frustrating.  That statement made it even more clear that the support truly isn’t there.  That night I bawled my eyes out of anger and exhaustion.  I told my husband that its impossible to feel like you are even accomplishing anything good because it feels like a never ending, uphill battle.  I told him, “I never feel like I’m winning, only losing.”

After a long pause he responded, “You have a little girl that tells you every night that she loves you.  How is that not winning?”.

That conversation changed everything for me.  The battle was already won, and I just didn’t see it.  I was too focused on one tiny negative thing.  And that one thing doesn’t even compare to the bigger picture.

There’s a lot I can’t control, but I can control how I react to everything.  I can keep my expectations low.  I can maintain a sense of humor.  {I can make the kids clean their rooms, LOL}.  I can control that my kids are safe and healthy.  I can cook them hot meals and let them eat as much as they want.  I can make sure they are in school.  I can encourage them.  I can be strong for them.  I can assure them that Jeff the Monster isn’t in their closet.  I can read to them.  I can show them what a loving marriage looks like.  I can play with them, laugh with them, give them bear hugs, and dry their tears.  I can strive to be the best Mom I can possibly be.

I can choose to not give up.  I can have faith that this is where we are all meant to be.  I can give them hope for a future. And most importantly, I can give them love.

***

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:7

 

 

Mama Bear

On October 14th around 7:30 PM we got our first placement.

These 2 sweet babies came from a home infested with bed bugs, their clothes dirty and either way too small or way too big, no socks, no underwear.  One of the children had no shoes and was given shoes by children’s services, although they were too small.

They came with no belongings except for the clothes on their backs and what children’s services gave them from their office.  It wasn’t a lot–but it was nice stuff and the kids were glad to have at least something that was theirs.

They had been fed dinner by children’s services before arriving, but they still gobbled down the cookies we had on the kitchen stove.  They told us they had not bathed in a few days, so we had them bathe.

Upon closer inspection, one of the children was found to have lice.  We spent hours picking out almost 30 lice and hundreds of nits.  And then we did it again the next day.  I can now say we are experts at lice removal!  {please, I never want to do that again!}

They both loved their rooms.  The youngest told me, “This is my dream room!” in reference to the jungle themed room we put together.  She loves animals and said she never had her own room before.  The oldest loves owls, and his room just so happened to be decorated in owls.

They settled in pretty quickly, exploring every inch of their rooms and our home.  They made friends with the goats, chickens, and ducks.  Every day they chase the goats around the yard and catch the chickens and ducks for fun.

Last week, the intake caseworker stopped by to meet us for the first time and to check in on the kids.  The kids were running around the house playing games and just being kids!  The caseworker told us, “They look like completely different kids from when I saw them last.” She had tears in her eyes.  She had just seen them a few days prior.

Getting them enrolled in school was much more time consuming than I anticipated. The county has legal custody of the children.  Legally, I am not allowed to sign any of their school enrollment paperwork {it was a lot of paperwork!}.  I was able to fill out the basic enrollment form with the little information I had; however, I still could not sign.  This was frustrating for me for two reasons!  Not only do I like to get things done and out of the way, but also the kids needed to be in school.  We waited 4 business days for the county worker’s signature {6 days total}, and finally got them enrolled in school 1 week after their placement.

While all the above has been challenging, the hardest part of all of this has been hearing their story.  Not the version from the county social worker and not the version from our agency worker.  But the story from the children’s point of view.  The terrifying details they slowly disclose to us.  We could be in the middle of any fun activity, such as coloring, and they tell us something awful.  Then, without skipping a beat, go back to coloring.

If this is confusing to me, I can’t even imagine how confused they must be.  We try to offer reassurance and do everything we can to make sure they feel safe {we allow them to sleep with the lights on to reduce anxiety}.  The safer they feel, the more they disclose.  This is difficult for us and them, but we are thankful we have succeeded in providing a safe and trustworthy environment.

Then, we had a little family meeting to talk about why they are here and answer any questions they might have.  They asked, “When can we start calling you Mom and Dad?” Neither of us were prepared for this question.  We told them it was up to them.  We didn’t want them to feel like they had to.   They responded, “We want to call you that now.  You’re more of a Mom and Dad to us than anyone else.”

