Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thankful Thursday - An Important Milestone

Even though I am (was) a working mom, attachment parenting has always been important to me, at least since I've been a parent.  When my son was born I breastfed (until 19-20 months), co-slept, and wore him in a homemade wrap.  I found this worked really well for us and, looking back, would say this was by far the easiest thing to do if it weren't for pressure to do otherwise - you know, co-sleeping isn't safe and shouldn't you put that baby down?


I'm now so grateful for our time together - it appears as if I'll only have had that experience once in my life and I'll never regret those choices.

I do, however, lament the fact that because our daughter came to us from foster care at 10 months old I really didn't get the opportunity to do as many attachment-parenting things with her as I would have liked.  I didn't get to breastfeed.  She was larger and I had a 12 month old at the time so I didn't wear her much.  I didn't get to co-sleep.

One of the things we do around our house is let our son sleep in bed with us on certain nights.  Initially it was every other day and now we're working on every 3rd night.  It's a fun tradition in our home and means a lot to him - and me.  He is older than our fosters have been and has always been a night owl so allowing him to sleep in our bed hasn't been a problem with the fosters - they are in bed before he goes to bed and so far have had no idea that he's been sleeping in our bed on the 3rd nights.

We have a going rule in our home that the children have to stay in bed until we come to get them.  We have alarms on the doors to help us know if someone is getting up.  This is to help protect our children from any unsuspected abuse and to help us know if our children are up walking around the house while we're asleep - we had one who was known to do that getting into all sorts of trouble, including that which led to his removal.  So, it's always been the rule that they stay in bed until we come to get them (unless they have to go to the bathroom).

Ms. Summer has always grown up with this rule and having not shared a room with her brother has been completely oblivious to any other option.  This has made me sad a bit - now that she's adopted I've been looking forward to the day where she crawls in bed with us or has her own 3rd night so that she can share the family bed too sometimes.  However - it's difficult to teach her that its ok to come get us at night without teaching that to her sister(s) who share a room with her and so I've always wondered how that would work, if it ever did.

Then came Saturday morning - 6:50 am.  I woke up to the door flying open in our room and our precious little girl waltzing in.  She wasn't ready to wake up - just came to get me.  I pulled her into bed with me, pointed out her pillow, and let her "try" to go to sleep.  It didn't really work to get much sleep and eventually I turned on some cartoons for us to watch together for a few minutes before getting up to get ready for the day and wake up all the other kiddos.

Last night little princess came in at 3:45am - this time it was completely dark outside. I was proud of her to make it all the way from her room to my bedroom in the dark.  That must have taken some bravery.  When she opened the door though I couldn't help but smile - it's come to the point where our little girl knows she can come get me, even when it's pitch black in the house, and I'll be there for her.

I know this is something most parents cringe about - having to deal with their kids coming in during the night. Frankly it was something I struggled with too before we came up with our every other night/every 3rd night concept with Logan.  It's rough to manage that and I agree that at some point we don't want our children to be sleeping with us nightly.  But for now I'm not taking it for granted - I'm thankful for this development in our child's life and grateful that we get to be her parents - cosleeping at all.

Now we just have to work on the actual sleeping part. ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Tears - Abuse Allegations Update

A couple weeks ago I told you that one of our children made an unexpected claim of horrific abuse.  Thankfully (and rightfully) the finger wasn't pointed at us but instead at another child at a former foster home. The allegations were clear enough to know something for sure happened but because I was not involved with this child prior to placement in my home I had no idea who the alleged perpetrator was and whether or not the story and all its details made sense in light of this child's past.  In other words - I didn't know if the alleged perpetrator existed in the former foster home, whether it was a child or adult, whether it lived in the home or was a visitor, etc.  This person could have been another foster child or a neighbor or someone at the former preschool.

I turned it over to the investigators and was asked to stay out of it from there.  They even asked me twice not to discuss the incident with my child.  This is understandable as to not corrupt the investigation but also irritated mie as it is my job to help this child heal and I felt like my hands were tied a little bit.

After an initial investigation I was told that they were going to be doing an official forensic interview at the child advocacy center.  I thought this was good news until they said " a last ditch effort before they rule it out".

I was furious.  It appeared as if they didn't believe the allegation.  Not only (and primarily) is this a problem for this child who spoke up and had to go through the traumatic interviews and isn't believed (and therefore won't get help for it) but it also made mie wonder what the investigators thought about us.  Did they think we were trying to sabotage the case so that the child didn't have to go home?  Did they think we made it up?  What exactly did this child tell them?

As it turns out the investigators did believe something happened.  As I've said before the details presented to us were specific enough that no child of that age should have been able to make it up.  The problem was that they couldn't match the alleged perpetrator to anyone in the former foster home.  There was a birth child in the home with a name similar to the one given (think something like Bryan instead of Ryan) and yet there was absolutely no concern that this person would be a perpetrator.  So, because they couldn't identify who the perpetrator was they had to rule out the abuse.

I wish they just had to say "unsolved" instead of closing out the case.

I felt much better about their analysis except of course that meant it wasn't solved and there were still problems -

  • The case was still ruled out and closed making it look like it was a false allegation
  • Our child still won't get any official support to heal from the abuse
  • There is still a perpetrator out there who could be harming other children
The investigators told us they believed the perpetrator was someone from the birth parents' home that had come in prior to the case starting.  They think that the child is mis-remembering.  I don't know what to do with all of this.  I understand why but it makes mie a bit frustrated that if they believe this happened prior to coming into care that the birth parents aren't held accountable for it in some way - instead reunification is happening on schedule according to plans.  Not to mention - I don't think it happened before placement.  My child is emphatic that it happened at the former foster home.  I asked if "bryan" and "ryan" were different people (names changed).  The child said no - they are the same person.  If that's the case then the perpetrator would be the foster parent's bio-child.  If it is a perpetrator then they shouldn't be fostering any more and something should be done.  If it isn't a perpetrator then I can so identify with that family who opened their home up to care for orphans and ended up having their own biological child accused undeservingly.  I can imagine myself in their shoes.  I'd be devastated.  Nevertheless I feel like we needed to fix this situation so it never happens again.  Ever.

