Grief can be OK

People often say that they could never foster or adopt from foster care because it would hurt too much if the children returned home.

Why are we so afraid of grief?

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Ok. I know what you’re thinking. Grief hurts. And you’re right. My 11-year-old and 9-year-old foster children have just left after living with us for 15 months. It hurts a lot.

If you look back in this blog, you’ll see that there were many times we thought we might be in a position to adopt these children.

Now they are gone.

My heart breaks when I look at Watchful’s favorite spot on our sofa and see an empty place.

I start bawling when I discover Joyful’s sock somehow mixed in with Sassy’s laundry, and remember how she had to have lace trimmed ankle socks that matched her dresses.

I choke back the tears when I walk into a restaurant and have to correct myself – sorry, we only need a table for four, not six.

But a lot of painful things in life are worth doing. And I bet you are willing to do many of them.

– To give life, we go through the pain of child birth.
– To return to good health, we go through the pain of surgery when ill or injured.
– To parent our children, we agree to suffer loss when they go to college or move out.
– To enjoy love and companionship, we risk the pain of break-ups and death of loved ones.

Isn’t keeping a child safe worth some pain? Isn’t helping their family fix what’s wrong worth some suffering? Isn’t the possibility of a permanent family member worth the risk?

Along the way there is so much joy and beauty. Playing tooth fairy when Watchful lost all those teeth. Teaching Joyful how to bake chocolate chip cookies. Watching our (permanent) children and our (foster) children squeal as they lob water balloons at each other.

And it is absolutely amazing to see Joyful and Watchful transform from children struggling with trauma to children enjoying their childhoods.

So yes. I am incredibly sad. And it will hurt for some time to come. But it won’t be forever. Forever is our love. Forever is the difference made in Joyful and Watchful’s lives.

Foster kids “readiness” to return – does it matter?

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A statement from a foster care meeting several weeks ago is haunting me. We were talking about what needs to happen in order for our foster children to move back with their dad. We had discussed the things that their dad needs to do to be ready. So I asked how would we know if the kids would be ready to return home. The answer? It doesn’t matter if the kids are ready; it only matters if dad is able to parent the children.

Ever since then, there’s been an argument raging inside my head.

On the one hand, children are not removed from their homes because of what they do, but rather because their parents are not able to parent them adequately (keep them safe, feed them, school them, etc.). So if a parent can parent the children, then why not reunite the kids? If a parent can handle a traumatized child, then send the child home.

On the other hand, if the children have been deeply traumatized by the parents and their emotional wounds haven’t healed, is it fair to send the children back? Is it fair to send a child with post traumatic stress disorder back into an environment where they are being triggered?

Help me, folks, ‘cuz I can’t wrap my head around this.

This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up. Check out other great blogs on adoption and foster care.

No Bohns About It

Ask about Future Foster Child’s Ethnicity or Race

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Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.

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Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.

To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.

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To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.

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To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.

To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.

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To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.

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Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!

Stay

Running away

Last night, our 9-year-old foster son Watchful wouldn’t let go of my hand when I was tucking him into bed.  He didn’t say “stay,” he just simply continued to hold tight until he fell asleep.  This is the boy who last year was too afraid of women to have me do anything more than stand outside his door and say good night.

Last night, our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful shared one of her fears with me.  This is the same girl who says she is never afraid, never needs adults, and can fix any problem herself.

Last night, we had family therapy.  Watchful said the therapist was bad for making me cry the previous week.  I said the therapist didn’t make me cry.  Rather, I had been sad.  The therapist prompted Watchful to ask me why I had been sad.

“Because I don’t want you to leave,” I said, looking right into his big, brown eyes.

“I’ll be sad if you run away.”  (The kids had been talking about doing this when they were angry the previous week.)

“I’ll be sad and miss you if you go back to live with your dad.  Though, I will be happy that you are living with your dad, too.”

Last night, Joyful finally let down her shield, let me in, and shared her secret fear after more than a year of being the tough girl.

Last night, Watchful didn’t ask me to stay, but he kept holding tight to my hand.

I didn’t ask him to stay, either.  But I kept on holding his hand.  I don’t ever want to let go.

Adoption is Second Best Choice

Wow. With a title like “Adoption is Second Best Choice,” I’m sure many readers are riled up. But let me explain.

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Child birth, adoption, or foster care are all equally wonderful, fulfilling ways of becoming a parent. The children are equally wonderful, regardless of how they joined your family. I know, because I’m the mother of a biological daughter, adopted son, a foster daughter, and foster son.

Soon, a judge will decide whether our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful and 9-year-old foster son Watchful will be reunited with their bio dad, or whether his rights will be terminated and the children become available for adoption.

