Saturday, November 29, 2008

Driver's License

On the post regarding Gary's concerns, Becky asks, "I haven't been following your blog for THAT long; could you explain why Gary can't get a driver's license as a foster kid?"

Well, basically it is because minors can't be sued. Anyone is the US (and perhaps elsewhere?) who has a driver's license has someone on record taking legal responsibility for them. Usually that person is a parent. Though I think most parents don't quite realize it, giving them permission means that you are the one who will be sued if they smash the car into someone's property.

Foster kids don't have anyone to sign for them.

Gary's dad still has parental rights and so could legally sign, but there is no reason to think he would.

Theoretically, a social worker can persuade a judge to sign for a kid. In that case the state is legally responsible and would have to settle any claims. As you can imagine that rarely happens. I understand that some states are trying to make it easier, creating a liability insurance program specifically for foster kids.

In some states I am told that foster parents may take legal responsibility for their foster kids, but that isn't an option here.

Most foster kids can't even take driver's education before they are 18, and given that a lot of kids exit foster care on their 18th birthday, they are exiting without one of the skills that is pretty essential in most parts of this country.

It is just the way it is.

Gary has reservations about guardianship too

Yesterday Gary said he wanted to have a chat. He had been talking to the job services people and working out a plan to achieve his career goals (professional MMA fighter or physical therapist). He realized how much college he would need and he wanted to know if he could leave the state but not the agency.

I said no, but that we wouldn't take guardianship of him unless we were sure he would still qualify for the post high school education/job training programs. He was anxious about that until I told him that I was pretty sure the agency's rule was that if you were in the program for 1 year you qualified, period. One option was just for us not to do anything until June.

And he was concerned about driving. The job services people have come up with some options for a job for him. One is in a town 5-10 minutes from here, and not on the bus route. He doesn't want to ask us to drive him, so he wanted to know if he could drive. If he stayed with the state, he really couldn't right?

So we talked about that one too. There is just no short path to driving for him. If I had guardianship right now AND we had $500 we could sign him up for a private class. He could take the class, and then drive with us for the minimum time, and get his day-time-only-license in 6 months. In a year, he could drive after dark. So if he really doesn't want to depend upon us for rides, then he has to get a job he can get to without driving. Monday he and the job services guy are going to apply for jobs in Our Small Town, including back at the Y. He is okay with the idea that we would pick him up from work in really bad weather or after dark. He just doesn't want for us to be his main source of transportation for work.

It also occurs to him that he might not qualify for the job services program if he isn't a foster kid anymore, so maybe we shouldn't go too quickly because of that.

He also wants to go to a super big, really incredible MMA competition this summer very, very far from here. If he stays in the agency they might be willing to help pay for it, although they also might not give him permission to fight in it. (I think they probably will. Minors have to wear quite a bit of protective gear. It is unlikely that he would get seriously injured. Probably.)

He has a really difficult time with the idea that he might not qualify for Medicaid anymore. He has been in Medicaid "forever." I keep telling him that he would be on our insurance, but that just doesn't quite make sense. I understand. The year he lived with his aunt he was not a foster kid. She had legal guardianship and he was on Medicaid. Of course she was too.
I learned about one other difficulty about being in guardianship and college. If he is still a foster kid then filling out the financial aid forms is easy. He just declares that he is a ward of the state. No parental information is required. If he is in guardianship, nothing is so easy. He is not required to declare our income, which is good because he will qualify for more that way, but there isn't an easy way out. He would need to get social workers and probably the probation officer to write letters to each school he applied to explaining why it was not possible for him to get information from his father.
We talked about this and I told him that we would definitely do what was in his best interests, and that it was difficult to be sure what that was. Leaving foster care for guardianship was good. It meant that we could sign forms, and some things would be simpler, but he would lose services. He would have to get a job to pay for certain things himself.
Anyway, he seems to still really want to do this, but he is also thinking carefully about his own interests and about what really is best for him.
We haven't had more conversations with the agency. We won't until after the next permanency hearing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Didn't want to dis his traditions

Thanksgiving is an emotionally complicated holiday, and I am pleased to report that ours went swimingly.

I always ask them if there is some particular food that they always have at their house, and then I don't gag when they tell me green bean casserole or banana cream pie. I'm very respectful that way.

Gary came into the kitchen to help several times. He was wonderful. He was also caught off-guard by some of my strange ideas. I made stuffing from loaves of bread, and cranberry sauce from cranberries, and didn't have any of "that gravy stuff." He actually seemed kind of impressed that you could make gravy without a jar or packet. I told him that I found the premade stuffing too salty, canned cranberry sauce sort of scary, and that he was going to have the best gravy he ever had in his life. Really, it is too die for.

He got me back though. I don't see the point of having mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. It just takes space away from the stuffing. So when others insist upon it, I do make that from an envelop (but it is a really good one). He was stunned that I would do such a thing, so he made the mashed potatoes -- from potatoes.

The fam liked the braised turkey okay. The main advantage was that the white meat was not dried out and the dark meat was not undercooked. I was also able to get the equivalent of 2.35 turkeys into the oven in one pan. They ask if I can brine AND braise it next year.

Sure why not, as long as I don't have to make the mash potatoes.

Oh, and Evan says that he would love a robe for Christmas, "You know I read the blog sometimes, right?"

Yep. I know.

Let's see...what else? David has broken up with his boyfriend since he asked to bring him over, but he brought a work friend who had no family in the area. Gary's Evan's boyfriend is very small and young-looking. I was a good hostess and didn't embarass him at all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Questions from Anonymous

Remember back July when Torina and I did those posts on translating the code from photo-listings? Mine is here. It was a response to Torina's. I seem to remember that someone else wrote one, but I can't remember them all. Mothering4Money added to it. Anyone else have one? I wrote a more serious post about photo-listings here and another here. Again, as I recall a bunch of us wrote posts on the issue. Feel free to leave a link to yours in the comments

Anyway, someone just read them and left two comments asking a question that many of you can help with. Here is a question from the second:


I had a question for the board..if you don't mind. Is it just possible that many of these kids really, really want a loving home and will respond to the kind of "normal" structure and loving that many of us are just so willing to offer? These comments made me read over many of the listings and wonder if any of the children are ready for adoption and what does that mean? I expected transition would be needed, but it sounds like most situations need a big trial/adjustment period or something with three therapists on hand. I'm a bit baffled. Is that an over reaction? What is the more "realistic" situation to expect? Or isn't there one.

Well, I'm going to give a shot at this.

All the kids in foster care have been traumatized. Some of those kids have had good therapy in which they have worked hard, and are relatively easy to parent. The thing is, it isn't the transition that is the difficult part.

This is what I think is more or less typical: In the very beginning the kids are anxious about being kicked out and generally are on their "company behavior." After a while they can't keep that up, and they decide to bring out their faults to see if you will still keep them. So they test. You might be prepared for that, so you ride it out and they start to accept that you are going to keep them and they calm down again. Then they start to experience real emotions and that panics them at multiple levels. If you love them, if they let themselves love you, it could really hurt. They pull away. They try to drive you away. Now that is not Reactive Attachment Disorder. That is just a normal kid being afraid of being hurt again. So you stay calm and ride that out. They calm down again. Slowly they begin to feel safe, until one day they feel so safe that all that rage they have buried can finally come out.

There are kids who are ready for adoption and who won't need a team of therapists to help them get through the day. But all the kids in foster care have been traumatized and being safe doesn't "un-traumatize" them. In fact it can often be the reverse: being safe means being able to feel and express the emotions from the trauma.

So it isn't just about the transition. It is about their whole lives.

This is so hard to explain to people who haven't done it yet. We were almost all of us naive. Even when we knew it was going to be hard we had no idea how very hard it was going to be. We knew there would be problems, but we didn't realize how long they would go on. We had no idea how exhausted we would get, and we had no idea how passionately we would love these kids.

The kids in care come in a wide range. Some of them have behavior problems that are more than I am willing to deal with. Some are kids whose needs are an excellent match for my strengths. Gary responds very well to what counts as normal for us, but he does very poorly with authoritarian methods.

If you are thinking about adopting I suggest you hook up with a matching specialist like Claudia. Don't let yourself fall in love with a photo-listing. The information is incomplete at best. More complete information will be given to you confidentially. Be prepared for some counter-intuitive information. Sometimes the easiest kids to parent are hard to place because they are parts of sibling groups, or are older, black, or have criminal records. Babies can seem like the safest bet, but sometimes babies have issues (autism, FASD) that are not diagnosed yet.

