Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Teaching Ethics? Maybe yes.

It is difficult to know when to try to control our kids and when to let them make their own decisions.

It is not easy with kids you've had from birth, but it is easier. When they are tiny you make the decisions. As they get older you give them more freedom. Of course we almost never give them as much freedom as they want, but the gap (by comparison) is not that large.

With teen foster kids it is so much more complicated. Many of them have had very little supervision and they do not take kindly to someone trying to control them. The problem is they so often need it.

Dan (Other People's Kids) and I are currently in different places. He is dealing with a kid who desperately needs some control and he and his wife are providing it -- and entertaining the rest of us at the same time (thanks Dan!). I have been there.

I am at the other extreme (well, as close as you can get and still pretend you are being a parent at all) with Evan. Evan is basically not self-destructive. Most of his decisions are pretty good. With the approval of the social worker we have agreed that as long as he follows the rules that he agreed to (go to school, pass classes, do chores, be respectful, be where he says he will be, come home, etc.) we will trust that he is making good decisions and not try to monitor and control him. (You can tell already that Evan is a relatively easy kid because he has been keeping up his end of the bargain).

He has made some decisions recently that I really disagree with. I have been tempted to clamp down. I'm resisting though.

It appears to be working, I think. In any case there are signs of hope. He had his first "client" in his on-line psychic "job." He came to talk to me about it. We had a very interesting conversation. He said that he was more uncomfortable than he expected, lying to people for money. I told him that his discomfort showed that he had a conscience and that was a good thing. He said he wanted me to make him feel better about it because he could make lots of money doing it. I told him that I really could not help him feel better about committing fraud. He told me how certain he was that he would not get caught. I told him how irrelevant I thought that was to the ethical question at hand.

Interestingly this conversation was actually fairly light. We were talking about serious things, but there was laughter while we talked.

Here's the way I am thinking about it: Evan has been thinking in terms of what he can get away with. If I forbid him to do it, then I encourage that sort of thinking. He would either not be doing it because he couldn't get away with it or (more likely and much more terrible) getting away with it and feeling proud of how clever he is. By instead expressing disapproval and letting him choose I am giving him the opportunity to not do it because it is wrong.

Right now I am hopeful. Wouldn't it be cool if it worked?

So I wonder what the next post on this issue will be. Will I be feeling all wise and wonderful? Or will I be feeling duped and foolish?

I am breathless with anticipation.

Next: Thinking about lying

Teaching ethics? Apparently not.

Last week Evan was only at school Wednesday morning. (Tragedy for Evan (with updates)). Yesterday evening I asked him how his first day back went. He said that it was okay. He was nervous so he took a Tylenol with Codeine and that helped.


We had another one of those confusing running around in circles conversations like when I tried to explain why hanging out with criminals was a bad idea (Evan -- master of the "real world").

The main points in the circle were:

Me: Codeine is addictive when taken to control anxiety.

Evan: I won't get addicted because:

  1. If I were going to get addicted it would be to something that makes you feel good -- like meth.
  2. I won't take meth because I know it is not just about fun and energy and losing weight. It can really mess up your teeth.
  3. I like codeine not because it makes me feel good but because it helps me just not feel.

Me: Right. You are taking it to control anxiety. Codeine is a good pain killer, and is not addictive when taken to control pain, but it is addictive when taken to control anxiety.

Evan: But I won't get addicted.

I really can't tell if he is having fun messing with me or if he believes what he is saying. He really seems to believe it -- and he did really take the codeine. (Okay...So how did he get it? That's my fault. I left the bottle of legitimately prescribed medication on the counter instead of putting it back into the lock box).

He changed the subject to tell us all about how a friend at school told him that he could make $150/hour as an on-line psychic. He went to the site and signed up! I asked him if at the very least the site had a clear statement about being for entertainment purposes. "I don't know. I am not liable for anything." I considered trying to explain the concept of fraud and expressing that it was unethical to participate in it, but I did not.

So here is my worry -- Evan's responses to people tend to be honest and nurturing. He does not lie and genuinely feels badly if he hurts someone. He is considerate of other people's needs. He also fails to recognize any ethics beyond this. As soon as he moves away from personal relationships he feels no obligations whatsoever. The only reason for obeying the law is the possibility of getting caught. Fraud, cheating, plagiarism -- these are not wrong.

My biggest worry is Evan's confidence that he can play with fire and not get burned.

He genuinely seems to see the ethical commitments of my family as naive.

So today I am really asking...Does anyone have any idea how to respond to this? Is there a response?

Teaching Ethics II

Monday, January 30, 2006

Back from the memorial

David and Andrew both wanted to go to the service for K's mom. K was especially happy to see David. There was lunch in the fellowship hall after the service. Andrew and I ate right away and then he cleared places and I followed to set new ones -- the church was packed. Fortunately people trickled in for the lunch so no one was ever standing and waiting for a table.

Just when I thought we were ready to go K came and asked David to go outside and talk. So I went back and sat down for another hour.

I told K that I had printed the letters her mother wrote to PFLAG two years ago and that they were with the sympathy cards. She seemed to really appreciate it. I am so glad that I didn't delete them.

I'm exhausted.

I got home and there were two messages on the answering machine.

1. Would I take David's younger brother for respite on President's Day weekend. Answer: no. I am already committed to taking two girls from another home. I think seven people in this house are enough. Although I did wimp out -- I left a message with the social worker saying that if things were desperate she could call me back.

2. Would I testify against the evil anti-gay marriage amendment at the hearing Thursday morning? Evan was there when I played it, "You're going to do it, right? Of course you are." I told him that hubby and I were planning on lobbying on Wednesday and I did not know if I could manage both. I guess I will call and ask where I can do the most good. I won't lobby without Hubby, but I wonder if he would lobby without me? Maybe there are some other people that I could recruit for the hearing.

Next: Teaching Ethics I

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Dealing with death

If you had read the previous posts you know that last weekend Evan's cousin died. On Monday when I called the social worker she said she had to go out of town because her cousin had also died.

On Thursday I got a call from someone at church. She told me that T. had also died in a car crash. Somehow all I registered was "someone from church." It seemed to me then that I was living some dark comedy in which people are dropping dead around me.

Last night at dinner I asked my husband, "Do we know T?" He looked at me, shocked. "It's K.'s mother."

Oh my god...oh my god...oh my god...I can't breathe. Where's the air? Some analytical part of my brain thinks, "Well of course you could not 'hear' that on Thursday. You could not deal with Evan's grief and this at the same time."

K's mother. I love this girl, this young woman and she has lost her mother.

