Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thinking About Reunification Care

I started a post on how doing permanency care gives me a different perspective on kinship care than some other people. I was going to try to be clear that I didn't think that my perspective was more likely to be RIGHT, just that I think I think about it differently.

But I got all side tracked with all the feelings I have been having about being told my agency is going to be doing some reunification work.

Did I tell you about that? It all started back when I was told on the day that Frankie was moving in that there was a TPR hearing scheduled in December. When I spoke to one of the social workers about it she said that there was every expectation that Frankie would remain in care, but it was the case that the agency had decided to do some reunification work. I spoke about it later with the family developer and she said that our conversation made her realize that the families might need more support for this change than they had anticipated. Actually, I don't think I wrote about it here. I haven't wanted to think about it.

I haven't got over being angry about it. I'm staying angry, I know, because I want someone from the agency to utter the words, "We're sorry" and no one has done so. I want them to say, "We are sorry that we didn't realize that this would be a big deal. We are sorry that we didn't realize how important permanency work was to you. We are sorry that we did not realize that we expecting you to change the fundamental nature of what you do and didn't even ask you how you felt about that before we did it. We are sorry we didn't have the common decently to tell you this in any careful way and that you just heard about it in a conversation with the social worker as a done deal. And we are sorry that we didn't apologize in a timely way when you first expressed your anger."

My needs are simple.

Part of me is still considering refusing to do reunification work. I imagine saying that it would be too hard on Brian and it is just not what I want to do. I've spoken to adults who were fostering children. They give me different answers when I ask what was the hardest, but every one that I have spoke to in person has struggled not to cry when he or she has told me about the kid they got attached to and then lost touch with. I have always thought we were protecting our kids from that loss by only doing permanency and respite.

But I don't know that I would refuse to do it; I just haven't given up imagining it. In any case, I need to think about what it will mean. There are certain questions I would like to have answers for, or at least to ponder with someone else. I need to talk to my family about it. And my problem is that whenever I think about doing it I get all caught up in being angry at the agency for not asking me about it before, making a point of telling me afterwards, or offering me any sort of training/processing time afterwards.

In short, my anger over being in this position is getting in the way of my thinking about being in this position.

And I haven't written about it very much, or at all, because I am so invested in thinking of myself as a permanent placement parent that I don't want to imagine doing any other work. The other work, the work that so many of you do, is important and good. It is just not what I do. There is a certain group of kids who need what I provide, and I am not talking about our commitment to queer kids here.

What we do is offer a permanent family to kids without requiring that they go through the emotional journey of adoption. I think that is such an important option for kids, particularly teenagers. For the most part there are two groups of kids in the program: kids whose parents can't take care of them because they are sick or more likely incarcerated; and kids who have been through a failed adoption placement and don't want to take that level of emotional risk again. There are more of the second group than the first. I can't tell you how strongly I feel committed to that, how important I think it is that there be homes like ours. Of course there should be all sorts of other homes, but this is what we do. Safety without emotional coersion. I've been clinging to it, unwilling to imagine the alternative. Today however, I will. I can't wait for them to offer an apology they probably don't realize I want. I need to be a grown up and think about this.

What would it be like? Would it be like it was with Olivia? She went to see her parents for a weekend and when she came back she slit her wrist. How much more pain would a youth be dealing with if they were in the process of reunification with parents who had somehow failed him or her? What would my relationship with them be like if they came in as neither respite nor permanent placements? Would they be more guarded with me? Or would they be more relaxed because there would be even less pressure to bond with me. We could both accept that. Probably they would bounce back and forth.

They would still be teenagers. The agency does not take kids younger than nine, and then only if they have older siblings in the program. Most kids are teens when they come in. But would that be different? Would they take younger kids? I know to most of you ten seems like an "older" child, but to me ten sounds very, very young. How would these kids be different? What sort of life do you live in you are in care with a reunification plan when you are 13? I really don't know. I know something about the kids who have been in the system for years. I know how tough they have become, but what about a kid who had lived that long with his or her parents? Would it mean that they had likely had a long period of reasonably healthy parenting and that one or both parents had only recently suffered a crisis? Or would it mean that I would be parenting a child who had spent years being abused?

If any of you have answers, please feel free to comment.