There are a lot of kids with a lot of different needs. Read the blogs of those of us who are doing this.

Okay, anyone else got advice for "Anonymous"?

That's How Many?

So now both Evan and David have asked to bring boyfriends.

That means there will be nine of us, seven of whom will be male persons between the ages of 14 and 22. Now I know a lot of you have Thanksgiving holidays of multiple families, but seven young men? Oh, and Evan and David will expect to pack some left-overs away with them.

I'm trying something new with the turkey this year...this is a last minute decision. I am going to braise it. I'm simplifying the recipe somewhat (read: no sausage). Roland is at the grocery store picking up some extra turkey parts for us, along with everything else I have on the list. The grocery is out of thighs, but there are legs a plenty. SO, tonight I will carve up the turkey we already have. Tomorrow I will put two thighs and five eight* drumsticks into a pan with onions, carrots, celery, herbs and broth. I will let that cook for a couple of hours and then will put four breast halves on top and cook a little more. That should be enough to feed them and allow for some leftovers.

I'll let you know how it comes out.

*Roland got six to add to the two our originally turkey came with. I guess I will just give each young man his own drumstick and keep the four breast halves for myself. I may have more turkey than I need. Anyone else want to come over?

Andrew is Home

He got home after I had gone to bed, but I woke up when he and Roland came in, so I got a hug. He was still asleep when I left this morning.

I called home. Not unexpectedly, today is all about the girlfriend. They are even going out to dinner together.

Like I said, not unexpectedly.

Oh well. We get him tomorrow.

Today I will stay in my office and grade for as long as I can stand it.

Should we ask the biokids about doing care?

Under the posts about reservations of our partners to doing care, Mrs. Butter B comments

I remember being SOOOOO Pissed when we decided to foster/adopt, and my dad got upset and didn't want us to. He wanted us to ask our other kids if they "would mind" having strangers' kids in the house or if they "would mind" having younger sibs.

I remember telling him that nobody asked me if I "Minded" having a younger brother, etc. Biology does not equate with preferential treatment. I know No-One who asks their bio kids if they're ready for more bio sibs, yet foster/adopt is apparently a discussion issue. I don't get it.

Now I am pondering this, because I am committed to talking to everyone in the home before taking in a another foster kid. It is the we work. I talk to them about how they feel, but they know the decision is mine and Roland's. This would include talking to current foster kids about whether to take a new kid. And we did in fact include Andrew in the discussion about having a second baby, but that may have been because he was campaigning for a younger sibling before we were seriously thinking about it.

Of course a lot of pregnancies are unplanned, even if they are greeted with joy. There just often is little discussion in advance for kids to participate in.

But we have always involved the kids in discussions about new kids. We haven't always done what they said they wanted. Andrew was clear that he did not want Ann to move in, but we did it anyway. Both Andrew and Brian really liked a boy we had for one weekend whom Roland and I decided we were just not up for. So it isn't really that they get a vote, but it is that they know we will listen to what they want to say and that will be a factor in our decision.

Now, I want to say that all current family members should have some say in whether new members foster kids are added, but I'm not sure I can defend that. I don't mean, by the way, that the whole family should be voting on or even given an opportunity to discuss particular kids. I do think though that foster care is so demanding in so many ways, that people already living in the house should have some say in whether to bring more in.

Now the counter argument is that if I were to find out that I was pregnant with a high-needs child and was considering whether to terminate the pregnancy, I wouldn't ask the kids. [Well...I realize now that I think about this from the perspective of being 45 and seeing how much care my mother needs and is going to need, that if I was carrying a baby with Down's my biggest worry would be whether I could guarantee that someone would take care of my kid when I no longer could. I would be worried that that would fall on my boys and that that might not be fair to them. I might talk to them about it, but it still wouldn't be their decision.] And of course, people don't always know that a child by birth is going to be high needs. It just happens.

And maybe that is part of the reason I am inclined to think that it is appropriate to include all current families in decisions about fostering. Fostering doesn't just happen. You don't have do something fun and find out a month later that your getting a foster child. It is a deliberative decision. So when you bring a foster kid into the house, the other kids know you made a decision that will affect them and probably in some major ways.

And just to be absolutely clear: I don't think that families should be asking things like, "Do you think Susie should live here?" But I am inclined to think families should be asking kids things like, "We're thinking about doing foster care/taking another long-term placement, and I want to know what you think about that."

What do you think? Do you or would you talk to current kids about taking new kids?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thinking about being done, again

I am not talking much about the guardianship thing just because I am not ready to talk about it here. The social worker previously suggested that we wait and see what happens at the next permanency hearing. I think what she is thinking is that if his dad does not show, again, then we should consider moving forward.

Roland and I are thinking about what sort of support and services we want to ask from the agency. My sense though is that everyone (meaning me, Roland and Gary) are all really warming up to the idea. Suddenly everyone is sick and tired of silly rules, and not being able to sign forms, and having to take Gary to a dentist we don't know because they take medicaide. We just want to be done with all that.

It's little stuff. Gary saw the dentist a month ago and she said he should have this tooth extracted and refered him to an orthodontist. It took a month for him to get an appointment, because they have limited spots for medicaide patients. Roland took him and the orthodontist said that the baby tooth could just stay there, but it might cause problem, so it would be better to pull it out. However, if it was pulled out then Gary would certainly have to have braces to help get the adult tooth to go where it should go. He also said that Gary's teeth issues aren't bad enough for Medicaide to pay for them. Well, I don't trust orthodontists. I just don't. They seem to think that if you don't have a movie-star smile then your life will be ruined. Everyone needs braces. Gary really doesn't want braces because of his MMA stuff (mixed martial arts -- more on that in another post). So I want to take Gary to my dentist. Now the really, really cool thing about the agency is that if Gary needs orthodontia, they will pay for it. On the other hand I called and said that I wanted to take him to my dentist, whom I trust, to see if he thinks we can't just pull out the baby tooth and see what happens. Will disaster really strike if he doesn't have braces? I talked to the social worker on Friday. She thinks this is a good idea, but she has to "staff it" and since this is Thanksgiving, she won't be able to get an answer to me until next week.

And it is just tedious.

On the other hand, orthodontia is expensive. We did not pay for it for the bioboys because we thought their imperfect smiles were just fine, thank you very much. So I like having them in the picture, I am just suddenly tired of everything taking two to four weeks. Gary is really, really tired of waiting. We only had the one conversation about guardianship but he aludes to it every now and then, saying that he does hope that we won't have to keep jumping through all these hoops.

So...we are certainly going to pursue it.

Roland and I are also having conversations about the older boys, how to best address their needs. I'm not ready to talk abou that yet either.

What I am going to talk about are these deep conflicting feelings about maybe being done. It is silly to worry about it because Gary will be here for nearly three more years, and anything could happen, but still I do.

See, I don't do foster care for the money ('cause I'm not INSANE), but I do rely upon the money to do it. We can take guardianship of one kid and lose the financial support (how much we will lose is still undetermined), but we can't keep doing that. So if we take guardianship and the agency backs away as much as they indicated they would like to, then we will have to seriously consider whether we do this again. I don't want to be in the position of not doing for one what we did for Gary because we can't afford to.

And I just don't know what I want to do anyway.

Part of me imagines doing care for another 10 years at least. I just don't see any reason to stop doing care. I like having kids in the house. I keep getting better at it. I find it satisfying.

On the other hand, six feels like a complete set, so to speak. It is enough birthdays to remember, enough Christmas presents to ponder, enough sources of potential grandchildren. My Thanksgiving table feels full.

And that makes me sad, cause I like doing this.

I like it the way I like teaching -- but what if the students didn't graduate? What if they just hung around the classrooms? That sounds horrible. It isn't what I mean at all. I adore all my kids. I don't want them to go away. I miss them when they do. I think what is happening is that I am hitting that tipping point where I know that taking more kids means significantly reducing what I can do for my adult children.

You knolw, I'm just feeling emotionally overwhelmed. There is a lot of big things going on right now. I need to stay focused on the now.

Partners, con't.

I don't normally do this, but there have been some good, long comments under the post "Reservations of Partners." If that is an issue you are interested in, you might want to go back and check them out.

I've been thinking more about Roland's reservations at various points and about how he needed to have an emotional connection to a kid before he was willing to do care. That wasn't so much the case with the last couple, but after Carl I really did have to give Roland enough detail about a particular kid so that he could form a connection, or feel like he had anyway.