Her mother -- a woman whose hair is always just so. She was tense, high-strung, nervous. She emailed PFLAG two years ago telling me her teenaged daughter had just come out. They needed a safe place to go to church. Did I know of one? Did I have any resources? I told them about my church and about the youth group for gay kids at The Community Center.

I admired her because supporting her daughter was so difficult for her and yet she did it. She lived in a world in which everything was supposed to be a certain way and then, when her daughter turned not to fit those expectations she adjusted. She did not march in the pride parade (literally or figuratively) but I know how difficult it was for her to contact PFLAG, to move to a new church, to accept what her daughter was saying to her.

K would complain that her mother worried too much, made her come home too early, didn't want her to come out at school, and thought that she should not have a girlfriend until she was in college. "She just wants you safe, sweetie." "I am safe!" "I know. Give her time. Besides, you'll be off and in college before you know it."

I printed off the letters that T wrote to PFLAG two years ago. I am going to give them to K. I hope they provide her with some small comfort. Evidence that the woman for whom change was so difficult reaching out, asking for help to be what her daughter needed her to be.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lobby Day

The anti-gay marriage amendment is making its way through the state government again. Two years ago it made it through the house and was killed in committee. Last year we managed to get it voted down on the senate floor. We really have a good chance of defeating it again. This is a conservative state, but it is largely a libertarian conservativeness. There are quite a few conservative republicans who are arguing that we should not be fighting this battle in the state constitution.

Two years ago I lobbied the senators with Hubby, Andrew and David. We cornered several of them. The senator from my home town was very junior and very nervous about taking a stand on the issue. I told him about the violence that GLBT kids face and my concern that if they adults fight about this it will be echoed in the school yards. When we asked him to tell the committee chair that he supported her (unannouced) decision to kill it in committee he readily agreed to do so.

We talked to one senator who expressed sympathy and then said, "I just don't understand why these people have to flaunt their sexuality." She said this while waving around her left hand on which was the biggest, gaudiest wedding/engagement/anniversary ring set I have ever seen. I took a very deep breath and steered the conversation to the ways the amendment might immediately nullify old "common law" marriages endangering (heterosexual) couples' security.

I talked to an experienced senator who was very polite and ready to listen and then do what he was going to do. I asked him if he agreed that this was an effort of the religious right to weaken the moderate and libertarian Republicans in the government. He engaged for the first time and said that that was something worth thinking about.

I went home and took a bath. I had spent the afternoon trying to find people's vulnerabilities. I had appealed to emotions, to power, to whatever I could to persuade the people I had to persuade.

I did everything that I tell my students not to do. I made the sort of "arguments" that I tell my students not to be persuaded by. I never once gave my clear rational argument for the equality of citizens under the law. I never gave it because my gut told me that the people I was talking to would not listen.

The experienced person that I was paired with told the organizers at the de-briefing that I was great -- very effective.

One of the reasons I know the organizers were glad we were there was that we were the only heterosexual family. We look so "normal." I wore a dress and a cross.

Last year I just sent a letter to eveyone. It was a good letter. Someone sent it to PFLAG national and they sent it out in their weekly newsletter. It was full of motherly concern about my boys mingled with patriotic language, "Here in the home of the brave and the land of the free, where we value equality above all else, my sons are not equal."

And now here it comes again. Wednesday is lobby day. I should ask Hubby if he can take a half day off and go with me. We should go to the capital building and show ourselves, "See: nice heterosexual people are opposed to this amendment too."

I want not to do it. I want just to write a good letter. I will write about it in the PFLAG newsletter (which I have to get out soon). I make excuses for myself: I have a full-time job (okay...so I am on sabbatical at the moment, but still); I have kids at home; I volunteered to take over the presidency of PFLAG when S. needed a break. I look around at the other activists -- none of them has so many commitments.

So why don't I let myself off the hook?

Because Evan looked at me, with expectation, not judgment, in his eyes and said, "What are you doing this year to stop it?"

Foster care and RAD (subtitle: missing Ann)

I started reading some other blogs recently. I spent a couple of hours yesterday reading "0 to 5" (http://from0to5.blogspot.com/), crying over Lionmom's painful accounts of raising S, and missing Ann.

S and Ann both have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

RAD kids are exhausting to deal with. My way of understanding it is to imagine having come through a very painful break-up and then dealing with people who expect you to jump right back into a new relationship. You are not ready. If notice that someone is getting interested in you, you back away. If you start feeling interested in someone else you think, "I am just not ready for that yet." It makes sense and for most of us it is a temporary state. For RAD kids it is deep in their psyche. On one hand they want people to like them and so they are charming with strangers. On the other hand any level of intimacy scares the hell out of them.

Any kid who has been in the system is going to get suspicious when you act like you love them. "Yeah, right" they think "She has no idea what I am really like. Let's see if she still says that after I...." They tell some major whoppers, destroy a vacation, "borrow a car" for a joy ride, steal from your purse, break you favorite vase...you get the idea. If you are lucky you pass the test and things settle down. At least until they are getting ready to emancipate and need to ease the pain of separation by pissing you off.

RAD kids do that, but what is worse, they go into full panic mode when they start feeling love for you. Loving you means that they can be hurt and every deep internal psychological alarm goes off. Feeling love is for a RAD kid what hearing explosive noises is for a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder. They are in danger and you are the source of that danger. Run! Hide! DESTROY!

Lionmom has been managing wth S. Everyday I want to send her prayers to keep her strong. I know how completely exhausting every day is. You may know that outrageous, vicious, destructive, out-of-control behavior means that you are touching her heart, but that does not mean that you feel loved when she calls you filthy names in public places.

I could not keep Ann because my boys could not take it. I honestly don't know if it was harder that she was mean to them or that they had to watch her being mean to us. She has been in group homes, and put up for adoption at least twice. Unless she decides to contact me again, I have no way of knowing how or where she is.

So I send prayers out to whatever God might listen. "Keep Lionmom's family strong so that they can love S, and please, please...let Ann find a lion mother of her own."

Real family

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Evan lost cousin in a car accident last weekend.

He has spent most of this week with extended family. They are technically not related. When Evan was small his mother married into this family. She had Evan's younger sister (now fourteen) before the marriage broke up. None of this history matters to them. Evan is one of theirs.

After Evan had been here about a month Evan's grandmother said she would like to drop by and give me some extra onions. Evan tried to take them from her on the porch, but I knew why she was there. I invited her in and made Evan give her a tour of the house. We chatted in the kitchen for half an hour.

