Friday, June 10, 2011

"Foster Friday" - What They Didn't Tell Me - What I Wish I'd Known...

It's here!!!  The first official topic of "Foster Friday!"  To start us off, I thought I'd keep it broad...
  • "What They Didn't Tell Me - What I Wish I'd Known"

    Where panel members write about anything from training they wish they'd had but didn't receive - to emotions that they didn't expect to have but felt full force - to general everyday tips that they had to learn on their own throughout the foster/adopt process.  
Mama Foster -  What I wish I would have known:

I wish I would have know that the foster care system does NOT play by their own rules.  I thought "If I play by their rules I can help these kids."  That is not true.  It is not true because they change the rules all the time and every judge/referee interprets everything differently and any federal law is definitely up for interpretation.  Especially the 15 month rules...that might as well not even exist.

The other thing I wish I would have known is that I wouldn't want to adopt every child placed in my home.  I thought it would be a no brainer and I would want to adopt ANY child that was available for adoption.  Well, my second placement was totally adoptable and we opted not to...and have not regretted it once.  Sometimes you will love a child, but they won't be yours.  And that's ok.

Debbie - Tough one for me since we haven't started fostering yet.

The first Foster Friday assignment is to share what I didn't know or wish they'd told me. And since we are still not licensed I can only talk about the training. And I would have to say I wasn't prepared for the emotions I would go through during the training classes. Any time the topic of birth parents would come up, which you could imagine would be often, I would tense up and get angry. It was getting increasingly harder to cover my emotions. I couldn't always just look down at my lap to hide the anger in my face. I'm not good hiding my emotions. My husband and I had many discussions about this. I had to pinpoint my anger to get over it. Otherwise I was afraid they'd notice and kick us out of the classes thinking I was just an angry person.

It was partially a protective anger. We have an open adoption with our daughter's birth mother and we love having her as a part of our lives. So to talk poorly about birth parents at that time felt like a direct attack at my daughter's birth mother. The people in the class didn't know us yet, they just knew we had adopted and had an open adoption. So I sat there thinking they all think this of our daughter's birth mother. Through the classes we were able to share about our relationship so I know most of them realized that was not the case.

It was also hard for me to sit there and listen to many people talk so poorly about the people that gave birth to the children they want to adopt. It was hard to remove our story from the classes but I had to. I had to remember that our situation was very different. Isabel's birth mom choose adoption, it wasn't forced on her by the state. She contacted the adoption agency, child protective services didn't come to her and remove her child.

I had to remember that children are removed for a reason and no matter how much I wanted to love our future foster child's birth parents like I do my daughters I can't and the sooner I learned that the better. I had to let go of the fantasy that we were going to be able to have a nice relationship with our future child(ren) adopted through foster care's birth parents. That was 6 months ago and I have let go of that fantasy. But it hurts me some to admit that.

Diane - Some of the things I wasn't told and had to learn along the way:  

Not everyone does their job.

Babysitting – Maybe it is because I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe it is because I have no birth children. Maybe it is because my first placement was 28 months old and not a newborn. Maybe it is always like this for a parent of a foster or adoptive child. It took me over a month to feel like my first child belonged in my home. Even though I was scheduling doctor’s visits, dropping off at daycare, and getting up at night with her, I felt like I was babysitting not parenting. Soon after the first month went by, though, I started feeling like a mom and started psychologically claiming her as mine.

Not everyone does their job.

Attorneys / GALs – Depending on the state, a foster child is usually assigned either an attorney or a guardian ad litem (GAL) or both to represent him/her in court. The attorney or the GAL is supposed to MEET the child, regardless of the child’s age. Many of them try to represent the child by reading the paperwork given to them or by making a quick telephone call to the foster home for status the day before court. Don’t let this be the way your child is represented. Pester the attorney and/or GAL until they come meet their client (the child). Make this case be more real in their minds. Give yourself more than a phone call to make sure that they are up to date on the case and know your concerns and needs for the best interests of the child. 

Not everyone does their job.

ICWA – The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law that trumps state law. It specifies that a child must be placed, in order, with 1) extended family, 2) members of the child’s tribe, 3) members of another Indian tribe, and 4) other placement as directed or approved by the child’s tribe. This law applies if the child is eligible to be registered with a tribe, regardless of whether the child is actually registered. Native American children can lose in my state, unless a family or tribal placement is found for them early on. They are placed with non-Indian foster parents until severance and then can be jerked to another placement. Bonding, security, and best interests of the child are all superseded by the tribe’s wishes and ICWA.

Not everyone does their job.

Child Welfare – The system needs improvement. Case Manager turnover is atrocious. They get burned out, overloaded, and now with budget cuts, get even less pay than barely enough. In my state/county, a judge stays in juvenile court only about 2 years and then rotates to a different court. A new judge comes in and takes over the cases. With players changing in the case so often, everything takes longer than it should and often plans start over. All the professionals are busy and overworked. Performance, abilities, and knowledge varies widely. You know more about the foster child living with you and his/her needs than anyone else on the case. Be VOCAL and advocate for your child. Attend staffings, team meetings, foster care review boards, and court. Although there are definitely good case managers out there, sometimes your child gets a not so good case manager. That’s when it is especially necessary for you to speak out for your child!