Anyway, there are some good comments in that post in which other people talk about their experiences. Check it out if you are interested in the topic.

Andrew is coming home tonight

For Thanksgiving. Then he goes back for just a couple of weeks.

I'm feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I'm feeling how much I've missed him, and I think I am preparing myself for this weekend not being everything I would like to be. He will probably want to spend most of his time with his friends anyway.

I don't really understand this. I should be happy he is coming home, and I am, but I want to cry.

I think I need some sleep.

Not Funny (for us)

Sometimes stuff is funny because it is true. Like today the faculty voted on a resolution to send to the board of trustees. The original draft had "fully" twice in one sentence, as in "The faculty fully understands that the board fully has the authority to ..." So the faculty president deleted the first "fully" and asked if we wanted to replace it with something. One of my colleagues yelled out "How about 'grudgingly'?"

And that's funny, cause it's true. We really would love to have the authority to make this decision. Failing that we would really like our representative to be able to vote instead of reading a resolution stating that the faculty are agreed on this issue. (It passed by an enormous margin. Three faculty abstained.)

Sometimes things are funny because they are so outrageous and false. Brian when he was three told "non-jokes" on this premise. He would say something like, "A watermelon and a horse on top of a roof!" And then he would laugh, cause you know, you would never see a watermelon and a horse on top of a roof. One or the other maybe, but not both.

When the boys were little and getting on my nerves I would sometimes say something like, "If you don't stop that I will...hang you by your toes and tickle you until you throw up!" I tried to come up with different ridiculous things each time so that they would laugh at the image and understand that I was getting tired. As they got older that was just one of the things I said sometimes. It was like a family joke.

And the only reason that it was funny, if it was at all, was that it was so outrageous.

I stopped making those sorts of jokes when Carl moved in. I could see the anxiety flick across his face while he briefly debated whether I might do something that insane. It wasn't funny to him AT ALL. Perhaps it had never been funny, maybe it had just been stress relieving for me, but whatever funniness it once had was gone.

A couple of weeks ago we had company. The husband teaches at the boys' school (which was weird for them) and the wife teaches at my husband's. Their son is about 12 and an only child. Now that is relevant because there is something adultish about him. He has grown up with two teachers who tend to include him in their conversations, and he participates like he's one of them. It's more difficult to make that happen when you have multiple children and they form their own relationships. Anyway, at some point the mom smiled at her kid and said affectionately, "Yeah, I guess we won't sell you to the gypsies after all."

She looked up smiling and then a bit confused because we weren't smiling at all. So she said, explaining and smiling, "I used to tease him that I would sell him to the gypsies."

I put my hand on Gary's arm and said, "I heard." Roland quickly changed the subject.

The thing is, I understand why it was silliness to her and her son. Lots of parents make such jokes. Probably it produces more anxiety in kids than we are willing to acknowledge, but from the adult's perspective it is funny because it is so clearly false.

But see, I was sitting next to an abandoned child, a child who had done something bad and had not been sold but just summarily handed over to the police, a child who had done everything that had been asked of him and still wasn't allowed to call his house to talk to his father, a child whose three youngest siblings don't know he ever existed. And my other boys too, all of them in one way or another abandoned by their parents, one literally, dropped off at school and never picked up.

Yeah. Jokes about getting rid of kids because they are naughty...not so funny anymore.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reservations of Partners

Anonymous asks, "How would you recommend dealing with "partnered with someone who doesn't want to do it." That is my biggest stumbling block."

You can't do foster care.

It really isn't different than if you want to have a baby and your partner doesn't. It is such a big thing that you really both have to be ready and committed for it to work.

Having said that, there were certainly times when Roland was less interested in continuing than I was. When Carl needed a home, he was fully on board. After that he was less interested in continuing. He agreed to do respite though any maybe if there was a particular kid who was right for us, he might change his mind, but he really didn't think he would. He agreed to take Ann because he was attached to her. When that ended he didn't want to get any calls for at least a while. After a couple of months we met David, and Roland was won over. He really liked him. For Roland making the move to a particular kid required knowing him. He needs an emotional connection to a kid. For a long time I needed to be sneaky and set up "chance" meetings between Roland and potential new kids so that he could make that connection.

So, though your partner doesn't want to do it now doesn't mean that he or she will never decide otherwise. They have to move there sincerely though, and whether that can happen will depend on why they don't want to do it. Maybe it is something that can be addressed. And even if they don't change their mind, it doesn't mean that you can't get involved with kids who need help though. You can volunteer for Big Sisters/Big Brothers. Contact your local foster parent association and see if there are any volunteer activities you can participate in. Try to form relationships with foster parents and see what you can do on your own.

Foster kids can be hard on a relationship. The kids will often try to triangulate -- get between you and your partner. There are many things that you can do that don't require the commitment of a partner. Adopting a pet is a major commitment, but even that can be done by one person in a relationship. You can feed, walk, exercise, and train the dog and keep it out of your relationship with your partner, if you are willing to work that hard. You just can't do that with a child. Both of you have to be committed to doing it and working as a team.

And if you are not there yet, then you are just not there yet.

Preparing Your Kids

Okay, so now that I got a bunch of you thinking about whether you can do foster care, here are some ideas about preparing the kids you already have, if you have 'em that is.

If you are considering doing care with kids under 10 or 5, here are things to think about:

Children younger than 10 typically believe foster kids are in care because they were bad and their parents gave them away. That belief is confirmed by everything naughty thing the kids do, and since the kids usually have behavior problems, that is a lot of confirmation. This belief extends to infants whom children typically believe were given away because they cry too much. This believe is resilient. That means that you can't just tell them once. They must be educated over and over and over. Figure out your age-appropriate explanation and give it again and again. Talk about the children's families in ways that are sympathetic and supportive. Remember that a lot of the kids who are in care secretly fear or even believe this too. Even if they deny it is true for them, they are likely to believe this about other kids in the system.

If the foster kids are old enough to talk, talk to your kids first. Remember about ghost stories when you were a kid? Remember kids impressing each other with tall tales? Yeah, well kids still do that. Some kids have really impressive material and better imaginations. You need to respect the foster kids privacy, but your kids also need to be insulated against the stories. Stories of sex with animals and dinners made from trapped rats have been told in my house. I recommend explaining the difference between privacy and secrets. People are allowed to keep things private (not talk about them at all), but they are not allowed to keep things secret. If kids tell each other something, that means the kids are allowed to talk to it with the adult. Period.

One of the most anxiety-producing thoughts we tend it have is "what if my foster kid hurts my biokid?" Well, that could happen. This is one of the reasons to consider only taking kids younger than your biokids. HOWEVER, I suspect that if we were to interview all the foster kids and biokids we would find that more foster kids had been bullied by biokids than the other way around. I know you will have some anxiety about your bios being hurt, but don't forget that they have an enormous amount of power, they and the foster kids know it, and that power is easily abused. Your job is to protect everyone.

Their grief is as strong as yours. When kids leave a family, it hurts. It can hurt for a long time. When I talk to adults who were fostering children and I ask them what they liked the least they tell me all sorts of things. Their possessions that were stolen or destroyed is a big one. However, when in every case they have had a story about a kid they cared about and who was moved and they never saw again. I have seen fifty-year-old men choke up saying, "I never knew what happened to him."

Most of the adults who were fostering children say that it was a positive experience. Most of them are glad their parents did it, even if they would have changed some things. Most of

Most of the adults who were fostering children tell me that they felt the experience was a positive one. They are glad they did it. They say they are more appreciative of differences in the world. They care more about social issues. They can't imagine what their life would have been without doing it.

Children who foster show higher levels of separation anxiety than average. This manifests in more sick days and a tendency among teenagers to spend more time at home. (Not necessarily a bad thing). Interestingly, parents seem to get them completely wrong. The less the parents thought separation anxiety was an issue, the more the researchers found it. I think this is because the parents who were thinking about it were dealing with it.
So here's the bottom line: we like to keep our children in bubbles. We control what television they watch. We may not let them see the news. We want them to feel safe even if the world is not safe. When you become foster parents, you burst that bubble. You cannot just bring a child into your bubble. It just doesn't work that way. Your biokids will see things you might not have been ready for them to see. You couldn't have protected them from it forever, and growing up in a bubble is not necessarily the best thing for them. You just have to be prepared to help them deal with it.

