Saturday, September 27, 2014

CPS Purgatory AKA The Middle Is Maddening

In my post the other day, I mentioned the 6th circle of hell.  Today I'm talking about purgatory...maybe I should go dig out my highschool copy of Dante's Inferno.   Hey, nobody said this CPS stuff was easy, right?   And therein lies the purgatory element of this.  Just like souls in purgatory supposedly must rely on the intercession of others to get them out of it, over whom they have no control, we are stuck in the middle with a bunch of CPS people working (supposedly) to get this all wrapped up.  We have no control over them, the timeline, or the outcome.

Such is the life of a foster parent.

Enough with the poetic old literature.  Being in the middle is hard.  And we have been very aware of this middle phase lately.  At almost eight months into this case, we know a lot more than we did at the beginning, of course, but still don't have a clear picture of which way this will go as far as reunification vs termination of rights.  And now, eight months in, there's a new cast member that has entered the drama whose new involvement will delay things a bit.  CPS may request an extension of the case from the judge, which would push us past the February one year mark.  But we don't even know if that will happen.

On one hand we are rocking and rolling with these two sweet little ones, loving and living.  But on the other hand, every once in a while, we're reminded that we're in the middle.  Looking at family memberships to the zoo that last a year, I wonder if the kids will still be with us a year from now.   Sorting through some clothes their mom sent for Sister and putting away items that won't fit her until next summer, I wonder if we will be the ones to see her wear them.  Recalling cute shoes in the top of Brother's closet that are hand me downs from our nephew and still too big, I wonder if we'll see him grow into them.  At Brother's speech evaluation this week, the lady explained to me that their program only serves kids until age three but we can adapt his services as we go up until that point and I mentioned that we don't know if he'll be with us at age three, so we'll just have to see.

These moments tend to hit me like a ton of bricks honestly, but not for very long.  I'll get upset sometimes for a moment.  Every once in a while I need to burrow in my husband's arms and have a good cry.  But you know how we deal with this middle phase and all its unknowns?  We just continue to live life.  We'll buy the year long zoo pass.  We'll keep the 2T clothes and size 8 shoes accessible.  We'll begin speech therapy and just see where it goes.

We'll keep rocking and rolling and loving and living.  That's about all we can do at this point.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our Experience As Middle Class Foster Parents Navigating Low Income Systems

As I've mentioned before, sometimes being a foster parent puts us in weird situations.  One of those is the experience of dealing with systems and agencies that exist to serve the poor, even though we ourselves are a middle class couple who would not otherwise find ourselves in these situations but for our foster parent status.  I'll preface the reviews below with the statement that this is just our experience and others' experience may differ.  I also want to say that my comments about these programs and services do not stem from an arrogant, middle class, I-deserve-better-than-this attitude, but rather an overarching humans-deserve-better-than-this sadness.  Oof.  So here goes...

WIC: Where Inefficiency Reigns and Dignity Goes To Die
I hate the WIC office.  I do not throw around hate casually, but this place is like the 6th circle of hell.  Or whatever circle of hell makes you sit in a crowded waiting room in excess of two hours with small children who are bursting at the seams with boredom, hunger, tiredness, or all of the above, and therefore start tussling with other children in the room who are suffering from similar afflictions.

Here is what must be accomplished during a WIC certification or re-certification appointment, in order to receive your food benefits for your child:

-Five minutes with a WIC representative to fill out a few paperwork items
-Five minutes with a nutritionist to weigh and measure your child and prick their finger for an iron test
-Three minutes with the nutritionist again to go over the results and ask any questions
-Two minutes with the paperwork person again for wrap up and to get your updated WIC cards

How many minutes does that add up to?  Yeah, not many.  Remember I said above that this process takes over two hours.  Your "appointment" will be set for either 10:00 am or 1:00 pm on a certain day.  You show up and sign in, along with many other families, then go sit in the waiting room.  Twenty or thirty minutes passes in between each of the steps listed above and families are called in for each in no apparent order.  So, though I was among the first to show up a few weeks ago for Sister's "re-cert", I was literally the last to leave, over two hours later.  Each time a WIC employee comes to the waiting room door, you pray to the high heavens that they call your name, then sink back in your seat when they inevitably don't.  Oh, but when they do, it's like Christmas, until you remember you have a billion steps left in the grueling process.