I don't know that there is much I can do.  I wish I could take back time and prevent it even though I don't know where it happened, when, or by whom.

My child seems to know and now I'm left knowing that it will be ignored as this child transitions in the next few weeks - not enough time for me to get this child the needed help.

In a way, given the circumstances, I'm glad to know that the case is being closed.  Again, if it were my family under investigation for false allegations I'm reassured to know that they aren't out taking action on innocent people (at least not all the time).  And yet - someone did something and nothing will ever be done about it - that's unacceptable.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moolah Monday - 2011 Tax Update

I'm not sure I ever told you the conclusion of our tax story.

That of course would be at least in part because it is not finished yet :(  I was reminded of this oh - so -small fact last week when yet another set of IRS notices came in.

Thankfully these IRS notices were really just that - harmless notices.  I will, however, note that it was interesting the IRS so generously included an envelope in case I wanted to send them money.  Really.

I don't owe the IRS.  As it stands now, they owe me.  They would argue that they don't owe me anything until their audit is done at which point they will determine either that we are even (their preference, I'm sure) or they owe me.  They would owe me something to the tune of $4000 - give or take.  I haven't actually done the math to figure out what is still outstanding.

Despite our concern and the frenzy my initial posts caused on the subject - we actually were able to claim our qualifying foster children in 2011 without a problem, once we received their social security numbers after much, much effort.  This was surprising.  I was sure I'd face a challenge over claiming them as I fully expected mom & dad to claim them, especially since they went home last October and finished the year reunified.  That was my only concern and so if that didn't pose a problem I didn't expect there to be a problem.

I was wrong.

At some point we received a notice in the mail saying that our funds were going to be held pending review.  It said we'd get resolution in 6-8 weeks - or something like that.

The next day about 60% of our tax refund posted to our account.  This made absolutely no sense.  The amount retained didn't equate to the amount for the fosters.  I couldn't figure out the logic.  Eventually over the next two months we found our account was under review for the following:

  • An ineligible dependent was claimed. (it didn't say which, but based on the amount could only have been one)
  • Our adoption assistance credit was under review
These two things were seemingly unrelated and in a way, are.  Adoption assistance credits require the submission of documentation including the signed adoption decree and proof of adoption fees subject to the credit.  In our case our attorney was proactive enough to get us an additional adoption decree with the county seal before we left the courthouse just for this purpose.  A copy of his invoice marked paid was enough to prove eligible expenses.  As directed in the instructions I sent all of the documentation through paper mail when I sent in my tax return documents.  

Apparently - the IRS system for this is completely inept.  When I called to inquire on the troubles I waited on hold forever, then whoever answered almost immediately sent me to one department (which made no sense, they agreed), and eventually I gave up.  The person I spoke with told me that they were the audit department and that though my file was ready to be audited (not the traditional audit - just reviewed for the adoption stuff), the best way for me to handle it would be to send in the documents again to the address he provided me in NJ.  I repeated that it wasn't that easy to just go get an additional copy of the signed adoption decree with the seal from the county on a sealed adoption.  He insisted I could just make a copy without the seal.  I told him the IRS documents said it had to have the original seal.  He insisted he's done this forever and you don't need the seal.  I stopped arguing with him.  I told him I already sent in the documentation.  Per the instructions.  He said that it went to a filing place in CA and his group is in NJ.  It would be faster for me (and they expected me) to send in the documents to NJ rather than have them wait for them from CA.  I was literally banging my phone against my forehead.  I gave up on that route.  

I then remembered I'd paid for the audit protection service from Turbo Tax.  I figured - might as well try it.

While I was waiting for all that to go through we learned the dependent that was ineligible was our daughter - Summer.  I submitted her as a dependent given her legal name (remember the adoption decree and name change was in the documentation I'd submitted) with her old SSN.  Of course, that was her SSN, but I hadn't changed her name with social security yet (nor gotten a new number...).  So, when they compared the SSN with the last name they did not get a match and automatically removed her from our eligible dependents.

So, we don't have her as a dependent - that's about $3500.  We don't have the adoption credit - that's about $1800.  That was the amount removed from our tax return.  Both of these, independently, should be able to fix.  We resubmit our taxes with her old name or with her new number.  No problem.  We resubmit the adoption documents for their review, no problem.

Except the two interact with each other.  When they removed Summer as an eligible dependent she, of course, was no longer eligible for the adoption tax credit, or at least we weren't able to claim that.  So if they reviewed the documents from the adoption they'd see that she wasn't an eligible dependent and nix it right there.  If they didn't review the adoption documents they'd have no reason to believe that Summer was the same person we'd submitted as an eligible dependent with a different name on the SSN.  They couldn't look at one independently, they had to look at them together.

Except the audit review only included the adoption tax credit, not the eligible dependent, so they couldn't discuss the ineligible dependent problem.

See how freaking frustrating it is.  The solution is clear - add her back as an eligible dependent and give us the adoption tax credit.  Done.  Seriously it should take all of 5 minutes to review the documents we sent to see the name change and the seal on the documents.  Except it's not that easy.  Of course.

So back in late March or April we responded, through the audit protection people, our response to the IRS that should correct everything.  They said it would be 8-12 weeks for a response.  Last week we got a response that said they're not done reviewing the file and need another 45 days. 