This past week he has met people for the first time who have introduced themselves as cousins, aunts and uncles. People have told him that if he ever decides to move to (insert town here) he must call them. They will give him a place to stay and help him find a job.

About 10 days ago his biological mother called him. She thinks she is a good mother because she never hit or abandoned her kids. When she was cooking meth in the kitchen years ago she made it a fun family science project. Of course there is that thing where her boyfriend beat Evan -- but Evan just kept insisting on going to that gay group so what do you expect? She blames Evan for her incarceration, for being separated from her daughters. If he had kept his bruises hidden everything would have been fine. She rarely calls, and when she does it never goes well. We over-heard him telling her mulitiple times that he was sorry. After the call he came to tell me that she had gone on and on about how in the end family is all you have. Then she asked him to send her money. He says he knows he is being manipulated, but he was not certain what he wanted to do.

You know, she is right -- in the end family is all you have. What she doesn't understand is who Evan's real family is.

Next: Back from the memorial

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's with all the car crashes?

As previously posted, Evan lost a cousin in a car accident this weekend.

The social worker is not in town to help me because she has travel to her home town -- for a funeral because her cousin died in a car crash.

The previous church youth group leader called to say sorry for missing our date for tea; she'd love to chat but she is going to sit with a friend whose partner just died in a car crash.

My god. I feel like I am living in some sort of dark comedy. What the hell is going on out there?

I want to call Hubby...tell him to drive home very, very slowly. But he should be in the car right now and I don't want him talking on the cell phone while driving.

Next: Real Family

Too cool for Evan

Evan told his social worker that he would only live with people who were cool with him being gay. Sometimes I think he wants to call her and say, "I didn't mean this cool."

He went on a date last week. When he got home I asked, "How was the date?" He was very uncomfortable. What exactly did I want to know? I said I was just asking how the date went. "I held his hand okay! We watched the movie and I held his hand. Is that what you wanted?" I laughed and told him I wasn't trying to get the dirty details about what he "did." I was just asking how his date went.

He looked at me like I was a creature from another planet. Then he started talking. He told me that the other boy wasn't out to his parents. He really liked him, but he wasn't allowed to call him. The boy did not even tell his parents he went to the movies. (Of course seeing as how they went to see Brokeback Mountain I do understand that telling the truth would be awkward). After a minute Evan stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me funny. It was like I could see the thought bubble over his head "I am talking to a 42-year-old heterosexual woman about my date with a boy." What he said was, "This is just too creepy. I'm going to my room."

I keep chuckling about it.

Next: Car crashes

"There's no such thing as a honeymoon period"

I went to a foster parent training for dealing with kids with attachment disorders. At one point the trainer said, "There's no such thing as a honeymoon period. That quiet time in the begining should be called 'observation and assessment.'"

Ain't it the truth? How long does it take the kids to figure out our weak points?

When David was first moving in the social worker said, "Remember, these people are educators. They are not going to let you cut school like you did at your last home." Later I asked her please not to say those things again. David would figure out how to upset us quickly enough -- she did not have to draw a him a map.

I am worried about life with Evan though. Either this is the longest "observation and assessment" period ever, or he is just not playing the game. I am actually beginning to think that he isn't interested in making me crazy -- but thinking that makes me nervous. ("Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.")

With the kids in the past there were two rough patches: 1) the stretch of time after A&O in which they tested to see if I would kick them out if they pissed me off; and 2) when they are getting ready to move out and needed to establish some emotional distance.

When David did his "terrible thing" after living with us for a couple of months I recognized it for what it was. I picked him up, drove him home and gave him a lecture in the car, "First. You are safe and loved. Second you are in deep, deep trouble. You are grounded. I will talk to your social worker about this and I will let you know if X is going to press legal charges. Third, you are safe and you are loved. Now go to your room."

Actually, I guess we did have a similar episode with Evan. Except it was not a big thing. He was just getting on my nerves. For some reason that morning I lost it. I forget what I said. I remember the social worker saying that there was nothing wrong with saying it. I tried to explain that it was the way I said it. I got pissed and yelled at him. I worried all day about whether I had wounded him. He came home cheerful.

It turned out that all the times that I was responding nicely he was not certain of what was going on. He was looking for hidden messages when there were none. Getting mad he understood. Once he knew what I looked like when I was genuinely mad he trusted me when I wasn't.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Coping with disparities between kids

If you have more than one child there is no way to behave that will not subject you to the claim that you are being unfair. You either treat all your children the same -- in which case you are probably only giving one child what he or she actually needs -- or you can respond to each child according to his or her needs, in which case you are clearly not treating them equally.

My goal is to respond to each of my children's needs individually. Given that I have children with vastly different needs, histories, and even legal limitations, this can create inequalities that also have to be addressed. For instance, grades came out this week. I congratulated Evan on grades for which I would have grounded Andrew. Evan sometimes has to be driven to multiple appointments in a week. It is usually a half hour drive each way and so we end up having lots of one-on-one time. Andrew and Brian will feel that they don't see me enough so I will take each of them out separately to the coffee shop for a half an hour of individual time. Evan will feel jealous that they get a special treat for no reason while Andrew and Brian will think that their cup of hot chocolate hardly compares to the two meals out that Evan got after his appointments.

The laws don't make things any easier.

Of course Andrew and Brian can spend the night with friends -- Evan however has to ask the parents to fill out a form for a criminal back ground check.

The church youth group is going on a short trip. When we get there they mention that due to road work they will be driving a route which will take them out of state for a few hours. My stomach clenches. Evan says, "You didn't hear that, right? You are still going to let me go, right?" The youth group leader is confused until I say, "It would take at least 2 months for me to get permission for Evan to leave the state."

Evan's social worker wants Evan to work 10-15 hours a week during the school year. He is not involved in any significant activities and doesn't have much homework at all, so that is reasonable. Andrew is in marching band, jazz band, and taking a heavy college prep schedule -- so he does not have to work. It makes sense to me -- but not to Evan.

Andrew could have got a license at 16, but Evan has to wait until he is 18. (Andrew has chosen to wait a while longer. He says driving is just not that important to him. I think that he is responding to the unfairness of the law).

If we were working for the state I would have to to buy Evan's clothes at Shopko and Walmart with vouchers while buying clothes for Andrew and Brian wherever I found good clothes at good prices.

Some families in the agency I work for have quite different problems: the agency pays for orthodontia, formal wear for the prom, a class ring or a complete senior portrait package, school expenses (including instrument rentals for band), and fees to participate in group activities (e.g. equipment rental for youth group trips). When they know that the family cannot afford to provide the same things for their birth kids they do try to dial it down -- but disparities still happen.