How does our commitment to GLBT kids fit in? Would we take a kid where that was one of the primary issues? I can imagine a situation in which a kid enters care because his or her parents are homophobic. I imagine us caring for and supporting that kid while social workers try to help the parents deal. I can see myself caring deeply about that work, just as deeply about what we do now, but I don't think it would be likely to happen. Teenagers for whom life becomes unbearable when they come out don't enter foster care. They couch surf with friends and become homeless. That of course doesn't mean that there would never be GLBT kids who would need temporary foster care, just that their parents' crises would likely be something other than or more than the inability to cope with their child's sexuality.


Would Brian not like it because he doesn't like it when people leave, or would it be easier because he would be able to establish stronger boundaries in the first place? I should probably talk to him, ask him to imagine it. How difficult would it be for him to say goodbye to someone if he or she was returning to a home he did not think was safe?

Maybe Roland would prefer it. Frankly, one of his concerns about our continuing to do care is the number of adult children we can be committed to. I regard that concern as quite legitimate. I share it.

I did write the family developer a long email talking to her about my concerns and what sort of training I feel like I would need to address them. I acknowledged that we may be different from most of their parents because we never worked for the state. We came directly to them and all we have known is permanency care.

Oh dear lord, we would have to work more closely with the state! ::shudder::


  1. faithful reader10:51 AM

    The US foster care system: giving both children and foster parents reactive detachment disorder. If it's not the kids who are regularly being separated from their attachments, it's the foster parents (who are supposed to be modeling healthy attachments)--and then they get criticized for being too attached! You have my sympathies, whatever you decide.

  2. We recently changed our status with the county from straight foster care and respite to concurrent planning, which obviously deals with reunification efforts.

    We did this not so much because we want to adopt again, although that is a very real possibility with concurrent planning, but rather because of the relationship we have with our children's bio mom.

    I've currently been picking up my birth family search again, something I've done off and on for about 25 years. I know nothing more than I did when I started. But thankfully, my children won't have that uncertainty. I know their biological mother; I can contact her pretty much at any given moment. And I like that. It comforts me.

    Reunification is scary for all involved. The children involved will probably lose at least one person they are attached to, whether it be bio family or foster family. All types of parents involved (bio, foster, friends) lose the children at some point.

    But there's also a real opportunity for growth. A new relationship -- a helping, caring relationship -- can develop between birth families and foster/adopt families. It may be that bio parent needed just that extra push that reunification provides, that extra little bit of education or time or space or whatever they may need. It may be something as simple as knowing that someone else loves their children and knows he or she does too.

    In my mind, the difference between permanency planning and reunification isn't too much. Both are putting the children's welfare and safety above all else. It's not just giving the parents another chance; it's giving the family another chance. And, like permanency planning, if the bios cannot come through with what is necessary, a home is there for the children. I think it's more a matter of semantics.

  3. Doing reunification care is not for me. Once my kids go home or stay, I'm done. I could definitely see myself doing a program of permanency care like you do though.

    As far as teens in reunification scenarios, it is hard. Even though Callie's goal has been changed to TPR, it is still a very hard thing for her to process. What if the TPR doesn't go through? What if she has to go back to live with her parents? And does it make her an awful person if part of her wants to go back to live with her mom? What about her younger siblings being adopted? It bothers her so much when her siblings call their foster mom, "Mom," but at the same time, she has some desire to be adopted herself.

    And you'd also have to examine your feelings on working closely with the birth families. That is hard for me sometimes.

  4. This is a serious post. I never had enough homes like yours for my teens. There were very few foster homes, more group homes, and those that thought adopting a teen was the answer to all their angst.
    Teenagers come with a lot of baggage, not all bad. You can't expect them to forget about mom and dad just because they turned out to be not so great people. They were with them, loving them for what it was worth, for awhile.
    Not many placements understood this. Even Judges would get angry when I would request a teen not be sent to adoptions, that a permanent home was needed, yes, but not necessarily an adoptive home.
    I pointed out that teens were full-on people. They have serious opinions, needs, wants, expectations, etc. The same as adults. So if in the long-term a kid and their foster parents bond on a level and they both want adoption, then go for it then - not before.
    I commend you for your commitment. I wish there had been more like you when I needed them....


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