Friday, November 07, 2008

Guardianship

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 In most cases they have then gradual withdrawn involvement and support, although in a couple of cases they have not.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.

Sigh.

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?

8 comments:

  1. Our adoption subsidy payment was triple what our foster care check was. We were very surprised by that! Actually, surprised at the fact that we got a check at all!

    My daughter though is a special case I think. She was involved in a very high profile child abuse case that left the dept. of children & families looking VERY bad. I think that combined with my daughter's special needs, they wanted her out of the system so bad that they set the subsidy payment extremely high! We actually receive only $200 less than the max allowable. Like I said, this was a huge surprise, because we didn't even know that we would get a subsidy. Plus, she is on medicaid until she is 18. All of our doctor, dental, eye, and attachment therapy bills are paid 100%.

    We are an exception though. Most other people really struggle with receiving enough resources to help their children.

    If you have any other questions, please ask.

    Gerri

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  2. It's all so complicated. I really hope that you can pave the way to make it less so.

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  3. This certainly seems like a complicated process, even moreso because it seems to be rather new territory for the agency you are working with. I am certainly no expert, but I think your concerns are very valid about what services Gary would be able to access depending on which route you choose. Although it sounds from your blog like your foster care agency is an exceptional one, I would guess that there is some degree of pressure on the social worker to encourage guardianship. Like you said, it is viewed as a positive move for the child, looks good for the agency on paper, and likely would be less expensive for the agency than keeping the child in foster care. All that said, I am a social worker, so I am certainly not trying to be down on social workers!

    Also, as you have mentioned, I think it is very important to carefully consider how you will approach this issue with Gary. One negative aspect of sharing with him all of the research that you would have done by the time you choose to tell him of this idea (if you get to that point) is that he may feel that you have your hearts set on it and that you see it as the "right" way to go. He could feel some pressure in that situation ('Will they keep me if I say I don't want them to have guardianship?' 'Will they still like me?' 'My dad is going to flip if he hears about this, I wish we could just drop it...'), which may prevent him from being honest about what he wants/thinks would be best.

    Also... how would this affect your ability to continue providing foster care in the future?

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  4. I'm delurking to chime in with our subsidy experience. Our 3 boys all have sudsidies equal to their foster care reimbursement. That is not always the case in my state - only "special needs" cases get an adoption subsidy at all. My boys also have medicaid as secondary insurance. This works well for the doctor, dentist, eye doctor, prescriptions and surgeries which have been covered 100% between my insurance and their medicaid. Orthodontia, eye glasses and mental health services are another matter. The medicaid reimbursements are so low for orthodontia & mental health services that there are no providers in the state that will accept them (it is a really small state). The eye glasses that medicaid will cover do not stand up to my 6yo's abuse, so we spring for a sturdier pair.
    It's good that you have time to consider what this should look like for Gary and what things your family needs to be able to pursue guardianship. Having college/job training support and health insurance as non-negotiable items makes sense. Good luck as you plan and consider options.
    Julie

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  5. Don't know about it from first-hand experience, but what I've read is that here in WI, adoption subsidies are like duso said--only for special needs adoptions. They are provided only when it is determined that the child would not be adopted without the subsidy. Now, teenagers are generally considered to be in the special needs category simply by virtue of their age. However, from what I've heard of Gary, he wouldn't get much as it would go through a lit of all the special needs and he'd only fit that one. (Maybe another as you've mentioned he isn't allowed around younger children so they could slip in a "must be supervised" line, but there's no severe or even moderate physical, emotional, behavior needs that would appear to warrant subsidy.

    Check into the college benefits--they might be for "former foster children" in which case he'd fit it. In addition, he might be declared independent at age 18 which would give him a host of fin aid benefits the typical 18 year old wouldn't have.

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  6. I receive an adoption subsidy for my middle son. It is equivilent to what the foster care reimbursement was at the time of his adoption. I also have medical insurance for him thru medicare (I think!) till he is 18. This is secondary to my insurance. He is on my health insurance because he is legally my son. Interestingly my dental plan was willing to put him on when he was still a foster child. While it can be hard to find a dr or dentist I am going to use a mass health dentist for the braces he will soon need. Otherwise we have absorbed most medical expenses ourself. We wanted him to be able to be seen by the same dr that everyone else in the family saw, not a different one simply because of health insurance issues.

    I am watching your posts on this with extreme interest. My Rob has a bio brother who is back in foster care. His true preference is to have guardianship happen with the foster family who he presently resides with. I am hoping it goes through for him. He deeply wants the connection of permanency. He also has asked the agency that oversees his case to please make sure that they pay for college because he knows if his foster family doesn't take the guardianship and he somehow winds up back w/ bio family, that they will place no priority on education. Sad that someone 14 has that all figured out. I'd suggest he live with us, but he is very connected to the arts in the big city he lives in and I think would feel very unhappy to be pulled away from that even though he enjoyed visiting with us.

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  7. In Florida all foster kids who get adopted get the subsidy which is about 80% of the foster subsidy. Unless you tell them you don't need it. I haven't heard of that happening though. Why not ask Gary if he would want you to assume guardianship?

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  8. Martha,
    I address the asking Gary question in the next post, which you probably haven't had a chance to read yet. I don't want to ask him if he wants it unless I am sure I can follow through. It would be horrible, in my mind, to offer it and then say that the agency didn't agree to my terms so I was taking back the offer.

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