And there is all the history. Andrew and Brian have albums and boxes of photographs. Evan has four: one of himself with his dad who died when Evan was three, another of his mother, and two of his baby sister. Andrew and Brian have shelves of books, games and the cumulated stuff of a childhood spent in one place. Evan has nothing that was not purchased in the last 10 months. Andrew and Brian have stories about the silly things that they did when they were little. Evan has memories of the terrible things that happened to him. When Andrew and Brian start reminiscing, Evan can feel hurt. Sometimes he thinks they are deliberately trying to hurt him by calling attention to what they have that he does not.

When Andrew and Brian have a bad day and complain, Evan has trouble having sympathy for them. Once after 11-year-old Brian had a total melt-down crying because he was tired and stressed, Evan told me that he wanted to yell at him to shut up "Doesn't Brian know that he has EVERYthing? He has this home. He has parents who have taken care of him his whole life."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Confidentiality Rules

I want to reflect honestly about my experiences in foster care. It is good for me to have a place to do this and it might just help other people who are doing or are thinking about doing foster care. One thing I have learned is that how you deal with different youth depends largely on who they are, which depends upon their histories.

However I am also required to maintain the confidentiality of the children in my care.

So here are the guidelines/principles.

First, all the kids I am currently thinking about are 18 or above, or are my legal children. I have told them about the blog and am writing with their permission. This allows me to be more relaxed than I think I would be otherwise.

Second, I am doing everything I can to be annonymous. All the names are fake. I am not telling where I live or exactly what I do. I am also not telling the vast majority of people in my ordinary life that I am doing this. Anybody who really knows me and reads it will be able to figure out that it is me -- but they will also be people who already knew all the personal information in the blog.

Third, I ask myself whose story am I telling. Am I sharing my journey and telling only as much of the youth's story as is necessary to share that journey? Or am I just talking about the youth? This is a difficult question for me, and one which I return to. I may reconsider various posts, sometimes editing or deleting them, sometimes moving them to the private blog.

The biggest danger, of course, is that the kids know and may tell someone whose idea of what is mine to share and what is not mine differs from that which guides me here. That is a risk I am going to take. It would be safer not to write at all, but I choose to write.

Most of the foster parent blogs out there are actually foster/adopt blogs. Only a few of us are doing foster care for its own sake. I have no judgment about the value of one compared to the other, only the observation that they can be different. Reading the blogs of people whose journey is similar to mine has helped me. Perhaps reading about my journey will be helpful to others considering fostering.

So I will take the risk. If the only stories of foster parents that exist in the world are those told by the media, then we foster parents will forever appear to be either incomprehensible saints or incomprehensible monsters. We are, of course, neither. Though we may question our own sanity in doing this, though our hearts will break again and again as we love children who will never be entirely "ours", though we may find ourselves in trouble for doing something as simple as sharing the joys and heartaches of raising the children we love, we are in the end simply ordinary people struggling to do what we find we must do. We have good days and bad days.

Writing about it and reading others write about it is one of the things that helps me to do it.

If you are reading this, I hope it helps you too.

Some updates. Though it seemed right to tell the initial batch of kids about the blog and get their feedback on it, I have learned that expecting them to keep my secrets is unfair to them. So the respite kids don't know about it and I don't expect to tell newer kids who come into my life. There is another private blog where I still don't share everything, but where I do struggle with my journey when it deals with those of minor children or anything that is especially sensitive. See the side-bar for information about asking to read it if you like. I usually only open it up to people who my tracking program tells me have been around for a while.

Dedicated to foster care

I have been searching for other blogs of foster parents. So far all the ones I have found are in it to adopt.

Now that's wonderful...A fantastic thing to do. Still, I would like to find a few who were dedicated to doing foster care for its own sake.

It is not a money making venture. If you are lucky, you will be reimbursed at the rate of actual expenses. Personally, I think that it ought to be possible for people who are really good at this to make a living doing it, but that is another post altogether.

So why do we do it?

Because they need us and we can, or rather, we cannot walk away.

So far I have found that people tend to get in for several different reasons: (1) they hope to adopt; (2) They had a commitment to a particular kid. I have heard, "She was spending the night when her mother got arrested" and "we knew that his father was beating him and we kept calling social services" and like me "we just knew him and when his current placement fell through had to take him;" or (3) they knew another foster family and came to realize they could do this too. A very few people have said that they just always knew they wanted to do this.

Those of us in the first two categories stay because we realize we can do this. It is not just that we have a bedroom and enough time. We realize that we are fairly good at dealing with these kids. It came as quite a shock to me that I am good at dealing with passive aggressive adolescents. I actually take a perverse pleasure at my ability to dodge manipulation.

For my family it had a lot to do with the kids being gay. To one extent or another everyone finds foster care tiring. When the kids move out we often say that we would like a couple months off. But then we hear about another gay kid and we step up. If we can take them we don't want them to go to a home where they are merely tolerated.

So why am I not finding more foster parents blogs? Probably because I am not looking hard enough. Maybe because thinking about our kids and about how to care for them really does mean thinking about the particular ways they have been traumatized. It is important to protect everyone's privacy.

So please let me know if you are a foster parent with a blog. I would like to read your thoughts about the journey.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Tragedy for Evan (with updates)

Yesterday I jotted down a list of ideas for future posts. I was going to work on one of them today. I was going to be insightful, maybe a little funny.

But that was yesterday.

Today Evan learned that someone he loves is dead. Take one inexperienced driver in a small car, add an icy intersection and truck -- result: one passenger dead another injured. Both are dear to Evan.

He kept saying "She was just seventeen. I talked to her last week. Remember, you met her. She was just seventeen."

I am not certain how to help him through this.

Update 1/23: Evan is coping by being taking care of everyone else. He seems very comfortable in this roll and I know he is a comfort to those around him who are falling apart. I wonder how he will be when they no longer need him to be strong.

Update: 1/24: Evan said, "It just feels bad. It's like a bad taste your mouth. You know what I mean?" I think I do. I think he means that he stays busy and does not let himself really feel the pain. Mostly it works, but no matter how busy and distracted he is, it is still there. Like a bad taste in his mouth. The person he lost was the one he called whenever anything wonderful happened to him. I suspect those are going to be dificult moments in the future -- when he thinks, "I have to call J. and tell her about this" and she won't be there to call.

He says keeps getting angry at people who say that they have to trust that this is God's will. He does not see how it could be God's will that someone so loved could die at seventeen.

I told him, truthfully, that the past two mornings I have woke up and thought, "J. is dead. No...that was a dream. It must have been a dream. No. It is not a dream. She is dead." Then I wonder how Evan is.