❤❤❤

Answering Tough Questions

Howdy Y’all! 😜

While we are patiently waiting for our license to go through, I thought I would spend some time answering the most common tough questions we have received so far.  And by tough I mean difficult to explain or personal; not a simple yes or no.  We are growing our family through foster care, which is not traditional and we do not expect everyone to understand. I invite you to read this post and hope that you better understand our intentions from our perspective.

I will begin with a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Dead Poet’s Society:

“Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way.  Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.”

***

“Why Foster?”

Referring back to my very first blog post, we feel like it is a calling.  Yes, a religious calling. No, God did not call me on the phone {lol}.  Although, that would have actually been pretty great!

So what is a calling?  What does that look  like?  What does it feel like?

This is difficult to explain.  I think that this looks and feels differently for everyone that has ever encountered this.

I think my first blog post effectively describes how it looks.  To recap, we saw the napkin, then the sign in the yard on our street {which was just recently taken down}, then heard the radio broadcast.  Then, we did some research and saw the need and realized we were more than capable of meeting the need.

Then, there was a serious divine pull.  Kind of like that feeling you get when you miss a step down the stairs and your heart climbs into your throat.  It shakes you awake and you can’t ignore that it happened.

I would like to believe that people are called to do things everyday.  It is whether or not we are paying attention and willing to listen that determines our next step.  In this case, we practically received a daily reminder {the sign, the radio broadcast, more napkins!, etc.} until we started listening and began the licensing process.  It was only until we began the licensing process that the more obvious signs stopped and everything else started to take shape.

“When are you having your own kids!?”

This has been a tough question to answer.  My instant thought is, “does anyone really know?”.  Even parents that don’t foster do not always have a plan {and that’s okay!}.  I understand that some people plan for kids and some do not.  I also think this is a less awkward way of asking if we are able to have kids {very sneaky indeed!}.  Foster parenting and adoption are often viewed as a ‘last resort’ for couples who have infertility issues or know they absolutely cannot have their own children.  However, this is not the case for us.  We have actually discussed adoption in the past because we both felt like there were already enough kids out there who needed parents, and we would be happy to invite them into our lives as our own.  Having our own kids at some point is still an option for us!

“Are you going to have enough time?”

Of course we are going to have enough time.  It is definitely going to be a major life adjustment.  However, thousands of working middle class families just like us with multiple children are successful.  We are going to MAKE time.  Obviously, these kiddos are going to have different needs, which may require more time.  And that is okay.  My husband told me, “It’s like having a baby.  You just figure it out.”  We will adjust and adapt!

“What about the biological parents? Will you have to talk to them?”

It used to be that biological parents had no contact with foster parents.  That has changed significantly over the years.  Now, foster parents are expected to take the kids to supervised visits with the parents.  There are special circumstances where the kids would not have visits {if the parents are incarcerated}.  But the general expectation is that we try as best as we can to encourage a relationship while the court decides what the next step is.  This is crucial for the potential for reunification–which is the ultimate goal of fostering.

Honestly, I hope that we get to meet them.  Having a working relationship with them could be very beneficial.  It will help us take better care of their kids knowing details that they share with us {specific bedtime routines, family traditions, etc}.  Keeping up with family traditions while the child is in our home shows that we respect the biological parent and their wishes, regardless of the situation.  It also helps the kids feel more at home while they are living with strangers.

And I’m also aware that the parents may not want to talk to us.  Or look at us.  And they might even blame us.  And that’s okay, too.

“Do you plan to adopt?”

Absolutely!  If we have the opportunity to adopt, we will most definitely invite them into our family permanently.  Once the parental rights are terminated, if there is no other family present, the court will ask the foster family first if they are willing to adopt the child.  If the foster family wants to adopt them, they begin the adoption process.  If the foster family for some reason cannot or does not want to adopt the child, then they start searching for adoptive parents, and they remain in foster care until they are either adopted or they age out of the of the foster care system {also called emancipation}.

 “I am enough of a realist to know that I cannot reach every child, but I am more of an optimist to get up every morning and try.”

-Preston Morgan-

 

 

How to Prep for a Home Study {and get licensed in 120 days!}

Welcome Back! 😄

It has been a whirlwind of a month since my last post. We had a lovely vacation to the Outer Banks {we missed the hurricane, thankfully!} and we have since been completing the necessary paperwork and prepping our house for our home study!

Before we start, I’ve had a few common questions:

1.) How many kids will you have?

We currently have 3 bedrooms set up for our foster kids. We could potentially foster a bunch of kids with our current set up, but we will likely start with one to three.  {I’m so excited! And nervous! And then excited!}

2.) What age will you foster?

