Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 New Year's Resolution Update AND We Are Licensed!

You may remember from this post that my/our new year's resolution at the beginning of 2013 was to listen, answer and trust.  Here's my habitual end-of-year update on how all that went.

We began 2013 with a lot of question marks.  Our initial efforts to become foster parents had come to a screeching halt, leaving us frustrated and trying to discern if it was just a detour or if we were on the wrong path altogether.  Trent was beginning to feel the pull to attend seminary, but what did that mean for his already full two-job schedule, for our church involvement, for our kids?

So we prayed.

We talked to each other.

We talked to mentors.

We tried our best to listen, answer and trust.


We continued to pursue foster care, this time through Texas DFPS.

We said see ya around to our kids and Trent exited his youth ministry position at church.

We stepped away from our church of six years and into a new one.

We sent Trent across town to his first semester of seminary.

So here we are at the end of 2013.  It was a year of big changes, big tears and big smiles. And what better way to close it out than notification from our social worker this morning that we are officially licensed foster/adopt parents!   We have a meeting with her Monday morning. After that she will put us on the vacancy list and we could get a call for a placement any time.

This is getting real folks!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Books I Read In 2013 aka The List That Will Probably Never Be This Long Ever Again

I hereby present to you the books I read in 2013.  Somehow there are a ton of them, 24 to be precise.  What?! I'm not sure how that happened.  I promise you, here on the eve of parenthood, that this list will probably never ever be this long again...ever.  Ok maybe when we are empty nesters.  Nah, I'll be too busy riding my own motorcycle then.  Without further ado, here is my list, along with a few comments if deserved:

Leading Up by Joel Maynard

Radical by David Platt (Paperback conviction on a shelf.  This guy and I could be buds.)

Tess of The d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (Four words: double standards, stupid men.)

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (ok maybe this doesn't count since it's so short)

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (A re-read, always a fave.)

All She Ever Wanted by Lynn Austin (She's done it again. Seriously, go read Lynn Austin's books immediately if not sooner)

Persuasion by Jane Austen

A Return To Modesty by Wendy Shalit

The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis (This will become a user guide once we begin caring for kids.)

A Voice In The Wind by Francine Rivers

Echo In The Darkness by Francine Rivers

The Shack by William P. Young  (Whoa. Heavy.)

Bossypants by Tina Fey (And then I went on a random comedy reading stint...)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (I want to hang out with her...)

Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (Great stuff Shane, but where does that leave us middle class families who can't really pick up and live the nomad servant life in the ghetto of Philly? Or can we?)

The Girls' Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Bank (So, so weird and useless. I do not recommend.)

Overextended...And Loving Most Of It: The Unexpected Joy Of Being Harried, Heartbroken And Hurling Oneself Off Of Cliffs by Lisa Harper  (Potential to be a super book, but apparently she was too overextended and harried to put good cohesive thoughts and chapters together.)

True Believer by Nicholas Sparks (Dear Mr. Sparks, you are ridiculous. Love always, Not A Fan)

At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks (I laughed through the parts where I know I was supposed to cry.)

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker  (She is brave.)

Jesus Feminist: Exploring God's Radical Notion That Women Are People Too by Sarah Bessey (Ya think?)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell (Oh my.  I'm gonna go sit in the corner and sing Jesus Loves Me.)

Barefoot Church: Serving The Least In A Consumer Culture by Brandon Hatmaker (The sadly radical idea of actually being the church instead of just going to church and consuming church.)

All Things New by Lynn Austin (After careening through various angsty Christian authors, I decided to end the year with some amazing fiction and Lynn Austin, as usual, did not disappoint.)

The end.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh Hi There, Remember Me?

Bear with me for a moment while I wipe the dust off this blog...ok, that's better.

Hi.  It's been a while.  Where have I been, you ask?  Oh, just all over the state of Texas.  December turned a lil bit crazytown, but it's been good.  We closed out Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium in 24 degree weather and were stoked to watch our Bears beat the Longhorns and become Big 12 Champions in the last game in this memory filled stadium.

We headed to my hometown for Christmas with my family out at the ranch.

Insert a trip to Dallas for a work seminar, then over to Fort Worth to meet with the Area Youth Minister about the camp Trent and I are directing in May.  A few days later, we headed to San Antonio and got Sarah all graduated from Trinity University. 

What a beauty!

Then yesterday we packed up the Rex and headed up to northeast Texas for Christmas with Trent's family.

So far we've had a relaxing day and majorly beat up on a rootbeer can with a twenty two.

I'm gonna zone in on family and Christmas happenings for the next couple days, but I'll be back with more regular posts soon.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

CPS Nuts & Bolts - People Involved

I started to write one GIANT post containing a bunch of topics related to the nuts and bolts of a CPS case and what kind of situations we are heading into as foster parents, but I decided to break it up into several smaller posts so I don't have to promise any more imaginary cookies to the folks that read all the way to bottom of said giant post, like I did in this one.

That was a long sentence...