Update 1/25: Evan tried to go to school today. He only made it through two hours. He was hoping to stay distracted, but people kept asking him where he had been and what was wrong. He just couldn't say, "My cousin died in a car crash this weekend" one more time. I told him to let me know what he needed. I know that CFP will help me find a grief counselor if he wants one. All I can think of to do is let him know that what he is feeling is normal and then to let him feel it. God knows, there is nothing I can do that will make the pain any less.

Update 1/26: I just took Evan to his grandmother's. Today is the service. On the way I told him if he could call to talk if he gets annoyed with people saying things like, "There must be a reason." I would rather he vent his frustration with that to me than to argue with people who are trying to find comfort themselves. He asked me what I thought. I told him that I thought there was a hole in the world. She was here. Now she is not. We will go on; we will even be happy again. But I too could not believe that there was some all-for-the-best plan that included the tragic death of a 17-year-old girl. She was here. Now she is gone and we must live without her.

More update 1/26: Evan dropped by for some stuff so that he could spend the night at his aunt's. He is getting to know cousins he did not know he had. God bless these people. Technically they are not even his relatives anymore, but don't tell them that. Evan aquired them when he was three or four and his mother married his first step-father. When people ask if this grandmother is from his father or his mother's side of the family he responds, "She is from my sister's side of the family." Shortly after Evan moved in Grandma came to say hi and check us out. We gave her the full tour; told her that she was welcome anytime. They keep thanking me for "letting" him spend so much time with them this week. I want to thank them for holding him close.

Next: Too Cool

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Evan -- master of the "real world"

When Evan moved in he was already nearly 18.

We agreed to very different sort of relationship than we had with the other boys. We agreed that we would work on the assumption that he could make his own decisions and would ask for help when he needed it.

For the most part this has worked very well. He asks for help with school, planning for life after high school, and how to cope with his manipulative mother (more, perhaps on that later).

But there are other things that he feels he does not need help with at all -- and I feel that he does. But I don't think there is anything I can do about it.

He has friends who he suspects are involved in criminal activity. He does not "hang out" with these friends, but he does talk for hours on the phone with them, one in particular who has now moved to another state (hurrah). Let's just refer to this fellow as X. Now Evan doesn't know for certain what X does. What he does know is that X seems to have a good deal of money and no job -- oh yes, he owns several guns.

I talked with Evan about my concerns, and it was as though we were speaking a different language. Evan kept trying to reassure me. He would like to go visit X and I should not worry.

"I can handle myself. Don't worry. If I walk into his apartment and there drugs and guns I won't freak out. No one's going to trick me into doing something I don't want to do. I am not going to get arrested. And I know how to act around thugs. I won't get beat up. I grew up with people like this. I'll be fine." And then of course he goes on, "You've been really sheltered, haven't you? I mean you just are not prepared to deal with the real world."

Oh where to start?

I didn't say: Not able to deal with the real world? I live in the real world. I am 42, have held real jobs (including some really bad ones), pay a mortgage, and parent a family. I have lived with one family member who was alcoholic, narcissistic and abusive, and with another who was severely bi-polar. I have called the police to take someone I love in handcuffs to the county mental hospital. I may not have lived with people who are criminals, but I have lived through thousands of hours of faculty committee meetings. Hell, I gave birth to a 9 lb 8 oz baby without any pain meds (not by choice). No 18-year-old who has never held a real job can tell me that I don't know what the world is like.

I did say that his confidence that he could take care of himself in a criminal environment was what worried me.

This made as much sense to him as, "We're sorry, but all the anesthesiologists are busy" did to me eleven years ago.

We went around in circles for a while, but I don't think I got through to him.

I am tempted to break my original agreement with him. I want to tell him that he may not talk to these people. Enforcing that though would require changing the basic rules of our relationship. We agreed in the beginning that as long as he was meeting his goals and not getting into trouble that we would not monitor his phone calls or do any of the other things that we would have to do to control who he communicates with.

Hubby is inclined to think we should let him visit X over spring break. He is going to move away in half a year anyway. Maybe it would be good for him to have a brief look again at the life he was pulled out of. Maybe the time away has created the perspective he needs to see it more clearly.

Or maybe we should lock him in his room for the week.

Next Post on Evan

Saturday, January 21, 2006

On children who foster

If you have biological or adopted kids when you decide to foster you are deciding to become a fostering family. Your children will become children who foster.

This means that they are not just sharing their house and parents with foster kids -- they form relationships with those kids.

There have only been a few attempts to study children who foster, but what there has been seems to indicate:

  • Children have few complaints about "sharing" their parents, but have a very hard time dealing with kids who treat the parents badly.
  • They seem to be okay about sharing their possessions but get very upset if their things are damaged or stolen.
  • They have a greater understanding of the inequalities in society and tend to be more tolerant.
  • They recognize that they are privileged or "lucky" even if they don't get what their friends get.
  • They show more signs of separation anxiety. In older children this can manifest as more sick days.
  • The younger they are the more likely they are to think that foster children were given away because they were bad. This includes babies whom they think "cried too much."
  • They do not tend to develop behavior problems similar to those of the foster kids. In other words they tend to be "good" kids.
  • In general they seem to cope better with foster children who are younger rather than older than they are.
  • Their feelings of grief and loss when they get close to kids who are later moved can be severe.

We started doing care when our "fostering children" were only 6 and 10. The three fostered boys who have come into our family are older than they are. This has worked for us because we work in a program in which we are carefully matched with kids who will mesh with our family. We started with a youth who was in care for an easy to understand reason: his mother had died.

When people who already have children are considering foster care I tell them two things:

  1. The risks of your child being physically hurt or learning bad habits (which is what most people seem to worry about) exist, but are lower than you think.
  2. Don't do it unless you think your children are ready to be told the truth about why other children are in foster care. This is not to say that you give them all the ugly details (or even most of the ugly details). Realize though that you will be teaching your children that terrible things happen to children in this world, and that there are good people who open their homes to help. It is a powerful lesson.

I would do it again and I believe my kids would too. It was not the idealic love-filled experience I might have imagined it would be, but it is an adventure that has made all of us stronger.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hidden meanings in a foster child's language

I have biological children who are sometimes mysterious to me -- but not in quite the same way as my foster kids.

Sometimes Evan says something and I genuinely have no idea what he is talking about. More often it takes me a while to understand why he is saying what he says.

He has a hard time hearing "yes". We have had absurd conversations like the following:

Evan: Can you drive me to the movies this evening?