So, why, you may ask, doesn't the WIC office simply schedule 15 minute actual appointment slots?  They run about 8 or 9 families through there in the terrible two hour span.  You do the math.  That works out to about 15 minutes each.  Well, perhaps they tried that at one point and realized that many low income folks don't keep appointments well, so they went to this current approach of "show up mid morning and we'll run you all through at some point before lunch in no logical order whatsoever."  Lucky for me, the only white woman in the waiting room, wearing lovely business casual clothing, I have a professional job with three weeks of vacation, two weeks of comp time and one week of sick time available to me each year, all of which I intentionally saved up for the express purpose of caring for these children.   But if I were actually a minimum wage earning individual that WIC mostly serves?  I would have just lost about a tenth of my pay for the week...

By the end of each of the two WIC appointments we have had, one with the whole family and one with just me and Sister after she turned one, I have left the building feeling utterly and completely defeated.  I was physically tired from wrestling a toddler for hours.  I was angry at the system for being so inefficient.  I was grasping at any shred of dignity I could find left at the moment after being crammed in a waiting room for so long with no regard given for my time, my obligations, or my child, whose day was very disrupted.  I found myself weighing the benefits we get from WIC against the crummy appointments necessary to obtain them.  My conclusion is that it is no longer worth it.  When Sister got seven cans of formula a month, that saved us over $100.  But now that she does not get (or need) formula since she turned one, her benefits match Brother's (milk, cheese, juice, cereal, fruit, veggies, eggs) and both their benefits combined save us about $30 per month.  Considering we're actually comfy middle class folks who find ourselves in some of these programs via our foster care status, and not from actual need...$30 per month is not worth it.  Not worth our time, our sanity or our dignity.  So when this hard earned round of benefits is up, we'll let them lapse.

But for the folks to whom $30 a month is huge...they have no choice.  They're stuck.

Medicaid: Accept Rejection
When the kids came to us, they were very sick, so we called up a random clinic the next day that the initial social worker mentioned takes Medicaid.   We got in right away but quickly realized the doctor we landed on was terrible.  Probably why we got in right away.  I'm not sure how this person keeps many patients for long.  After several weeks and many terrible appointments (the kids continued to get sick repeatedly in the beginning), Trent and I asked our own doctor if he could care for our kids.  "Sort of," he said. "I can see them for sick visits but cannot provide their well child checkups or their shots."  Kinda weird, but that's how his clinic was set up with foster kids' Medicaid status. Our first Medicaid hurdle.  At the time, we went for it.  Our kids kept getting sick and we needed to get away from the initial terrible doctor, stat.  Then our kids' birthdays came around and the need for checkups and some shots.  We realized that, as much as we love our doctor, we needed to settle in some place that could provide all we need.

So I began making calls to various clinics and doctors.  And with each call I wanted more and more to reach through the phone and punch someone...

"We do not accept Medicaid."

"We're not taking Medicaid patients at this time."

"We're not taking foster children at this time." (Ouch.)

So, after many calls and many dead ends, I decided to just call the Family Health Center, whose main purpose is to serve folks with Medicaid.

"We're not accepting new patients at this location."

For the love!!!  Can a foster kid get a doctor around here??  Thankfully, I had recently met a lovely woman at an adoptive/foster moms gathering who is a doctor at the FHC and my personal connection with her allowed us to bypass the clinic's current state of "sorry, bye bye" and get an appointment.  Finally!

Note: In case you are wondering, the kids must remain on Medicaid.  We cannot put them on our personal insurance in order to bypass these issues.  Until legally adopted, children in foster care are served by a certain division of Medicaid designated for them.

