Monday, April 23, 2018

Foster Care Impacts Begin

I am having a hard time even knowing where to start with this post ...

Start With The Good

D went with us to Austin last Friday and Saturday to watch Youngest Son play lacrosse. We gave him a short stick to use and we played "toss the lacrosse ball" with him. D had a great time and enjoyed being at the tournament with us. His gross motor skills are wonderful.

On Sunday, D went to Religious School where he truly enjoyed his class and then we had a fun day at the house. We played games and got some things done in D's room. We are required by law to have a monthly Calendar filled in for his schedule and to have House Rules documented and communicated. I got both of those done as well as a daily schedule set up that he helped me make.

AND we celebrated Oldest Son's choice for University!

And D told me I was beautiful.

Then The Transition

The last few days D is clearly getting closer to us and to me. While this is good, it also has complicating influences. D has started telling me more about his life, things that have happened and how he feels. D has hard questions without easy answers. So it is definitely good that he has started talking more but it also means he is processing what has happened and trying to understand why he is not with his family.

Daily, he says he misses his Mom and Dad and usually with a few tears. 

On Friday we started preparing him for the one hour family visit at CPS scheduled for Monday (today.) We were very clear that this visit would not include his Mom and Dad, would include his baby brother and we did not know who else would be there.

Saturday night became the first night where he did not sleep well and D attributed it to a bad dream or as he calls it a bad sleep. He talked to me allot that night.

Sunday night was terrible. D woke up at 11:45pm and he must have been up and down at least twelve times. I would take him back to his bed; I tried lying down with him where he would grasp my hand and not let go; I would lie on the couch in his room so he could see me. Nothing worked. Sometime after 5:15am he got on his couch and went to sleep but was back sitting beside my bed by 6:40am. D was afraid to go to sleep because he would have a bad sleep i.e. bad dream.

I knew this was going to be especially challenging for the day (today) that he was visiting with his extended family for the first time since being removed from his home. An exhausted six year old is tough under any circumstances.

Then The Bad

Amazingly, D actually got ready for school today with a smile and sang on the way. When I picked him up at 11:30am, he was flush from playing soccer and was excited about kicking the ball with his friend.

The family visit occurred at CPS offices today from 12pm to 1:30pm. It was tough on everyone involved for many reasons. I will not go into detail.

D left the visit in tears. D was inconsolable from 1:30pm until 7pm. We talked allot. He cried allot. I tried various distractions. He is a sensitive and smart little boy. I would be super sad too.

We managed some of his bedtime routine and he fell asleep in his bed at about 8pm. He got up at 9:15pm and again at 9:30pm. He has moved his covers from his bed to the couch in his room ... not sure I understand why the couch feels better to him. This is like putting together a puzzle of this little guy's heart.


I should note that none of this is truly unexpected. The Jonathan's Place training prepared us well. What we are experiencing, what D is feeling, what his family is going through ... happens every day for about 438,000 children in America (2016 number.)

D is a child of trauma. Nothing will ever change this fact.

The Foster Care Team - A Few of Them So Far ...
Navigating the foster care system includes:

1) Foster Child - A child under the age of 18 who has suffered trauma for various reasons requiring them to be removed from their home 

2) Agency - Our Agency is Jonathan's Place (JP) and we had to research and choose where we would receive our training and license. All our placements go through Jonathan's Place. Our Agency is responsible for helping us remain licensed, monitoring our home and our foster child and a general resource for help. It is important to us that our Agency does not discriminate on basis of race, creed, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or military status.

3) JP Caseworker - Our JP Caseworker is our primary contact for all things relative to our relationship to the Agency and the foster kids they place with us. We file reports via an online system that our Caseworker reviews. 
I email, text and talk with my JP Caseworker often.

4) CPS - Child Protective Services. 
My first visit to CPS office was today.

5) CVS Caseworker - The CPS Conservatorship Worker (CVS) is legally responsible for the foster child's welfare. The CVS Caseworker manages communicating with the foster family, arranges visitations with biological family and tracks the court process and dates.
So far, I have talked  with our CVS Caseworker for 10-15 minutes last Thursday and 1 minute today. Both times on the phone. I do not think the CVS Caseworker has met D yet.

6) Foster Family - The Foster Parents are responsible for all day-to-day care, education choices and medical decisions for the foster child.

7) Guardian Ad Litem - Attorney for the foster child which is often court appointed.
D's attorney has not contacted us yet.

8) CASA Volunteer - A court appointed special advocate who is a voice for the foster child.
D's CASA volunteer, if he has one, has not contacted us yet.

9) Medical Provider and Dentist - Medical and dental care are mandated by the State of Texas and there is a schedule that must be followed.
We have completed the medical visit but not the dental.

10) Therapist - The Agency helps get a therapist referral for the foster child.
We are waiting on a referral for D. Our JP Caseworker manages for us.