Me: Sure.

Evan: I mean -- I'm willing to pay for the gas and it won't be a late movie.

Me: That's okay. I can spring for the gas to drive 4 miles.

Evan: It's just that I really want to see M. We haven't been able to get together for a while.

Me: Evan, look at me. I said 'yes'

Evan: I know...It's just...

Me: Evan, say "Thank you" and go call M.

I have a few guesses as to why he does this. I think that people did not keep promises to him. He can't believe that I will do what I say I will. He wants to deal with the excuses I might give him later, make certain I know how important it is so that I will not disappoint him.

He has been here five months and he knows that I keep my promises, but this pattern is difficult to break. I tried several tactics. I tried responding with "Look at me. The answer is, 'Yes. Yes. Yes.'" I tried asking him if I have ever let him down. I finally came up with a strategy that seems to work.

Evan: Finals don't start until 9:30. Can you give me a ride to school tomorrow morning?

Me: yes.

Evan: I mean I could get a ride with (Hubby) like usual, but then I would just have to sit around for almost two hours.

Me: In that case -- no.

Evan: Oh you are soooo funny.

Next Post on Evan

Thursday, January 19, 2006

So what happened with David? (Long story)

I am going to tell this story as honestly as I can. It's a long one, and it is a story as much about my limits and weakness as it is anything else.

David came to us the summer of 2003. It was a very bad time for me professionally. Many of the details don't matter, but several of my closest colleagues had been laid off, the institution was facing challenges, and the tensions were high. I told people that David was a source of strength during that time. He had, still has, a way of being cheerful no matter what. He is quiet, responsive to other people, affectionate.

I wonder if I can think of anything bad that happened the first 14 months that he lived with us. There must have been something. Andrew and he got along enormously well. They were 14 and 16 in 2003. Brian sometimes felt left out, but there was no tension that was not easily manageable.

The largest frustration in David's life was that we lived 25 miles away from every place and everyone that mattered to him. We took him to the city to visit friends twice a week, but it was still difficult for him. I learned that he had had a habit in the past of disappearing from his foster homes and living with friends for days or a week at a time, but he never tried that with us. He followed our rules -- until just before his 18th birthday.

His birthday is in Febuary when school started after Christmas vacation he had a hard time. He had a boyfriend who was only 17 and but was living on his own (with roommates). At first he asked and got permission to go out with the boyfriend on Friday evening. Then he called at 10:30 pm to say how sorry he was that his ride home fell through. The youth group leader said he could sleep there, was that okay? We confirmed with the leader and agreed.

After he did that twice we stopped letting him go on Fridays unless we had firm arrangement for getting him back. We agreed to let him spend every other weekend with an appropriate friend.

On the weekend he turned 18 he did not come home on Friday. He did not answer his cell phone until Sunday when he asked for a ride home. He clearly expected a show-down.

We did not give it to him. We had already talked with the social worker and therapist about this possibility. We all agreed that he wanted us to kick him out so that he could make the boyfriend take him in. We decided that we could tolerate him spending weekends away if that would keep him in school.

Then he started disappearing during the week.

There were meetings, negotiations, rules set and defied. We kept thinking that he wanted us to kick him out -- but we kept hoping that we could come up with a plan that would keep him in school.

Just before Spring break the school called -- he had reached the maximum number of absences. He failed to serve the detentions he had been given for unexcused absences. They were willing to work out a contract with him so that he could finish the year, could we bring him in?

Spring break that year started with Easter weekend. When I came home from work, early, I found that he had left school in the middle of the day. Late in the evening I got a text message from the boyfriend saying he did not know why David would not talk to me, but he wanted me to know they were going to his parents' house for Easter -- 75 miles away.

We kept trying to call him, but he would not answer.

On Wednesday we went to his therapist appointment. We planned on giving him an ultimatum there: follow the rules or move out.

He did not come to the appointment so we talked to the therapist ourselves. We told him what we had been planning to say. He said, "And what do you think would have been the result?"

"He will either tell us that he will just move out or he will agree but then defy the contract."

I told the therapist that I wanted to give him that chance though -- even if I knew he would not take it. Hubby told the therapist that I was wearing myself out and that the strain was being to affect him, Andrew and Brian. We talked about how it was also our Spring break and how we had time right now to pack his things.

The counselor asked me to count up how many nights he had slept at our house in the past month. I did.

"Where does he live, Beth?"

"With his boyfriend."

When I tell this story I want to edit it. I want to say that I gave him that last chance. That I first explained, then I set down the law, and then I followed through. The truth is that I never did. We packed his things that night.

We had been preparing Andrew and Brian for the possibility that David would move out after his 18th birthday. Still I was nervous that they would be upset at how it was ending. They weren't. Well, Brian had a moment of panic, "Do we have to help pack?"

I left David a message on his cell phone telling him that we had hoped he would be at his therapist appointment so that we could talk about things together. He was not and so we had to make decisions without him. I told him that I could see how exhausted he was trying to live in two places and that I knew how much he wanted to be where he was. I told him that I loved him and that all of his things were at the agency office.

I did manage to ambush him at the apartment a couple of weeks later. I told him how good he looked, how nice I thought the apartment was. I told him I was so sorry he was not at the meeting when we made these decisions. He said, "It's okay." I told him that I missed him. He said, "I miss you too." I told him that I loved him when I said goodbye -- he mumbled.

He has not gone to school or worked a job since he left us. It has been nearly a year. He and the boyfriend broke up and he now lives with friends. I have not asked him how he gets money to pay his part of the rent. I choose to believe his friends are charitable; that they let him stay in return for cleaning and cooking.

He came home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. It was like it was in the beginning. He was a joy to be around.

I wanted to say, "Come home. Live here and work on your GED. By summer you could have it and then you can apply to the agency for help with school or training. You could have a good life. You won't have to do whatever it is that you are doing." Hubby looked panicked when I told him that -- until he realized that I understood it was impossible.

On Turning Eighteen

Eighteen is the magical age for kids.

To wards of the court it means so much more than it does for everyone else. For the kids in my state it means:

  1. They can finally get their driver's license.
  2. They may spend the night at a friend's house without the parents undergoing a criminal background check.
  3. They can go out of state without the approval of a judges and social workers.
  4. If they want, they can leave foster care.

I have got better at explaining to kids who live in my house that increased freedom and privileges are the result of increased responsibility. Turning 18 has absolutely no affect on the house rules. I tell them that being 18 means:

  1. They can be drafted.
  2. They can be sued.
  3. If they commit a crime they go to prison and have a record.
  4. If they don't like my rules they can move out not be called in as a runaway.