We will have a wide range from infant to 11 years old. Our agency typically places older school age kids, but often they will have sibling groups with older and younger kiddos {in an effort to keep them all in the same home}. This large age range means we really have no way to completely and entirely prepare for every age, gender, season/time of year when it comes to clothes, toys, etc. We will ultimately be reaching out for items once we know that we will need them. I’ve had generous donations of items from friends and family as well as some great garage sale finds. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has helped us either through giving us items or offering encouragement.  These acts of kindness and generosity are greatly appreciated. ❤

Let’s get started!

So, what is a home study anyway?  Well, simply put, it is an in depth study of your household and a detailed study of you, your spouse, and any kids in the home. The study looks at financial records {do you pay your bills?}, personal relationships {do you have a support system?}, why you want to foster {is it a calling?}, and if your home is a safe place to live {safety audit}.  All of this combined helps the agency determine if your home is safe and if you’re fit to care for children of all ages from varying backgrounds.

The home study is usually completed in 3 visits or more. I’m sure everyone’s home study is a little different.  This is how ours was scheduled to go, but I don’t think the order of things really matters too much:

  • The first visit includes: catching up on general paperwork, a tour of the home, and may or may not begin the interview process.
  • The second visit entails a detailed interview of everyone in the home. Everyone is interviewed individually. More paperwork is completed if needed.
  • The third visit wraps up paperwork, interviews, and a safety audit of your home is completed.

Ahh, paperwork.  {If you don’t want to poke your eyes out by the end, you aren’t doing it right!}  This was the most time consuming part of the licensing process.  Here’s a list of what you will likely need:

  • Federal background checks/finger prints
  • Local background checks (completed by your local police department)
  • Fire inspection
  • Physical Evaluation
  • TB Test
  • Pet Vaccination Record (goats don’t count, haha!)
  • W2 forms
  • Pay stubs
  • Proof of utilities payments
  • Proof of mortgage or rent payments
  • Financial statement (debt, income, assets, etc.)
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Well Water test (completed by your local health department)
  • Marriage license copy
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Evacuation Plan (there are free online templates you can use to create these!)
  • Child characteristics checklist
  • Foster parent application
  • Foster parent info form (agency specific)
  • Foster parent background info form (agency specific)
  • Safety Audit (completed during home study by your licensing social worker)

Now, this may seem like a lot.  And it definitely is! But if you work at it everyday, I promise it really isn’t that bad.  Also, ask your agency if you can have a list of what you will need so you can keep track of everything.  I started a folder and made a lot of copies.  One copy for the agency, and one for our records.

Also, our agency did not give us all these forms at once.  We did not start to get most of the forms until we were halfway through the foster training classes {they need to know you are committed}.  Even then, we did not get the rest of these forms until our first home study.  Being proactive and asking for forms in advance is helpful if you already have your home study scheduled.   That way, you can have as much completed as possible for the licensing social worker when she arrives {this will make her very happy!}.

**Warning: Do not complete the forms unless you are wanting to get licensed within 6 months.  Otherwise, they become obsolete and you will need to fill them out again.**

Next, we will discuss the safety audit.  The safety audit is a form completed during the home study by your licensing social worker.  This form has a lot of very important information regarding any safety modifications you will need to make to your home prior to having a child placed there.  Some of these include: bed rails on bunk beds, crib requirements, weapon and ammunition storage, household cleaners, etc.  If the agency is able to provide you the form in advance it will help you a TON when it comes to prepping your home!  {And you’ll look smart for being on top of things!}

Another aspect of the home study is the interview process.  Each family member is interviewed individually.  Here’s a list of topics we discussed:

  • Discussion of why we want to become foster parents
  • Religion
  • Personal relationships
  • Marriage conflict resolution
  • Personality traits
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Health concerns
  • Childhood (describe how you were raised/punished)
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Family support system regarding foster parenting
  • Relationship with family members in general
  • Our plans for alternate childcare: daycare, alternate placement, respite care
  • Time management skills
  • Our punishment techniques
  • Discussion of how we intend to interact with biological parents (if we are willing to attempt having a relationship with them)
  • Discussion about if we are willing to take the kiddos to supervised visits with the biological parents
  • Infertility issues

I wasn’t sure how to prepare for a home study interview, so I Googled it {haha!}.  However, our home study questions were a lot different than what I found online, so I hope this list helps get you thinking along the right track!  I would have liked to have a list like this.  The bottom line here is: answer honestly!  The social workers also really want to get to know you before they place kids in your home and this is your opportunity to let them get to know you.