*eyes rolling*

Thankfully we're not in desperate need of the cash and I know eventually it will all work out.  I have the right number now and can ammend our return if all of this doesn't come back in our favor.  But I have to keep reminding mie why we haven't paid off the debt we'd planned to pay and why our account is lower than I thought it would be at this point.  We'd planned on having that additional money and it just hasn't come in yet. 

That's ok - it will in time.  And if I've learned anything about God and HIS timing I know that there is probably something coming that we couldn't have planned where we'll need that money and if we'd had it already it would have been spent on something He didn't intend for us to spend it on.  I wonder what that will be.

So that's that.  Nearly 5 months after I began talking to you about our taxes we still haven't seen resolution.  And it had nothing to do with #7 & #8.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday's Tears - Healthy & Unhealthy Attachment

I may or may not have once had a child who I was strongly concerned about going home.

My current placement is scheduled (well, that's putting it strongly since there is no set date) to start transitioning at the end of the month.  This may or may not be pure coincidence with my first statement.

This concern primarily rests for one child in particular.  The entire time this child was in my home he/she was significantly developmentally delayed.  At the doctor appt I had to take this child to, a hearing test was failed, which we hoped explained the reasons for the delays in speech and other forms of communication, including expressive language which consisted primarily of a raptor-like scream.  Only.  For everything.  So loud it's deafening - no joke.

At said doctor visit this child also failed the autism screening evaluation - which I filled out by answering a series of true/false statements.  The doctor was vary concerned.  I knew which ones were indicators as I filled it out - can't escape the educational background - so I knew as I completed it that he wasn't doing well.  I also was able to tell that the areas this child struggled in that may have indicated autistic behaviors were also caused by 3 known factors - poor hearing, severe neglect, and lack of ability to form healthy attachments since there was significant neglect with the birth parents for a year, then a first placement, then 3 months at our home by the time of the doctor visit.  There were no typical austism indicators, just a whole bunch of related indicators that, as I mentioned, were explained by the other factors of this child's experience.  As a result, the doctor and I (and the caseworker) agreed we'd work on the hearing problem, then see how much improvement the child was making with increased ECI therapy and consistent care in my home, and then revisit the concern about autism in a few months.

I was fully supportive of this plan and assumed getting the hearing fixed plus some additional time in my (consistent, structured, loving home) would help catch him up developmentally and put him on a better track for the future.  It also seemed like a great plan because at the time it appeared there would be 6 months or more in my home before any movement took place, if any did at all.

Fast forward 60 days and things had changed in many ways.  2 more months in our home indeed proved immensely helpful as much progress had occured on the developmental delayed.  A child who spoke no words and only shrieked was now saying 10 words or so, using more signs, and crying regularly at appropriate emotional moments (for that age).  A child who was violent and stand-offish with regular tantrums (and more shrieking), now threw appropriate tantrums, was learning to use his hands and feet with love, giving frequent cuddles, making great eye contact, and demonstrating his desire to be comforted by mie and his daddy.  He was smiling a lot more.  He still had some old behaviors and delays but was making great strides.

It became very clear to mie that the delays were primarily attachment and neglect related as opposed to having some other cause - like autism.  As bonding increased there was a direct correlation with developmental catching up (increased words, less shrieking, age-appropriate display of emotion and play, etc.).  This behavior was not present in visits - instead there was much aggression, fits, shrieking, and disassociation which was all exacerbated by a present sibling who was struggling with his/her own attachment related trauma needs and, therefore, was demanding all of the attention.  When caseworkers visited our home for the first time in a while they noted the difference between his behavior in visits and at our home.

We had not yet seen the doctor to work on the little one's hearing.  I really hoped that fixing the hearing challenges, probably through ear tubes, would give this little guy that extra push to rapidly propel him to catch-up developmentally and help him "complete" his healing process.

The dr appointment came and went with the conclusion that the hearing, though on the lower functioning side, was in the normal range and sufficient for language development.  A conclusion that specifically included a reference to attachment and psychological triggers for developmental delay.  A conclusion that confirmed my growing suspicion that this little one wasn't growing up "normally" due to attachment related trauma.  

This coincided with changes in the case plan so that reunification that was once uncertain and several months off was now imminent in a matter of a few short weeks.  Upon hearing that my child did NOT have a hearing problem I was devastated.  The degree to which his unhealthy attachment in the first year(s) of life had really harmed him, the only thing that could continue to heal was active therapeutic parenting in a stable, committed, home that could handle the child's crazy antics that were exacerbated by the sibling's manipulation and (unintentional) sabotage.  Except now this child was set to go home to a single parent with very minimal parenting skills who became overwhelmed at managing both children during a weekly 2 hour visit.  A parent who loved the children but clearly favored the other one - the one who demanded all of the attention in a more subtle yet destructive way.  A parent who didn't know how to effectively handle the aggression and shrieking and tantrums and bad stuff this child reverted to as default when she was around.  A parent to whom there was no bond and clearly with whom there was an unhealthy attachment.

All of this just as this child was learning to trust us as his primary caregivers.  And here we were - knowing that in a few short weeks we'd abandon him and place him with a virtual stranger with whom he'd demonstrated symptoms of a very unhealthy attachment.  

I did everything I could.  I worked with the play therapist to increase therapy for both children alone and together to help work on things.  I spoke to the doctors to see if there was anything else I could do.  I spoke to the caseworker to see if we could get a psychological evaluation with an emphasis on attachment for the kiddos and their mother and at the very least get them some targeted counseling or support to encourage bonding as the children began transition home.  I spoke to the mother about this child's needs.  I expressed (encouragingly) that it would be difficult but he'd need active parenting to help the bonding process and help him heal.  This parent insisted she would do everything it would take.  Then she insisted everything was fine before CPS to the children away and that she had it all together (parenting-wise) before he left, that there were no problems, and she could do it just fine.

And then I loved this child as fiercely as I could.  I prayed.  That's all I could do.

