Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thankful Thursday - My newest placement

Christmas was a wonderful time except for an unfortunate argument with my hubby.  We'll forget about that. All-in-all it was a great day and we even received a nice blanket of snow in our neck of the woods.

Christmas night my two kiddos went to bed in my bed.  We watched elf.  They slept well.  I slept ok between the dogs wanting to go out several times and trying to get comfy with my littlest child in my bed.

I went to bed as a mother of two.  Little did I know that it would be the last night for (a while) that I would have the chance to have a full, peaceful-night's sleep.

I woke up the day after Christmas with grand plans.  We were going to finish watching elf.  We were going to enjoy the snow with sledding and snowball fights in the backyard.  I thought maybe I might get started on cleaning the house.  Friends and family were coming over to enjoy the sledding fun.

About midway through the day my phone began to ring from an unfamiliar number (it seems by now I have all of the CPU numbers in my phone).

CPU: Hello, I was wondering if you'd be willing to accept a placement.  He's a 2-day old..
(jumping in) Mie: Yes!... Uh I'm sorry go ahead.
CPU: He's a (insert kiddo's story here).
Mie: Um of course!  I'd love to!!!  Um...I need to go ask my hubby really quick but I'm sure we will.

Mie: (waking hubby up) - Hun.  It's CPU with a baby.  Can we take him?!!!????  He's 2 days old.
Hubby: That's SO young! (Kind of whining)
Mie:  *sheepish grin*  Can we?

Needless to say after what seemed like the LONGEST wait EVER a little (3-day) old baby arrived at my home, straight from the hospital.

I'm. In. Love.

I'm super giddy, even after a night of (no) sleep with a newborn.

There's a high likelihood this kiddo will not go back to his family, in my guess.  There's also at least a high likelihood that a family member will step up.  We shall see on both.

Nevertheless, I'm SUPER thankful for this opportunity.  It will be interesting in the next few weeks as I go back to work with a newborn at home and no daycare to take him to until after he's 6 weeks old, but hey...I couldn't turn this chance down!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Our First No

No sooner than I posted my last post (and then sent out about 25 emails to all of our past caseworkers & investigators letting them know our house was open) I received another call for placement.  This time it was from a FAD worker looking initially for a respite placement but really a pre-adoptive or at least legal risk placement for a 2 year old boy.

This boy would be almost guaranteed to be an adoptive placement.  He needs a family now.  They are wanting to find him a good family now.

CPS is known to embellish the truth or omit key details sometimes when they are looking for a good family to take certain placements.  When you've been in this world a bit you start to notice certain phrases like "needs structure" or "enjoys fantasy stories" that sound like typical parent/child things but really are code-words for challenging diagnoses.  As a foster or adoptive parent, it's just something you keep your eyes open for when listening to a child's initial description.

In the case of the boy I was presented with yesterday, there appeared to be NO sugar coating.  I think I heard 2 "good" things about his boy in the entire conversation ("he's very smart" and "on his good days he can be really sweet").  The rest was full of real and pseudo diagnoses.  Given the brief history CPS has and I was given I would guess that most of the trauma behaviors are directly due to the trauma (it would be our first abuse case instead of neglect) and attachment disorder(s).  The way it was described to mie made it sound like this child will be on psychotropics as he gets older (that was actually said) and he would likely be a prime candidate to develop a conduct disorder and/or ODD as he ages.

I told the caseworker I'd think about it and talk to my husband.  Thankfully, he and I were on the same page about this one.  We will offer to do respite but otherwise say no for the following reasons:

  • We hope to stay open to keep a sibling group together.  Taking a single child would limit our ability to take larger sibling groups in the future, which are harder to place than a single 2-year old boy.
  • If the description is accurate, we would almost certainly need to close for a while to give this boy the care he needs.  Again, it doesn't quite fit with our openness to have a large family.
  • Based on the behaviors this child has, it seems as if he'd be better as a single child.  Most likely he'd be better with a SAHM.  Most likely he'd need to stay out of childcare and need an alternative schooling arrangement as he gets older.  Not exactly our situation in our home.
Ultimately we want to be available to what God wants for our family so we want to be open to taking this child but we also want to make sure this child gets to the best family for him.  We feel like we'd be an acceptable family for him but not the best family for him and since they are looking to find a home he can stay in permanently, I'd hate to take him and prevent him from getting to the family he needs to be in.