Anyway, here are some of the many, many people involved in a CPS case:

Birth parent(s) - biological parents, presumed perpetrators of the abuse or neglect that triggered the case
Child(ren) - victims of the abuse or neglect that triggered the case
CPS Investigative Team - CPS responders and social workers who conduct the initial investigation, not necessarily the social workers who will then remain on the case for its duration
Kin - grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.
Fictive Kin - adults who know the child and are "practically family" yet are not related by blood
Foster Parents - individuals or couples licensed by the state to provide 24 hour care to children in foster care (that's us!)
Judge - county judge who oversees court hearings and finalizes decisions for either reunification or termination of parental rights
Attorney Ad Litem - attorney who represents the child(ren) in the case and makes recommendations to the court according to what is in the best interest of the child, assigned by the state
Attorney for birth parent(s) - attorney who represents the birth parents and their right to parent their children, if appropriate, either assigned by the state or hired privately
State of Texas as Managing Conservator - for the duration of time that a child is in foster care or kinship care, the state acts as Managing Conservator, or legal guardian, for that child
CPS Conservatorship Supervisor - a social worker who takes care of the parents' side of the case, provides them with their "service plan" that they must complete in order to have their kids come home, monitors their progress on their plan, arranges their allowable visits with their child(ren), prohibits visits when the parent is unsuitable for them (i.e. drunk, high...), gives them plenty of fair warnings of the possible consequences if they are not cooperating with their plan
Child's caseworker - a social worker assigned to the child's case, checks up on them at least monthly in the foster home, talks with child and foster parents about how the child is doing, provides information to attorneys and advocates for purposes of court decisions
FAD Worker - Foster and Adoptive Home Development Worker, a social worker who trains, supports and advises foster and adoptive parents
CASA Volunteer - Court Appointed Special Advocate, a trained volunteer who serves as mentor, confidante and friend to a specific child in foster care for the duration of the case and advocates for the best interests of the child

That's a lot of players, amiright?  We were assured repeatedly during our training that foster parents are a majorly valued part of the team, which we were glad to hear.  We got to meet and hear from some of these players during our training, including an attorney ad litem, a conservatorship supervisor and some veteran foster parents.

One question we were asked during our home study was "How well will you work with the team of people involved in these cases? Some people have issues with different people coming into their home, telling them how to do things, etc."   We responded with "Bring it on, we don't really know what we're doing yet, so we'll take all the help we can get!"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Being Married To Your Best Friend

It's realizing too late that you just emptied a dishwasher of not-yet-actually-washed dishes because you were lost in conversation.

It's wandering through toy aisles at Target together, happily daydreaming about future kiddos, but scared to death also.

It's repeatedly renewing efforts to not eat out as much.

It's chatting about each others' day while laying backwards on the bed, because no moms are there to tell you to get your feet off the pillows.

It's facing the sometimes hard, annoying and stressful adventure of adulthood together, including cracked windshields and credit card fraud.

It's lengthy discussions about this messed up world and how to try to fix it.

It's inside jokes, secret codes and knowing looks.

It's sweeping up the trail of needles from the live Christmas tree that you just fetched together and hauled home.

It's using rock-paper-scissors to see who says the blessing at mealtimes.

It's cereal parties in the evening and impromptu ice cream trips even later.

It's ridiculous fits of laughter that neither can contain and neither wants to.

It's arguments and tears, leaves to rake and laundry to fold.

It's a thousand times "thank you for marrying me" and a million times "I love you".

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wait A Minute, Don't Foster Parents Get Money?

About a month into our decision to pursue foster care, I distinctly remember standing in my office breakroom pouring myself a cup of coffee when I thought "Huh, wait a minute, don't foster parents get money or something?"

About a month and a half into our decision to pursue foster care, I saved this blank blog post draft with the above title.

About fourteen months into our decision to pursue foster care, I'm finally getting around to writing this post about foster care reimbursements and subsidies.

Money wasn't part of our original decision.  We didn't even realize/remember until weeks later that it was even available.  And therefore, it wasn't at the top of my priority list of things to blog about.  But in the interest of information and transparency, here are some topics related to the financial side of foster care.  Please keep in mind that these policies apply to the state of Texas and may be different or not present in other states.  Also, these policies and laws may change over time but are current as of the date of this blog post.

Monthly Reimbursement
Foster parents receive a monthly reimbursement for each child in their care and it is exactly that: a reimbursement.  It is not a paycheck for the foster parents' time and effort.  It is a payment from the state that is intended to help cover the cost of clothes, diapers, food, supplies, toys and activities for the children in care.  It is for the child.  And it truly is a reimbursement, beginning after the end of the first month the child is in care.  It is set at a standardized rate per day, per child based on the level of needs of the child.  You can view the current rates by clicking here.

A note about these "service levels": each child's case is given a level of basic, moderate, specialized or intense.  This is not an attempt to label a child and fit them into some kind of cookie cutter mold, but rather an attempt to make sure that children with varying levels of need are sufficiently getting those needs met.  A child who is doing really well given whatever circumstances occurred to bring him or her into foster care would be in the basic care category.  However, a child who has major behavior, social, mental or medical issues will need a higher level of care, skill and resources, hence the incremental reimbursement scale.