The story is never finished being written.  I pray this one in particular ends up well and we are able to have peace as we see it unfold.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Moolah Monday - College Education

One of the biggest concerns people have about family size is the financial aspects.  It seems as if the two biggest concerns (for individuals with health insurance) is childcare and college tuition.  This is true whether the child in question is biologically related, adopted, or has some other connection to the family but it seems even more pressing an issue for people who are considering making the conscious choice of adding an additional member to their family through adoption.  The good news is that there are resources available (like adoption subsidy) to cover some expenses that could be applied to things like childcare to help ease the burden.  There are programs for children who are adopted from foster care to help cover college tuition as well, but before I get into that I have a few things to say about parental responsibility for college:

My parents paid for all but $5K of my undergraduate education at a private university.  I worked full-time and paid for many of my own expenses including books, transportation, insurance (auto & health), etc., but they paid for my housing either through my first year at the dorms or my other two years living at home.  Yes, that's only 3 years.  I finished in 3 years which saved about 20K.  I got married about 6 months after I graduated, which meant the rest of my schooling was on mie - I've paid about 60K for all of my graduate school, not including what has been reimbursed by my employer.  All-in-all, the cost of my education primarily in the 2000's has been about $120K, again, not including living expenses.

That's a lot of money.

I do not believe it is the parent's responsibility to provide college for the child.  I certainly don't believe that it is their obligation to provide Ivy League tuition and living for children.  College is neither a right nor an obligation in my mind.  You have to work to get in, you have to work to pay for it, and you have to work to get out - preferably in that order.  I was blessed that for the first 2 1/2 years my parents were able to send a monthly check to the school so that I didn't have to worry about the tuition check.  I chose to live at home (the second two years) so that I didn't have to pay the cost of an apartment near school because I didn't believe it was my parent's responsibility to pay for other housing.  I worked full-time because I didn't believe it was my parent's responsibility to pay for all the "extras" I wanted - regardless of whether or not they could afford it.

Something happened in my last semester of school, at which point I had stopped working full-time, which required mie to fork over my own school dough and I ended up taking a small student loan to cover the cost last minute.  I didn't sit back and whine about not being able to go to school or having a debt to pay.  I did worry about how I was going to come up with 5K in the middle of a semester, without notice, given a set of circumstances that made the FAFSA really complicated, and how as a result I would or would not be able to graduate on-time relative to what I had worked so hard to do.

All that said I was grateful for the support I received from my parents and as a parent I want to do whatever is possible to help my children go to college.  I do hope that they all have the opportunity to go to college and maybe even grad school if they so choose and I will do everything I can to support them in that endeavor, including financially supporting them if I possibly can.  That being said I do not believe the inability to pay for college tuition makes adoption an irresponsible decision.  I do not believe family size should be dictated by the number of children you can put through college (financially).  I think it should be something you think about but only as a consideration point so you are aware of how adoption will impact your family including other children in the home rather than a as a disqualification factor.

I hope we will find a way to save and pay for Logan's college tuition so that he doesn't have to worry about it.  Even if we can't, we'll encourage him to proceed through school with whatever help we can provide at the time knowing there's a lesson in persevering and, by the way, working through college won't kill you (I'm living proof).  That being said I don't know how many children we'd be able to save up for.  We discussed it with Summer, that it would be a stretch but we could like afford 2 college tuitions especially considering they are 3 years apart educationally, but how many more children we could afford realistically is definitely in question.

When we began pursuing foster care adoption we knew of a program here in Texas whereas any child deemed to have special needs (older than 6, minority over 2, sibling group, or true medical special need) would qualify to have in-state tuition covered as long as the program was in place at the time the adoption was finalized.  We knew this program could go away at some point but that it was in place at the current time (and, right now still is).  "Unfortunately", Summer was a 2 year old caucasian child with no medical special needs.  When her brother was placed for adoption elsewhere she was no longer member of a sibling group and therefore, in our eyes, did not qualify for the college tuition program as an adopted "special needs" child. Of course we proceeded with the adoption but knew our ability to support both children through college, or more children as they came, could be limited in the future, but that fact did not make us bad parents.  (Amen?)

At a foster parent's meeting last week we were surprised to learn of a different program federal government that provides college tuition waivers for children who were ever in foster care.  Our program in Texas requires that the student be in DFPS custody on or after:

  • The day preceding the student's 18th birthday;
  • The day of the student's 14th birthday, if the student was also eligible for adoption on or after that day;
  • The day the student graduated from high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma;
  • The day the student was adopted if that date is on or after September 1, 2009
  • The day permanent managing conservatorship of the student was grant to an individual other than the student's parent, if that date is on or after September 1, 2009 or
  • If the student enrolls in a dual credit course or other course which a high-school student may earn joint high school and college credit, and is in conservatorship on the day of enrollment
The only requirement for eligible individuals is that they enroll before their 25th birthday.  (see the full program here).  I've highlighted the way Summer qualifies above.  I'm told the tuition waiver is available for all in-state tuition including some vocational schools and even extends to graduate and professional degree programs.  In other words, Summer could go through college to get her Ph.D. like her mommy, and have tuition covered.  Of course, not all of our children will go to college, many of us are just hoping to get them through high school, but having the financial aspect covered can go along way to encouraging our kids to succeed through higher education.  If we can say "You can do it!" all along and help them by removing the financial barrier then we have a better chance of motivating them to do all the other work that a college education requires.

I'm told the program is funded by a federal program, but I have yet to find that information.  It appears as if there are federal funds tied to foster care that are being directed to tuition waivers as mandated by state legislatures.  In plain language - check with your state for availability.

I didn't worry about college for Summer too much to this point and it certainly wouldn't have made us avoid adoption altogether, but it is wonderful to know that she does qualify for tuition waivers through the state as long as funds are still available at the time.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - And That's How Foster Care Goes

I told you about my sister's placement.

