Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Inevitable Hurt In Foster Care And Why It's Worth It

Conversation with someone I had just been introduced to, after it was mentioned that we are foster parents to two little ones:

Her:  Are you able to adopt them?
Me:  Well, we are dual licensed as foster-to-adopt, so we can if it goes that way.
Her:  Do you know yet if you will be able to?
Me:  No, it's still too early in their case to tell.
Her:  So you must really be keeping your hearts in check.
Me:  No we fell head over heels long ago. We love these kids like crazy.

I don't really understand the common misconception that foster parents are not supposed to love if they are supposed to love just enough to cover logistics and amenities, but that's about if there is a certain identifiable tipping point where you go from simply providing care to wholly offering if there's a way to know where that point is and slowly back away from it if you realize you are getting too close.

"Oops, I feel some love for this child, better squelch that right away."


I do understand why people say things like this lady did, about "keeping hearts in check", "not getting too attached", "fill-in-the-blank foster care buzz phrase about kids going home".  Because there's a big chance for hurt in all this and people tend to avoid hurt at all costs.  So I guess folks think there's a way to guard your heart against that hurt, to invite children into your home but leave up a wall between you and them, so that when/if they are reunified with their family, it won't hurt you so bad.

Who is prioritized first in that scenario?  You.

Who comes second in that scenario?  The child.

It needs to be the other way around.  The child needs to come first.  The child needs to be loved and cared for wholeheartedly.   The child, who has faced walls maybe his whole life so far, needs an open door and open arms full of unbridled love, not another wall.

Because she is a child.  And we are adults.

Because he struggles with basic life tasks.  And we have it all together.

Because she has nothing but the clothes she's wearing.  And we have everything we could ever need.

Because his life so far has been nothing but hard.  And our life so far has been easy.

She has been hungry.  He has been beaten.  She has been violated.  He has been abandoned.  She has been taken away from the only parents she has ever known.   And we as comfortable adults are worried about ourselves being hurt?   

It's worth it.  These children are worth it.  Worth the pain and the hurt and the inconveniences and the unknowns.

When their sunken, shallow eyes brighten's worth it.

When their thin hair, dull from under-nutrition, fills out and's worth it.

When the nightmares stop and sleep is's worth it.

When tiny screams cease as drugs withdraw from a tiny's worth it.

When they pass their math class instead of's worth it.

When they blow kisses and sing-song "la la love yooou"'s worth it.

When they cling to you through their tears of confusion and's worth it.

We can provide a safe place amidst danger.  We can provide hugs and smiles where there were none at all.  We can draw out talent and skill and ability that was never given a nod.  We can chip away at a beaten down spirit with self-esteem and worth.  We can open our arms and hold tight when there is nothing else to do in the face of anguish.

Can we put ourselves aside for just a moment, take the focus off our own comfort just for a time, and consider the needs of these children instead?  Can we stand up as mature adults and be willing to risk a little hurt in our lives in order to alleviate a lot of hurt for these innocent young ones?

Can we go so far as to pledge that we will welcome some hurt and pain into our lives, that we will jump head first into this crazy system, that we will stoop down and carry another's cross, even for an unknown time, even while knowing that the result might bury us in sadness and break our hearts to bits?

Can we? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

May Is National Foster Care Month

Did you know May is National Foster Care Month?   Or I guess I should say was, since the month is almost over.  Though I don't have some stellar series of posts for the month like some bloggers out there, I thought I would toss out there some stats, facts and numbers about foster care and adoption through CPS, for our county, the state of Texas and the nation.

Kids removed from Texas homes during 2013:

Kids in DFPS conservatorship (the state of Texas as their legal guardian) at the end of 2013:
Texas   27,924
McLennan County   564

Licensed foster homes:
Texas   10,285
McLennan County   84

Average number of placements, i.e. number of times a child moves among foster homes, for cases resulting in:
Reunification 1.9
Adoption by non-relative 3.0
Emancipation ("aging out" at 18) 6.9

Results of exit from DFSP conservatorship in 2013:
Reunification              5,647  32.4%
Custody to relatives   4,908  28.10%
Relative Adoption      2,676  15.3%
Non-relative Adoption 2,688  15.4%
Emancipated               1,328  7.6%
Other                           198  1.1%