Penelope - I wish they would have told me... not to ever go shopping for a child before they arrive! (This, of course, excludes safety equipment such as a car seat, high chair, and crib.) On more than one occasion, we had a baby coming that evening when I stopped by the children's consignment shop and picked up a few outfits. Fortunately, I haven't purchased a lot, but I still see those infant girl outfits (in 2 sizes for 2 different babies) in the closet, and my heart aches a little. 

One baby girl didn't come at the last minute because the 12-year-old foster girl in our home had bullied and hurt our 2-year-old. Although she was being processed to move, the State wouldn't allow other children in our home until she had left. (She left the day after the baby would have arrived.) {{Sigh!}}

Rachel - "What do you wish you had known about foster care?"

1. I wish I'd known how much I would feel for the biological parents. We went into this whole thing expecting to foster /adopt, and I remember sitting in the classes, hoping that the first child we got would have his or her parents' rights terminated. I don't feel that way so much any more. It's complicated. I feel bad for them, feel bad for the baby, feel bad for everyone in the situation. Parent visits are HARD. I have to psych myself up to go to them each week. I don't do much the rest of the day because the emotion of it is overwhelming. 6 months in and I still feel this way.

I am also dreading the point in time where Baby Man will prefer me over his bio parents. I know it's coming; he's already shown some attachment to me.

2. How reluctant I would be (and still am) to refer to myself as "Mommy" to him. I still feel like it's a self-protection mechanism. That is a loaded word.

3. How tired I would get of hearing people say, "Oh, I could never do that." I don't know what they mean, but I have heard other foster parents say the same thing: It feels like a belittling comment: because I could give him up if I had to, I must not be attached or have a heart.

4. How many people want definites from me about the timeline of his case, and how shocked they seem when I tell them I'm just as clueless as they are.

5. How much I'd love watching him eat his first pickle, and how bittersweet it would be thinking about his bio mom missing it:

aka. Mimi - I just had to do this topic first because there are so many things that "I wish I'd known" going into foster care, and ended up learning by trial and error...  I'll just make a list!  (Because we all know how much I love my lists! ;-)
  • I wish someone had told me about CCMS, WIC, holiday gifts, clothing allowances, etc. - I learned from other foster parents, my 3rd child's CASA, and the daycare that I was going to pay for about many of the benefits that my foster children were eligible for.  I think that is one area that was sorely lacking in my foster care training...  My training never touched on any of the various forms of assistance that foster children might be eligible for other than the typical daily "reimbursement" rates.  I learned about the automatic WIC eligibility from another foster parent.  I learned about CCMS from the daycare that I had every intention of paying for out of my own pocket.  I learned about a couple of Christmas charities for foster children through my 3rd child's CASA.  I learned about an additional clothing allowance offered through my county through Angel's therapist of all people!  I've started searching various organizations and government agencies in my spare time to try to make sure my kids can get whatever help they can.  The assistance is there!  You just have to know where to look.

  • I wish I'd known that it's OKAY to say "No." - I ran myself ragged during my first three placements.  I bent over backwards trying to make appointments, visits, pull together random requests from my agency and CPS, etc.  It got to the point where we had something CPS-related to do every single day.  Try being a single, full-time working foster mom of a baby and a teenager, catering to your agency's and CPS's every whim and desire, and still maintain your sanity and remain gainfully employed.  I learned that it is okay to say "No!"  I now have set hours and days when I will allow CPS-related people into my home.  I let my agency and caseworker know ahead of time when we will be available, and if they want to see us at home, they have to come on my time.  I was soooo frustrated the first time a caseworker told me (after a year of me taking off of work to accommodate her) "Oh, I can just run up and see him at daycare."  REALLY?!?  I hope you enjoy paying my bills because that's what you'll be doing when I get fired for taking off this past year to make things easier for you.  It's okay to say "no" to a lot of things.  As long as it's not breaking a minimum standard or your contract, you are more than able to set some ground rules.  Believe me.  It helps!

  • I learned that the foster care system has its own "unique" sense of timing, and no matter what they tell you, there is no method to their madness - Despite what is taught in training about the timelines of cases in foster care, the foster care system has no sense of time.  Things drag on and on and on for months on end with absolutely no progress...  You contact everyone you can think of to try to get something accomplished for your kids to no avail.  Then, BAM!!!  "Hi, it's Little Petey's caseworker.  We had a hearing today (that you knew nothing about) and Petey's going home now.  I'll be there to get him in an hour.  Get his things together!"   I have had to learn to expect the unexpected...  To try to be patient when my kids' cases seem to be at a complete standstill...  To be prepared at any given moment to pack up my babies' things and say goodbye...  There is absolutely no rhyme or reason when it comes to timing in the foster care system.  You have to learn to be flexible!  And I can not stress that enough!!!

