Friday, February 29, 2008

More questions & answers

Lyn asks:

  • how long have you been fostering?
  • Since June 2000, so almost 8 years
  • how many kids have you had in your home?
  • Three permanent placements that "stuck": Carl, David, and Evan
  • One that did not: Frankie
  • One girl, Ann, who lived with us for 3 months
  • And I am up to "T" in pseudonyms for respite kids. So that's 20, right? Some of those kids were "repeat customers" that we got pretty close to. (Careful readers will remember that Ann is on that list, but so is a boy I refused to give a blog name to.)
  • And we mustn't forget the bioboys!
  • Total: 28
  • 29 if you count the boy who spent one weekend with us to see if a placement with us would work. It wasn't a match. He was hyper-active and Roland just can't face that at home after doing special ed all day at school. I almost called the social worker half-way through when he did a back-flip off a very tall pile of straw bales.

Fostermama asks:

  • I know a lot of kids come to you after being in some kind of emotional turmoil relating to their sexual identity, what resources do you provide them (besides a safe loving environment) to help them through that rough time?
  • I think the kids would tell you that they weren't in any emotional turmoil, although the adults were living with had been -- to varying degrees. That said:
  • Our agency has been really good at finding them counselors from the GLBT community. It requires driving them into The City and usually to the far end of it (45 minutes one way). There are counselors in Our Small Town, but no one sufficiently skilled in GLBT issues.
  • We also take the kids to the GLBT youth group (in The City), if they want to go. Frankie was too young, in chronological and emotional sense, but the other boys went.
  • We have made an effort to be a part of the community at large. We go to a GLBT friendly church (another drive into The City) where there are many gay and lesbian couples. The regulars at our monthly potluck include in, let's see, 5 GLT people.
  • We also supply books, including novels, and gay-friendly DVD's. Did I tell you that I got Trick for a Mother's Day present?
  • Do you find individual mentors within the GLBT community or organizations that help with the process of coming out or dealing with bias issues?
  • Absolutely. There are quite a number of different people who have been helpful but the greatest assistance has come from the leader of the youth group for GLBT kids. I haven't needed him as much recently but he helped me a great deal in the beginning. He held my hand, comforted me, told me when to chill and stop worrying and a few times told me when I should be worrying.

David and Evan were already out when they came to me. They would have denied having any "coming out" issues or needing any help dealing with prejudice. We did talk about particular things, and I know the youth group leader and their counselors were helpful, although Evan's was much better than David's.

Carl and we went through the coming out process together. He was already out to friends, but not to many adults. It was a journey.

Okay...still having fun. If you got questions, send them in.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Short Answers

I may write longer answers to these questions later...but here is the short version

Innocent Observer asks:

  • "Why?
  • Does anyone think I can resist the answer "Because"? You did? Silly you.

Inashoe asks:
  • Why did you start blogging?
  • Everyone I knew got tired of listening to me talk about foster care.
  • What type of clothes do you wear? I mean, what is your "style?" Are you a jeans and sweatshirt gal?
  • The bulk of my wardrobe consists of jeans in blue, black, and several shade of brown, and a collection of shirts my mother has made me -- all off the same pattern. Every now and then I send her fabric, and she mails me more shirts. Sometimes I decide I should have more variety and order something off the Lands' End Outlet page. David once insisted on going with me to a store to pick out a bunch of tops that were fashionable at the time. When I was in K-2nd we were required to wear dresses to school. My mother made me a bunch of sturdy corduroy jumpers. They were the best. When you hung from the monkey bars they did not fall over your head -- they stuck straight up. Today I have a couple jumpers (denim, not corduroy) that I love. I would probably still wear jumpers every day, except they are more difficult to find at reasonable prices, and it is much easier to have my mom make me shirts. (We haven't found a jumper pattern that fits me like I want.) I also hate the unspoken requirement that you are not supposed to wear the same shirt two or three days in a row, even if it still looks good and smells clean.
  • What do you love most about your husband?
  • He is kind. He fights fair. He does not get angry easily, but even when he does, he would never even call me a name. I can trust him with my soul.
  • Would you foster a gay girl?
  • Sure. If they ever ask. I don't really know why they don't. There is some evidence that foster parents are more accepting of gay girls ("At least they won't get pregnant"), and some evidence that even though we keep saying, "We have a commitment to GLBT kids" the social workers just hear, "gay boys."

Okay...this is fun. Keep 'em coming.

All the cool bloggers are doing it

Well, a couple of them are.

I have nothing to write about.

Anyone want to ask a question?

Oh, good!

Okay, TOTALLY unrelated to anything foster care, but is all about my stress level.

One of the courses of the most senior member of the department didn't "make." Only one registered student showed up. That student will be given a choice of doing an independent study, but will be encouraged to take a different class. (He's not a major and doesn't really need this class.) Okay, now that is not really good news in itself.

HOWEVER, the faculty member in question said to me, the department chair, "What if instead of the course I take over writing the department self-study?"

I hear choirs of angels singing.

Please excuse me while I make an appointment with the dean to ask for an official course release for my department member.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They Finally Said No

It took a while, but someone finally gave me the answer I expected.

However they couldn't say it simply. The answer really is that the agency only takes referrals from the state so if this boy in another state moved to our state then he would have a chance of being referred, but he would have to live here first.

In other words, "no."

Which is a little sad, but also a relief.

There is a part of me that feels ... what ... empty? no...not quite ... I don't know. There is part of me that wishes we had another teen in the house, that thinks it will get worse when Andrew goes away to college and it really is just R0land, Brian and me. I didn't expect that to happen.

And there is a big part that is tired and stressed from work and just doesn't want anything else on my plate right now. A lot of the things that are stressing me will be over soon, but right now it is good not to have to think about anything more.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go to a committee meeting. Sigh.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Just checking in

Trina left Sunday early afternoon, after sleeping 11 hours at night and taking a nap at noon. I told Mandy that she had no attention span, repeated questions I had already answered, and was sleeping far more than was normal. All of this made for a quiet visit with me, but was of course very worrisome. I don't know if it is a side effect of her many medications or what, but something is not quite right. Of course, I suppose it is possible that the child was just exhausted on multiple levels.

I won't be surprised if she ends up bouncing right back into the treatment center. She is a deeply troubled young woman. She was sweet, seemed significantly younger than her years, and had a pretty troublesome psychiatric history. In other words, a whole lot like Frankie.

Last evening Roland and I went to a real dinner party. It is a yearly event and is the most grown-up function that we go to all year. The guest list is always crawling with lawyers who work for civil rights organizations, lesbian organic farmers, and other interesting people. It was a lot of fun and I am not sure why it is one of the only functions that doesn't make me nauseous with anxiety. Normally facing a room where I don't know most of the people makes me want to run for the hills, but this one doesn't. I know there be 18 people there and I will have never met most of them, but they are also such cool people. (Don't tell, but Roland and I are special and unlike the other guests, get invited every year.)

This week promises to be an extra busy one at work. I don't know how much I will publish, but I'll try to keep up on reading your blogs.

Be well.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Quiet Morning

Trina is sweet and easy to be around, although she has the attention span of a five year old. Roland thinks it is because some of the very powerful meds she is on are still new to her. I don't suppose it matters much. Still, my "entertain yourself with DVD's" plan did not work out so well. She wanted to watch Jeff Dunham who is a ventriliquist who has a variety of puppets, very funny. She said she loved him, yet two minutes into each puppet act she got bored and wanted to watch the next one. She settled down to watch something on TV, but couldn't stay interested and ended up flicking back and forth between two shows. She regularly forgets or doesn't hear the answers to questions she has just asked. Sometimes she asks again just minutes after she asked before. We all do that sort of thing periodically, but it seems pretty chronic with her.

I hope that Roland is right and she is adjusting to her medications and this will go away. It can't be an easy way to live.

Life does not look promising for her. She is almost 17 and has no high school credits. She will probably start another GED program, but doesn't seem to have any confidence that she will get anywhere. She usually just finishes the preliminary testing before she has to move to a new place and a new program. When she is 18 she is going to move in with her ex-boyfriend who wants to marry her and doesn't have a job. She agrees it would probably be a good idea to have the GED so that she can get a job, but she is sure everything will be okay.