Carl and Evan both dealt with this quite easily. They both had shown enough responsibility by the time that they were 18 that they had plenty of freedom anyway.

David though...Sigh. I think musing about David will have to be a post unto itself.

Types of Foster Care

Depending upon where you are, there are probably different kinds of foster families. Deciding which you want to participate in will require some research. In my area there are at least the following options:

Traditional Foster Care:
In regular, state-run foster care you can expect to care for children on a short term basis. Social workers will be trying to find a permanent plan for these kids. Most will return to some member of their birth family. Some will be adopted. If the are placed for adoption you may be able to adopt them yourself. If you have a state license you can expect children to at least some times come and go unexpectedly. You will be expected to take children into your home without knowing much about them and you may be left out of the loop when decisions about the kids are being made. Be sure to talk to foster parents in your state about the system there works.

Challenge is the local name for what is in some place called Treatment Foster Care or Therapeutic Foster Care. Kids with behavioral problems past what their foster families can deal with are often sent to Challenge homes. For many, a Challenge home is the last stop before institutional care or juvenile detention. Some of the Challenge youth have behaviors that makes it nearly impossible to take them out in public. You may very well have youth who are banned from the rec center, the market, and the movie theatre for shoplifting or vandalism. Challenge provides up to 4 days/nights of respite a month and adult "youth partners" to stay with the youth for a few hours so that you can get out.

Permanent Placement Care
I work with a private organization that works in co-operation with the state. Children for whom permanent foster care is the best option are considered for placement with them. It is not unusual for a child to move from theraputic to permanent care (or the other way). Parents with our agency are just shy of adoptive parents. We don't work alone, but we are always part of the team when decisions are made about the kids. If the social worker has found an opportunity she wants to suggest to your child, she will ask you if it is okay with you first. If your child is taken to the hospital, the social worker will ensure that you have visitation rights. They provide 12 days/nights of respite a year. They will reimburse for babysitting (which you arrange) when you are participating in one of their workshops, but not so that you can take a short break. They have more money to provide services and opportunities for the kids. They will pay for medical care not covered by Medicaid (e.g. orthodontic care). They have an educational specialist that will help with whatever academic support you need for your kid, and they have money for post-secondary training and education.

I could not imagining working anywhere else.

I know several Challenge families though. I understand the satisfaction they receive from helping kids who so very badly need their help, and I understand how much they depend upon the high level of support they get from Challenge.

Usually the plan is for a child to only spend about 6 months in a Challenge home. Sometimes they end up living there throughout high school. Challenge families that take care of 4 or 6 youth at a time and have a youth admitted into the permanent placement program are faced with a difficult choice. They can get a license with the second agency and keep the youth -- but then they have to deal with two different organizations with different services. Challenge youth partners will not take responsibility for permenancy kids. The permanent placement agency expects the youth to feel like one of the family and will not let you put him or her into respite two weekends a month.

Some families find it impossible to do both and so have to tell the youth that if they get accepted into the permanency program they will have to move. Sometimes though that is also what the youth wants. He or she has moved past the shoplifting, vandalizing, skipping school, and running-away stage and no longer wants to live with kids who haven't.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Evan The Brave

Most of what I have been writing so far has been reflections on my experience. I want to respect everyone's privacy, but I am so proud of Evan. How often have any of us seen a bully and wished that someone else would do something about it?

As you read the following stories you must remember that Evan is a big guy -- 6'2" and 240 pounds. People either see him as a giant teddy bear or hugely intimidating. He regularly comes home to tell me that yet again someone asked if it was true that he is gay. When he assures them that he is they are not certain if he is pulling their legs.

A small kid was getting picked on in PE the other day. Evan walked over and told the bully to back off. The bully tried challenging Evan: "What? You want to fight me?"

Evan smiled, opened his arms and said, "No. I want to hug you."

The bully backed off.

At the beginning of the year Evan overheard two kids talking about teaching another kid, "Brett" a lesson. Evan interrupts, "Do you mean 'Brett B?"

When they assured him that that was who they were talking about Evan looked them in the eye and said, "He's my ex-boyfriend." After a few moments of silence he told them, "Anything happens to Brett and you and me are going to have a problem."

It makes me proud to know him.

Next post on Evan

Why Permanent Foster Care?

Most kids in the foster care system eventually go back to birth family. Some get adopted. For a few, neither of these options is appropriate. Some kids have otherwise good parents who are too ill to care for them or are incarcerated. Some kids have experienced failed adoption placement and don't want to go through that again. And sometimes they are just "too old."

People who say that they are willing to adopt an older child are usually thinking about 8-12 year olds. Sometimes they are willing to consider younger teens. Once kids hit 16 though they are pretty much unadoptable. It is not just that the potential adoptive parents aren't interested -- the kids are no longer interested. They need to seriously think about planning for adulthood. They often don't have the emotional energy to go through the adoption process.

In many parts of the country those kids stay in "normal" foster families long term. Sometimes they get bounced around, sometimes they stay put. The problem is that the system is not set up to deal with their particular needs. They age out of care with little to no resources.

I work with a private agency that specializes in permanent foster care. Much of the training and support we receive is designed to help families maintain a long-term commitment to difficult children. So, for instance, they don't just offer counseling to kids, they will also pay for family counseling and occasionally even individual counseling for the parents.

They provide services for emancipated youth, including money for post-high school education and job training, although many of the youth do not take advantage of those services.

Parenting these kids often requires a light touch. Many of them do not want (or think they do not want) an emotional connection. They are not looking for a mommy, but they might accept a mentor.

Mom or Aunt?

My relationship with the foster kids who have come into my life has changed over the years.

Everything was clear with Carl. He had never known his father and his mother died from emphysema when he was 14. When he came to me at 16 he had had time to mourn her and he wanted to feel loved again. He wanted a mother as much as I wanted to be his mother.

I had to go through some rigorous testing before he felt safe. He only called me "mom" after the first year -- after he pissed me off so much that he really thought I was going to kick him out -- and didn't.

I think now that my relationship with David was what it was because I felt obligated to develop the same relationship with him as I had with Carl. When I thought he was testing my affection he was really trying to get me to back off to a level where he felt safe. He had been abandoned by his mother and abused by two foster fathers. What he needed was a low-intensity affection and safety. He needed to know that he was accepted and liked and not that he was expected to "pay" for his room and board by feeling something he did not feel or want to feel.

Things are simple with Evan: he is not my son and I am not his mother. I am his aunt.