BUT/SO, we're happy to do respite for the family he's currently in so he doesn't have to go to a residential treatment center as a 2-year-old.  This would keep us open and available to him as a possible long-term placement, giving us the chance to evaluate his behaviors and fit in our home at least temporarily to get confirmation of whether we should move forward or not with him as a placement AND it would give his current foster family rest so they could take him back for a while until they find the permanent family.  For us this seems like a no brainer solution.  I just have to call the CW back.

Of course as I typed this out all I heard was "don't you trust mie?"...*sigh*  Here goes! (the call to the CW, I mean)...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Empty Home (Again)

As of Friday our home will be empty again.

We finally faced our first "because the judge said" short-notice removal.  #15 had a hearing on Thursday that overlapped a permanency conference for #14 50 miles away.  I chose to go to the PC instead of the hearing which in hindsight was the right choice but I missed what must have happened at the hearing.  At the PC I learned that #14 was probably going home to a relative right after the holidays (a relative who refused to take him PRIOR to entering foster care but once he was in foster care had to get involved.....) so it was good that I was there to hear that in person.  A few hours later I learned that the judge for #15 had ordered immediate placement with an out-of-state relative, which meant #15 was leaving on Friday.  I'm surprised based on the circumstances we got that much time.

Almost our entire family was in town to experience the foster care drama first-hand.  I had prayed that they would get to see some of the process though what I meant was that they'd see a placement arrive, not a PC with an unexpected twist and an immediate removal.  I tried to explain at how crazy an out-of-state order without an approved home study was, at how unusual that circumstance is especially when ICPC is avoided, and yet allowed them to see some of how it affects our home when we get these calls.  I dropped #15 off at the office on my way to my graduation.  All in a days work.

Today I talked to #14s CW who said though she could move #14 on Friday (before it wasn't going to be until after 1/1) she wanted to wait  because he is sick and she didn't want to move him while sick.  I disagreed and said he needed to be moved because a) this person whom he has a relationship may make him feel better while he's sick than I can b) the relative needs to be able to care for him while he's sick and c) let's not prolong the inevitable.  I win.

On a separate-but-related note, turns out this CW (who I really like) was the CW for #5 and #6.  If you remember, those were the two cutie-patooties we had for just 2 weeks that were moved because we were expecting Summer's brother.  She remembered us when she called and gave me and update on the girls who, surprise surprise were adopted by their next placement.  In other words, if we didn't have them moved since brother didn't come anyway, we would have adopted #5 and #6.

This is starting to wear on mie.  It's not the kids or the system or the impact it has on our family.  I'm wallowing in my self-pity wondering why-on-Earth WE can't have permanent members added to our family through birth or through adoption.  Why???  Why have we had 7 placements so far this year, 5 of whom came and left in the last 4 months.  I completely support foster care.  I completely support reunification or family placements.  I completely support all of the kids in our care by being a great active foster parent.  We have a great home and a great family.  We're at least decent parents.  WHY CAN'T WE HAVE PERMANENCY?

It's really bumming mie out.  I'm sitting around hoping that we can get a call soon for "the perfect" placement - you know the one that fills our home to capacity with great kids that are going to stay forever.  And then to top it off get a surprise pregnancy with twins or triplets that just puts the icing on the cake.  (yes, I have weird fantasies).

Honestly, I think I know why.  In my deepest heart that I try to repress I feel like if we become full then the flow of children through our home would stop.  Maybe God only wants us to be foster parents because if our home fills to capacity permanently then the ministry we have as foster parents would stop.  Maybe we're supposed to be that family that has 1000 children on our journey.  All ours, but not really, you know?  Just as I've never been able to imagine being pregnant for the last time I'm not really able to imagine the time coming when we take our last call for a placement either because we close our doors or our home is permanently full.  Is this God's plan?  I don't know...but I have my suspicions.

So, this is where I am today.  Things are good.  Life is good.  I'm incredibly aware of how blessed I am as a mom to a 6-year-old who came home on Friday and everyday since.  I'll continue to try and focus on my blessings rather than my problems as I usually do but I can't completely ignore the tug at my heart that wants to scream "IT'S NOT FAIR!!!".  It's not.  That's just the way it is.  On the other side of this journey I do believe we'll have a more complete picture of our lives' stories.  And I know that it is and will be worth it all.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Moolah Monday: Planning for Christmas Presents with Large Families

I know many of you may be finished with your Christmas shopping already but I wanted to share our method of planning for and shopping for gifts in our household.  Creating a plan is a good way to ensure you purchase all the gifts you intend to purchase while having visibility into how much you're spending compared to budget.