She's a sweet girl, but at the moment her life looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

In other news, Roland had to have his blood drawn the other day and the technician stuck himself with the needle. He got a call in the afternoon with two different administrators on the phone to ask permission to test his blood for HIV so that the technician doesn't have to undergo "just in case" treatment. There's probably a more formal name for that. Roland said of course and then apparently had to repeat it very formally, "Yes, I give you permission to test my blood for HIV."

Poor technician. I wonder how often that happens. I'm sure he is relieved that Roland agreed to the test. Whatever the treatment would have been can't be fun -- not to mention the months of being worried.

In any case, I am having a quiet morning here. Roland went to church. Brian went along so he could see the girl. Andrew spent the night at a friend's. So it is just me and Trina, sitting around.

Oh...and Roland goes back for sleep study number two on Tuesday night.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I blame the dough boy

While shopping Trina said, "You know what we should do sometime? Bake cookies." I told her we had all the ingredients at home and she could bake some if she liked. She's 16 and has been telling me about how much she likes to cook.

We got home and Brian decided to help and I figured she could handle it. Trina came out confused because she couldn't find the mix. I told her that I had ingredients and she and Brian could make cookies from scratch. I went to the kitchen to make sure they had all the ingredients. Having two bags of chocolate chips I asked if they wanted to do a double batch. They said yes.

They mixed and stirred and put two sheets of cookies into the oven. Trina then came to me with the bowl and said, "What do you want me to do with all the extra dough?"

Shouldn't we both be working? (updated)

Well, since we aren't working, here some blogs of some recent commenters that are worth checking out. I'm publishing this with some anxiety because I am sure there are other people with wonderful foster-care blogs who have commented and aren't here. My apologies. Please feel free to introduce yourself and your blog in the comments.

Busy Intersection
Torina has been blogging for a couple of years, although I have found her just recently. She has a daughter adopted from foster care and is investigating doing it again. Definitely check this one out.

Reflections on Foster Care
Janine has been doing foster care for 16 years in Australia. You know, where we all dream of living when we are having terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Also where foster parents are "foster carers," termination of parental rights and foster-adoption just don't exist, and they have something called a "permanent care order" instead. Janine has written all of three posts and I don't normally like to promote a blog until I am a little more confident the blogger is going to keep at it, but she's in Australia.

Cupcakes and Conundrums
Sassy is also a new blogger, although we're talking a couple of months and a bunch of posts. She too uses the phrase "foster carer" but she is also talking about adopting from foster care so maybe she just likes it. It's a cool phrase, and so is she.

Crayon and The Foster Care Excursion
Carmine Crayon has been blogging for a couple of months, but hasn't posted anything in a while. She is new to our little insane world of foster care. In fact I believe the ink isn't dry on her license.

A Room in My Heart
Lovurlife has all of four posts, and they are all in January, so we shall have to wait and see if she continues blogging. I hope she does. She has adopted from Ethopia and is now looking at domestic foster care. (Update: she has posted today!)

Now...go check out the blogs and then everyone get back to work.

Live Fully, Laugh Often, Love Deeply
Chelly left a comment and I followed her profile to her blog. She is in the Australian Outback -- the real one, not the restaurant. She has been blogging for a year and a half, but only decided last August to investigate foster care. She is about to start her training 6 months later, sound familiar to anyone? Now, she is talking about adopting from foster care (and China), so I guess things vary depending upon what part of Australia you are in. One of these Ausies needs to write us a post explaining the sitch to the Yanks (and whoever you all are) I am sending to their blogs. Oh, the link above is not to the whole blog, just to the ones labeled "foster care."

So Trina it is

Just because of all the suggestions it seems to best fit the girl sitting in the chair on the other side of the room. She is petting the Cattle Dog and watching a comedy video with Brian. The movie is J*ck*ss, which I hate at so many levels I cannot even explain. However, Roland loves it and watches it with the kids. I don't always understand this man I have married.

Trina was discharged from residential treatment program yesterday. I don't know her history, and probably never will. All I know is that she has been getting some pretty serious treatment and left there to move into a brand new foster home. She did not go back to wherever it was she was living before, which of course makes me think about Frankie, who will not come back here after he gets out of his center. Mandy agreed to take her, but needs a place for her to spend tonight while she is off at a wedding. (Olivia and Sara are not here because they went to the wedding -- whoever is getting married is part of their biological family too.)

Anyway, I have told Trina that she could pretty much watch as many of my DVD's as she wants. Because she is brand new she is not allowed to leave the house without us, can't spend time on the Internet without being closely supervised, and can't call anyone on the phone. She spent maybe 16 hours at Mandy's before coming here for 24.

Life should not be like this for a 16-year-old. I told her that she doesn't have to be cheerful, that if I were here I would feel pretty annoyed and uncomfortable. She said that she isn't very annoyed, but she is usually sort of shy with people.

***This interruption is to annouce with great joy that Trina does not understand why anyone would find J*ck*ss funny and has asked to watch one of the Jeff Dunham DVD's. Yeah!***

Anyway, Brian is being the excellent host, as usual. He really is good at this. He still seems like a kid to these teenage girls and he is charming and cute. And he loves it when I decide that there will be no limit on the watching of DVD's.

Another Respite

Mandy called yesterday. She got a call for an emergency placement which she wanted to accept, but she could only do that if she could find someplace for the girl to stay tonight while they were gone to a wedding. Just one night, and she doesn't know anything about her, will I take her.

I said yes.

It is just one night!

She'll need a blog name, particularly since I seem not to have got her real name. Let's see...we are up to "t". Anyone got suggestions for a "T" name?

While we are at it, maybe you can help me think of the next few names I will need for Mandy's girls. We will need u, v, w, x, y, and z. Not right away, of course, but eventually.

Friday, February 22, 2008

They Still Haven't Said No

Of course they haven't said yes either, but as long as I do not hear I am in limbo, waiting. I literally have one paragraph of information about this boy. I don't have a photo, which is a good thing. I know that any feelings I have of attachment are attachment to a fictional character. Not that there isn't a real boy, just that I do not know that boy. The boy who showed up in my dream, who creeps into my thoughts is not the real boy far away. The boy in my thoughts is a creation of my imagination.

I know that, and it helps. I am protecting myself from more information, actually turned it down when someone offered to try to get it. Let him stay a fiction, a character of my imagination built out of a few pieces of information about a real kid. That way, when they say no I will focus on the relief of not having to make a decision about whether it would be better for Brian to say no, about whether the real boy could be a member of our family.

But the longer they don't say no the more I consider that it is possible that they will say yes.

And if they do, I remind myself, what will happen next is that they will contact the people at the other end who will likely say, "Well send us their adoption homestudy. They don't have an adoption homestudy? So why are you calling us?"

I find myself wondering about that and realize I have no idea how I would go about getting an adoption homestudy. The question nags at me, takes on a life of its own quite independent of this question of this boy. I know the usual path starts with getting a state foster care license. I however have a private license, would I have to get a state one? Dear Lord, would I have to go take PRIDE or MAPP after eight years of experience? Or is there a way to just get an adoption homestudy? And who would do it? Would I have to contact a private adoption agency? ::shudder:: I know I could find out. I have a friend who is a family law attorney. We are in fact invited to her house on Sunday for a dinner party. I could ask her. I wonder how quickly it could be done ... is there someone we can call who can just do it? I mean, I really don't want to have a state license. As long as I don't have one any kid the state wants to place with me they have to place with the private agency with whom I work and adore.

These thoughts run through my head and then I catch myself, why the hell am I wondering about getting an adoption homestudy? Okay, so the question just bugs me, because I don't like not knowing things, but aren't I getting ahead of myself here? Get a grip, take a breath, go grade some papers. The agency is almost certainly going to say no anyway, which is probably a good thing.

But it has been a week and still they haven't said no. Why haven't they said no? Surely it is an easy enough question, unless it isn't, unless they are debating it, discussing it, seriously considering saying yes.

Update: so I did some research, just because I want to know, okay? It has nothing to do with this kid, I just wanted to know. It appears that an adoption homestudy does require completion of the standard 27-hour class, but does not require actually getting a state license. In theory there is a shorter version of the class available to people who are doing private adoptions and therefore don't need a foster care license. In reality that class doesn't get taught. The 27-hour class is taught over the course of three weekends: 3 hours Friday evening and 6 hours on Saturday. Homestudies can be done by licensed agencies or individuals.

Adoption Photolistings

Anyone want to talk about photo listings? How deeply ambiguous I am about them! I look at the listings for my state fairly regularly. I'm not sure why I do, but I do.