I started when my kids were 5 and 10. Brian has lived his whole life gaining brothers who are older than he is. He has had to deal with all these issues, and I have not dealt with them as well as I should have. Even when I knew better, I did not do as well as I should have.

I know though that it has been much more of a positive than a negative experience for him. I could have kept him protected, but it is better this way.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you've thought about it, now's the time

If you've thought about becoming a foster parent, now is the time to do it. If you haven't thought about it, start thinking.

There are lots of reasons why foster parenting might not be for you. Maybe you don't live somewhere that meets licensing requirements, or maybe you are partnered with someone who doesn't want to do it. Maybe you just know you can't deal with kids with issues. The usual recommendation is that you should probably not foster if your children are under ten and almost certainly shouldn't if your children are under five. It is also recommended that the foster children be younger than your birth children. (I of course broke those rules and didn't regret it).

So maybe it isn't for you, but if it is, now is the time to act.

You may have heard that there is a financial crisis going on. People are losing jobs, and more people are going to lose them. Those who don't have them are going to have a difficult time finding new ones. That means families in crises, and that means more kids in foster care.

It's hard work. Really hard.

But it is work worth doing.

And you are needed now.

Abandonment Won't Stop

I think we all know this, but I really need to say it. I'm glad the state of Nebraska has revised their legalized abandonment law. I would be more happy if no state had any legalized abandonment law, but that is another post entirely.

What happened in Nebraska is that a light was shone on a problem. We got to see it. It was reported. The stories were told. We learned the details. We found out that there are families under so much pressure, with such great needs, and so few resources that they will abandon their children if they think that will give them a better life.

And those families are still out there. We won't hear about them any more, but they are there.

Perhaps the families who abandoned 35 children in Nebraska might not have done it had it not been legal, but other families were still doing it.

There are parents who simply leave their children in the house and disappear for hours, or days, or forever. There are parents who leave children with relatives or babysitters and just don't come back.

They are parents at the end of their rope. They do not know how to cope and they do not know where to turn. There is no one to help them. Some of the time it might have even been the only thing the knew to do, or even could do. It is not easy in this country to work and support a child, particularly a child with severe needs.

Every day in this country there are parents who will tell judges that even if their children are released from detention, they will not take them home. Some of these are parents who had the children arrested in the first place. Pressing charges may have been the right thing to do. It is not always safe or even possible for a family to live with a child or teen who is capable of hurting family members. Even then, the hurt of the abandonment is real.

But for about a month, one state made it easy and legal and therefore visible. We all saw it. It wasn't just the foster parents, social workers, and judges who saw the abandoned children, who knew the stories behind the act. Everyone saw it. Everyone heard the stories.

And now the law is changed so only the infants may be so abandoned, and that is better than what was.

But we mustn't forget that even as the legalization of abandonment goes away, families in crisis and the abandonment of children do not go away. The law opened a window on a problem. I hope, I pray, that even as we close that window we remember what we saw, because it is still there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I can hear you...sort of

So around 7 Brian yelled that he and Gary were leaving to catch the bus. I said, "okay!"

Later Roland asked where they were. "At the youth group, it's Thursday."

"But they haven't done that for weeks."

"Well they did it tonight."

He leaves to pick them up at 9:00pm. They are not there. The leaders say they never signed in. They haven't seen them at all. They aren't answering their cell phones.

Panic threatens. We agree that they are good boys and we shouldn't assume that they have done something bad, but we are both very worried. I call them too. I text them,

"Where the h*** r u????"

It occurs to me that if we do decide to call the police it will amount to reporting Gary for a probation violation. Not good. But what if they are hurt and I put off calling?

9:20 Gary calls me. "Hi. Um...we went to [martial arts studio] for my class. Brian said he told you."

Oh, uh, yeah.

Remember, the guy at the hearing screening said my hearing was normal. Perfectly normal.

When he came to us in June he learned that the girl he kept in his heart but whom he hadn't been allowed to talk to for eleven months had moved on.

So he found a new girlfriend, who really had a very troubled life. That was difficult. They sort of broke up for a while.

During which time he went to a new school where he was the hot fresh meat. He picked one girl out from the crowd and worked on her, but somehow it didn't really go anywhere.

Then he really broke up with the previous girlfriend -- the one with the really troubled life.

He started seeing this girl he met on the bus, and they weren't dating, just hanging. And then they were dating for about five minutes but decided that since they had both just got out of complicated relationships they should not start a new one right away.

So now he is seeing someone else but they are not dating...yet.


You'd think he had spent the last year or three in something like jail where he wasn't allowed to see girls at all...


Monday, November 17, 2008

Thinking about being done

Okay, I know it is about my frustrations with Christmas, but I am pondering the possibility of being done with foster care after Gary. I don't feel done with the day-to-day stuff. I can easily imagine continuing this for as long as I am healthy enough to do it. You know, at least 10 years.

What wears me out is trying to attend to the needs of mulitiple adult children and balance them against the needs of junvenile children. (We should have a word for "adult children" which is clearly a contradiction in terms. Perhaps I should say "adult sons." That would work as long as they are all male.) It is the pressure to be fair.

It is the loss of spontaneity. I miss being able to be generous.

Oh and I know my problem is miniscule compared to the problems of many, including of course the young people in my care. But this is my blog and I can whine if I want to.

Shortly after Carl moved out I was in a store with Andrew and Brian. They both had game boys and were always leaving cords and games lying around. I saw cases that would work and announced that I would buy them each a case. They picked out cases. They were happy. I was happy.

It occured to me that it wouldn't have worked if Carl was there. He didn't have a game boy (didn't want one, really, he had other stuff), and didn't need a case. He would have been jealous if I bought the kids something and he didn't get anything. I would have offered to buy him something in the same price range. Then the younger boys would have protested that they should be able to buy whatever they wanted and there were lots of things that they wanted more than these stupid cases. Actually, all that would have happened in my head. All that would have actually happened is that I would have seen the cases, imagined all this, and then sighed and moved on. Then I would have obsessed for a few days or weeks about whether there was any way I could buy the boys cases and "even it out" with Carl that would work. Was there anything comparable that I could offer to buy Carl that he boys did not need?

Anyway, I thought about all that when I was buying the cases. I thought about how much fun it was to do something spontaneous and generous.

G-d I miss that. I still miss that.

All the joy is just sucked out of the joy of giving if every time you start you have to think, "What will I have to do for the other five in order for this not to seem like an act of great injustice?"

Yeah, it is the Christmas season.

Maybe I will be able to lower the expectations of the adult children sufficiently. Perhaps we can get to a place where it will be acceptable for me to splurge on the kids at home.

Because you know, I could swing something fantastic for Brian and Gary. I could even get them both an iPod Touch. They would be thrilled. I would have fun doing it. But even if I can lower the expectations of the older boys, I can't get them to the place where they will graciously accept a robe and a CD while their younger brothers are dancing around with new iPods.

I really want to skip Christmas this year. Just totally skip it.

No more Christmases until there are grandchildren to spoil.

I think I really do have to put Roland in charge of Christmas shopping this year. In his family people ask for what they want and then get it. He takes pleasure out of doing that. (It feels pointless to me. If you know what is in the present, why wrap it?) He really doesn't have the complicated issues surrounding Christmas that I do. I know, my therapist would tell me that if I am getting this upset about it then there is more going on. I even know what it is, but it isn't helping.

[Updated: I'm feeling better. Blogging is so good for my mental health. Part of the problem was that last night I had to work to convince Roland that lower expectations of the "big boys" was the right thing to do. It was more difficult than I had wanted it to be, and of course our different attitudes towards money had a part in it. You know, I would love to be the irresponsible one married to the person who would clean up the mess afterwards.]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas, again

I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I loved it when the kids were little. When there were so many things that I could get them that they would enjoy and it was easy to surprise and delight them. Ah for the days when the closest they came to comparing for fairness was counting the boxes.

As they got older, as we added more children to the family, fairness has seemed to become more important than anything else, and that is certainly partly my fault. When it was just Andrew, Brian and Carl, I took Brian and Andrew aside and told them that we were going to give Carl a couple of extra presents because they (Brian and Andrew) were going to get gifts from their aunts and uncles and Carl wasn't. They were very generous of heart about it.