  • I wish that I would have known sooner that I LOVE FOSTERING!!! - When I decided to foster, my thought was that I would only foster long enough to adopt.  I had absolutely no idea that despite all of the heartache, frustrations, and complete chaos that is foster care, I would actually find what I was meant to do.  I love fostering!  I love watching my babies as they learn new things and learn to open themselves up and trust again.  I love being that steady, reliable thing that they can count on no matter what.  I love being able to teach them how to do the things that their parents just aren't able to teach them at the time so that when they do go home, they are able to bond as a family and cope with the changes.  I wish I'd known five years earlier how I would feel about fostering these little ones so I would have started sooner.  Foster care as a system kind of sucks (to put it bluntly), but fostering...  It's amazing!  :-)give him up if I had to, I must not be attached or have a heart.

    4. How many people want definites from me about the timeline of his case, and how shocked they seem when I tell them I'm just as clueless as they are.

    5. How much I'd love watching him eat his first pickle, and how bittersweet it would be thinking about his bio mom missing it:


Tammy (aka. "Mimi") said...

If you are a "Foster Friday" panel member and would like to participate in this week's topic, feel free to email me at any time and I will add your submission to the post. And as always, we'd LOVE to hear your feedback and experiences as well! Comment away! :-)

Tammy (aka. "Mimi") said...

Stay tuned Friday, June 24th for our next "Foster Friday" topic...

"THIS is Why I Do This"

(Where panel members talk about those specific moments and emotions that led them to foster/adopt, and the moments that have continued to make everything worth it.)

Penelope {Foster2Forever} said...

Great uh-huh moments to document! Hopefully others won't be as naive as us? :)

Debbie said...

This is a great first topic. So much I have to learn from all of you.
Tammy have you seen They offer discounts on things for foster families. Little things like movie tickets to big things like travel.
What is CCMS?
Good tip on setting limits and saying no, I worry about the schedule already.
LOVE your last one Tammy.

MamaFoster so nice to hear that you don't always have to say yes to adoption. While I know this from your blog it actually sunk in here that we don't have to say yes if it's not right even if the child has been in our home for a time.

PotterMama said...


We are also in the process of becoming foster parents. We have our fire inspection this month, then just waiting on our DHEC inspection and we are "done". Having an open adoption with your daughters birth mom is awesome, and when I read that you want to have a good relationship with the birth parents of your future children..but "cant" and have to get over it, I'm just wondering why you "cant" ?
We are coming into this process realizing that our main priority is the safety & well being of these children, and we are more than ready & willing to be as supportive of our children's birth parents as possible. Sometimes, they don't have anyone else, and we have a big window of opportunity to step up and let God use us to pray, support, and try to help the parents back on their feet so that they can better take care of their children and give them the life they deserve.
Yes- I know that every parent is going to be different and in some or many cases we may never be able to befriend the birth parents, but we can pray and root them on on the sidelines.

Just wondering because you said you would like to, but cant, just wondering why you cant if you had the opportunity? :)

Tammy (aka. "Mimi") said...

CCMS is a program available in my state that provides free child care for low income families whose parents are working or in school full time. Like WIC, foster children are automatically eligible regardless of income. You always have to have your caseworker apply, but my kids have never been turned down. Being able to save about $750-800 a month in daycare has been a lifesaver because I'm a single working mom. I don't know if other states have similar programs, but I would imagine so. Definitely worth looking into!

Tammy (aka. "Mimi") said...

With regards to relationships with bio parents... I tend to take things slowly. I start with sending a few photos in the babies' diaper bags for the parents during visits. Depending on the caseworker's opinion on how receptive the parents are to more contact, I might pass notes back and forth, meet at court, and have even on occassion "supervised" visits myself.

I've had parents who wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with me. I've had parents who have accepted my help and advice. I even have an AMAZING relationship with my first foster son and his family to this day! (Although I think the relationship that WE have is probably rare.)

I have yet to adopt, so I don't know how that might go... But in my opinion, you can NEVER have TOO MANY people who love you. As long as the situation is SAFE, I think at least SOME continued contact with their birth families is so important.

Hmmm... I think this might be a great future topic for "Foster Friday!"

Debbie said...

PotterMama if we have the opportunity we will for sure. I think I'm more talking about when we eventually adopt, that a relationship might not be in the best interests of everyone. Just depends on the situation.
While we're fostering we will do everything we can to help the bio parents. We'll be as much of a support as they'll let us because it is our desire to see them parenting their children again. We will be praying and rooting for them to be reunited.
I just needed to get to the point that I didn't expect the same so that I wouldn't go in to it expecting it and be disappointed when we didn't have that relationship, if that makes since.

PotterMama said...

Debbie- Got it! Makes sense!!

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