On one hand I know why they exist, and I accept it. There are kids who need families and the best way to recruit a family is for them to feel a connection to a child, and a photo and a paragraph seems fairly effective. We have all fallen in love with a listing, looked at the eyes in a photograph and felt that we were making real eye contact, that somehow that child was looking back at us. Something in us clicks and we think, "This child could be mine."

And that is what they are supposed to do. Not having photolistings at all seems like a bad idea. They are too good a recruiting tool.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone is completely comfortable. If you haven't noticed that Adopt Us Kids bares a significant resemblance to Petfinder or Autotrader, well, you are just not paying attention. I told Evan that I had looked for the boy I had been emailed about but that I couldn't find him. He asked how I could find him and I explained about Adopt Us Kids, how I could search by state, age, race, even by the level of difficulty. At first he simply didn't believe me. Then he was appalled at the idea of potential adopting parents trolling through the site considering kids like used cars.

And then there are the practical problems. Photolistings never have all the children who qualify to be there. Of course there are any number of kids who are technically available for adoption but who are not being made actually available now. There are kids in treatment centers and teenagers who have agreed to "independent living" as a their plan. Even taking that into consideration though, there are still kids who really could and should be available to be adopted who are not listed. And there are listed kids who have been adopted and not removed from the site. Some states of course do better than other.

And yet, it is all about finding kids homes, right? If it works, isn't it worth it?

I don't know. This is not a post in which I am going to come out a defend a clear position, but I am really interested in what those of you who have gone through the process think about it.

Would it be better if there were only a few children (maybe even already adopted children) whose profiles where publically available? Perhaps that would allow people to understand the range of children that need homes and inspire some to investigate further. If that is a good idea, then who should have access to full profiles? Should parents with adoption homestudies have passwords? Or should the only people who have access be social workers and matching specialists?

I am wondering about that last option. If it was adequately supported it might be the most respectful to the kids, and better for the potential adopters. You would not have to look at hundreds of profiles, ask about kids who turn out to have already been adopted, submit your name for children over and over. In my imagination matching specialists would send parents several profiles, and probably more than one set of parent would get each profile. State committees could still select a family from a selection of interested families.

Would something like this be better? Or is the only problem with the current public photolisting system the fact that they are not kept up-to-date?

And what of those of you who are foster alumni, how would you have felt about being publically listed?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Biological/Adopted Kids of Foster Parents

One of the realities of doing care and having biological children is that people in your life, including friends, will tend to believe that any problem your children have is related to care. Sometimes, like for me recently that is hard to shake off.

There is no doubt that fostering has an impact on children already in the home, how could it not? It isn't generally what people worry about though. Part of it is just ordinary sibling dynamics. Kids define themselves against each other. My sister joined gymnastics, so I took ballet. We both started piano and she was better than I was, so I quit. I was the "good girl" and she was one always in trouble. She was cute and I was ... awkward. And fostering kids define themselves against the fostered kids. The fostered kids get into trouble and the fostering kids know that they are not supposed to be that sort of kid.

It is really rather ironic. People tend to be afraid of doing care because they worry that their legal children will pick up bad habits, when in reality you are more likely to end up with legal children who are anxious about doing anything wrong. Fostering kids, with the exception of fostering kids who get really good at getting away with torturing fostered kids while always looking like angels to the parents, tend to be very "good."

I know from my research that it is typical for fostering children to feel pressure to be "good." They feel that they are supposed to be role models. They feel that it is just expected of them, that their parents don't have time for them to get into trouble. The younger they are the more they are likely to have the worry that they will be sent away if they are bad. That shouldn't be surprising, as nearly every fostering child under 10 who has been interviewed thinks that is why fostered children, even babies, are in care.

Older kids, the exact age depending in large part on how much the parents talk to them, come to understand that is not the case. Their belief that some children are given away by their parents because the kids are bad is slowly replaced with a world-view in which some parents have their kids taken away because those parents hit them, or left them alone, or just forgot to feed them while they where high for days.

You can't hide it from them. Even if you try to educate them about poverty, mental illness, and social injustices, even if you try to give them the most sympathetic understanding possible for why sometimes parents can't care for their kids, the fostered kids will talk. Maybe not all of them, but eventually there will be a child who tells your kid about killing and eating cats while homeless with his dad, or having his sisters hit him in the head with shovels at his step-father's direction.

It turns out that behavior problems are not major issues among fostering children, but some degree of anxiety is common. They tend to be homebodies. They have more sick days from school. They stress more about bad things that happen in the world. Of course the effects of fostereing are not all bad, in fact, the research indicates that it is mostly good. If the alternative is growing up feeling totally safe in their bubbles and believing that everyone who is poor is just lazy, I'll choose the life with a bit more anxiety.

It is at heart a choice that every parent has to make. When do you let them watch the news? When do you tell them about war? How much do you protect them from ugliness in the world, and how do you make them feel safe while being sympathetic at the same time? The people at the homeless shelter are not bad. They are just like us, but don't worry dear, it won't happen to you.

You just can't have it both ways. You can't raise children who understand what happens in the world and don't experience some anxiety about it. This is, by the way, that some of you with pre-school children find social workers don't want to license you or if you are licensed don't want to place children. All of us, as foster parents, started out naive. We started out only thinking about bringing a traumatized child into our homes and helping that child to heal. We did not realize that we would be introducing our un-traumatized children to all that trauma.

So I know all this. I know it better than my friends do. It is why I have not hesitated to get my children counselors as soon as I suspected that they might need someone outside the family to talk to.

I also know that there are amazing benefits of doing care. I have no doubt at all that Carl, David and Evan have enriched Andrew and Brian's lives. I know that Brian loves all of his brothers. I know that Andrew is committed to social justice, has sympathy for people in crisis, in ways most young people do not.

You know, I started this post to talk about Brian.

Brian has anxiety attacks. Brian is a fostering child. He has been a fostering child since he was six.* Brian has anxiety attacks, although his worst anxiety symptoms have not occured when there are other kids in the house. In fact, anything that could be called an anxiety attack has occured between placements. Prior to Evan moving out Brian had stomach aches and too many absences from school, but nothing worse. In fact, he did not have anything like an anxiety attack until after we started giving him ADD meds. (None of them helped him, all of them increased his anxiety. He doesn't take them anymore.)

The issues started when he was in third grade, after Carl had lived with us for a while. They seemed very much school-related. He had a bad teacher. Actually the poor kid had a series of not-great teachers. Even the ones who were probably good teachers for other kids were remarkably poor at dealing with ADD. If I could do go back in time and do anything differently, it would have been to move him to his father's elementary school where Roland could have hand-picked his teachers and easily communicated with them daily about what work Brian was getting done, and not getting done. I wouldn't change anything about doing care.

Oh, so what does all this mean? It means that I cannot pretend that doing care is part of the equation, but that I really don't believe that it is the cause of the problem or even the major contributor or trigger. Doing care has been part of making him who he is. He has a genetic pre-disposition to depression and anxiety, and some unfortunate educational experiences. In the long run, all I can do to help him is to be understanding while not "feeding" the problem. What I did yesterday is I think what is best for him. I spoke to him sympathetically, told him that I knew that what he was experiencing was tough, and all there was to do was to ride it out. The administration at the charter school responded perfectly. They too did not make him feel that he was acting out for attention. They did not roll their eyes and tell him to stop clenching his throat. They put him in a quiet room and gave him some drawing materials. After an hour they sent him back to class. He needs to get back into counseling (we've been working on that) to develop more skills, but I know this is the sort of thing that ultimately he has to "make better." I can't fix it.

And so if I am right and care is part of the equation, but not a major part, what does that mean for doing care? I want to say that it means very little. Of course we need to be careful about who we bring into the home, but I don't think it will make much of a difference. I think that doing care is probably part of Brian's anxiety, but I don't really think that Carl, David and Evan themselves are responsible for it.

And what does that mean for the future? Well, Brian still wants to go to the big high school, and we are nervous about it. Of course I also recognize it as a reason to get me out of car pool, but I am trying to keep that out of the decision (which is easy when he seems to be leaning towards the big high school. Then I get to pretend that I am a perfect super mom who would happily make any sacrifices for her kid, it is just that he doesn't want me to.) Anyway, part of me thinks that it would be smart not to take any new kids until after he is settled next year. That way we can get him settled and if he does have problems with the new school at least we would know it was the school.

Which brings me to what I was planning on writing about and will have to wait for the next post...