Making Appointments: Oh, You Have A Life?
My experience with making appointments in these systems has been...interesting...   You'd think the process of scheduling an upcoming appointment of any sort would naturally begin with a question such as "What day of the week would be good for you?" or "Would morning or afternoon work best?"  On the contrary, in these systems, the process of scheduling an upcoming appointment begins with "Your next appointment is on this date at this time."  WIC is especially bad at this.  At least the FHC followed the above statement with "Is that alright?"

This caught me majorly off guard at first.  I wasn't given time to consult my calendar. I was just handed my next time to show up.   I guess they assume low income people have no life, all they do is work...or not it doesn't make much difference when you tell them to come in.  Even so, at least give a person the dignity of being asked...

In Conclusion...
You have probably heard the phrase "If you build it, they will come."  I'd like to offer an alternate phrase: "If you crush them, they cannot rise."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eight Things Foster Parents Are Required To Have That Really Any Parents Should Have

1. Fire extinguisher
Foster parents are required to have a fire extinguisher in the home and have it inspected annually.  If a home is two stories, there must be one on each floor.   You don't have to be a parent for this one or the next two to apply, simply a homeowner.  Be careful of small fire extinguishers that can be purchased at home improvement stores.  We had one of those and when I took it to an actual fire and security business to get it inspected and tagged, they pointed out to me that it had already lost all pressure and would have been completely useless if we had needed it.  In fact, he told me, you may be buying one off the shelf that has already lost its pressure and is a dud.  That's pretty dumb.  Go ahead and spend the $60 or so to get the high quality extinguisher that you know you can rely on if you need it.

2. Smoke detectors
CPS requires foster homes to have a working smoke detector in every bedroom and hallway.  Let's be honest.  How many have we taken low batteries out of to get them to quit chirping at us and never put new ones back in, rendering them useless?  Newer built homes often have smoke detectors hard wired in to the home's electrical system and in all the right places, but if your house is older, might give them a look and buy some new batteries.  

3. Carbon monoxide detector
This only applies if you have gas appliances and/or a gas furnace.  It serves the same purpose as a smoke detector, except it picks up carbon monoxide to alert you to even the slightest gas leak.  We got one for $20 at a home improvement store that plugs into an outlet so we don't even have to mess with batteries.

4. CPR training
If your child started choking, would you know what to do?  If they had a severe allergic reaction and their body shut down?  Perhaps you have indeed had CPR training, but did it include training on infants and children?  There are different ways to respond in these scary situations depending on the age of the victim, so I believe it's very important for all parents to have CPR and First Aid training that includes infants and children.   Hospitals sometimes offer classes, community colleges may have continuing education programs, local Red Cross and even individual instructors who can come to your home to train you.

5. Escape plan
The fire department's inspection of a foster home includes making sure every room has an escape route to the outside, via door or window, or is directly attached to a room with an exit.  We also have to draw our floor plan and mark said exits on it.  An added level of this plan is to have an actual escape plan and meeting point outside the home.  If your home was on fire and you had to get out, could you actually get out of each room?  Does your family have a designated meeting point outside the home to count heads and know that if someone is missing, it's not because they happen to be safe, but on the other side of the house?  Have you coached your children, if old enough to understand, on what to do in case of a fire, what to do, where to go?  It's a scary subject to talk about, but should be talked about.

6. Medicine safety
Foster parents are required to have all medicines under lock and key, so we added a lock to one of our bathroom cabinets.  While non-foster parents may not feel the need to go to this extreme, they should at least keep all medicine well out of reach of children and safely contained.  We are also required to discard leftover medicine immediately after doses are complete (ex: your child finishes ten days of amoxicillin but there is still some left in the bottle), so there isn't unneeded or expired medicine hanging around.

7. Gun safety
If foster parents have any firearms in the home, they must be locked up in a safe, unloaded, and ammunition locked up separately.  We added a trigger lock for good measure, even though it's not required, and the keys to all are stored safely in our home.  This sure renders our shotgun pretty useless for home defense, but consider that if you can get to your firearms easily for home defense, your child can also likely get to them.  This could lead to an accident that could take the life of your child or others.  It has happened.  Why do you think CPS has such strict rules about it? And if you have coached your own children on gun safety, please consider that someone else's child visiting your home may not have the same knowledge or understanding.  We Texans are especially, uh, attached to our firearms.  But smart.