Our family gifts on Christmas morning (immediate family) includes a present from Santa, a present from mom, a present from dad, and then each of the siblings trade gifts.  Mom and dad usually give bigger gifts than Santa.  After those three gifts are opened, one sibling will give out the gifts from them to all of the other siblings.  So we'll say "ok Logan, it's your turn to give your gifts.  Kids these gifts are from Logan!" and in his case now that he's older he's had a hand in picking them out.  Even the babies or new fosters will have a chance to give "their" gifts out, whether or not are big enough to pick out their gifts to give or physically hand them out.  When we don't have foster brothers and sisters we'll include the dogs as givers, but for the last few years we've had foster brothers and sisters so we haven't worried about that.  Additionally Santa will fill stockings and we'll have a present to open on Christmas eve.

Currently we have 4 kiddos in our home or 6 total family members.  Even if you're not great at math you can tell that our system can become complicated to manage AND expensive without a plan.  We use a matrix graph like the one shown here (I've drawn this out for you - we usually draw it out too) to help plan and then guide our purchases.

You can use this in several ways.  Here's my process:

1) Use the pink shaded areas (giving to you from you) to keep track of presents you think might come from the jolly old fellow himself.  This keeps those presents on your list without making it obvious in case little eyes should happen upon the list (of course it could be obvious to those little eyes if they see the list then see what they received from Santa later, but still, it gives you a chance to come up with a plan if you need to).

2) First things, first.  Set your overall target budget.  How much are you wanting to spend on Christmas gifts.  Note - this needs to be less than your total if you have other people to buy for (grandparents, coworkers, nieces & nephews, etc.).  Don't stray from this total budget amount unless you know where that money is coming from (extra in your budget, savings, etc.)...

The next step you can choose to do either A or B first - whichever makes you happy or works better for you.  We do A first so that's what I'll start with.  HINT - Use pencil. You WILL need to make changes.

3A)  Using your childrens wish lists, write in the presents you want to purchase for them & the estimated price.  You'll notice from Dad to Logan there is a Meep online tablet.  This is a real wish for our son despite the fact that we bought him a Leap Pad last year.  (Also note that we don't usually spend that much on one person, except I just told you we bought a Leap Pad last year so maybe we do...this year we'll be giving the Leap Pad to Summer as a gift for her since it's fairly new & Logan would get the Meep.  Shhh...don't tell him.)  You may fill in all of the boxes with their wish lists this way.  

3B) Write in how much you'd like to spend in each box.  So, I might say that since #14 is so young I'd like to keep each gift between $5 and $10 and fill that in for each of his gifts in row "#14" across.  

4) When there is an estimated OR allotted amount in each box, add up the total for each row (and/or column, if you wish).  You should now have a target goal for each person (received if you're using the total column, given if you're using the total row). 

5) Add up the total columns (or rows).  If you're total is LESS than the grand total goal (bottom right box) then you can make adjustments by spending MORE on one or more person (or keep the difference in your budget!).  If you're total is MORE than the grand total goal then you need to make adjustments by reducing the amount spent on one or more person.  Repeat steps 3-5 until your total for each person matches the grand total you wish to spend.  Note - you may not fill in the exact item for each box - as long as you have a target amount you're fine. but I recommend at least having the type of item (book, socks, movie, etc.) so you're not running through the whole store trying to think of SOMETHING.

NOTE - in our family we don't particularly care whether one child received EXACTLY the same $$ amount of gifts as the other kids in our family or not.  They are different ages and like different things so the amount spent might be different.  The amount given might also be different at this point since we're funding all of the gifts BUT the total given for each person could be useful if you have older kids who are buying their own gifts (something I recommend, as a lesson in budgeting AND giving).  Not to mention they need to be grateful with what they received not comparing to what everyone else received.  In any case you might be interested in this total by person concept to make them match exactly or at least know how much you spent, if you care.

6) Shop for the "MUST HAVES" on your list. Using a colored pen or marker, cross off the gifts as you put them in the cart.  VERY IMPORTANT - cross out the target price and write down the ACTUAL price next to it in the same box.  For example, I might find a MEEP on sale for $100.  I'd cross off the $150 and write $100 next to it).  Don't estimate - write down what the price tag says (or sale price if it is on sale). 
If you're purchasing a gift that is MORE than what you had planned, you'll have to immediately figure out which present you're making the adjustment to.  For example, I might find a MEEP for $165 dollars, which is $15 more than I'd planned to spend on it.  In that case I might erase the $25 for each of the other kiddos and put $20 each instead - that helps me make up the $5.  Or, I decide I don't want to cut money from my other kids to buy this MEEP so I find a different item, go shopping for it somewhere else, etc.