*Brian turned six while we were taking classes to become foster parents. He was five when we decided to do it, and six once Carl moved in.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What does anxiety mean?

For a while now the refrain at our house has been "Brian is doing so well." This is the reason for not making any changes, for not doing care (right now), not letting him go back to the big high school, you know, not anything. So does the fact that he had an anxiety attack at school today a reason for changing things?

Somehow I don't think so.

The school called because he couldn't breathe. I tried to talk to him on the phone but he couldn't get enough breath to say much more than that he couldn't breathe. I spoke to the principal. The people at the school get it. After all, it is The Magnet School for the Anxious and Depressed.* They understand that it is real, that he isn't pretending and can't "just relax" and start breathing normally. They agreed to find him a quiet room to sit in and some drawing materials if he wants them. That was more than an hour ago, so he must have moved through it.

He had already told them that it was an anxiety attack, which is a good thing. That he can identify it as an anxiety attack a major step in learning to deal with it.

I want to know WHY though. Why now? Why when he has been doing so well? We haven't been talking about the possibility of a new placement around him. I did tell him there was "a rumor" about the possibility of a new kid, but that we hadn't even been officially contacted. He made me promise to take it slow and I did. We have also been talking about how he wants to go back to the big high school. Roland and I got out our high school year books and talked about our friends and what high school was like for us. I told him to think about going to a school with 1700 students.

So is the anxiety attack the result of thinking about the new school or about the mere possibility of a new placement?

Do anxiety attacks always have reasons?

Let's see, it was last spring, April to be exact, when Brian's anxiety was so bad. He had breathing problems, was missing Evan, and wanting us to add to the family. We put him on half-days at school and started trying to get him into the Arts Charter School.*

I can feel myself sliding into obsession with Brian's anxiety. I think about the fact that his worst symptoms were last spring and came in between his complaining that he missed Evan, wanting us to get a new kids, and Evan moving back in. So that means that Brian's anxiety isn't about care, right?

You know, mommies are supposed to be able to make it better. I don't like feeling not just helpless but clueless.

*If you are a new reader and/or irony impaired "Magnet School for the Anxious and Depressed" is my nickname for the Arts Charter School. To be fair, I am sure there are students there who aren't there in part because of anxiety or depression -- I just don't know any.

Apnea and Birthdays

We took David out for his birthday last night. Nothing special, but we were together and I guess that is special enough. He's 21, so hard for me to believe. It has been three years since he moved out. Of course Carl is 24. How did that happen?

Roland made the appointment for another sleep study. It is not to fit him with a CPAP machine. It really is a re-do. Last time he had trouble sleeping and we are assuming that is why they did not get enough or good enough data. He goes back next time he is taking a sleeping pill. Hopefully it will go well. Then after another three or six weeks we gets to make an appointment with the local sleep doctor with whom he can talk about treatment options.

Fun, fun, fun.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's just sur-real

So you all know that I asked the family developer if the agency every would take an out-of-state placement. She said she would ask. She just emailed to say that she asked her supervisor (who has worked there for like a decade) who said that she would check into it.

It is all so strange. I really did not expect this and now I don't know what to expect next. I mean, I would still bet that it won't happen. Even if the agency is willing to consider it there are still all the people on the other end who don't even (as far as I know) have a clue that these questions are being asked. I have no idea how they would react.

It is just bizarre.

I know, I keep saying that, but you have to understand that I asked so that I would know that at least I had asked. I suppose that is what everyone else is doing too.

I think the reason that there is not an automatic no is that the agency is in the beginning of a time of transition. Headquarters (HQ) has changed the focus of the entire agency. They aren't just the agency that does permanent-placement foster care. Their long term goal is to drastically reduce the number of kids in care by helping to figure out how to prevent them from going into care and how to get them back out quickly. Part of that is "supporting adoption" but it is unclear what that means. So, given the agency is being asked to consider doing new things in new ways, they are going to stop and think about whether this would be one of those new ways.

At least that is what I think is going on, because otherwise I cannot explain it.

I am trying really hard not to get excited or worried.

Evan, by the way, called after reading the blog to offer his wholehearted support to the scheme. Roland is willing but says, "I thought we were just going to be open to placement, not go looking for kids." To which I tried to explain that that was exactly what I was doing. Someone brought me the profile. It isn't like I went to Adopt Us Kids looking for gay teenagers. Andrew is calm and not particularly invested. He's moving out anyway. Brian doesn't know the specifics, just that there is some talk about the possibility of a new kid. He looks at me seriously and says, "You aren't going to go fast, right? Not like last time. You are going to be careful about who you bring in, right?" I promised I would.

But I dreamed about it last night. I dreamed I went and met him. It was a good dream.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Questions to ask about teens in foster care

A while ago I wrote a post about questions to ask when someone asks you to take a teen into your home. This is an update on that post. Some people added things in the comments, and since I am thinking about it now, I thought I would give a more complete list, although with less commentary.

I will give two comments though. (1) BELIEVE the answers. It is so tempting to think that something a kid has done before won't happen in your house. It will. You may be able to deal with it better than a previous caretaker, but it will happen. (2) The point of asking these questions is not to weed out all the kids for whom you get negative answers. Kids in care have been traumatized and they are going to have issues. What you want to know is what those issues are and if your family can meet their needs.

1. History in care: how long have they been in care, or in and out of care? How many placements have they had? Why did their placements disrupt? Do they have a pattern of making allegations of abuse against multiple care-givers?

2. What sort of contact do they have with birth family or other families? Do they have siblings in care? If they were separated, why? Who else will continue to be in the youth's life?

3. Strengths, interest, hobbies, special needs. What is the kid good at? What does he or she do for fun? Would this youth be better matched with an active, sporting family, or a quiet, bookish family? What makes the youth laugh? Does the youth have specific religious or cultural needs? How will he or she respond to your religion or lack thereof?

4. Are they sexually active? Are they responsible about safe sex and have sex in appropriate places? Are their partners age appropriate?

5. How do they deal with conflict and their own anger? -- Sulk/hide, yell, destroy property, detach, call the social worker and demand to be moved, actually talk about it? How do they respond to people who deal with anger and conflict the way you do?

6. Attachment and relationship patterns. How do they present initially (cautious or charming?) and how do they respond to care-givers over time? What has their relationship been with other youth/children in previous homes? Do they have any long-term healthy relationships?

7. Negative or difficult behaviors -- Does this teen have a history of: lying; stealing; breaking curfew or sneaking out at night; running away; cutting or suicidal gestures or attempts; shoplifting or other illegal activities; cutting school; drinking or doing drugs; eating disorders or food issues (e.g. hoarding); abusing or being suspected of abusing pets; fire setting; threats of or actual cases of violence or sexual predation with other kids? How much trouble do they get into on the Internet? If other things matter to you, ask: how do they keep their rooms; do they keep their stuff in their rooms; how loudly do they play music; are they exceptionally picky eaters?

8. What diagnoses if any does the youth have? Does the social worker/current caretaker think they are correct? What medications are they currently taking or have taken recently? What difference did the medications make, if any? Is the youth in counseling? How long with current counselor?

9. What are their educational needs? Do they have an IEP (Individual Education Plan)? How is their behavior in school? Are they involved in any extracurricular activities? What sort of grades have they been getting? C's are good, especially if the kid has been moved a lot.

10. What sort of discipline do they respond well to? Do they have any "currency," anything in particular that can be used as a reward or that they mind if you take away?

11. And don't forget to ask if there is anything important to know about this youth that your questions did not cover.

Anyone have something to add?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Brian met a girl

She's an atheist too.

Where, you ask, does one go to meet nice atheist girls? Apparently at the church junior high Sunday school class. Now he wants to go back next Sunday.

Of course, it was the UCC.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

But what if they said yes?