Joyful and Watchful’s bio dad has made a lot of progress in making his home the safest, healthiest option for his children. While there’s been ups and downs, hopes and doubts over the past year, we have been cheering him on. We hope he’s able to take the final needed steps and bring Joyful and Watchful home.

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In this process, one thing has become very clear to me. When birth parents want to parent, society should help them fix whatever problems are preventing them from meeting their children’s needs. Hooked on drugs? Support parents in detox. Suffering from mental illness? Give them counseling or medical treatment.

But what if Joyful and Watchful’s dad can’t or doesn’t make the last few final changes? The children should not be stuck in foster care limbo indefinitely – they’ll have been in foster care 18 months by the time the judge rules. They need a permanent home with permanent parents. They need permanent love and permanent safety.

If birth parents are given help, but still can’t fix the problems that endanger children’s health and well-being, well then adoption is the best route.

This makes reuniting with birthparents the first choice and adoption the second best option.

It makes me feel a little funny to think of adoption as a “second best” option.  After all, we adopted Silent One when he was six, and he brings so much joy to our lives.

I only met Silent One’s birth mother once, but she clearly let me know that she chose adoption because her country did not have social programs to help guarantee her (our) son’s safety. Every day, I am grateful that she put Silent One’s well being before all else. But I am also saddened that her country didn’t have welfare, counseling, and other such services. I love Silent One with my whole heart. He loves me with his whole heart. But losing his birth family colors his world view about relationships, his identity and his sense of self worth. He shouldn’t have had to lose a mother who loved him and wanted to parent him.

No Bohns About It

This post is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.

Judge: Reunify or Adoption?

A few months ago, we all went to court. Would the judge send our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful and 9-year-old foster son Watchful back to live with their dad? Or would the judge decide that the kids should be adopted by a non-relative?

The judge opened up the hearing, stating that he had read five very interesting reports. One from the Department of Family Services. One from the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Another from the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) – the children’s lawyer. And one each from mom’s lawyer and dad’s lawyer. Each presented a different perspective.

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In our county, usually the CASA and GAL are in agreement with Family Services. But this time, Family Services was petitioning to return the kids, while the CASA and GAL raised major concerns with reunifying the family.

From Family Service’s perspective, dad has participated in all court-order services and was not the abusive parent. The CASA and GAL agree with those facts, but add more. Dad was still blaming the kids for the abuse and denying the severity of the abuse’s impact. They also noted that dad complied with all services last time the kids were in foster care, kids were sent home, and then dad let the kids be abused by their mom for another two years.

The judge gave dad another five months to get things together. But he also added another permanency goal for the children. Now the primary goal is return home, and the concurrent goal is adoption.

The GAL thinks that it will be very difficult to get the family to where they need to be three months from now in order for the judge to rule a return home. Essentially, the kids need to be living at home on a trial basis or nearly to that point. Currently, they visit for several hours a week under the supervision of a therapist. She also thinks that if the judge rules that the final decision is adoption, that dad will likely appeal. If dad appeals, it will be another 6-18 months for the appeals process.

And this is how kids can end up in foster care for years.

Going Home TODAY v. NEVER

Today, we are going to court again and here’s what I want to do. I want to run over to the kids’ dad and blurt out that we don’t want to steal his children away from him. But that would be awkward.

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Dad thinks the judge will order his children 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful to go home to him today. Like pack up your bags and sleep at dad’s tonight. The State, the CASA, and GAL all agree that going home today is a non-starter. And if it was just a matter that dad has to wait awhile longer before he gets his kids back, well that would be one thing. However, there’s a real chance that the judge will tell dad that if he doesn’t have his act together in six more months, the judge will terminate parental rights and order the children to be adopted by a non-relative family.

I can only imagine dad’s eyes swiveling to us in that moment, his heart broken. I can imagine him wondering if we are hoping he will fail, so we can adopt his children. But we’re not. We’re really, honestly not.

We didn’t get into foster care to adopt. We were very happy with the number of kids we have. We got into foster care, because we want to help families stay together.

Yet when the Department of Family Services calls us up and asks us if we would be willing to adopt the kids if they can’t go home, would we turn them away? The children have lived with us for nearly a year. We are attached to each other. They are lovely, wonderful young people that anyone would be honored to call daughter and son. Yet… there’s a real chance that we’d be facing years of very chaotic home life, that I wouldn’t be able to retire when I had planned, that we wouldn’t have the money to send our original two children and two more children to college, that we would be signing up for years and years of therapy, that we’d be agreeing to make a highly dysfunctional family part of our extended family.

This is where I take a deep breath.

One day at a time. Today, we continue to work towards reunifying Joyful and Watchful with their dad. Today and tomorrow, we continue to root for dad’s progress in making home a safe place. And regardless, we love these children with our whole hearts no matter what day it is.

This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out what others are saying about adoption.  You won’t regret it.

No Bohns About It