Fairness becomes a dominant theme when you have biokids and foster kids in the house at the same time. Foster kids in particular are on watch for any signs of being second-class family members. Everything is watched, measured, and recorded. They all seem to have a tendency to not "record" things that were done for them, particular if they fall into the "had to do anyway" category. If they need for you to drive them to appointments three times a week, that doesn't count. I had to do that. If one of the bios needs to be picked up from school after band or play rehearsal, that is measured. Band and drama are things the boys chose to do.

I've learned that I really can't fix this. I need to be sensitive to their needs, try to talk to them about their feelings, but I can't fix the way they perceive reality. They see it as it has been for them. No one ever drove them around to extra curricular activities. They don't have a bedroom full of the detritis years of childhood in one place and one family. So I accept it. I make the best decisions I can moment to moment, trying to concentrate on each child's need, including the need to feel both that they are being treated fairly and are special.

Christmas though is a time when the measuring is easy. They are old enough to know about what things cost, but not what price I may have paid. For the past few years it was getting more difficult because there were MORE of them. Fortunately I had relatively modest budgets for Christmas (compared to most of my friends) so it wasn't as difficult as it might have been to maintain that budget and just add another kid to the list. So three kids wasn't too hard on the budget. Four was a bit tight but it was also about the point that we stopped buying presents for some of the nephews and nieces, so that helped.

Last year was the first time I started seriously considering how to lower expectations. It really does seem right to me that adult children should not expect as much as younger children. Certainly my mother, and Roland's parents, do not spend as much on us as they did when we were kids. I'm not sure when that happened, but it did. Probably around the time when we had jobs and were able to buy things for ourselves.

This year I finally can. What is different you ask? I have a biokid on the other side of the line! Woo hoo! This year at Thanksgiving I can pull all the older boys aside (Evan, David, and Andrew) and tell them that Santa won't be bringing presents to them any more. They are too old. Roland and I will of course still give them something, but they will notice that the total amount spent on them will be lower.

And when they pout and I will tell them to grow up and deal with it.

Okay, I will be nicer than that, but I really have to draw the line somewhere. I can't afford this crap.

It is also true that even if I spent the amount that I spend on the younger boys I still wouldn't make them happy. They would just get more crap they didn't really want. If I could afford to buy them all an iPod Touch I am sure they would be delirious with joy. That however is not going to happen. They will get new shirts or socks, or a gift card, or some other idiotic thing that one buys young men who pretty much buy themselves whatever they want.

I used to love Christmas.

I miss looking forward to it.

I suppose I will just have to grow up and deal with it.


Seriously though, I would like to give Andrew, David and Evan gifts that are variations on a theme -- you know, like getting them all new PJ's or robes. If you have suggestions, please share.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Today Gary was helping me in the kitchen as I was making dinner for company. I asked him if he still wanted me to write a letter of recommendation for him for the job program. He said no, that he had thought of a couple of people who could write for him.

"Besides, I think it would be weird for my mom to write me a letter of recommendation."

Friday, November 14, 2008

So I asked him

Having obsessed over it to the extent that even I was tired of me, and having enough people ask me why the heck I wasn't asking Gary, I asked Gary.

I told him that I knew that the agency had supported some foster parents taking legal guardianship and that I didn't know if they would in our case, but I wanted to know that was something he would like us to look into. He nodded enthusastically and then said, "Oh cool! Out of foster care! Hey, that would mean that I could go to someone's house and their parents wouldn't have to have a background check, right?" I said that it would. "And when there is some paper that has to be signed we wouldn't have to fax it everyone." "Right." "Cool!"

I assured him that it wouldn't mean that anything would change legally or otherwise about his relationship with his Dad. His dad would still be is father and if he was in a position to parent him he could go to the judge and ask to have our guardianship recinded and it would be up to the judge. I told him that if his father was opposed to it we just wouldn't do it. He wasn't sure what his father would do, except that he would probably either ignore it and do nothing or he would fight it.

He is concerned that he might not qualify for the job services program and though they can be a pain, they are helping him get a job. I assured him that there was no hurry and if it was better for him not to pursue it until after he completed the job services program that wouldn't be a problem. Nothing was going to happen quickly anyway.

He remained excited about it, and then he said he was getting a headache and didn't know why. I suggested that maybe he take Tylenol and go to bed. He agreed.

So we will see what happens next.

The last one

My favorite gum has always been Trident Cinnamon. Always. Since I was little.

Some time ago it became difficult to find. When I did find it I would buy several. Then I stopped seeing it at all. I went to the bookstore at my college and asked if they had some. They laughed and said that they could order me some. I thought that would be nice. Then I got a call and was told that Trident no longer made Cinnamon gum, but that it was still possible to buy a box. It would not be cheap though. I debated. Finally I decided to order the box. It was same as the kind that sits on the little shelves near checkout counters. A little box with however many little packages of 6 or 8 piecesof gum. That might be a whole year ago.

I kept it in my office because I didn't want to share with the kids. If I had a package in my purse I sometimes gave them a piece, but I kept the existence of the box a secret.

Yesterday I chewed the pentultimate piece.

Today there is one little stick of gum in my desk drawer. Possibly the last piece of Trident Cinnamon gum I will ever have.

I think I will save it a while.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guardianship, ripples and reverberations

I had a really good lunch with Evan the other day. We talked about the whole guardianship issue. He asked good questions and came down more or less on the side it would be a good thing for Gary. At least likely enough that we should sit down with the social workers and agree on services so that we can let Gary make the decision. Probably.

He asked some questions I could answer. And we talked about what it meant for him. He was gracious and generous. He also asked me a question that I think was different questions at different levels.

"What happens if you both like die in a car crash?"

On the practical level this is an interesting question for which I don't have a good answer. Brian would go live with his uncle in another state. Andrew would mostly be on his own, although he would have extended family who would help him.

What about Gary?

Um... can I name a guardian for him in the event of my death? Could he go to the uncle's house too? Or would social services get involved again and decide what to do? I don't know. I don't think it is likely to happen, but it is an interesting and puzzling question.

But at another level Evan was asking a completely different question: whose a member of your family and who isn't? And he was asking about himself too.

I believe in permanent-placement foster care. By that I mean that I think for some kids it is the right solution and that it should be done deliberately. Kids shouldn't just end up in foster care until they age out. Instead there should be programs like the one I work in -- programs dedicated to understanding and meeting the needs of kids for whom adoption and reunification are not appropriate.

It is a strange beast though for the families involved.

When you do temporary foster care the message is, "As long as you live here, you are part of this family. Your needs are just as important as anyone's." Implicit in that message is of course that the foster kid isn't a real part of the family, not a permanent part. Someday you will leave and after you leave, it won't be the same. There are no particular expectations about what the relationship will be like, or even if it will exist, in 20 years. It is for-now. That can be deeply painful for all involved, but that is what it is. The relationships might last a life-time, but no one will have failed in their moral duties if we drift apart.

But I do permanent-placement foster care. There are expectations, but those expectations are not clearly defined. Legal guardianship is similar. Both suggest expectations of a relationship that will last past childhood, but there is no received understanding of what that means. I have tended to think of permanent-placement foster care as an attempt to create a relationship very much like you might have with one of your aunts. It is open-ended, but without obligation.

Legal guardianship is a different. It would mean that we and Gary give away our keys to the escape hatch. No one can just make a phone call and say, "Come up with a new plan." There is a commitment to each other that is recognized by the courts. And I think that when Evan asked me, "What happens if you die?" he wasn't really or just asking about who would take care of Gary if we die in the next two years. He was asking about what will happen if I did in 10 years or 50 years. He wants to know about inheritance, not because he wants or expects a pile of money, but he wants to know what the definition of the relationship is.

He wants to know if Gary is being admitted into a club to which he is not invited. He isn't jealous that I never became his guardian, but he is anxious about what this means going forward. Who are are real children? I think the conversation has brought out deeper anxieties about what exactly his relationship to us is.

Carl will be more anxious. He will need those questions addressed. Evan has the advantage of having family he is connected to. He is rebuilding his relationship with his mom and sisters. I am a part of his family. Though Carl has siblings in the world, he has no connection to them. We are all the family he has. He would be deeply hurt if he thought we were semi-and-permanently adopting someone else.

David ... I have no idea. I don't know how connected he feels he is to us now.

And this has the potential to reverberate into other relationships. Does it become the model, the expectation? Will other kids in the future judge our relationship by that standard? I doubt it will make sense to future kids that we don't do it for them because the agency and we feel that they need a higher level of service, that they, and we, need a social worker involved. This by the way really bothers me, and of course I cannot know anything about what the future holds. So part of me thinks this is just too complicated. There are too many and unpredictable negatives. We shouldn't do it.