Now, I’m going to toot my own horn {and the horn of our licensing social worker} for a few sentences.  If you can believe it, we actually had our home study complete in 2 visits instead of 3 or more.  AND! We will have done all of our training {36 hours}, home studies {2}, and paperwork {gobs} in 120 days–which is kind of unheard of.

{There is proof here that if you work hard for something you really want, you can achieve anything.}

THANK YOU to our licensing social worker who has worked so hard for us.  We could not have done this without her motivation and efficiency.  And most importantly, the fact that she was able to do this so quickly means we will be able to help more kids. 🙂

“Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

-C.S. Lewis-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Get it Straight: State Vs. Private Agency

Well, hello there! 😛

If you’ve been following along with my blog, I stated in the last post that I would be writing a post specifically to discuss the differences between working with county agencies and private foster agencies.  If this is the first post you’ve read, I encourage you to read the previous post entitled, ‘Making Sense of it All’ before reading this post, just so it makes a little more sense. {If you’re feeling wild, just jump right in!}

First things first, I need to make a correction.  I’ve been saying “County vs Private” since that is how it has been portrayed in our training.  However, it is really the state you go through, since the county agencies are governed by the state.  When you go through the county, you are ultimately going through the state.  This will make more sense later in this post. {I hope!}

David and I are going through a private agency to become licensed.  Since we have not had direct contact with the state, the information I have provided is based upon facts/research that I’ve had to dig up.  There isn’t a lot of information out there about this topic.  {And as always, please don’t hesitate to ask me questions and we will figure this out!}

The real goal here is to inform people that there are different paths you can take to become a licensed foster parent.  {I didn’t have a clue!}  Of course, like everything in life, there are also benefits and pitfalls to each.  That will be saved for a later post, once we are actually rowing the boat.

One route of becoming a licensed foster parent in the state of Ohio is to go through the state {county}.  The other route is through a private agency.  But you really can’t talk about one without talking about the other. {kind of like pie and ice cream!}

First, let’s break it down a bit. {hip hop hip to the hippity…}  The state of Ohio adoption/foster care is governed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services {ODJFS}.  Within the ODJFS, there are county public children service agencies {PCSAs} that are agencies that are specific to each county.  For example, Franklin county in Ohio has its own children services agency just for the residents of Franklin county.  This is also most commonly referred to as children’s services.  {Following our example, Franklin County Children’s Services}  All of these counties report to the state. Therefore, county and state are like 2 in 1.  {BOGO!}

Now that we understand the breakdown of the state, let’s talk about what their purpose is. If you remember my last post, I discussed how a referral is made to a social worker and that they determine through an investigation whether or not a child needs removed from their home.  This person is working for the county {state}, the public children service agency…the PCSAs!

If it is determined the child needs removed, the state takes over {after being awarded temporary custody} and attempts to place a child with family members.  If  the family cannot take the child, the state places them with a foster family.

The state foster agency’s goal is to place children in foster homes.  If the state has difficulty placing a child in a foster home {remember we talked about the fact that foster parents can accept or decline placements?}, the child’s case is moved off to a private agency.  The private agencies have more time and resources available to them to make placing kids more successful.  Case workers in private agencies typically have a lighter case load and have more time to make home visits {that is their goal!}.  Private agencies also tend to have a bigger budget available to them due to the generous donations of sponsors that they receive year-round.

So what makes a child difficult to place?

 

There are a lot of factors. Some foster families only want to foster young kids {newborn to toddler}.  However, these children are usually a lot easier for the state to place in foster homes.  The older the child gets, the more difficult it is to find a placement for them.

Other considerations are children with behavioral problems, diagnosed psychiatric disorders, special needs, medical needs, sexually abused children, and sibling groups. Since the agencies are required to provide full disclosure to the family prior to making the placement, a lot of families will decline a placement if they do not think they can meet the specific needs of the child.

Also, there are some foster families that cannot take on sibling groups.  Except for us!

Another very important fact is that no matter how you go about becoming a foster parent, the training is the same.  The training material is written by the state of Ohio (or whichever state you live in) and then given to all foster agencies to teach to prospective foster parents.

Just remember, the end-all goal remains the same.  {We do it for the kids!}