More than one person has replied to the post about the fifteen-year-old asking what would happen if the agency said yes. So though I still regard it as HIGHLY unlikely, and I am writing about it mostly to get it out of my mind and NOT keep thinking about it (that part is not working), here is what would happen. At any one of these stages a negative decision could be reached:

  • The intake committee, a group of state and agency social workers, will have to agree that it is worth pursuing.
  • Someone from the agency would contact his social worker and see if they wanted to pursue it. Whatever process that needs to happen on their end would happen.
  • Someone would talk to the young man and ask him if he wanted an application submitted to the program. He would be told a little bit about us, and anything he wanted to know about the area and the program.
  • A file would be submitted to the intake committee, and though this is not usual, we would probably be asked to review some or all of it to make certain we were comfortable with proceding.
  • Someone from the agency would fly to where he is to visit him, or he would be flown to here. It would be presented to him as a possibility to think about which he could reject.
  • We would learn as much about him as we could. We would have to be able to reassure Brian that there are no major scary psychiatric diagnoses or other scary issues. I would ask as many questions of as many people as I could. We would try to take this part as slowly as we could, but it would be difficult since he is so far away. If he were living at the shelter we could take him out to lunch, have him over for the day. Invite him for the weekend. Since I can't do that and would not want to break his heart or have the placement disrupt, I would really try to be fully informed before meeting him.
  • If we felt that this was a kid we could commit to, he would be flown here to visit with us and meet with the social workers from the program. He would know that it was still possible that he would not be admitted into the program but would NOT know that the only things hoops that were in the way would be him changing his mind or us deciding that his needs were not compatible with our skills or with Brian's needs. I would of course be very, very committed to not letting it get this far unless I was as confident as I could be.
  • On that visit or the next, he would be officially interviewed by the staff committee. No kid has ever "failed" the interview, although they do try to impress upon the youth that they have a lot of services to offer and they only want to admit youth who are committed to taking advantage of them, working closely with the social worker, etc.
  • Then he would move in.
Unless it happened differently, but that is what I would expect.

In the unlikely event the agency is willing to consider it.

Update on Roland's Sleep Apnea Study

So you all remember about Roland's sleep study, right? The one from which we were supposed to get results after three weeks; the one that he did almost six weeks ago?

Yeah. The doctor's office left a message on the answering machine. They want him to schedule another one. No explanation.


Lisa has a wonderful post on permanency you should read if you can.

I too am leary about the push to get all children into permanent families where that seems to mean either adoption or reunification. I don't mean that that isn't the right option for many kids, even most kids, but it isn't right for all of them.

At my recent one-day training I spoke with several researchers, none of whom had been case workers, foster parents, or foster youth. I tried to explain to them that I would have lost David if I tried to adopt him. That level of commitment would have made him nervous. It would raise the stakes in ways that he did not want to have to deal with.

But we never did. We were "just" the foster parents who were offering him a permanent home. We were a place to stay until he was ready to live on his own. We are now a place to come for the holidays, and a group of people who can be relied upon to take him out to dinner for his birthday. (Which we re-scheduled to next week since we are all sick.) We are the people he calls to find out how to cook salmon or to bounce major decisions off of.

We are his parents in the ways that he needs and can accept parents, and I am very proud of being that.

It was so difficult for the researchers to understand that that was all he needed, all he could accept. Their attitude seems to be "but adoption would be even better! Then he would KNOW he belonged." I think I got through to a few of them. Got them to understand that he would not respond by feeling safe and knowing he belonged, but be feeling trapped, possessed, and in danger of being discarded with no backup.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's impossible, right?

Someone sent me a profile of 15-year-old boy. He sounds like our kind of kid, and he lives several states away. They are looking for an adoptive home for him.

And I told Roland. Neither of us is energetic about it, but I can't stop thinking about him either. There are all these reasons not to follow up on it. Brian is doing well, and still debating which school he wants to go to. If he decides to go to the big high school, that will be a big transition and possibly anxiety-producing. Andrew will leave for college, which is another big transition. Evan might or might not come home for the summer. And I have been whining about doing car pool. I mean, if I don't have the time to joyfully meet the needs of the kids I have, then I shouldn't be considering more kids, right?

And yet if this kid were in The City we would be asking for his file. Unlike most foster parents, our agency makes available to us everything that they have, which is less than the state has. We would look carefully at his history, the reasons for his moves, what people had to say about him. We would almost certainly meet him, set up some visits.

If he lived near, he probably would be moving in in a month or two. Probably. Even with the uncertainty in our lives, we would just take it one step at a time and it would probably happen. We would be telling his social worker that we were willing to explore any plan that included the support of our agency. Given that our agency is trying to figure out what supporting adoption and legal guardianship would look like, it is possible it would go in that direction. But he isn't local. He is some distance away. And we are not adoption-approved. We have a foster care license from a private agency. We have no state license. We have not had an adoption homestudy. In other words, even if we were willing to take him, we can't.

But he stays on my mind, so I emailed the family developer. I said that I had to ask, but I didn't expect the answer to be yes. I told her about the boy and asked if they ever had or would consider an out-of-state placement. I expected her to email back and say, "No, sorry, our cooperative relationship with the state prevents that." I mean, I know that the agency gave up complete control over who gets in. There are no private referrals anymore. All the kids come through health & welfare and the committee that makes the decision includes both state people and agency people. I don't see the social workers from our state wanting to give up one of the spots to a kid from another state.

But she emailed back and said, "I don't know. That is an interesting question. I'll ask and get back to you!"

Huh. Still, the answer will almost certain be no. And even if they are willing, the social workers from the other state will probably say no. Wouldn't they? And I am not even certain that I want them to say yes. In fact I am pretty sure I WANT the answer to be no. But I am not certain how much of that is for good objective reasons and how much of it is being afraid to risk again after Frankie.

So I tell myself that it is impossible. I just need to ask so that I am certain. Then when they tell me that it can't be done I will move on with my life and wait for the next kid who will come at a better time. After all, I can't parent every currently parentless* gay boy in America. This one isn't mine. I will move on.

And I will not think about this 15-year-old gay boy who likes to make bead jewelry and does not have a home.

*Thanks Bacchus!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crossed the finish line, sort of

I taught my last class of the quarter! Done! Finished! I can rest...except that I have to meet tomorrow with the two students who are doing independent studies, go to a department meeting, and grade, grade, grade...but I feel finished.

And Brian doesn't have school tomorrow so I won't have to do car pool in the morning and I can sleep late - like 9:00am! (Do you hear angels singing, or is it just me?)

Who knows, I might even write something interesting and not whiny in the next few days! Well, in the next week anyway.

Did you know..

...that if you have mild asthma and get sick, that your inhaler can help? Jo did. She told me so.

Did you also know that if you start using your inhaler several times a day to treat your cough your doctor will want to see you? Yeah. Jo did.

Did you further know that one of the first likely treatments will be a short course in steroids on the label for which it will read, "This medicine may lower your ability to fight off infections. Avoid contact with people who have contagious diseases." I will avoid contact with myself for the duration, I guess.

Oh...and yesterday there was this committee meeting that I needed to go to. I asked if there was a better time, but the secretary arranging it said no, everyone could get there but me. So two weeks ago I asked Roland to make special arrangements to leave his class early and do car pool so that I could go. THEN Jo made me go to the doctor so I had to skip the meeting, but I talked to one of my colleagues and he agreed to go, although he would have to ask my other colleague to proctor an exam and would be late. Then it turned out that it was a bad time for someone else, so they cancelled the meeting.

Today is the last class of the term. I can't cancel it. I just can't.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Congratulations to Brian!

He got the lead in the play. He will be Elwood in Harvey. I asked him if he got it doing a Jimmy Stewart impression and said that he did an impression of "the other one." That would be Harry Anderson's Elwood from the 1998 re-make.

So cool, huh?

Of course rehearsal is after school, which means that one of us, me, spends an hour in the car driving to the school, picking up M2 & M3's kids and taking them home, then someone, not usually me, has to turn around and get Brian. We don't know how long this will continue, because there is no official rehearsal schedule, however, given that he has the lead, we can expect that his presence will be necessary quite often.

I am happy for him, I really am. He loves drama and he likes this play. He is going to make a great Elwood. I just ... it is a lot of time on the road.

We told him a while ago that which school he went to was his decision, all the while having private conversations about whether we wanted to exert pressure one way or the other. He is leaning towards the local, big school and I just don't have the energy to convince him to go to the charter school so that I can continue to spend four hours a week carpooling, plus however many hours driving him to extracurricular activities.

But driving and the environment aside, he got the lead!

Pretty cool.

Slowly Recovering

Still sick...but better. I have a cough that sounds horrible but I am no longer sleeping all day. I'm not blogging because I my brain is all stuffy, but I will be better soon.

I'm going to go into work today. I have class in the afternoon. (You remember about Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, right?) So I will check in and see if I can control my cough enough to teach. If I can't I may just turn around and go back home.

You know, it could be that I only want to go in to demonstrate to my colleagues that I am not faking.