11) School Teacher and Counselor -  School age foster kids are in school much of the time and it is important to include teachers and counselors as part of the team helping foster kids.
Only the Kinder school teacher is involved so far.

12) CCMS - Child Care Management Services who can fund certain care including Summer care.
Working this one right now - complicated.

13) Judge - The Judge is ultimately the decision maker for just about everything.
The Court hearing scheduled for last Friday was moved to May 4 thus longer limbo for D especially if kinship is an option.

14) Biological Family - The biological family can include parents, siblings and extended family. Reunification is the goal of foster care.
We had first interaction today although I am not sure we are supposed to actually interact.

Glimpses ...

We are required to post the hotline poster and the fire escape plan. We are required to have the House Rules and the Calendar. It is strongly encouraged to have the daily schedule. I added the "How Are You Feeling" chart.

Our first puzzle with D and a wonderful gift to us! His problem solving skills were impressive as he put this together.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Day 12 with D

April 8 Midnight
  • D, our foster son, arrives
  • D is our first placement

April 19
  • Tonight is the 12th night D has been a part of our family and our home
How is D?
D is a normal six-year old boy who is developmentally on track. He loves the Local Elementary, he sings, he skips and he kicks a soccer ball. He enthusiastically plays board and card games. He runs on the pool deck when he should not. He brushes his teeth and likes the big bath tub. He writes his name, counts to the double digits and is an emerging reader. He makes art and use scissors. He likes to play with other kids and dogs and looks up to Oldest Son and Youngest Son. He follows directions, is helpful and always curious. He only eats certain foods and vegetables do not seem to part of his diet. Thank goodness for bananas! He sometimes wakes up scared at night and slips into our room. He had a great time at Religious School Sunday and told the class he was thankful for his Dad. He asks about his Mom and Dad daily and asks if he can take his new things to his home. D is like any six-year old you would encounter.

But D is not any six-year old. 

What is the situation?
I got my first call from CPS today. The CPS investigator called to tell me about the court date tomorrow and family visitation. Wait. What? After explaining to her we are going out of town tomorrow, asking allot of questions and letting her know this was our first placement, she slowed down and said she would call me back. We established that I had not heard from CPS or CASA Volunteer or the Guardian Ad Litem - all of which are important in determining D's future.

The next call was a productive three way conference call initiated by the CPS Investigator with D’s brother’s Foster Dad and me. Wait. What? So, D has a 16-month old brother. We do not understand why the boys were placed separately. There IS extended family who want to care for D and his brother. The court will decide tomorrow who would qualify for a kinship placement which will require a home study and some time to establish. I have learned that a court hearing must take place within 14 days from removal (the hearing tomorrow) and then again within next 30 days. We scheduled D's first visitation Monday at CPS offices with extended family and his toddler brother.

The immediate family situation is complicated and gut wrenching. I will not go into the details.

I am reminded that D is not any six-year old.

What have I learned about established community support?
We are required by law to take D to the doctor within first 30 days of placement.  We lucked into a cancellation last Monday. The Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children's Medical Center is beyond amazing. I am SO proud to have access to this facility with locations in Dallas and Plano. Our children deserve this kind of health care and resources. The staff, nurses and doctors are trained to take care of children of trauma and the facility is state of the art with considerations for all the challenges we may experience in seeking medical care for foster kids.

Our Temple and our Local Elementary have been accommodating, generous and lovely during D's transition. Jonathan's Place has been fabulous, of course.

I have been disappointed in the challenges of finding summer care under the Child Care Management Services (CCMS) program. CCMS will fund summer care for foster kids. The "go to" places for my kids such as JCC and YMCA do not take CCMS. The CCMS state website has proven difficult to use thus far. I am still fumbling my way through this one.

D's options via CCMS are not simple or obvious ... to me.

What has it been like?
D gives our family and friends a chance to be part of this journey. The generosity of words, time, gifts, food and surprises uplifts all. I see Oldest Son and Youngest Son reaching out to D, helping with homework, speaking to him in Spanish, playing with him and trying to weave this little boy into their busy teenage lives. Commuter Husband stepped right up and thankfully told me "we are in this together."

I am kinda like a new mom. I wore the same outfit three days in row this week - not kidding. I am fighting with the blasted car seat to get the buckle to co-operate. I am wiping a snotty nose and a poopie bottom. I fall into to bed physically and mentally exhausted.

And I am so very glad I am D's foster mom. D makes us smile. D reminds us that relationships are the heart of our existence. D takes us out of our first world, self-centered lives and takes us to a place that is meaningful and important. D represents all this is wrong and right in the world. D makes us face a real humanity that is all around us if we stop to look, to understand and confront it's flaws.

Today was hard. Today I learned of D's complex past, his chaotic present and his unclear future. 

A few glimpses of our days and much generosity ...
Flowers to cheer us on!