According to that page, we as a foster family will be reimbursed $23.10 per day, per child, for the basic care level.  We do not have to keep receipts or show how much of our grocery bill was for the child and how much for the rest of the household.  Nothing like that.  The payment is made at a standard rate regardless.  The social workers have other ways to tell if foster parents are truly providing for the child or are just cashing in on the reimbursement for themselves and neglecting the needs of the child, which sadly does happen (see the last section of this post).

Daycare Subsidy
Foster parents are not expected to have a stay at home parent and in fact, most do not.  For foster families where both parents work full time, the state provides a daycare subsidy that covers the cost of daycare at a state licensed daycare center which is approved to take the Childcare Services (CCS) payments.  Unlike the reimbursement described above which is paid to the foster parent to reimburse prior costs, this daycare subsidy is paid directly to the childcare center and the foster parents never touch it.  In some cases, the daycare's actual fees may be greater than the CCS payment amount, so foster parents may have to make up the difference.

We're not entirely sure if we will qualify for this daycare subsidy since Trent technically works part time, but if you look at school plus work, he is gone from home full time.   We've been told by an 11 year veteran foster mom "His school will count as his work too" and "You'll get it."  We've been told by the director of the daycare we have picked out that in her years of experience caring for foster children at her daycare, she "has never had one that didn't get the subsidy".   So we'll see.  If we are not eligible for the subsidy, no biggee.  We can swing it on our own.  Remember, money wasn't part of our original decision.

Regardless, we have picked out what appears to be a stellar childcare center which is a 4 star Texas Rising Star center. The director is a licensed social worker who has had many children attend there who have been in foster care, including those of the veteran foster mom I mentioned above who gave us her thumbs up for the place.  The center is obviously set up to take CCS payments and the director told us that for foster parents, if there is a difference between their fees and what CCS pays, the foster parents do not have to make up the difference.   Class sizes are kept intentionally small at all times so that allows them to work well with our unknown time frame, making it possible for us to call her up and say "just got a placement" and her to say "come on over."  Win!

WIC Program
WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children and is part of the Texas Department Of State Health Services.  It provides nutrition/health education and nutritious food items, including baby food, to low income pregnant women and new mothers.  Foster parents are eligible for this program as well and can either go to a local WIC location to pick up items for an infant or young child in their care, or can receive a WIC card for use at the grocery store on eligible items.  Next time you are shopping, look for labels next to things like cheese, eggs, milk and baby food that say "WIC item".  This is what that means.  Learn something new every day huh?

Health Insurance
Foster children receive health insurance coverage through STAR Health which is a division of Medicaid.  Foster parents must take children in their care to health providers that accept STAR Health. This includes other health services such as therapy and counseling.  Besides incidental First Aid type care at home (bandaids, lots of bandaids, we've been told), foster parents don't have to cover medical costs out of pocket and are not allowed to place a foster child on their own private insurance plan.

Once A Child Is Adopted
This sounds like a lot of help available to the foster parents, huh?  No kidding, we think so too.  Once a child is adopted from foster care, these services come to a halt, with some exceptions.  For certain adoption situations, "adoption assistance" payments may continue but these situations involve pretty specific criteria related to age of the child when adopted, whether the child is a minority, and whether special needs are present.  Otherwise, an adopted child is viewed by the state no differently than a biological child. No monthly reimbursement, no daycare subsidy, no WIC, and have to put them on the family's own health insurance.  But that's to be expected right?  Who wouldn't give a child who is now their own child the dignity of being provided for no differently than a biological child would be?  One more note on the adoption itself: there is no fee to the adoptive parents for adoption of a child through foster care, whether through a foster-to-adopt situation or a waiting child situation.

Possible Free College Tuition To A State School
IF a child's adoption fits into the adoption assistance criteria mentioned above, free college tuition to a Texas state supported college or university is available to them. This also applies universally to children that age out of foster care (turn age 18) without being adopted, which sadly happens a lot.

Yes, Some Foster Parents Abuse The System
I bet if you already knew about the financial side of foster care it's probably because a) you know me in real life and I have told you about it, b) you are interested in foster care yourself and have learned about it or c) you heard about it in the news from a case where foster parents abused or took advantage of it.  It happens.  Sadly, it happens a lot.  Stories of foster families whose biological kids got to eat steak and potatoes and cake with the parents while the foster kids sat at a different table and were given ramen noodles.  Stories of foster families whose biological kids got brand new clothes from Holister and the foster kids got clothes from the thrift store that were worn out or didn't fit.

The good news is that if these stories have made it to the news then those foster parents' licenses have made it to the trash.  The bad news is that these stories give foster parents a bad rap.  Since the negative stories are what make it to the newspaper or tv, it makes it look like foster parents are just "in it for the paycheck".

Here's my news story to try to counteract the bad ones.  Any financial benefits in place are for the benefit of the child and are there to assist the foster parents in being better able to care for the child.  There are many quality, caring foster parents out there and many foster care success stories of reunification or adoption.  They don't make the news, but they're out there, trust me.

Anyone who actually read through this whole thing to the bottom gets an imaginary cookie.