That darling little girl went to be with her aunt yesterday, just shy of one week after she came home to my sister.  Even though they knew this was likely, they still felt (the same way we all do when we let a kiddo go).  I advised them to do something fun as a family that they couldn't have done with a 10 day old baby and then start anticipating the next call.

Then I left their house.  I left my son with them to enjoy their goodbye festivities.

That's the way foster care goes.  You get a child into your home.  You love them for a day, a month, a year or two, and then they go.  Your life goes on.  You wonder about how their life is going, even when you only knew them for 6 of their first 10 days on Earth.

Sometimes they stay forever, but most of the time they leave physically.  They always stay forever in your heart.  Always.  Even the difficult ones.

I went running last night with a friend.  We had a good run.  I talked most of the time and even though it wasn't about mie it was really therapeutic for mie.  I was in a bad mood.  It was also good preparation because when I was 3/4 done and we were almost back home, my phone started ringing - the phone I almost didn't bring but thought what they hey my hubby likes mie to bring it.

Guess who was calling...

I now know what my sister sounds like when she's calling to tell mie about a new placement.  How cool is that.  A new placement you ask?  Less than 24 hours since the last one went home?  Yep - a new placement.  This time it's an 8 month old little girl.  I finished my run and then headed over with my son (yes, I had picked him up before dinner...).

The CW was still there when I got there and we chatted about mutual acquaintances we knew at the county office.  I told my sister how lucky she was to have gotten a kid out of that office.  She is really lucky.

This little girl is ADORABLE.  And small - not in an unhealthy way - just smaller than my kiddos have been. She smiled and played and interacted.  You wonder how someone could not take care of such a sweet little thing.

Apparently the same way this same person could be pregnant and not take care of this sweet little thing.

That's right - my sister accepted an 8 month old who's about to be a big sister and who's mom is not expected to work services.  This means my sister is likely to get another newborn in a few months (she has a spot available) and will have two sweet little babies.  She's waited for 6 months and within a year will have had 3 kiddos.  Or know how that is.

That's the way foster care goes...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Signs of Love

Sometimes I sit at work and find myself really missing my kiddos.  I wish I could just turn around and give them a big hug and tell them I love them.  I know that most of the time they are not thinking of mie, that they're having fun with their friends and they love doing that, and they are looking forward to seeing mie when I come to get them, but I still for a moment feel guilty that I can't really just turn around and scoop them up.

This was especially hard when I first came back to work after having my son.  I HATED leaving him.  My department director at the time was a fellow mom and must of known what it would be like to come back to work.  On my first day back after 13 weeks off with my son she had posted this poster on the glass doors outside the elevators, no doubt I'd see it, and then a giant one in my office hanging on the window blinds:
Logan - 14 days old.  Notice the extra sticky my husband left for mie one day - it says "Your a good mom and wife
 This picture now hangs just to the right of my computer monitor so I can easily see it and I've cherished it for nearly 6 years though I will say I'm not sure it helped to see his picture on the door as soon as I walked in :)  This little boy now looks like this:

A few weeks ago my son was here helping mie move into a new cube after his Kindergarten graduation.  A few times he found things he liked and pocketed them (like a calculator and some trinkets I had).  A few other times he found "neat" things like post-its that he became distracted by for a few moments.  After a while I had these things spread throughout my office:
Mom "Roks"

This one is a 2-Pager.  It's decorated with ripped pages and stapled together. (I love you soo soo much)
I have several other trinkets and pictures that remind mie of my family spread throughout my office space.  Additionally, I have several small post-its like the one in Logan's baby picture above where my husband has left cute reminder notes for mie to let me know he loves mie.  Like father like son.

These things make mie smile everyday and though they'll never replace having my children with mie, it is nice to see them, pause for a moment to remember the important things in life, breath-out a stress-relieving sigh, and get back to work so I can get home to my family as quickly as possible.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'm AUNTIE MIE again!!!

Over the last few weeks I've told you about my sister and her family who have been waiting for 6+ months to become a foster parent.  Add the time it took them to get into and then through training, then go through the process to get licensed, and it has been well over a year since they began the process to be foster parents.  

They've had a lot of calls - all for single kiddos I might add - but for one reason or another they couldn't take the children who the state was trying to place.  Their first call came a few days before they went out of state on vacation - they didn't think that would work though I reminded them to consider next time they could use us as respite!  They got several calls while they were out of state and then absolutely nothing until 2 weeks ago when she missed 2 calls in the same day.

Their wait is over.  

Last Thursday they accepted a placement for a NEWBORN baby girl.  She's a tiny little beauty.  My sister had the experience of picking her up from the hospital and going that route.  I met her afterward for lunch to see the baby.  This means I was the first one to hear of her placement and the first to see it.

Let me tell you - being a foster auntie is super cool.  My sister, though a year younger than mie, had all of her babies before I had any myself.  I have nephews and a niece on my husband's side but I'm not nearly as close to them as I am to my sister's kiddos - at least in part because they live so much farther away.  Bottom line - I didn't get to show her what it was like to be a mom - she showed mie - something unusual for a firstborn like mie and I missed out on the chance to show her something I learned was joyful.  As she chose to become a foster parent and hit every milestone along the way I've been so excited to share this journey with her.  Nothing could express the joy I've experienced in seeing her become a foster mom for the first time.  It has been a completely rewarding experience. 

All of my kiddos, especially the girls, thought this baby was super cool.  Summer is a natural momma and LOVES babies - the real ones - and so this has been extremely exciting for her.  They did a good job being gentle with this little baby, which is a really good thing because her ankles are about the size of a nickel, maybe a quarter.  

Congratulations to my sister and her family!  This is expected to be a short placement but marks a huge point in their foster care journey.