Because I am that insecure.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Personal Record

I slept for 15 hours last night. 15!

Roland came to ask me if I was okay at what I thought was mid-morning. I said something grumpy about being sick and just needing to sleep in a little and coudn't he just leave me alone so I could sleep? I later learned that that was at 12:30 in the afternoon.

I never sleep that long. Ever.

I'm so impressed with my sleep marathon that I am almost distracted from the reality of being sick. Well, almost.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Um....sorry about that

Last night I could feel that I was beginning to get worse, just a bit more sick. Roland had taken the day off and I knew he would take today too. Surely he was getting a little better.

I started with the rational approach, "I know you are sick. I mean we both are, and I am wondering if you could do car pool in the morning since you don't do it that much."

He laughed! He actually laughed and said something like "no way." It was like the funniest thing he had heard for a while. Then he was sorry because he had hurt my feelings, but not sorry enough to say he would drive. I pouted.

I woke up this morning and I ached. All over. I threw myself at his feet and begged, "Please, please do the car pool. Please let me go back to bed, please, please." Okay, I didn't say exactly that, but I wasn't much more dignified. He said he would and I expressed how deeply grateful I was.

Then he and Brian left.

Five minutes later M2's kid came to the door to ask what was taking Brian so long.

This morning wasn't our shift.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I caught the crud from Brian and Roland. I don't feel as badly as they do, and I am putting myself to bed before that happens. I plan to spend all day tomorrow lounging in my pj's. Pj's have anti-viral properties don't they? Mostly I just have this constant cough and a headache which seems to be from the cough. Jo helped me to remember that a cold can aggravate my asthma and that I have an inhaler for that. I used the rescue one, the one that I don't like because it makes me feel jittery and don't use very often, and it helped. I still cough, but not every time I breathe. Yeah Jo!

At one point this morning I started an angst-ridden post about the difficulty of seeing the truth when you are too close and how I really don't think that Brian's issues are all or even mostly about our having done care, and that I don't really think that he is better because we are not doing care. I mean, I can give a very excellent argument for why that is just flat out wrong. And yet I don't entirely trust my own judgment on this and unfortunately I don't trust anyone else's judgment either. On this, I mean. I don't think that there is anyone who has enough emotional distance and detailed information (a difficult combination to acheive) who can tell me.

And that paragraph was supposed to be about how I got distracted and deleted the post and a good thing too, because really, none of you want to listen to me whine that much. Maybe I write about the dilemma of perceiving need sometime soon.

Oh..and just to make the whole Charter School v. Local High School dilemma very vivid -- it took more than an hour and a half to do the stupid car pool run this morning.


Blogger problems:
-Is the spell check working for anyone out there? I click on the button and nothing happens.
-Does anyone else have that thing where if you save a post and then open it later Blogger will have added an extra line between every paragraph?

Anyone know how to fix these things? I know about the blogger help group, I just thought I would check with y'all first.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I complained to Roland that he doesn't listen. He says he does.

This quarter all my classes and meetings are on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I know I told him at the beginning of the quarter. I have had this schedule for over a month. I have come home those nights and complained about how tiring it is to have everything stacked up in two afternoons, so why don't we just have pizza or can everyone just get themselves something to eat?

Early in the term he had to get Brian when he was sick, or claimed to be, because I wasn't answering my cell phone. "I know," I told him, "I don't take it to classes and meetings. I won't be answering my phone Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for this whole quarter."

I asked him to arrange for the person on car pool to drop Brian off at his school two different Thursdays so that he could take Brian to appointments since I am busy all afternoon.

When I went away for the meeting last week I commented more than once that it was a shame it was on Thursday and I had to cancel class. I debated whether to get a guest speaker and decided against it.

And yesterday he told me he finally made this appointment we both needed to go to. "I couldn't remember your schedule, but they had an opening on Thursday afternoon, will that work for you?" Pause. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

It's a sleep apnea thing, right? He will be better once he finally gets treatment, won't he?

Different Families

Last night was the first meeting of the new agency-sponsored foster parent support group. Though I had been with the agency longer than more than half of the parents, most of them had been state foster parents for a decade, or two, or almost three.

It was interesting that no brand-new foster parents came. I sat wondering if it was that you had be around for a while to know that you needed support, or if it was that the newbies just had more trouble getting out of the house. Certainly the ones who have just finished the initially training would not be in the mood.

Foster parents are an odd bunch over-all. One family doesn't own a TV or allow their kids to go to the movies. They do have some G and PG rated movies at home they can watch periodically. The kids don't get bored, not with all church-related fun they have. Another allows TV, just not anything occult like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One couple there kept horses, and insists that all family members do barn chores. Most required whoever lived with them to go to their church, and most of those churches were pretty conservative. We did not talk about these issues, by the way, I just have come to know these people.

I realized that I like and admire them, and that I would hate to live with them. They are dedicated and smart and compassionate. They are funny, kind, and firm. They are good people.

And if I were thirteen and told that I had to muck out a stall on Saturday, or could not watch my favorite TV show, or read the books I wanted, or had to go roller skating with the church youth group every week ... well, I don't know how I could live with it. I was a good, but bookish kid. I was fairly shy. I still get to know people slowly and am not comfortable in large groups. Being made to go roller skating with a bunch of teenagers who knew each other but not me would be torture. Can't I just bring a book and read on a bench? Pleeeease?

Can I say again that I think all these families are good families?

And there are kids who would hate to be placed with us. You can watch almost anything you want, but no more than 90 minutes electronic time on school days, after which we have nothing in particular for you to do. I have 50 papers to grade and Roland is making visual schedules for all of his students. Yeah, we do work a lot and it is kind of boring here. The library's just down the street though, you could check out a book. Do you have a hobby? I could buy you yarn or art supplies.

It must be so difficult for the kids. I mean, put aside all the big stuff, the trauma of moving and feeling rejected. What about the little stuff?

In one house Fox News is turned on every night. In ours everyone watches the Daily Show. Roland adds some CNN; I go on-line to newspapers. In some houses they eat red meat of some sort almost every night. Kids get to mine and comment that they had no idea you could do that many different things with chicken. In one home they are told that Buffy is absolutely forbidden. I own all seven seasons on DVD. In one home they got in trouble for saying "damn" but no one blinked if they complained about the "homo" in gym class. In my house...

Our homes are so different. They smell different; the foods taste different; what is valued is different; the rules are different.

I just think about the kids moving from one of these kind, dedicated families to another and it makes me tired.

Just THINKING about it makes me tired.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Feeling Like a Bad Mom

I don't want for Brian to go the Charter school next year, and I want for him to go to the Charter school. Yeah, contradictory beliefs are a problem, but contradictory desires are just a fact of life.

So here's the long, rambling recording of my internal debates about what to do with Brian next year.

Our Town High:
1,700 students in grades 9-12. That is not of course evenly distributed as there is a significant, though not record-breaking, drop-out rate. Good marching band, jazz band, and drama programs. Pretty good AP classes. Takes seriously the drug and gang problem, which means that it doesn't go away, but they are pretty good at keeping it off campus. Pretty much. Andrew, in his band and college prep schedule barely noticed it. David heard about gang activity from other kids all the time, "This last weekend my cousin..." Evan reports that drug deals may be negotiated on campus but never actually transacted there. Possibly important fact: there are two middle schools which feed in to the high school.

Charter School for the Arts:
K-12, smaller. I'm not certain how much smaller, but I can't imagine that there are more than 200-300 high school students. Possibly less. Schedule allows student to take more arts, but programs are not better, probably they are worse. In drama class, for instance, you don't just have kids who want to take drama. The class is required and many of the students are musicians who don't want to be there. Also there are quite a few kids there who are not particularly interested in the arts; their parents just want them out of the big schools. Sometimes I think it should be called "The Magnet School for the Anxious and Depressed." Even though our motivation for sending Brian there was his anxiety, he understands himself to be one of the students who actually cares about the arts.

If he goes to the Charter school he can take MORE art classes, but if he goes to the local high school he can take BETTER music or drama classes. He won't be able to be in Marching Band, Jazz Band, and Drama, but he could do two of them. Doing two would mean starting school at 7:00am.

I've been encouraging him to go to the Charter school for freshman year at least, hoping that he might stay for the entire time. He is willing to go at least one semester and see what high school there is like, and what the new building will be like. He seems to be thinking though that he will probably switch to the Our Town High eventually. However, if he is going to switch back, it might make sense to do it at the beginning of the freshman year (i.e. next year). Everybody will be new to the school, and half the kids won't know the other half.