So talking with Evan was helpful. He brought up many of the things I had already thought about and some that I hadn't. We with Evan talked about Gary's father and briefly about Carl and David. I wanted to know what he thought about it from Gary's perspective. The agency is pretty cool, most of the kids feel good about getting in with them. They know a lot more kids get recommended than get accepted. Still it is foster care. But I wanted to know, how big of a deal is it to get out of foster care? Is this something that he would guess that would be good for Gary?

He seemed to think it might be, and he sounded genuinely enthusiastic. He certainly thinks we should be asking Gary. He was a little confused about why we hadn't already. I told him that I wanted to be absolutely positive that if we offered it we weren't going to take it back. I have to think it all the way through.

And what I think I am coming down to is this. It is really complicated and there are a whole lot of reasons not to do it. There aren't a whole lot of specific reasons to do it. In fact there might be only one reason on the positive side: it might be the best thing for Gary.

And Gary might be the best person to decide whether it is.

Worries about Sex

Yesterday I wrote a post in which I vented some angst about the possibility that Gary would, well, get someone pregnant. I ended the post by saying that I really wanted a gay boy next.

Now I have a rule about editing previous posts. I often correct typos and edit poorly constructed sentences so that they make sense and follow rules of grammar. However, I try to resist the temptation to edit posts for idiocy. When I say really dumb things, well, that is part of who I am and the journey I am on and I don't think that I should fix the blog to make it look like I am a better person than I am.

And it really was tempting starting about 15 minutes after I wrote that because it really is a dumb thing to say.

Unprotected sexual activity is dangerous for all the kids. Pregnancy is one danger, but disease is another. HIV infection is real and it can kill them. And not just the gay boys either. Viruses don't care who your heart loves.

Yesterday I was dealing with being seriously worried for the first time that I was parenting a kid who might turn me into a grandparent well before I or he was prepared for that. It was a new worry, and that particular worry is not one that I had with the older boys. In the past I just worried about sexually transmitted diseases, including ones that can kill you. Now I get to worry about that AND babies. Oh joy.

I don't have a significant point here -- just wanted to acknowledge that I know what I wrote was somewhere between unartful and idiotic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's better when they do it

Gary has an 8:00 curfew as one of the conditions of his probation. Lately he has been visiting a friend and coming home at 8:00, except that 8:00 seems to come a little later every night. Today he got home at 8:20. I called him into the living room.

" know what I am going to say?"


"You know the whole conversation we are going to have right now?"

He laughed. "Yes."

I grinned at him. "Okay. So why don't you just go ahead and have it for us."


"I think it would be easier. I'm already bored with it. Why don't you just do the whole thing?"

He looked at me a minute trying to figure out if I was serious, laughed, and then said, "I'm supposed to be home at 8 and I was late and I promise to be on time in the future."

"Thank you. My job is so much easier this way."

"So that's all?"

"Well, did you leave any part of the conversation out?"

"Um...I had a really good reason tonight, but like the last couple of nights I was just pushing it."

"Okay. Good to know."

He waited. I didn't say anything. He laughed and said, "So...I'll go work on the kitchen now?"


It was silly, but you know, there is something awfully silly about the conversations we have when everyone knows what is going to be said. Why shouldn't he have the whole conversation? He's the one who is late.


Last week Andrew text messaged me and asked me to pick up his contacts and mail them to him. I did (paying for them, of course). I put them in a box with some other things I thought he would like, like the University Tshirt and clamp light he left behind. At the last minute I asked Roland if he wanted to put anything in. He said yes, took this little metal doodad off the back of a tv and tossed it in.

Yesterday I sent him a text message to ask if he got it. He replied, "Yes. Thanks. My TV works now!"


I just went to my course software and checked reports. (Bad idea. Very bad idea.) The reading questions the students said they wanted so bad? Not one single student has LOOKED at the ones for this week. Not. one. Only three students have downloaded the reading for TODAY.

I hate them. I hate them all.


If someone doesn't leave me comments telling me how much they appreciate this blog I may do something drastic.



When I was in college I once had a professor throw out 2/3 of the class for not doing the work. It's a story. I so understand him today.


I've been trying to figure out how to write this post without violating my own standards for respecting others privacy....Let's see... How about if I just jump to the end of the story?

One of Gary's ex-girlfriend's just had a pregnancy scare.

Gary dealing with feeling insulting that she would have got involved with the young man with whom she was involved because he is an irresponsible jerk. Gary would never have acted like that. Gary would have had his GED in a week and a job in two. He would have been responsible.


I don't know this young woman very well. It irritates me that she called Gary to hold her hand through this. It bothers me that he allowed himself to be so deeply sucked in. I am glad that he has a good counselor with whom he is talking about all these things and that he says he knows that any continued relationship with this woman is not healthy for him. It bothers me again that he can't quite make himself walk away. He can't cut himself off from her, and he knows it is because he was abandoned. He cannot bring himself to abandon another.

It REALLY bothers me that he seems to be romanticizing early fatherhood. He is more mature than his peers at school. They are children, naive, sheltered. They don't know what real life is like.

I wrote before about Gary being unable to settle and be happy wherever he is. For years he has survived by imagining the the next stage of his life and thinking about how wonderful everything will be then.

And now I am nervous that the "next stage" that seems so wonderful to him is one in which he is a man, taking care of his responsibilities, living in the real world and being a good father.


I am so not ready for a kid who is romanticizing parenthood. Well, the romanticization I can deal with it. It is the possibility of the reality that is more than I want to face. People sometimes say that girls are easier. Hah! You only think girls are easier in this respect if you don't think that pregnancy affects boys. I don't. Right now I am very jealous of parents of girls.

If there was a male birth control pill I would so be there.

Can I have another gay boy next, please?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Taking a day

I am taking a personal day (although technically I don't have those) to get caught up. I cancelled classes and office hours and am staying home with no distractions to grade and grade.

A week or so ago I complained to Roland about how hard it was to TALK with him. I pointed out that when we did talk he was always sending mixed messages -- telling me he wanted to listen but also sending body language that said he needed to go. He acknowledged that that was true.

Now I am sitting at his desk because it is the best work station in the house. (A direct result of his uncontolled spending, but we're letting that go). He has various notes and photos on the wall. One is a schedule for his evening. It has little pictures illustrating what he is suppoed to do. It says:

Break (pic of TV)
Feed and exercise dog (pic of man and dog)
check calendar, email (pic of calendar and envelop)
Yondalla (pic of man and woman facing each other with little talk bubbles)
Dinner (pic of plate with food)
work (pic of computer)
Yondalla (repeat pic above)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Opinions from Foster Care Alumni Sought

I know there are some foster care alumni who read this blog and I really want to know what you think about the guardianship debate. I know situations are complicated and each is different, but I would really like to know what you think.

The advantages of getting guardianship are these:

  • Not being in foster care any more.
  • Being able to take driver's ed before he turns 18, if we can afford it. Andrew waited until he was 17 to get a permit so that I could teach him to drive because, in part, I did not want to spend $350 for him to take driver's ed. It is probable that the price of the classes has gone up. Now kids can't get a premit without being enrolled in a class until they are 18. Our school system offers summer courses for a limited number of students for about half of what the private instructors charge. If I can get the boys in, I could afford that.

The disadvantages are:

  • Not having social workers to help with problems. I didn't know that Evan had a drug problem until he had been with us for something like 8 months. The agency sent him to a private clinic in Los Angelos because that was the best place they could find for an 18-year-old gay man. They paid for us to fly to visit him before he came back. I don't think that Gary will need that sort of intervention, and I don't know if I can negotiate for that sort of support if it is needed.
  • Having a tighter budget for things like clothes.
  • Living in a families whose budget tightened up in various and subtle ways. (Even though I would ask the agency to give us some support, I know it wouldn't be the same as it is now).
  • Not having the possibility of some big-ticket items. For instance, if he decided he wanted to visit his maternal family, the agency would make all the arrangements and pay for the tickets. I couldn't afford to do that.
  • Certain types of support in reconnecting with other family. For instance if he wanted to make contact with his sister who is currently living with a relative and may end up in foster care herself, someone from the agency would make first contact. If they decided they needed counseling, the agency would pay for it.
  • No longer having the opportunity to be sent away to expensive summer camps.
  • It might interfere with getting off probation. We don't know if he will get off anyway, but the PO cares about him a lot and does not want to let him go unless she is confident that he is stable. Any change in his status and she would put a hold on his paper work.