7)  Once you pick-up the "must haves" on your list, you can use the same process as in #6 to buy all of the things you weren't particular about.  For us these are the gifts for the younger kiddos who don't care and we can spend less on, if needed.  Realistically, last year we had a 16-month old and a 2 year old who didn't really care what they opened!  So we ended up spending $5 or so on many of their gifts to be able to afford the bigger gifts for the others (Xbox Kinect, Leap Pad, etc.).  

TIP- I drew this matrix to take up the whole sheet so you could see it.  You could either draw it smaller (or do it electronically) so you have room on the sides to write down other gifts you want to purchase or use the back of the sheet so you can have that with you while shopping.  You'll notice I wrote down the PJs (Christmas eve gift) on the side - I should write an amount.

The thing I like the most about this system is that it helps mie stay organized and on-track without constantly having to think back as to whether or not I got kid #1 a gift from kid #2 already or not.  It's also helpful when I (or the hubby *wink*) decides last minute to purchase a gift that would be way higher than what we can afford or intended to spend - we can easily regroup about the gift situation and determine if we want to cut from other places, not buy that gift, or pull from savings.  We can look across the landscape of gifts we're buying each other and make sure we're incorporating the kids wishes without going broke.  I also love that it doesn't matter what your budget is - you might end up with lots of $1 store presents if that's what you can afford - you can make this system work for you.  You *could* start this process much earlier in the year (for your forever kids anyway) and keep track of their wishes through the year that you might want to get them so you can look for things on sale or at least start earlier than I will be.  If you have more kids, add more rows and columns.  If you have less kids, it works there too.  You can put mom and dad on the list, or not, it's up to what works for your family.

(BTW - I won't be shopping for most of these gifts until, oh, the weekend before Christmas because that's how I roll and that's when we'll receive the paycheck that we've planned to cover Christmas gifts.  But honestly that's the way I like to do it anyway...nothing like staying up every night before Christmas wrapping presents!  I'm serious).

Hope this has been helpful.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Thanksgiving Placement - An Unexpected Dilemma

#14 came to us Thanksgiving morning.  Early.

My husband and I have agreed to say yes to every placement we are offered and are allowed to per our license.  It's an act of faith for us and obedience to care for the kids who need a home.  

With that in mind, we don't really hesitate when we get a call.  We find out as much information as we can so we know what to expect.  We give a tentative yes until we can talk as a couple out of respect for our marriage (if we're not together when the call comes in) and then we start getting ready for whatever comes our way.  We try to ensure we set aside enough money for the initial daycare funds or whatever else we might need when a child comes.  We have most bedding situations available.  I have 10-12 tubs of clothes, organized by gender and size (and sometimes season) so we can pull out whatever we already have as the child arrives.  We have all the baby equipment (swing, bassinet, playpen, strollers, etc.).  We have enough of many things for multiples - not that we've had real twins or triplets but have frequently have had 2 or more of the same size & gender child in our home at times.  With all of that, we usually need to buy at least something for each child as they arrive.

It was 3:54 in the morning.  I was sleeping soundly.  The phone rang and it was CPU.  She had already spoken to my hubby who wasn't home at the time and he'd agreed to the placement as long as she would call mie and I agreed as well.  (I had made a big deal about having CPU call me FIRST - then I forgot to bring my cellphone into the bedroom with me that night - Ugh).  I got only a little bit of information (this CPU worker has placed with us a few times and is not my favorite) and said yes.

It was 2 1/2 hours before the kiddo arrived.  We did the normal paperwork.  Usually before the investigator leaves they will drop off a whole bunch of stuff that needs washed OR a small bag with enough essentials to get through the day.  The bag arrived with nothing but a lifebook inside.  I asked if I should expect more things to come - he said not likely.  That's ok, I said, we have plenty of stuff upstairs. I just needed to know if I should get it all out or if I should get out a few things to last while I waited for his stuff to come.

As it turns out, I didn't have any stuff for him.  I found 2-3 shirts, a lightweight jacket, and a few pairs of shorts.  No big deal, I thought.  I'll just go as daylight comes and get him a few things.