Source for Texas data

Children in foster care in the US in 2012:  397,091

Kids who aged out of the system in the US in 2013 without permanent homes or families: 23,439

Kids in the US in 2012 waiting to be adopted: 101,569

Kids in Texas in 2012 waiting to be adopted:  13,147

To help this sink in, click here to see photos of children in Texas waiting to be adopted.   Did you click on it?  Keep scrolling, keep scrolling.  That's a lot of kids huh?  To bring it a little closer to home for those of you who live near me, click here to see a similar site for Central Texas alone.  Proceed with caution, major heart string tugging is bound to occur.

As this blogger said "These are not just numbers. These are children.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Forgetful People Should Not Be Foster Parents

Ok, yes they should be, because they're needed.  But they'll need a lot of post-it notes, phone reminders and writing on the back of their hand.

I present to you a smattering of the many things to remember as foster parents...

1. Medicine logs
If I never saw another bottle of Amoxicillin again, I would be juuuust fine with that.   "Attached is Sister's medicine log from recent round of antibiotic for ear infection."   "Attached is Brother's log for recent round of antibiotic for strep."  "Attached is Brother's med log for antibiotic for unknown swollen, purple ear." (See #6 below)  "Attached is Sister's medicine log for chest congestion."   Etc, etc.

2. CCS daycare subsidy check in and out
Swipe card, enter PIN, previous check-in, enter date, enter time, enter AM, enter 01 for Brother, enter 02 for Sister, Submit.  Swipe card, enter PIN, checkout, enter 01, enter 02, done.   Now, did I do this yesterday.........

3. Form to fill out at doctor checkups
"Dear Social Worker, attached is the form for Sister's 9 month checkup.  If it appears crinkly and soggy looking, that's because it is.  I had to dart into the house in the rain and fetch the form out of our binder on my way to get Sister from daycare for her appointment."

4. Kids' social worker's monthly visits at our house
"OMG, Katy, the kids' social worker is coming at 5:00 today!"
"I'm on it."
This means coming home at 4:55 with kiddos to a lovely, clean house.  Saved by the sister.

5. Our FAD worker's monthly visits at our house
"Katy, our social worker is coming at 7:30 tomorrow morning, in case you prefer not to come out of your room in pajamas."

6. Updating social worker and lawyer if anything serious, or anything that could be misconstrued as serious, happens
Gist of email to social worker and kids' attorney: "Attached is a picture of Brother's ear, as of 6 pm yesterday evening.  Daycare found it to be swollen and purple at 3 pm.  Neither daycare, nor doctor, nor us knows what caused it, but he got antibiotics to treat or prevent infection and we are monitoring it closely.  I have also attached a completed incident report."  

Translation: "Though we have no explanation for why his ear looks like this, we did not hurt this child and are letting you know in real time that we are covering our bases to ensure he is ok and therefore also covering our own booty."

7. Diaper bag on Mondays for parent visits, in addition to daycare bags and bags of diapers for the week, but only if social worker is transporting to visit, otherwise diaper bag needs to go in my car for me to transport with them...
Text to social worker: "Slight whoopsie in the morning bustle and the tan diaper bag did not get left at daycare for you.  Trent is going to take it to the CPS office before 9:00.  So please look for that at your office, not at the daycare. Sorry!"

8. Outlet covers, locked medicine cabinet, cleaning supplies out of reach
Because Residential Childcare Licensing (RCCL) could come at any time to scope us out for these and other technicalities.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Happy 6th Anniversary

Last year for our anniversary, we spent 3 days at a cabin on a lake.

This year for our anniversary, we spent 30 minutes at a frozen yogurt joint while my sister stayed home with the kids.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, May 16, 2014

She Smiles In Her Sleep

Can I brag about our baby girl for a minute?   K, thanks.

She has comes leaps and bounds just in this past month and a half.  I am so, so proud of her.  You see, she turned 6 months right after she came to us.  The night the kids arrived at our house, I was trying to sign a bazillion documents with my right hand while holding Sister on my lap with my left.  The social worker that brought them said "You can put her down if that's easier."  I got a quilt and put it on the floor by the table, set her down to sit and play a bit and...she fell over and bonked her head on the floor.  I felt really bad and thought "well that's a bad first impression in front of the social worker" and also "I really thought 6 month old babies could sit up."