There is also the whole issue of his father. I don't know if petitioning for guardianship would stir up issues, and I don't know if that would be good or bad. His father tends to be either absent or wanting to exert total control. When he wants to exert control he threatens. Without social services between us, those attempts at control, if they happen, would be directed at us. It would be easier for his dad to get him back. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if he could live with his dad that would be GOOD. Sad for us, but good for him. However it could be that since it is easier, his father would put him through that emotional roller coaster, as he did this summer, more often. I really just don't know about this on.

Gary would have the final say in this, but I won't present it to him unless and until I know that I won't have to "take it back." I would want the agency to agree to certain sorts of supports and I don't want Gary to think that we wouldn't do this because we want the money. Direct subsidies are part of the issue for me, but the money isn't about lining my pockets but is about what I can do for him.

One more thing: the state social worker has agreed to back off. This is going to make our life much easier. Having two social workers both trying to do their best to provide services but not talking to each other was really frustrating. I have a really good relationship the private agency and now they are the only group I have to deal with.

I'm going to call Evan today and see if he will meet with me. As I said in a previous post, the advantages of guardianship are hard to measure. The advantages of staying with the system are tangible.

Though I am interested in foster alumni, I welcome comments from anyone who has relevant experience. Thank you!

I currently have the blog set to anonymous comments and, though I know other readers would love to read your comments, you can email me at

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Arkansas thing

I want to write a post about the passage of the proposition denying gays and lesbians the right to adopt or do foster care. I haven't because I want to say something articulate and all I can think of are things like:

Are you INSANE?!

I strongly disagree with people who will accept civil unions but not marriage equality. I don't think that separate but equal is equal, but I can respect the position enough to argue with it. I can imagine talking to someone who has that position and give them reasons for why they should change their minds. In reality, I suspect that they will change their mind when they have more contact with gay couples. I am confident that change will come, although not as fast as it should.

But the other thing...part of me wants to take every person who voted for that and make them be foster parents...except that would punish the children, who are already being punished by the idiocy of this.

I think this law is a bigger threat to marriage equality. One of the most persuasive arguments for marriage equality (by that I mean ones that tend to persuade and not the arguments that people should find persuasive--you know, ones that appeal to things like human dignity) is that it protects children. If you think that GLBT people should not be parents at all, that kids are better off in fricative SHELTERS than in foster or adoptive homes with loving and committed GLBT parents then I really can't think of any argument to give. All that comes out is some sputtering and something like,

Are you f'ing kidding me?

And my blood runs cold at what this means for the GLBT kids in care. How far are they from saying that is unsafe for the straight kids to share their homes with the gay kids? I worry about how damaged these children are being raised by a system that tells that that no matter what they do, they will never be "good enough" to be parents.

And now I just want to scream.


So I spoke with the social worker and then with Roland last night. I'm really not feeling very clear-headed about any of this. The social worker saw all the pros and cons that we do, added some to the mix, and is supportive of whatever we want to do.

So here are my current thoughts, in no particular order.

The social worker thinks that it is generally a good thing for kids to get out of foster care. Foster care just isn't the best place to grow up. If that can happen, that is a good thing.

The agency has helped people to get legal guardianship before. In most cases they have then gradual withdrawn involvement and support, although in a couple of cases they have not. There is at least one aunt raising kids in the program who is not seeking guardianship at all because she needs the financial support of the agency.

The social workers at the agency are frustrated by this. They want to do what is best for the kids. If families don't take guardianship because they lose benefits, the agency be paying for services and room and board anyway. This is all new to everyone though, so they don't have a standard answers. The social worker recommends, carefully, that if we want to do this we propose to them what we would need. She wants us to advocate for ourselves and Gary. Once we start she will back us up. She was, by the way, very careful about the way she stated all that and she was the one who brought up and led the discussion about support and services. I wanted to talk about it, but it was uncomfortable. It really wasn't what I expected.

It is all awkward because what they give us, and that includes the room and board check, is what allows us to take care of Gary well. We don't make a profit at this. That means, of course, that doing without the check will mean making sacrifices somewhere. At the same time, I know our family is better off than many who work for the agency and I know we could manage without it. For us it would not mean not being able to pay the mortgage, but it would make a difference. So the benefits of staying with the agency are clear and tangible. The benefits of taking legal guardianship are symbolic and unclear. How much would it mean to Gary? Does it benefit his life? I'm not really sure.

Legal guardianship does not carry the state benefits that adoption does. It just hasn't been thought of as a way to exit kids from foster care. Legal guardianship is something that you can get very easily (at least here, I don't know about where you live) and which can be removed fairly easily. If your sister leaves her kids with you and gets arrested or falls seriously ill or just disappears, you can go to a family lawyer who will petition the judge. The judge can give you guardianship which will allow you to do all the parental things that you need to do. If your sister shows back up she can easily go to the judge and ask for your guardianship to be terminated. Unlike adoption it is intended to be indefinite but not permanent. The other main legal difference from adoption (again, at least in my state) is that you can pursue financial support from the parents, which of course we would not be doing.

So it might hold some real disadvantages. I think he may lose eligibility for some transitional services. He might not qualify for as much financial aid for post high school training and education, while at the same time NOT qualifying for the tuition benefit here at my school. He may lose Medicaid and I don't know (but will soon) if I can put him on my insurance.

Then there is the relationship issues with his father. Will pursuing guardianship be something that would make his dad draw further away? Would his dad fight it? We are not worried about him fighting it BEFORE we get it, because if he does we would withdraw the request. We simply would not seek guardianship if his dad was opposed. Ideally we wouldn't even pursue it without talking to him first -- but since no one can get him to talk to them that is an issue. We are concerned about him fighting it after. On one hand, if his dad was able to care for him we would of course be happy for Gary. We would not fight him going home. We would be sad ourselves, I am sure, but we would not fight it. Roland and I agree that given his past behavior we can expect him to call us when he disagrees with a decision we have made (assuming he becomes involved enough that he knows about decisions we have made) and threaten to get a lawyer and take him back if we don't do what he wants. Roland seems to have been thinking about this some because he was very calm about this. He said we would tell him that we weren't interested in keeping his son from him. If he wanted to hire a lawyer and tell the judge that he was ready to take Gary, we would not fight him.

But that is us and his dad. We don't know how guardianship would affect their relationship. Would his dad be more likely to become part of Gary's life if we didn't do it? If we did do it would his dad not listen, make a fuss, say he was going to fight for Gary, get Gary's hopes up (again), and then back off as soon as he realized that no one was going to fight back?

How would this affect the other boys? As I think about it more I am pretty sure that if I spoke to them in advance that Evan would be cool with it, realizing that being nearly 18 when he moved in and currently rebuilding his relationship with his mom that it wouldn't have been appropriate for him anyway. Carl would be jealous and struggle not to be. David would be something of a mystery, but then he always is. He would not show any jealously on the outside, but I don't know how he would feel. My attitude towards this is still, by the way, that I should do what I can to attend to their feelings but that their feelings should prevent me from doing something if it is in Gary's best interests. I don't refuse to do something one kid needs or even would strongly benefit from because it will make another kid jealous.

Another unanswerable is how it would affect relationships with kids we don't have yet? Do we create an expectation that this is what we do? Would other kids be hurt if we decided that it wasn't best in their cases?

But I just don't know if guardianship is in Gary's best interests.

The social worker really seemed to think it could be, that being in foster care is the solution for kids who have no other solution. If they can get out, that is a good thing.

Roland has really shifted on this since the last time we talked. He was full of anxieties the last time but seems to have worked through them. Now he is more confident and prepared.

We are not doing anything right now, but are thinking about what we would want to tell the agency we would need in order to do this. That Gary would stay eligible for all the same financial assistance for college and job training would be a must. Also I would want them to commit to being willing to pay for a lawyer or at least recruit a good guardian ad litem to represent Gary if his father later contests guardianship. I will also want to know that they will cover medical bills if we can't. We would support whatever it is that he wants, but I want Gary to have someone outside to help him speak.

We are also looking to see what the subsidies for adoption are. My thought is that it would be good for the agency to establish a policy for a "standard package" of services for families who are willing to take guardianship, and that that might be a good model.

I think I am thinking about this almost the way I would if I were taking full custody of a kid after a divorce. What sort of support would I ask for then?