He has been better this year. His anxiety has been a lot lower. He still calls me every other week, though not every other day, to complain about some injury or symptom. I have been good about telling him to stick it out and he does. He also just seems more mature. He is making friends. Of course all those friends are in the next town and he doesn't get to see them outside of school. And one of the kids in the car pool has been Brian's friend since they were babies. This friend though is increasingly a bad influence. I swear he is going to be the first to experiment with alcohol. He is a charismatic type and, though I don't think it is malicious, he sort of takes over all of Brian's friends. From his point of view he is probably welcoming them into his circle. Still, it means that Brian remains one of the satelites around the Kid-most-likely-to-become-a-bad-influence. All the worst things Brian has done in his life he has done at this kid's instigation. Brian defends him. Even when he was four he defended him, "Well, he put the idea in my head, but once it was there, I wanted to do it too." This kid's mother (M2) really wants to keep him out of the big high school because she wants to keep him away from the gangs and drugs. Given that I think her son is the sort likely to experiment with whatever come his way, it is probably a good idea for him.

But Brian has been better.

And the $64,000 question is: did the school make him better really or is his "betterness" dependent on the smaller school? If he goes to Our Small Town High, will he take this new ability to cope with stress and make friends, or will he revert? And here is an upsetting thought: is he better because there are no foster kids in the house? I have never thought that was the problem. It was always school that made him anxious and he was always fine at home. But still, it is one of the things that has changed. I don't want that to be it, but I have to consider it. I do know that increased separation anxiety, often manifesting as more sick days in older kids, is a factor among fostering children.

If he leaves the Charter School, he can't go back. So probably he should stay for a while, except that he would miss the freshman year experience when the teachers are actually trying to help the kids adjust and all the kids are making friends with each other.

And then there is the car pool. Oh dear lord, I hate the car pool.

There are three families. In the other two families, both parents do some of the driving. Roland can't drive hardly at all. He just can't. One of the families can only do three shifts a week, which means that I alternate between three and four shifts a week.

And one of the mothers (M3) is a pain. Of course she is the mom who has two kids in the car pool and yet can only take three shifts a week. M3 won't support the kids riding the bus. M3 doesn't want Andrew to drive. She sends me nasty emails if I tell her kids to stop insulting my kid. Okay, that was an exceptional case, but she has made it very clear that I am not to correct her kids, I should just tattle on them so she can punish them. (That is so not my parenting style. I verbally correct kids when they are doing something. A sort of "Stop! Think! What should you be doing?" I almost never punish.)

M2 is giving the pitch for the charter school. She tells me how absolutely horrible Our Small Town High is, apparently forgetting or not caring that I have had four boys attend there and might know something about its strengths and weaknesses. She also keeps pointing out that when the Charter school moves to the new location they will be right by the freeway and that will make the commute so much easier. So far I have NOT pointed out that only she and I live near the freeway. The commute will not take less time if we still have to drive to the south end of town to pick up the bitch's M3's kids. M2 has been carpooling with M3 before I came along, and most certainly would not ditch her, even if I was the sort who could do a "pick her or me" thing. Previously I thought the public, inter-county bus was going to be more convenient for the kids at the new location. It looks like I was wrong. They won't be able to get there on time. Catching the bus will mean walking three blocks very quickly and crossing a 4-lane road. Actually, in order to cross the road at a safe point they will have cover 5 blocks in less than 15 minutes. So...that probably won't work.

I keep thinking that car pool shouldn't be that bad, but it isn't just the time. I end up with two or three afternoon shifts, and I have to leave work at 2:15 to do them. On one hand, I don't have classes or even official office hours on the afternoons that I leave, but it is still uncool. In previous years was slightly defensive about leaving at 3:30 every day when there were new kids in the house. I reminded people that I get here at 7:00am and spent as much time in the office as they did. Still, I was always the first person out. 2:15 is ... well... it is 2:15. Even in Academia that is an early to be cutting out.

I did have the fantasy of telling the other parents that I was just going to be out of afternoon car pool. I would take a turn in the morning, but my kid was riding the bus in the afternoon, but that was before I took a really good look at the map and the schedule.

Am a terrible person for wanting Brian to go to Our Small Town High so that I don't have to carpool? Shouldn't Brian's needs come first?

But what are Brian's needs? If I send him back to Our Small Town High and he starts calling me four times a week with nausea and anxiety begging to come home I will kick myself. It is not unimportant that he does want to go the larger high school. He seems willing to go back to the Charter school because we want him to, but he wants into the large high school's band and drama programs.

Can anyone look into the future for me? If Brian goes to Our Town High, will he be happy to be involved with a great drama department that puts on really good plays (for high school). Will he make friends? Are the improvements he has made really part of him? Will they stick?
Should I keep car pooling?

Should I send him back to Our Town High but not take any more children in until I see how he does? A year ago I would have insisted, did insist, that the fostering was not part of the problem. Brian's counselors and doctors agreed. But what if it is?

It would be so much easier to do the right thing if I knew what the right thing was.

Maybe sending him to the local big school and taking a year off from care is the smart thing to do. The foster care system isn't going to go away. There is even something attractive about giving myself time off from waiting by saying "don't call."


That sound you hear, is a small, sad sigh.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Roland's sick. He is sleeping in the spare room, but even so, the chances of my staying healthy when he is sick are never very good. Hopefully it is the same thing the boys had and got rid of, because I managed to resist it when they had it, so maybe I have built up immunity. If it is a brand new virus and the boys get it...Doom...Despair. I'm always the last domino. I get to see it coming, count the days, try to get as much done as I can before it hits. Every time I vow I will get lots of sleep, take Vitamin C, focus my will on being healthy.

It almost never works. I don't want to get sick! I don't have time right now. Work is intense and I am very, very busy. I can't get sick! Waaaaa!

Yes. I really am that self-centered. My darling husband feels just awful my loving response is to send him down to the spare bedroom and worry that every twinge in my body is the beginning of The Stomach Virus.

Also it has been four weeks since that ding dong sleep study and he still hasn't got the results. It is down right annoying. And yes, that is all about me too. I'm not sure exactly how, but give me a chance and I will work it out.

Because I really am that self-centered.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Who does the difficult work?

If you are a foster parent, or have adopted from foster care, probably someone has told you that they could never do what you do. Sometimes I get annoyed with hearing that. Sometimes I wonder if it is an excuse not to seriously consider doing care. It is impossible, to extraoridinary, an ordinary person can't imagine doing it. Only sometimes though, because I know how hard it can be. It can be done by ordinary mortals, but it requires dedication and willingness to learn new skills.

If you talk to other foster parents, no matter what sort of care you do, you are likely to hear that the kind of care you do is the really hard sort. I mean you folks out there who will take little ones, well, my hat's off to you. Babies? Lordy, I cannot imagine having a baby or toddler in the house again. Been there, done that, got the poop stains on the t-shirt and have moved on, thank you very much.

And large families? No way. I take kids one at a time. So maybe over time they are beginning to add up, but they don't all live here. I wonder if after Brian leaves we could do a sibling group, but three is the max. Even that I don't know if we could do. Well, we could, but it certainly feels daunting. And the ragers! I mean, I can deal with kids who have anger, but throwing furniture, slamming fists into floors and walls, destroying property -- no, I can't imagine doing that.

Again, what is beginning to feel like my mantra runs through my head, "At least not while Brian is at home." The truth though is that those kids are out while Roland is at home too. And since I plan on keeping Roland around until long after we are too old to do care, someone else is going to have to take the raging kids and the hyperactive kids. Roland has always been clear: he teaches those kids at school. He has a reputation for being great with them, but he cannot come home to them.

No, we need kids who are calm.

I take the easy ones.

I don't know how the rest of you do it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Parenting Kids with RAD

When I come across a blog that I think I might like I add it to my reader, thinking that I will start reading and see if I "get into it." Sadly, there are too many blogs in my reader and sometimes I have a hard time getting a sense of who they are. This is, of course, one of the reasons I appreciate it when the blogs have a couple of posts in the sidebar that help new readers get "in" so to speak. When they aren't there, well, I try.

So, I have all these blogs in the reader, a bunch of which I don't really know very well. So every now and then I decide to go to one of them and actually read it, starting from the beginning. And sometimes I am amazed and humbled.