We took her to her 6 month checkup at age 7 months, after we got our act together and also after she got well from being rather sick when they came to us.  Even a month after when she should have had the checkup, my answers to the nurse's 6 month questions were almost all "no, she's not doing that yet."

Is she sitting up?

Rolling over?
Almost, but not really

Trying to crawl or getting on all fours and rocking back and forth?
Nope, not at all

Holds her bottle by herself?

Eating baby food?
Nu-uh, makes her gag and throw up.

Sleeps through the night?
Haha, funny joke.

Recognizes her name?

Ask me any of those same questions now and the answer is "Yes, with flying colors."  The change in her and the amount of catching up she has done recently is amazing to me and I'm so proud of her.

I stressed a little during the catch-up time, not gonna lie. It just seemed to come up in conversation a whole lot, everything she was not doing yet.  And the not sleeping through the night part of it of course took a bit of a toll on me, as I racked up the hours spent in her room awake when I would have otherwise been in my bed asleep.  But even then, except for a couple mini breakdowns during a few especially sleepless spans of nights, it wasn't a big deal.   Her not sleeping through the night was somehow not at all on the top of my worry list.   I think there's one main reason for that.

She smiles in her sleep.

When I've just rocked her to sleep, either for the first time of the night or the fourth, and she's laying there in my arms, comfy and safe, and I'm staring at her little face and humming "Jesus Loves You" for the umpteenth time...she smiles.

Not always, but often.

Not for long, but enough to notice.

These sleepy smiles are gold to me.  They let me know that she is happy. They let me know that she needed me in that moment to help her get back to sleep and therefore there is no other place I'd rather be, not even my own bed.  They make my heart burst with joy and make me realize the honor and privilege of caring for this sweet little life, even just for a time.

They remind me why we are doing this.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My First Mother's Day

Today has been good.

And today has been a challenge. 

I have been celebrated as a mother.

And I have traced my children's hand prints onto a Mother's Day card for them to give to their mom at their visit tomorrow. 

This is my first Mother's Day and I am spending it with precious Brother and Sister.  

This is her second Mother's Day and she is spending it without them.  

Next year on this day, it might be the other way around.

So, I will pray for them and I will pray for her.  And I will hold her children close, her children that made me a mother.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Parenting Is A Sacrificial Time Of Life AKA Bye Bye Hairdo

You may remember this post (probably not) from 2.5 years ago, in which my mom told me flat out that parenting is a sacrificial time of life and you just have to be selfless.  When you are caring for the needs of another little human or two (or five, in her case), sometimes your own needs just have to take a back burner.

Thursday afternoon I found myself pouting and being selfish rather than selfless.  Like legitimately throwing a silent toddler fit inside.  

About my hair.   

You see, I finally made an appointment to chop off my scraggly long-ish hair that I had been wanting gone since March.  I decided to take real time off for an appointment and fork over real money for a real haircut this time instead of getting a $12 chop job on a lunch break.  I was in love with the results and the prospect of going about the rest of my day looking stylish and put together.

Then I left work a little later to pick up Sister from daycare and take her to her 9 month checkup.  In the rain. No, not just rain, but rather a downpour of epic proportions.  (I put a blanket over the car seat. Sister remained safe and dry in there.) 

Not only did my styled hair immediately flop but it turned into a soggy, sad mess of hair product and frizz.  The lovely turned-under ends flipped all different which ways, the part decided to part ways with its logical location and the volume that the hairdresser somehow found flew away along with my glee. 

After returning a healthy 9 month old to daycare, I returned myself to my office looking a mess.

And I was sad.  Weirdly, noticeably, selfishly sad.  Quite frankly, I was mourning the loss of my expensive hairdo.  I kind of wanted to shake my fist in the general direction of parenting and holler "I just wanted to have one nice thing for myself for a few hours!"   But newsflash, toting a baby car seat through the rain will indeed fry your froofy expensive hairdo.  