And yes, in case you were wondering, she DID miss this call too.  Her daughter had walked off with her phone.  This time it must have been meant to be because somehow 2 days later they were approached again and were able to accept the placement and bring home this precious baby girl.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Guest Post: Preparing Siblings

A reader asked this question:

Q: As a potential foster parent with children of my own- how do I prepare them for being foster-siblings? Do I instruct them about privacy and such? I have a 4 year old, 8 1/2 year old and a 11 year old- all boys.  

I answered this question here, but today I wanted to bring you a guest post to answer the question from a sibling's perspective.  Kylee over at Learning to Abandon has graciously offered to give us her perspective on how to prepare siblings for the journey that awaits them as foster siblings.  I'd also recommend her recent post about the effect fostering had on her innocence.

Kylee writes:

I absolutely think there are ways that you can prepare your boys for this new journey! I like that you mentioned the topic of privacy, because I think that is an area that can be so hard for children to grasp. I was close to the age of your middle child when my parents received our first placement, and there were several instances when I was unexpectedly forced to explain foster care to my peers. My family primarily fostered infants and toddlers, and as a result, the infant carriers and often-times-crying babies drew much attention at church, the dance studio, and other activities.

I remember multiple occasions when other children asked me "is that your sister/brother?" and subsequently trying to explain what a foster child is. I typically answered that "we [are] just taking care of him because his mom cannot right now." While this often times worked wonderfully, there were plenty of times when child-like curiosity took over, and my friends wanted explanations for why an infant was in a cast, why his mom could not care of him, or how long he would be with us. As a child, I remember feeling pressured to say the right things to my friends and often times not knowing how to do that. 

As I have thought a little bit about the way I was approached as a child, and the necessity of protecting the confidentiality of the foster child, as well as the young mind of an inquiring friend, my suggestion is this: 

1. Figure out from the beginning how you are going to choose to define 'family'. This will obviously look very different based on the age of the foster children in your home. A foster family looks different than a family with solely biological children and suddenly you are going to have temporary kids in your home, whom you treat as family, yet are legally (and if older, sometimes emotionally) not family. This can create so many issues, and sometimes it is best to have a simplistic answer that protects the privacy of all parties involved. I would even suggest doing some roll-play with your kids, in which you bring out scenarios and see how they will handle these conversations that will undoubtably come up. There are many mature topics involved in foster care, and when caught with an unexpected question, a child's discretion is gone! 

2. One other thing that my parents allowed me to do during our licensing process, which helped me process the idea of foster care, was help prepare the nursery. We turned our guest room into a kids room, painted it, and got it decorated for our foster children. Having a chance to be hands on with some of the preparations, made the whole idea of other children coming to live with us seem so much more real. There was much excitement as I helped paint the walls and fill the bookshelf with all of our kid books. Because of the training and classes that your children are not involved in, I think it is so important to figure out ways to include them, as much as possible, in this process. Allowing them to be hands on in as many ways as possible might help them grasp and understand, at their various age levels, more of what to expect. 

There are so many aspects of foster care that are complicated and cannot be sorted out until the process has begun, which is incredibly scary. I tell people this all of the time, but becoming a foster family was one of the best things my parents did for me. I was blessed by this ministry in so many ways and cherish my childhood days of having foster siblings in my home!  

Kylee is a 19-year-old college student who is passionately pursuing a degree in social work while simultaneously learning what it means to be a big sister to kids from "hard places". Her parents jumped into the crazy world of foster care just days before her 8th birthday and cared for numerous infants and toddlers over a ten-year time span; four of those children became permanent family members through adoption. Kylee loves sharing about foster care and adoption on her blog and is passionate about advocating on behalf of vulnerable children.

Thanks Kylee for sharing!

If any of you have questions for mie about other foster parenting and/or adoptive parenting topics, please feel free to leave a comment or send mie a note using the mail mie feature in the upper right hand of my blog (or on the contact page).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Working Mama Wednesday - Field Trips

As a working mom I try very hard not to miss the opportunities to spend time with my kiddos while they're at school/daycare or extra curricular activities.  I've been very fortunate that I've had the flexibility to arrange my work schedule so that I could volunteer in their classrooms, chaperon field trips, and attend performances.

Two weeks ago I went with my son on a field trip to a ranch in the woods that the school put together to celebrate kindergarten graduation.  We went swimming, had lunch, and I rode a school bus for the first time since my last high school swim meet.  He chose to sit next to mie on that bus on the way to the ranch.  It was special times.  I know as he gets older there will be less opportunity for mie to do these things - both because they will go on fewer field trips and because at some point he won't want his mommy going with him.

Last week I attended his kindergarten graduation in the morning, then stayed with him for the special brunch provided for the kids and parents, played a few games with him, and then took him with mie to work for the rest of the day.  I had to move my office that day so I used him as a special helper to transport things from desk to desk.  We also took a trip to the food trucks where after he ate two snack size snickers and a full size snickers he ate a snow cone instead of a real lunch.  Yes I'm the mom and am in charge so I fully blame myself for those choices.  I will cherish those memories and I hope he does too.

I started my new position officially this week which means I have to be a little careful how often I'm flexing my hours or taking time off.  I have 4 weeks vacation each year so I can take time off but still I plan to prove my ability to do my job before I show up late or take time off each week lest I appear lazy (in my job) and entitled.  In the next two weeks I already have court, dentist appointments (that are late...), and an ENT appointment with #10 that have been scheduled for months and I can't reschedule so I'll already have to watch how often I'm coming in late, leaving early, or taking full days off.