That's what happened when I decided to read Tudu's at Finishing Off My Family. It is an amazing story and I strongly recommend that you start at the beginning. Plan on reading the blog over a couple of days. Read it like a novel. She will summarize the story of her first adoption, and then as you go you will read as they are matched and with a sibling group of 6. A group of kids who include several with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

When she was describing the kids before they moved in and stated that more than one of them was diagnosed with RAD I thought "RUN! Are you insane woman? RUN! RUN! RUN!" I confess that her confidence that she could parent these kids seemed to me to be naive beyond belief.

But she does parent them, and there is nothing naive about her.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Committee Part 2: The Vision and My Dwindling Place

This reseach is part of a project intended to reduce the number of kids in care by 50%. There are some slogans that are developing. One of them is "reduction and reinvestment." They don't just want to reduce the number of kids in care, they want to take the savings from that reduction and convince legislators not to spend it on roads and bridges but to spend it on family welfare services.

And they are serious about that. They say know understand that it is ambitious, but some cities have done it and they think it can be done across the nation. It will include more attention being paid to first families and what they need. It looks like they are finding that parent support groups are one of the best ways to help first parents get their kids back. Parents are so overwhelmed by social workers, lawyers, CASA volunteers, and foster parents. Though some of these people may be on their side, wanting them to succeed, the parents don't FEEL like they are. There is at least one city where meeting with a representative from the local "Parent to Parent" group is the first thing that parents who lose their kids to care have to do. Another parent who has been there explains how everything works and helps them through the processes. They support each other.

No one thinks that reunification is always going to work, but the plan is to figure out what helps, and then to promote that.

From the agency's perspective, Plan B is kinship care. Placement with extended family has a much higher success rate than non-kinship foster care. When the parents are unable to provide a safe home, kinship care allows kids to live in places where they are more confident that they are loved. The children are more likely to develop safe relationships with their parents. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it works better than foster care.

Plan C is adoption or at the very least legal guardianship. Ideally a child's first placement would be his or her only placement. Kids may live with foster parents while reunification is being worked on, but if that fails they want for those foster parents to step up to the plate and adopt or accept legal guardianship.

Though the agency in the past has been dedicated to providing permanent foster care to kids, that is no longer the focus. They don't think that is the best option for kids. Foster care is not permanent. By permanency they mean "Parents first, families second, followed by adoption or legal guardianship."

And what I am so dedicated to just slipped right off the table.

I was glad when one of the alumni pointed out that even if they reduced the number of kids in care by 50%, there would still be the other 50%. This agency was one of the leaders in providing the best possible care for kids who NEEDED to stay in care, surely they were not going to abandon their dedication to those kids. The staff said no, they were not. They were also doing research on how to best help those kids in adulthood. They were very excited about how some cities had "wrap around services." One city even had a center, a one-stop location where young adults could go. This location had a common area just to hang out, and all sorts of paid personel and volunteers to help the emancipated youth. There were lawyers, social workers, a satelite office for the job services, and older alumni willing to mentor the younger ones. They also understood that the kids who would be left in care would likely be the ones with the most significant mental health and educational issues. They were researching how to respond to that too. There was this really interesting program in this one school system...

As exciting as that was, the alumni, two of whom were alumni from this agency, wanted to know if they were getting out of the foster care business. They had a sense that the agency itself had been their substitute parent. Though individual social workers and foster families didn't last, they agency with all its dedication and services, and money, had been there to help them. If one had to be in foster care, being in care with this agency was the best. That wasn't going to go away, was it?

And the answer was: not entirely, but already they were doing less of it.

The foster care alumni and I all deflated just a little. It wasn't that anything they were trying to do was bad, it is just that we all were in love with what the agency had been. The tried to reassure us. The head of research told us that the pendulum tended to swing back and forth. Right now everything they were doing was being directed by the mission of "reduction and reinvestment" but though they were not focusing on what they had in the past, they would not foget.

And I was left wondering where my place was.

I spoke individually with the researchers and told them that while I supported what they were trying to do, I didn't think it would work for all kids. I told them that I thought that adoption was too much for some kids, that it was wrong to have as a policy that the kids needed to be adopted in order to have a permanent place to live.

None of these researchers had been foster youth, care-givers, or even case workers. They are social scientists. They were surprised that I did not think "reunification, kinship, or adoption" wasn't the answer for everyone. I explained, "With Evan it would have been just inappropriate. His mother was in jail. She was, and is, his mom. I'm the person who has promised that he will have a place to stay while he is in college. He knows I will always be around, but I'm not his mom. Even when she got out of jail she couldn't provide him a home, but there wasn't any competition between us about who was the real mother. She's his mother. It would have been hard for Carl. His mother had died. He needed permanence, and he got it with us. He is still part of our family. Being adopted though would have been an emotional stress he did not need. He would have felt like he was being disloyal to his mother. He didn't need to be put through that. If there had been a push to adopt him he would have managed, but it would have been one more stress that he didn't need. David I would have lost. If we had started adoption proceedings with him, he would have disrupted."

They were stunned. Why in the world, if I had this wonderful relationship with David did I think he would have bolted if I tried to adopt him? "Because intimate relationships are frightening to David. As long as I was playing it low key, not allowing our relationship to become emotionally risky, I could promise to be there for him. Adoption though would have been like getting married. It would have been too much for him. Trying to adopt him would have pushed him to a place that did not feel safe and he would have left.

"Most of the kids in the pemanency program in The City are kids who have experienced a disruption. The reason they are in permanent foster care is that they don't want to go through that emotional risk again. Insisting that they must would be, for those kids, emotional abuse."

I did concede that legal guardianship might not be different. (Later Roland and I agreed that David might have welcomed legal guardianship if it had been presented as a way to get the social workers off his back.) One of the alumni spoke up and asked them to remember that different kids needed different options. They agreed, but it is clear to me that the notion that permanent foster care could be the right answer for any kid had become forgein to these people -- people who worked for an agency which for forty years had been in the business of serving kids for whom permanent foster care was the best solution.

Anyway, I came away from all this thinking a couple of things.

First, I think I can do reunification care, if Brian can. I think he is getting old enough that he can deal with the experience of getting attached to someone who leaves for a home even if that home is not everything he thinks it should be. I think.

Second, I think that I can get comfortable with thinking of what I do as involving legal guardianship. I don't think they would have asked me to do that with Evan since he was so close to 18 when he moved in, but even if he had been younger, I think we could have made it clear to him and his mother that my being legal guardian did not mean that she wasn't still his mother.

Third, the slogan, "reduction and reinvestment" has begun to sound ominous to me. When it is about preventing the need for care, then it seems right to me. It means that instead of spending however much they need to spend to keep a child in foster care, they want to spend that money on programs that will allow kids to stay with their families. That I fully support. If they can help more parents in crisis to get out of crisis and form stable homes, then I am all for it.

But I also wonder if adoption and legal guardianship are also viewed in part as ways of saving money. If they are, I confess to being worried and perhaps unwilling to go with them.

I keep thinking about Evan. I was asked to take him on as a renter. I said no. I am SO GLAD that I did. Because the only way I would take him was as a kid in my agency, my agency accepted him. Then he needed to go to rehab. The agency sent him to the perfect, private rehab center far away in another state. They paid for him to see a counselor that specialized in GBLT issues and chemical dependency. When he started triggering all my adult child of an alcoholic stuff, they paid for me to see a private counselor too.

It was wonderful. All those services have left both of us healthier and closer than we would have been. We could have got by with less, but I don't know how we would have survived with none. I shudder to think what would have happened if he was a renter and we learned he had a chemical dependency problem. I wouldn't be anything like a parental figure. I would have had no authority. I would not have known what to do and it would have been no one's job to help me.

Roland agrees. We can do reunification care, if Brian can. We can even do legal guardianship if it means that we will still have our agency's support. I could even adopt if, again, it doesn't mean going it alone.

I know that a lot of you adopt older kids, and I do admire you for it. I sometimes feel like I am the cheerleader for teenagers in the system. I think they are amazing and wonderful to work with. I want to keep working with them. But I realize I want to do it in partnership with my agency. I read Cindy's and Claudia's blog and I know I just don't want to face what they face. Someone DOES have my back, and I can't imagine giving that up.

Of course, I don't know in what ways the agency plans on supporting parents who adopt or accept legal guardianship. It might be everything I need it to be, even if it isn't everything I want. I do know that I have a lot of questions to ask.