And it's ok.  I got over it.  It stopped raining long enough for me to get both kids home from daycare later without us all getting soaked.  I threw my sad hair into a stubby ponytail when we got home.  I'll file this one under "Sigh...oh well" along with throw up on my Converse, snot on my shoulder and peanut butter in my watch band.  

It happens.  It's all good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

In Which I Get A Lil Bit Annoyed With CPS

So, we got this email from our social worker last Friday:

I wanted to inform you that there has been a recent policy change regarding background checks and training on babysitters.  If you have someone that provides babysitting in your home, unsupervised, they will need to complete a background check statement, FBI fingerprints, and CPR/First Aid Training. If they are babysitting outside of your home, at this time they will only need the CPS and DPS checks that have normally been done after submitting a background check statements. Frequent visitors still need to complete a background check statement like normal.

In the future, homes that are out of compliance with this new policy will receive a violation and/or cited.  I realize that this change may make some of you unhappy by limiting potential babysitters and I apologize for that in advance. Thank you for being great parents and I enjoy working with you all.


Getting this message wouldn't have been such a big deal if it hadn't popped up in my inbox while I was already trying to field texts and emails from the kids' social worker and lawyer about Brother's mysteriously swollen, purple ear that neither us nor daycare could explain last week (fall? kid bite? bug bite?), while at the Chamber of Commerce golf tournament, where I was supposed to be schmoozing and boozing at my firm's sponsored 7th hole instead of hanging over my smartphone.  

But anyway. 

CPR and FBI fingerprints for our babysitters, eh?  My reply via email boiled down to "ma'am, yes ma'am" but my reply in my head was more like "Grumble grumble grumble grumble." 

I understand that this policy is in place to protect the children and make sure they are getting adequate care.  I understand that this is not about us or our convenience.  But, man!  This'll be a hassle and this'll be expensive. Fingerprinting is $42 and the cheapest CPR I've found is $35. No way are we going to ask our babysitters to cover that.  A smart friend with whom I was texting/complaining reminded me that the kids' reimbursement money could cover it. Duh.

So I'm giving names to our social worker to put in the system so our people can make their appointment to get their fingers rolled.  I'm looking for a CPR trainer that could come to our house and maybe we round up our babysitters and some pizza and just have a CPR training party to knock it out all together.

And I have arranged for our babysitting needs for the next few weeks to be covered by appropriately background checked people outside our home.  Leave it to the tax accountant to look for the loophole...


Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Day I Denied These Kids Were "Really Ours"

I have a coworker in another department at my firm whose family is sort of in the process of adopting.  And when I say that, I mean they have gone down about three different roads to international adoption and have run into complete roadblocks each time and put thousands of dollars on the table that they can't get back now.  We've talked some about the process, what Trent and I are doing, etc.  They are wondering what other options are out there for bringing another child into their family.

A little while after Brother and Sister came to us, I ran into this coworker in the breakroom at work.

Him: So, what agency did you get your kids through?
Me: CPS, but they're not really our kids, just so you know.  

He kindly waved off my backpedaling after I realized what I had said.

You see, we had (and still have) so many people misunderstanding our situation and thinking these kids are suddenly ours forever, though that's just not known yet.    I just wanted to be clear.  I didn't know what he knew or what he assumed about our situation.  I knew he was asking as a means to get information about this other avenue of adopting through CPS, for his family personally, so I...I just wanted to be clear.   Kids through CPS can't really suddenly become yours forever.   Even folks coming in as adopt-only parents have a 6 month stretch where the state is still managing conservator (a mouthful that means legal guardian) of that child before the adoption can be finalized.

I felt rotten the rest of that day.  Rotten, I tell you. 

I had denied these two wonderful children identification as "our kids" to someone that already did understand our situation and didn't need clarification.  Even if he had, I could have gotten the same point across in a much kinder and less abrupt way.  I felt like I needed to go over to the daycare and hug Brother and Sister and apologize and tell them "You are my child. Though I did not give birth to you and you may not stay with us forever, you are my child.  I claim you.  I love you."

I will never deny them again.  If people misunderstand, let them.  If conversation turns toward the ins and outs and nitty gritty of our actual situation and I can logically and truthfully fill them in on how all this works, super.  But I will never, ever again say that these kids are not really ours.