Unfortunately, that means I'm missing a very big field trip today, which is making mie really sad AND nervous.  My son is going to Six Flags, a major theme park, today with his school.  He's 5 and has never been there before.  He's really nervous about going because someone told him he'd have to ride the big rides (which isn't true at all) and he's used to doing stuff like this with his mom and dad.  We know he'll have fun riding the smaller rides (the group he's in), he knows what to do if he gets lost (he's known his full address since he was 18 months old), and I trust this school (not all schools) to take really good care of him.  At the end of the day besides being tired, I know he'll be happy he went.  Nevertheless I wish I could be with him and I hate that I couldn't go.  In all honesty if I didn't have so many multiple-people meetings today I would have rescheduled the meetings I initiated so that I could have gone.  I tried looking into that option yesterday to see if I could make it work, even if it was for a half-day, but I could not.

So I'm sitting here at work genuinely looking forward to the great day I have ahead of mie at work but wishing that my meetings mysteriously get canceled so I can run off to join my son at the theme park.  Wouldn't that be cool?  I doubt it will happen and I'm not at all dressed for a day of roller coasters but I'd make it work if these meetings disappeared.

*Hand to forehead* - I just realized I forgot to put sunscreen on him!  *sigh*

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Say What (?!?) Sunday - I didn't recognize the number

I thought you'd all get a kick out of this little story.  My sister and her family became licensed for foster/adopt in the same county I'm licensed in about 6 months ago and have yet to have any placements.  They received several calls a few months ago - of course they were out-of-state- but since then haven't heard a word.  This shocks my husband and I who haven't gone more than a month on the list without getting a placement.  It's pretty surprising considering how you always hear what a great need there is for foster parents.

Anywho - we were discussing it on Memorial Day - still no calls.  She mentioned she doesn't think about it as much anymore, since it's been so long. 

So she texts mie this morning:

Sister - I'm such an idiot.  My cell phone rang at 12:30am and I looked at it ant thought I don't know who that is and went back to sleep.

Sister - Of course it was a foster placement.  That never even crossed my mind.

This is now 8 hours later.  I tell her to call back anyway - they may still need someone and it never hurts to build a relationship with the CPU workers so they know to call YOU next time they have a placement.

I'm so frustrated for my sister and her family who have been waiting but really get a chuckle out of that situation.  Seeing as how my case may be going toward reunification sooner rather than later, I sure hope they get a placement soon!  I don't want to be waiting as long as they have to get another placement!

With all the talk about waiting for "the call" we've had before - I hope you all enjoy this little snafu too.

Edited to add - I got a call at 9pm the same night I wrote this, which happened to be the same day my sister sent me those texts.  

Sister: I'm going to start this conversation out by saying that I'm not joking.
Mie: Ok.
Sister: So I put my phone in my room to charge and then went in the living room to vacuum and clean.

You guessed it - she missed ANOTHER placement in the same day for not answering her phone.  This time it was the same placement worker (and the same one that called me with 2 or 3 of my placements - I love this particular CPU worker).  She had a 2 week old!!!!  Deep breath.

I'm sill hoping that she gets a call (and answers it, and accepts the placement, and the kids actually come) soon!  Apparently reunification is coming sooner than expected in our case and we might be placement-less by August so I'm really hoping that my sister has a placement by then so we're not waiting on the list behind her :)  I mean, it's good that there aren't kids that need a placement but I don't want to wait THAT long for the next call...

Friday, June 01, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Preparing Forever Siblings for Foster Children

Q: As a potential foster parent with children of my own- how do I prepare them for being foster-siblings? Do I instruct them about privacy and such? I have a 4 year old, 8 1/2 year old and a 11 year old- all boys.

A: When we began the foster parent journey our son was about to turn 3.  He turned 3 a couple days before our first PRIDE class and was 3 ½ when we got our first kiddos.

I personally think for him this was a perfect age.  He was old enough to become a big brother (2x with one placement) and to talk through some of his feelings about things yet he was too young to understand all of what trauma means with kiddos.  Having siblings was novel and cool, except when they were playing with and possibly breaking HIS toys, and yet we were able to work with him to find alternative strategies (keeping a handful of special toys up high where littles couldn’t get them and sharing the rest).  I do think it was a perfect time for our family. 

Our son had been asking us for siblings and making up imaginary brothers and sisters for a while but we couldn’t give him those siblings through birth due to infertility so we knew he thought he wanted siblings.  He didn’t have a good grasp on where babies came from and so the concept of them being literally dropped off on the door step seemed a completely reasonable option.  When my husband and I decided to begin the process we started talking to Logan about the possibility that brothers and sisters might come but we did so sparingly and in ways such as “won’t it be cool when we get to go to the park with brothers and sisters” or “it will be so much fun to garden with brothers and sisters”.  It was simple.

When our license came we began to talk to our son a little more frequently about the possibility of having brothers and sisters.  We’d ask him what he thought (a few times a week) about having new brothers and sisters.  We’d ask him if wanted to share a room with them or if he wanted them to sleep in another room.  We asked him questions about how brothers and sisters would fit into HIS life since he really wasn’t able to comprehend how he could fit in their life.  We did not talk to him about the trauma they might have experienced or privacy or aspects of abuse.  We had already built communication in our home about things people should and should not do, like touching private areas and such, and so we did not make a big point of associating bad behaviors with brothers and sisters (from foster care) by telling him “if your foster brother touches you in a private spot what should you do…”.  We just continued to reiterate general principles with him at an age appropriate level.

We got our first call at 11:45pm on a Saturday night.  If you’ve heard the story, you’ll know that I had forgotten about the possibility of a placement and when the phone rang I was a bit cranky with my hubby, thinking it was him calling, even though he knew I had JUST gotten Logan to sleep.  Turns out it was a CPU worker with a placement and I apologized to my hubby even though he didn’t know I was upset with him J  Oh, and my nephews and niece were spending the night that night.  The reason I bring this up is that I did make special preparations for the arrival of the new placement because of how late it was when they arrived (1:30am).  I was concerned about how my son would react waking up in the morning to a new crib and baby in his bedroom so before the kids arrived I moved our son into our bed.  That way we knew he’d see us before he saw the kids and we’d have a chance to explain to him that brothers and sisters came while he was sleeping.  In his mind – that’s how they came – while he was sleeping one night.  Our crib was in storage at my sister’s house so I called them to bring it over so we could put it together before the kids arrived.  They went ahead and took my nephews and niece home so that we didn’t have to worry about them while adjusting to the new kids.  