But at the same time I really don't know if it is the right thing for him. Part of me just looks at how complicated it all seems and I think, "No, of course not." But then I think about how Gary might respond to the idea of not being in foster care any more, and I am not so sure.

I suppose the thing to do is to continue to figure out more about it, like whether I could put him on my insurance and whether he could stay on my insurance after he turned 18 when he was still in school. The social worker definitely thinks we should wait until after the next permanency hearing to see if his dad shows.

I think where we are is that if he doesn't show or make contact then we would present to the agency what package of services we think Gary should continue to receive. If they agree that they are willing to do that, or we all agree on a set that is in his best interests, THEN we would ask Gary what he wants.

It might be that he is the best judge of what is in his best interests. Maybe.


Those of you who have or are adopting from foster care can you tell me how the adoption subsidies work in your state? Are the the same as the foster care room and board reimbursement or are they some percentage of it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And now for the bad news

My heart is heavy that Prop 8 and all the other anti-equality props passed.

I find myself saying that it is surprising given how accepting the society has become...and then I remember that is why these legalized-discrimination laws are being proposed. It is the last desperate attempt of certain people to keep society from changing, from moving forward. People who are afraid of the future are trying to legislate stagnation.

They will lose, of course. That Barack Obama won gives me faith that they will lose. The young people are simply too accepting. No group has EVER managed to get public recognition and acceptance and then lost it. Not even Prop 8 did that. Yes it passed and yes that is a tragedy, but a very large number of Californians had grown comfortable with gay marriage, and the passage of Prop 8 did not change their minds. They are still comfortable, and they are shaking their heads wondering "what the hell happenned?"

The movement will continue to go forward and we will change the law again.

Though I am deeply disappointed, I am taking this more in stride than some of you only because we lost this battle in our state a couple of years ago. I lobbied the state senate. I wrote letters. I did a guest editorial in the newspaper. I fought, and we lost. So I have had, on a personal level, time to be angry and mourn and find my stride again.

The passage of these propositions is a bad thing, but it is not the end. We will prevail. We will win this.

I will dance at all my children's weddings.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

To my grandchildren

When Barack Obama became a front-runner in the Democratic nomination race I was worried. I admired him so much, but I was so afraid that America wasn't ready to elect an African American president. After he won the nomination I told your great-grandfather that I wanted to believe that he would be elected, but I just couldn't quite believe it would happen.

You need to understand that in 2000 and 2004 I thought and hoped that the candidate I supported would win, and to my shock a person I did not think was qualified in the most basic sense won instead. As we got closer and closer to the election in 2008 poll after poll showed that Barack Obama was going to win. It might seem silly to you when you read about it in the history books, but none of us could allow ourselves believe it. At work when I sometimes said that I thought Obama was going to win, my colleagues would shush me. We joked about how superstitious we were, but saying it, saying that he might win felt like it was tempting fate. We just couldn't allow ourselves to quite believe.

But we voted. I voted early when there was no line. Your grandfather voted the day before election day and stood for an hour in a line that went around the elections office waiting to vote.

And then on Tuesday, November 4, 2008, we sat and watched the television while the results came in. I knew Obama was going to win, and as more and more states were called it became more obvious. Still, when they made the announcement "Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States of America" I started crying. I sat in my favorite chair, in my ripped pajamas and cried. I cried for joy.

I think he will be a good president, but you might have a better idea about that than I do now. You will know what he did. Right now I think he probably will be. It is a tough time to become president, but I think he will do a good job. That made me glad that he was president, but that isn't what made me cry with joy.

I don't know if I can explain to you how proud of my country it made me that we elected the first African American president. I think I hope that you read this and think that I was silly. I hope that in some ways you don't understand why it was such a big deal. But for us, it was a big deal. It was one of the biggest best things that has happened in my lifetime.

It is not so wonderful because Barack Obama is so wonderful, although I think he is a pretty amazing guy. What is so amazing, wonderful, joyful is that we elected him.

We allowed ourselves to believe and hope for a better world.

I hope we gave it to you.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Luxury Problem

Would any of you out there give me any sympathy at all if I told you that I am very, very frustrated that every time I go to clean something the proper cleaning supplies are not where they belong because they seem to gravitate to Gary's bedroom and the basement bathroom that Gary keeps spotlessly clean?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Guardianship IV: Thinking Around It

Thursday afternoon I have an appointment to talk with the social worker about guardianship. This isn't a move forward. So far all that has happened is that I mentioned it to the social worker. She seemed enthusiastic, and we made an appointment. That's all. At that appointment I will, I hope, get the information that will allow me to decide if it is worth pursuing. At this point I really don't know if it is in Gary's best interests.

Though I can't decide whether doing it is a good idea, that doesn't stop my over-active mind from trying to deal with all the problems that would have to be dealt with if it is a good idea. (And those of you who are thinking I should do something more constructive, just know that if I am not distracting myself with this I will be obsessing about the election. Trust me, this is better. I think.)

So I have been thinking about the older boys. The conclusion I have come to is that if I ask them in advance what they think about it and express to them that I am concerned they will feel unloved, that they will respond by being glad that I asked. It's like when my mom paid for my niece's orthodontia. She called me and said she wanted to do it, but she wanted to talk to me because she could not afford to do this sort of thing with all her grandchildren but Niece really did need it and did I mind? I absolutely did not mind. I was happy because Niece really did need it (not just cosmetically, her bite was really in bad shape). I was also pleased that Mom cared enough about my feelings to talk to me.

So I think that if I let the older boys know that what they feel matters to me, and it really does, they will know that they are loved. They might still feel somewhat jealous, but it is something that we can deal with.

I have also been thinking about reasons why it might be a good idea, or not.

I know the agency is moving towards promoting guardianship because it gives the kids permanency. To put it bluntly, it is more difficult to quit being a guardian than a foster parent. In or case I don't think that becoming Gary's guardians would increase the likelihood that he would stay here until he graduates, just because I don't think it will change our commitment to him. We are already committed, however, I understand that the agency generally sees it that way.

I wonder how he would experience it. I know that he would be thrilled to be able to take driver's education, but he might also see agreeing to it as giving up on the last hope that his dad is going to come through and claim him. That would have to be a mixed bag emotionally. On one hand it might be a bit of a relief to protect himself from that emotional rollercoaster. On the other hand it means giving up a fantasy that he would love to come true. I really don't know which side would be stronger. I would of course emphasize that we were not trying to replace his father. We still wanted that relationship to be strong.

And it would be true that if his father's circumstances changed and he wanted Gary back he could go to the court and ask for him. Nothing is impossible.

The social worker mentioned in one of our conversations that Gary has now been in care for 15 months. For the uninitiated, 15 months of care is an important marker in the US. It seems to be handled differently, but it is the point at which the social services is supposed to present to the judge the plan for permanency. In some states that seems to mean that they pursue termination of parental rights (TPR) unless they have a good reason not to. Some states don't pursue TPR unless an adoption placement is in the works. I don't really have a good sense of how it works here because most of the kids I deal with are long past that 15 month marker.

Things are strange in Gary's case because there have been no charges of any kind against his dad. There is nothing he has been told he has to do, and therefore there is nothing that he has failed to do. Still, if he doesn't make contact with Gary, continues to attempt to prevent social services or Gary from being able to contact him, the judge might be very willing to consider a petition for guardianship. At least that is what I think the social worker was implying when she was talking to me about all this. The conversation was a brief one since it occured in the few minutes that Gary was out of the room.

I have also been trying to think about my motivations. Why is it that I have even thought about it when I never thought about it before?

I still think part of the answer is that it was just so clearly not the right thing to do for Evan or David. It isn't so much that I have changed as it is that the circumstances have.

I have become less patient with not be able to sign things. For so much of the time that Evan was here he was 18. He was able to sign his own bleeping forms. There are so many bleeping forms. Forms to register him at school (twice). Forms at the physicans, the dentist, the physical therapist, the counselor, orthodontist, to use the facilities at the Y. Ideally I should, and often do, have the forms faxed to the social worker before we go so they they can get them signed and then fax them back to the office before we get there. Sometimes I forget. There are just so many. When I forget I am supposed to call the office and get permission to sign, or have the social worker give the office verbal authorization or some such thing. This time I just signed the forms.

I don't think that is a reason for wanting to (maybe) become his guardian -- I think it is a symptom.

Anyway, I meet with the social worker on Thursday.