Except - it was Thanksgiving.  Nothing was open on Thanksgiving.

I eventually found Walmart.  I never found where all of my 2T boy stuff went.  

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tuesday's Tears - Packing (and unpacking)

#14 & 15 have joined our home.  I have so much to write about with these two (separate cases).

#15 joined our home Friday night.  CPU called while I was wrapping things up for the day at work and a few hours later we were waiting by the door to welcome our newest family member.  She is the oldest child we've ever had (though not by much), which is proving to be a new experience for us.  We're all still feeling things out.

It was my favorite CPU worker who called.  I was excited when she was asking if we still had two spots available in our home.  I was disappointed when she said she had a single child to send to us.  Even more dissapointed when she described the scenario that makes it look very much like this will be a short-term placement.  We still hope to adopt.  We still hope to adopt a 2-3 member sibling group.  Ever since we opened up for our 3rd (5th) spot, we've had nothing but short-term singlets.  Short-term singlets are great and in many ways are easier than long-term sibling groups, nevertheless OUR plans are not coming to fruition as we'd hoped.

and the pattern continues...when will I learn?

This placement came with a few boxes worth of stuff (which is MUCH more than I can say for #14 who arrived with only a blank Lifebook).  Boxes from family go straight into the laundry room for sorting, washing, etc.  I didn't have a chance to open them until late Sunday night and found the usual smoke-filled mixture of random books, toys, and clothes of various (inappropriate) sizes.  And about a dozen pairs of sandals.  In December.

As frustrating as it can be to go through boxes like these (and subsequently have all of YOUR KIDS stuff smell like a bar no matter how hard you try (I didn't try vinegar, maybe I should have...), this time it made me pause.

A few days ago, someone packed up this child's belongs.

Someone who I have every reason to believe loved this child very much.  Regardless of whether or not they were able to care for #15 sufficiently, they most likely loved her.

I imagined a mother or grandmother quietly sobbing as she placed each item into the boxes (in this case, I believe there was at least a LITTLE time to pack rather than just dump a handful of items as quickly as possible).  I imagine she regretted the situation that led to that day.  I imagined she was beating herself up for the past choices made.  I imagined she was wondering how long it would be before she was able to see this child again, if ever.  I imagined her worrying about where this child was going - into foster care - and what type of home she'd be in, what her daily life would be like, what her future would look like.  Silent (or sobbing) tears streaming down her face.  Worry.  Fear.  Despair.

I put myself in that person's shoes.  I KNOW what that is like.  I've packed up my children's things.  I've thought those thoughts.  I've said goodbye to my children knowing that I'd likely never see them again - hoping they'd know I wasn't getting rid of them, that I loved them, that I was still their mom even when they weren't in my house any longer they were still part of our family.  Forever.

The stuff stinks.  At least half of it is not the right size and even more is not the right season.  I'm sure it has been contaminated with whatever was in that home.

But that doesn't really matter does it?  It's just stuff.  I can't say for sure, but I imagine the act of packing up those boxes was FAR bigger than purging stuff.  Imagine being a biological mom (many of us can) who is packing up your child's baby things.  Remember all the reminiscing, the good memories, the sadness that this phase is over.  Maybe you store it in the attic - maybe you donate - maybe you save for later.  Usually when you're done you replace those things with bigger, newer things that provide hope for the days to come - things that represent a new phase of life that still includes your child who you're watching grow and learn and mature.  Who you still get to tuck in at night.  Who you still get to hug in the mornings.

When this person packed up these things they did so knowing the child would be leaving as well.  At this point, there is no child for them to turn to, no bigger size to put in the drawers, no smiles to see or new things to watch her learn.  She is with mie.  I get to enjoy those things as I look down my nose at the nasty stuff that they sent.  That stuff that represents so much more.

I don't know this family yet - I don't know much of anything about them.  They may be the bane of my existence one day.  They may do things that drive me up the wall in the future.  (they may be great!)  What I know today is that there is a family who has lost their child, if only temporarily for now, whose hearts must be in a state of despair.  Later I might have to deal with visits and phone calls and dirty looks.  Right now I can pray.  I can pray for them that they might find hope in these desperate circumstances.  That they find the love of our Savior and their lives can be redeemed, one day being reunited with this child with joyous celebration.  I can pray for mended hearts and love.

I can't fix their family.  I can't fix the demons that haunt their lives.  I can't make them make better choices.  But I can pray for hope.

Do Something.