The rest of the placement went fine.  We told our son that the kids’ parents were not able to be a good mommy and daddy right now, that they were sicky and trying to get better.  That’s our general line to explain the reason for foster care to little kids.   We explained steps in the process to him in age appropriate ways as things went along.  We explained that we didn’t know how long they’d stay, that they might leave sometime, but that he would always stay.  We said that a lot.  We thought it was sufficient.

When our kids finally did go home it was right after we moved to a new house, I’d broken my ankle, my best friend (his best friend’s mom) died, my husband’s grandfather died, and our car broke down all in a matter of a week.  It was an eventful week (that didn’t stop there…check out the “One Year Ago Today” series if you want to hear more).  It was chaotic at best.  Life was crazy.  My hubby and I were surprised that they were leaving but didn’t have many more tears to cry by the time they did leave.  Nevertheless from the time we heard they were going home we started preparing Logan – telling him that they’d be going to live with their grandmother but he would always stay with us.  On the day they left we took pictures, got all their things together, and threw them a little going away party.  The caseworker arrived early, while the party was still going on, and so we rushed a little bit to get them finally ready to leave.  As I was taking one of them to the bathroom my little Logie came in to the restroom, really brave, and said “Mommy, if I have to go now I will”.

My heart stopped.  Despite all the prepping we could have done he STILL thought he was going to have to leave us.  I told my mom to handle the leaving foster and took my son aside.  I reiterated to him that he would ALWAYS stay.  Brothers and sisters might come and go but Logan would ALWAYS stay.  He would NEVER have to leave with them.  This became something we continued to repeat to him until he got it fully.  It didn’t take long – after the first placement left and he did in fact stay he seemed to understand that he would always stay even if the others left.  It became our mantra with any other placement.  In fact, when we began talking about Summer’s adoption he was super excited because she would be a “sister who stayed”.  (one day soon, as she gets a bit older, we’ll have to go through this with her too – showing her she will always stay).

Since then we’ve had 10 kids and 6 placements.  We’ve learned a lot more about fostering and so has our son.  With all that experience in mind I’d recommend the following:
  • Emphasize that kids will come and go but your forever kids will stay forever.  Be prepared to have to reiterate that with them when a placement comes and goes.
  • Figure out how you want to explain foster care.  We used “sicky” and still do for younger kids.  If your kids are older, think now about how much you want to share with your forever kids.  We wouldn’t share the details with our kids, probably even if they were older, but as they get older they can and should learn more.  For example, many of our kids have experienced neglect because of parental drug use.  We tell Logan, who is fairly advanced for his age, that the mommies & daddies didn’t do xx (feed them enough healthy food, protect them enough, etc.) and we are now introducing the concepts of drugs to him but we’re not going to tell him that they are addicted to crystal meth or cocaine and that the kids were found playing in a storm sewer (I made that up…).  
  • Use teachable moments based on the age-level of your child.  We watch the news about once a day in our home, at least some of that time is when the littles are watching (like when we’re getting ready for school in the morning).  Sometimes we mute the tv if it is a story we don’t want our kids to hear, but most of the time we leave it alone and use the stories as a teachable moment.  Check out this post for an example.  We look for all sorts of examples to reiterate the purpose of foster care, adoption, and why they both need to exist so that it is a normal thing in our home, not something taboo.  It also helps build a relationship with our kids so that when they hear things like that in the news or when people ask them questions at school, church, etc., they feel free to bring those concerns to us so we can talk about it in our home.
  • Discuss abuse & neglect in age-appropriate ways including what to do if/when your children witness unacceptable behaviors.  Our son Logan is too young to sit down and explain more advanced topics of abuse but, as I pointed out, we discuss private areas and have setup the “emergency scream” (with practice!) in case of stranger danger or other abuse situations.  Older children should have more explicit conversations.  As noted here, my sister sat her children down (they are 10 & 12) to talk about more explicit abuse the children may have faced along with behaviors they may see in foster children (or children at school) that are unacceptable.  As a result of this conversation, one of my nephews mentioned behavior he’d witnessed in one of my foster kids that he didn’t know he should report to us.  The purpose of these conversations is to build open dialogue between you and your kids so they know what is unacceptable and that they can come to you with their concerns. 

Finally, be prepared to not have all the answers.  Things will come up that you didn’t know to talk about.  Things will surprise you, so they’ll surprise your kids.  The best thing you can do now is to build a solid relationship with your forever kids so that as a “core family” you can learn to go with the flow together as much as possible – so that you can have those conversations together as things come up – so they know they can come to you when weird things happen or when they have a concern.  The more you do that the better prepared you’ll all be to work together as a foster family.

One final thing to mention – we try to be as involving as possible with our kiddos in the whole process.  When we have a spot open we talk to Logan about whether he wants to have more foster kids.  He doesn’t get to decide but it helps us to know where he’s at and talk to him about our family.  When we get a placement call we include him in the decision, going as far as calling him at school to tell him we got a call and ask his thoughts about it.  Again, he doesn’t get to make the final decision but we try to let him know that he is part of our family and gets to have his voice heard in our family’s journey through foster care.

I am going to have a guest blogger (Kylee from Learning to Abandon) answer this question next week.  She is a sister in a foster/adopt family and blogs about her experience as a foster sibling.  Tune in next week to hear her perspective!