8. Behavioral Intervention training
Raise your hand if you received some kind of schooling, training or other equipping before you embarked on your current career. Now raise your hand if you have kids and have ever attended a parenting class.  Anybody?  Most parents set out boldly into parenthood with hardly a clue what they are doing.   And most of those parents muddle through and do fine.  But why not take advantage of some resources out there to enhance your parenting, make you feel that you have a plan, that you and your partner are united in your parenting approach, that people smarter than you have given you a tool box to pull from?   Foster parents are required to attend Behavioral Intervention training annually.  This topic deals with psychological development of children at various ages, how to connect with your child, different discipline and reward systems that could be used, the effect that trauma or certain life events can have on the child's development and behavior, etc.     A starting point for this topic that I would recommend is Karyn Purvis' book, The Connected Child, as well as her programs and resources out of Texas Christian University.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Letter To My Former Self

Dear little 17-year-old Anna Pie,

It is I...well, you...from a decade hence.  Hi.  How are you?  Actually I know how you are.  You're freaked out and lonely.  You're settling into a totally new life at a college with more people at it than your town, with a strange roommate, no car, no friends and no mama.  Deep breaths, little girl.  This is all "part of the journey", to sound cliche, though I know right now it kinda mostly sucks.  Rest assured, you'll get the chance to move across the bathroom to an Elle Woods genius of a sweet blondie roommate and some of the best friends of your life are out your dorm room door, to the left, way down at the end of the hall with the hair straighteners and brightly colored comforters. They hale from a land of cooler temperatures and something called snow. Too bad you're too shy right now to go meet them.  But you will, in time.

Oh, that cute reddish head guy you've noticed lately running one of the cameras in're gonna marry him.  Before you've even graduated from this place.  So there's that.  No biggee.  You won't actually get to meet him face to face until the beginning of next school year, when you have found the aforementioned friends and such, so carry on and how about have a misadventure with some short, dangerous, complicated young man in the meantime, mmk?

I have good news for you.  You have learned to trust your gut and act on it.  You are no longer quite as much of a pushover, though sometimes kind of a little bit, yeah, maybe.  You know how to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe.  You can hold your own in an argument and can be downright feisty on occasion.  And here's the kicker...sometimes you talk too much.  I know, right?!  Hard to believe.  It's like all the quiet from age 0 to 17 was stored up for later and now sometimes that cute reddish hair camera boy from chapel gives you a knowing look that says "omg, shush."  (Except he is a manly man and doesn't say things like "omg".  Also the reddish hair is all gone so don't get overly attached to it.)  Unfortunately, you are still scared to talk to strangers on the phone.  Not sure what to do about that one... Oh but hey! You can swallow pills now!

Ok sweetie, let's talk about God.  And church.  And this thing called faith and this somebody called Jesus.   I know right now you are "church shopping", which for your car-less self means getting a ride to whichever church you can each week.  You'll hop around, you'll settle in at one place for a while and then another.  Most people will be nice and most intentions good, but finding your true faith and true mission is a ways down the road yet. Hang in there.  In the meantime, you'll serve in roles that are great and roles that make you want to yell. Church will lift you up and bring you down. Your heart will be broken for, with and by others and, bless your heart, you'll struggle with a level of anger and confusion you never thought yourself capable of feeling.  But here's the thing...  Faith isn't about church.  It's just really, really not.  Faith is about doing what Jesus says and loving others with a fierce, active love that is blind to age, class, race, income, status, orientation, history or screw ups.  It's really quite simple.  Yet flippin' hard.  Go peek at Matthew 25.  File it away.  Because He is going to use those words to mash up your heart and stir it all around and spit it out in such a new form that you won't even recognize your old version of faith.