This is working very well for both of us. He had to change schools and telling people that he is here because he moved in with his aunt is simple, normal, and does not raise questions he is not ready to answer. We both understood the value that after the first day of school. One of the teachers saw that he had transferred from the highest ranking high school in the state. (The local school is good, but we do not have a three-year waiting list of out-of-district kids wanting to enroll). Without thinking that it might be a sensitive question he asked Evan in front of everyone why in the world would he transfer out of there? Evan said that he moved in with his aunt and uncle because he wasn't getting along with his mother. That's true, but if he said that he was in foster care everyone would wonder what the interesting dirty details were. He would have to lie, refuse to answer the question, or reveal intimate and painful details about himself to people he did not yet know and trust.

The whole aunt/uncle/nephew thing is also a better way to conceptualize our relationship. He and I have exactly the sort of relationship that someone would have if they moved in with their aunt and uncle for their senior year of high school. I like him and I insist that he respect us. He likes us and is willing to follow the house rules. I hope that he will stay in contact after he moves, and the longer he lives here the more he trusts me and the more he shares. None of us feel pressure to develop a more intimate relationship. Our relationship is developing more naturally.

There of course is the added advantage that I am clearly not getting in the way of any relationship he wants to have with his mother.

I know that the kids vary -- but I suspect that I will continue to be "aunt" to the kids who come into my home. It would be different if I took younger kids, but I envision quite a few more 15-17 year old boys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The People You Meet (in this blog)

Here is a quick introduction to the family. The kids who came to us from foster care have links so that you can read their stories in order. In some cases the posts have links to take you to the next post in the story. Often you will just need to click "new post." None of these are our real names.

Me "Yondalla": I am an educator and a mom.

Hubby/"Roland": He is an educator and a dedicated father. We tend to be complimentary personalities which works out well with the kids. Usually what one of us can't handle the other one can. When our second son was born he stayed home for three years raising him and running a home day care. (Find out why we have these pseudonyms here.)

Andrew: Our first child. He was born while we were still in graduate school and so had the odd sort of childhood you might imagine. Who ever heard of a four-year-old playing "Theseus and the Minotaur" with action figures and a maze made out of wooden blocks? When asked what he thinks about doing foster care he will express mixed feelings. It can be difficult, but he thinks it is a good thing that we do it. He is especially close to the first two who came to us.

Brian: Our second-born. He spent his early years at home in his father's home day care and does not have clear memories of life between the day care and the foster care years. In his mind, there have always been lots of people in the house. When asked what he thinks about it his response is that that is the way it is supposed to be.

Carl: Our first foster son. We met him when he was 14 and he moved in with us when he was 16. He broke us in and taught us the ropes. He graduated high school and is now 24. He continually considers going to college -- but is that because he wants to or because he figures that's what his educator parents want to hear? It does not matter. We love him whatever he does. He is the only one of the foster kids who calls us "Mom" and "Dad." His story starts here.

Ann: She is a girl who we were asked to take on as a temporary placement while a permanent solution was worked out. Ann has the most troubling past of any of the kids I know -- and the most difficult time forming attachments. She is the one that I could not reach. She has been moved to a different part of the state, into a different program and is managed by social workers with whom I have no contact. I rarely get news of her. When children are driving me crazy I think "This is the worst part." When I lost all contact with Ann, I knew that really was the worst part. Emails I wrote during her stay with us, telling the story of her placement, are on the private blog. I summarized her story here.

David: The second young man. A sweet boy who stayed with us until just after his 18th birthday. He is on his own now, trying to get his GED. From the time he moved in he referred to us as "Mom" and "Dad" but called us by our names. Start here to read his story in order.

Evan: Evan's placement started in the summer of 2005 and I started the blog in January, 2006. Since I wrote about him a great deal, there are different places you may wish to start: the story as told through emails I wrote starting from when I first learned of him in the summer of 2006; when his cousin died and we learn of his addiction; the sexcapades (this is on the private blog); emancipation planning; going to Scotland ; and when he moved back in. Currently he is attending college. He still comes here for vacations.

Frankie: Frankie moved into our home in August of 2007. He had lived in residential care facilities and group homes for several years. After just two months we and the social workers agreed that he needed to return to that level of care. He is an endearing annoying young man who holds a piece of my heart. The first post about him is here.

In addition to these we have had respite kids stay with us for varying periods of time. For one reason or another their foster parents needed anything from a weekend to two weeks away. A few are "repeat customers" who identify us as their aunt and uncle. We don't generally hear anything about them after they move on. It does not bother me though like it does with Ann. These kids are more like my students. I cared about them, but I never expected them to be a permanent part of my life

The respite girl that I wrote about the most about is Miss E.

How it all started

It started in the Spring of 2000. A young man who had been my sons' favorite babysitter stopped by to say goodbye. His foster parents had recently separated and neither felt they could continue giving him care alone. He did not know where he would end up or if he would ever see us again.

For the next hour I had two re-occurring thoughts, "We could take him. We could be his parents" and "That is the most insane idea I have ever had." I finally mentioned it to my husband, who always saves me from my insane impulses. His response? "Yeah. I keep thinking that too."

So we talked to the boys ('Andrew' and 'Brian') " 'Carl' might be able to live with us. Would you like him to be your big brother?" Only 10 and almost 6 they had no idea what they were getting into and agreed enthusiastically.

We learned he was in the a private permanent placement program. We called the social worker and set up a meeting. After an hour she said she had something important to tell us about 'Carl', something we did not know and that we needed to know. My stomach clenched -- was she going to tell us that he set fires? Tortured small animals? She said, "'Carl' is gay." My first emotion was only relief -- gay I could handle. I was right, though I did not know what an interesting journey it was going to be.

We were put on the fast track for licensing. Housing inspections, TB test, finger printing, letters from doctors, fire escape plan, 6 pages of autobiographical questions ("Please include any history of abuse"), 15 hours of official training and more all completed in less than 6 weeks. We slept on a mattress in the dining room for a month while the extra bedroom was being completed, but we got him.

For two years he lived with us and we told the agency, "This is just about 'Carl.' We don't want to become regular foster parents." Obviously that was not how it worked out. Foster homes for gay young men are not easy to come by (especially in my "red" state) and we have, so far, parented two more.

The program we work with is a permanent placement program. These are kids who, for one reason or another, are not going to return to their birth families or be adopted. The plan is for them to stay in their foster family until they emancipate. We are not the first family to offer these boys a home, but (so far) we have succeeded in being the last.

Update 11/6/07: Frankie was the first youth who came here on permanent placement program who did not stay until emancipation. Perhaps he will be the only one.

Sunday, January 01, 2006