Games that I did not even know existed. I am kinda afraid of Pie Face!

This facility intends to be the model for America. I hope for everyone's sake that they succeed!

D did not like this gift as much as I did - so good!

Bath time is way more fun now :)

Thank goodness for the clothes given to D since he really did arrive with one outfit.

ALL HAPPY FACES from Local Elementary!

Thankful for the gift of Candy Land - timeless favorite! And that gifted soccer jersey is a big hit.

Local Elementary gift box - loaded with stuff :)

Two sets of pupusas delivered by two sets of dear friends on different days. These got us through first days as we figured out what D would eat.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Congratulations! Supervised Observation

Congratulations! You can now begin your supervised observation! 

I caught my breath when I saw this first sentence of an email this afternoon. Commuter Husband and I can now start our 40 hours of required observation to be foster care certified in the State of Texas. We have two choices:
  • We can spend time at the Jonathan's Place shelter.
  • We can coordinate visiting an active home. We have been provided a list of 11 families that we can contact.
The last sentence of the email says: "I hope you enjoy your time with the children and that this process helps you in your understanding of them and their needs!"

It just got real, really real. I am energized and nervous and ready.

LEARN MORE ... Here is a 12 minute video "ReMoved"

Please find a few minutes to watch. Let me know your impressions ...
From the website:
"The ReMoved Films are being created with the intent to bring light to the often unknown subjects of Foster Care and Child Abuse/Neglect. The films educate those who are learning, while simultaneously identifying with those who understand all too well. The films are available online to watch for free. We do this because even though the cost of creating a film is high, we believe these films can have the most impact when they're most easily accessible. 

Our goal is that these films would serve as a key tool in raising up and training good foster parents, social workers, court-appointed special advocates, and the many other adults who interact with children in foster care. To that end, we encourage foster care related agencies and organizations to use the film in their training, outreach, and fundraising endeavors."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

TB and Drug Tests

Youngest Son and Oldest Son filling out paperwork for drug screen and TB test. We have boys fill out ALL their own paperwork for everything (school, sports, doctor, etc.) as we moved further down the path to independence. It is surprising "what they do not know how to do" when we started this practice. 
For example, "You need to memorize your SSN" says me to Youngest Son. His response "Why?"

Our Foster Certification is moving forward inch by inch. Yesterday we made another family outing. Commuter Husband, Oldest Son, Youngest Son and I located the only CareNow location in Dallas that provides drug screening and TB tests for Jonathan's Place.

Each test was $55 for a total of $220 for our family of four. Each family member over the age of fourteen must be tested. We are fortunate to be able to afford these costs but I do think this is another financial consideration that could be challenging for potential foster care families.
Youngest Son delivers urine specimen to technician and electronically signs necessary form.
My TB poke. We cannot cover with band aid and cannot itch. We must go back within 48 to 72 hours to have it read. Commuter Husband will have to do it in Houston.

Here is where we are in the Foster Care process:
  • July to Sep: 42 hours of in person training completed by Commuter Husband and me
  • Oct: Our four family members completed background checks including fingerprinting
  • Nov: Our four family members completing drug screens and TB testing
Next steps and hopeful timing:
  • Nov to Dec: Commuter Husband and I to complete remaining independent training (online and reading.)
  • Dec to Jan: Commuter Husband and I to complete 40 hours of observation in foster homes or shelters.
  • Jan to Feb: Home Study completed including several updates we will need to make our home compliant.

LEARN MORE ... Is this how we want the State of Texas and Texans to care for these children?

1) Outrage is not enough.
In early November, special masters hired to scrutinize the system made over 50 recommendations. They include reducing caseloads, adding training and mentor programs, and giving new caseworkers more ramp-up time. Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief that objected to every recommendation.

2) The State of Texas says "We really need you to step up," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told participants in the Faith Leader Summit at the Texas Capitol.

3) In December 2015, Federal Judge finds Texas has "broken" foster care system
Long-term foster care in Texas is “broken” and routinely does grave harm to children already dealt a tough hand, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi said the state violated the Constitution by keeping about 12,000 youngsters for years in an underfunded and poorly run system “where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability are the norm.”

Friday, October 28, 2016

My Finite Heart

I have been to three funerals in three weeks. Each of these precious souls lived full lives and left a beautiful legacy of family. Truly, these memorial events were celebrations of their earthly life.

So I have been thinking about losing our loved ones.

It has been two years since we lost my grandmother and my sister-in-law. I think of them both several times a week. I like to think of their laugh. Each one had a distinctive and infectious laugh. I also think about things I could have done differently. They were human in their imperfectness ... just as I am.

I have this vision of my finite heart. When these people, that are a part of who I am, dies then they take a piece of my heart with them and I am with them for eternity. I can never replace that missing piece and I know it is not there.

And I wonder, how many heart pieces can I lose before there is more missing than present?