Oh, and about having kids and starting a family with the reddish head camera boy...first take everything you've ever known about the nice, normal, conventional ways to build a family, put those in a tupperware, tie a nice bow around it and throw it into the middle of IH-35 where it will be smashed up by an 18 wheeler.  Too graphic?  Ok, how about this: go ahead and put your ovaries on a shelf.   Just you wait, child.  I can't even tell you...I just can't even.  All that heart mashing and faith rewiring and courage growing will lead to the best and hardest thing you have ever done in your life.  And it will be awesome.  Trust me.

Ok bye.

27-year-old Anna Pie

P.S. This thing called Facebook is about to be invented.  It's cool, but don't let it take over your life.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Flashback to Highschool - Senior Year

Because it's Throwback Thursday and for some reason bloggin' is just not happenin' lately...

My school didn't have tryouts back then.  They begged any warm blooded student to be on the team so we'd have enough to play.  Basketball?  Sure, why not...  :-)

Youth group spring break ski trip, me and my sis Katy.

Senior trip to NYC.

Yup, that's my entire highschool class.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The "We Have Bigger Fish To Fry" Mentality In Foster Care

I now follow this blogger, another foster parent in the trenches of loving fully in the midst of hurt and hard.  She recently wrote this post, which resonated so much with me:

I think it's safe to say that most parents would agree that talking about Santa, and whether or not he truly exists, should be a pretty big conversation.  It's just one of those things that all parents will have to face at some point. 

That moment happened for us this week.

And it should've been a big deal, but it fell third in line behind: No one loves me and Really, really bad things have happened to me. 

This family's "Get in line, Santa" story is an example of what I have come to refer to as the "Bigger Fish To Fry" mentality in foster care.  Otherwise basic parenting tasks or responsibilities may take a back seat to very serious issues that need to be dealt with.   Simple childhood joys or discoveries may be overshadowed by the aftermath of a terrible situation.  Conversations that perhaps should be a big deal just aren't because messy stuff has taken the spotlight.

Some further examples:

Before we were even licensed, I was talking to a coworker about some of the issues that children in foster care face.  Somehow the topic of food issues came up and the coworker asked how we would handle that.  I said "If we get a child who will only eat McDonald's chicken nuggets then by golly, we'll buy stock in McDonald's."   The bigger fish to fry is that we'd just need to get the kid to eat something, even if unbalanced and not that healthy.  The otherwise normal task that gets lost is that of helping a child learn to eat vegetables, grains, know they can count on their next meal showing up, etc.

Another coworker recently asked me if Brother has been potty trained since he just turned two.  My response boiled down to "Oh hale no."  You see, we're still so busy figuring out how to be parents to these two particular kids, toting them to parent visits and appointments, social worker and attorney visits, etc.  The bigger fish to fry is all the STUFF we have to do besides just parent and the task that gets lost is, well, yeah, I think age two is about the right time to start potty training.   (We're still not going to yet.)

The things we deal with are pretty mild because our kids are so young and they experienced very little trauma in comparison to many other cases.   But a lot of foster situations could have even bigger fish to fry than this...

There's not room in the weekly schedule for a child to be on a baseball team because their time is taken up with speech therapy, counseling and special tutoring to help them recover from the abuse they have experienced.

Foster parents who should otherwise be playing happily on a trampoline with an eight year old are instead disciplining and coaching on appropriate language to use and why it is not ok to say the F word, the S word, the B word.

A foster daddy and daughter who should otherwise be playing tea party in her room cannot be alone together because she will start making sexual advances towards him.

You get the idea...

Part of the foster parents' job is to bring back the little fish.  It may take time to build trust, skills, appropriate understanding.  It may take strategic massaging of a weekly schedule.  It will for sure take the foster parent bearing the brunt of bad news and changing situations.  But part of our job is to instill a sense of childhood back into these children that was stripped away when "nobody loves me" and "people in my life have hurt me" entered the scene.  

So, here's to the bigger fish to fry...may you be dealt with appropriately and as needed, but not so much that you take. over. everything.

And here's to the little fish...the tea parties and trampolines and vegetables...may you find a way to the surface too.

And here's to all the foster parents holding the deep fryer...may you have wisdom and discernment, stamina and grace.