Friday, July 22, 2016

Foster Parenting Update

As a follow-up to my previous post about foster parenting, here's what's going on with the kids we have right now. As I've probably written before, since October, we've had a now-16-year-old boy staying with us. Like our son Tristan, he has Type 1 Diabetes, but he had just been diagnosed a month before coming to live with us. I don't know what was up with the family he was staying with, but they told him in no uncertain terms that he had to take care of it all on his own. So far as I can tell, he was pretty much just provided with food, shelter and clothes, and nothing else was taken care of for him, nor was there any parental guidance given whatsoever.

That had to change when he moved in with us. We are hands-on foster parents, and when we have a child in our home, no matter how long or short the stay, we are their parents and will do what we need to do to get the child where they need to be. We'll call him "A" for the purposes of this, since I can't really use his name. A was going to a high school in a different school system than we live in, and transportation had to be arranged to get him to and from school each day. It was immediately apparent that A needed guidance for doing his schoolwork, as his grades were terrible, and frankly, the school was one of the worst in the area. When we learned he'd be with us for the long haul, we started working on transferring him to a local high school that was the best one in the area, a move that A fought us on for a while before deciding that was the best thing to do (as tends to happen, we tell him something that needs to happen in his best interests, he disagrees and fights us on it, and eventually realizes that we actually know what we're talking about... this happens all the time).

Unfortunately, although things started out well at the new school, A fell into bad old habits quickly. He was looking forward to trying out for baseball, and made the team (well, the "C" team, anyway), but because of his grades, he was ineligible to play in any games, and eventually just quit the team. This let him focus more on his schoolwork, although at the end of the year, he still failed one class that had to be made up for in summer school (in other classes, he'd managed mostly D's and C's, although he had one class with a "B"). Summer school here is self-paced, the kids have up to four weeks to get through the class, but we wanted A to finish early, because we'd signed him up for a diabetes camp with other teens, and we felt it would be beneficial to him. At first, he seemed to be doing okay, but then fell behind in where he needed to be to finish up on time.

We had to put our foot down, obviously... The first thing that happened was he was told he wasn't going to be able to visit his sister or grandfather on the weekends until he finished up his classwork. We made this decision because one weekend, he'd promised to work on his schoolwork at his grandfather's house on the computer (most of the classwork for summer school is done on computers, and can be worked on at home), and he didn't do any of it. Now, a few months ago, I used some of my bonus from work to buy a new laptop for A and daughter Desi to share, so that they wouldn't have to use Tristan's laptop he got for Christmas, with the caveat there being that schoolwork was the priority. I created accounts on it for both of them, so it was ready to go.

So A had to knuckle down and get to work to get things done. Fortunately, one thing that helped with this was getting A back on ADHD medication, which he had been on some years ago, but had stopped taking (we don't know why). The longer he was on it, the more focused he was able to get, and he started being extremely productive, and managed to finish all his work he could do at home over the course of four days! Going back to class the following Monday, he was able to pass all the tests he needed to take, and on Tuesday, he was finished, several days ahead of the deadline we'd set! As a reward, he was allowed to go to his grandpa's house for a few days.

On the other front, we've continued to struggle with getting A to take care of his diabetes properly. For those who are unfamiliar with the disease, it basically means that his pancreas doesn't produce insulin, or at least the proper amount of insulin, to regulate his blood sugar properly. Having his blood sugar too high or two low can be life-threatening, and at the very least it can cause behavioral problems, which we'd been experiencing with him. We've been trying to get him in the habit of checking his blood sugar on a regular basis... first thing in the morning, before meals, before bedtime, and any time he's feeling "off." Fortunately, A is better able to recognize when he's feeling "off" than Tristan is. We're hoping that this diabetes camp (which will be finished a day or two before you read this) will help.

The other foster child we've had is a baby, whom we'll call "V." She was placed in our care the day after she was born in January, and at first, we were told there was a chance we'd be able to adopt her. That quickly changed to her being returned to her mother in a few months (not that that's happened at all). The reason she was placed in care is that her mother has other children who had been in care before due to drug use, and she came up positive on a drug test while she was pregnant.

As I wrote before, the state does what I feel is way too much to help parents of children in foster care get back on their feet and able to take care of their children again. This includes providing them with housing, bus passes, food stamps, parenting classes, as well as treatment for whatever the reason was their children were put in care in the first place.

Originally, V got to see her mother every single day. She'd be picked up at our house at around 9, and would be brought to her mother for visits that could be as short as a few hours or as long as the entire day, after which she'd be brought back here again. Before long, we had issues with the person doing the transportation, because she couldn't follow a schedule for picking V up, and we had to keep changing or cancelling plans because she'd pick V up late, or drop her off early or late. To help deal with this, we put V in daycare. Another reason for the decision to put her in daycare was that her mother kept insisting that V had medical issues that she blamed us for, and we'd have to rush V to the doctor to be seen -- and pretty much every single time, the doctor said V was fine, she didn't need any treatment, and to stop bringing her in when there's nothing wrong with her. Having V in daycare gives us a third party to witness this kind of stuff and confirm that V was fine when she was picked up.

These days, V's mother has a place to live in, and has at least two of her other three daughters living with her again. V is supposed to get two overnight visits a week -- one on Tuesday, one on Thursday -- but these visits, ridiculously enough, start with her being picked up from daycare around 5 pm, and returned the next morning at about 8 am. So, V spends an hour being driven to her mother's place, where all mom has to do is feed her, change her, and put her to bed, and maybe feed her in the middle of the night, get her up in the morning, changed, dressed, and fed before she's driven an hour back to the daycare. This is a visit?

What makes matters worse is that since this new visit schedule started, V's mother has cancelled one visit each week, so there's only one visit a week... and then last week, both visits got cancelled! We are supposed to be contacted before 5 pm if a visit is cancelled, but last Thursday, we didn't hear anything at all about a cancellation, but instead got a call from the daycare at 6:08 (they close at 6) saying that V hadn't been picked up yet. The caseworker is unavailable after five, so I rushed to the daycare to pick V up, and instructed them that from now on, if she's not picked up by 5:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays that they should call us so that we can come get her before they close.

Now, I've met V's mom a few times, and I've seen her with her other kids. I have absolutely no faith that she's capable of taking care of more than one child -- and I'm not even sure about her being able to handle that much. She seems to be using this as a vacation from being a mother while complaining that she should be getting her girls back, but she's got no skills for taking care of kids at all. Added to this is the fact that the place she lives at is in Rochester, which is a tiny town about 40  minutes south of the Olympia/Tumwater area, with no bus service where she lives. I don't see how she'll be able to do grocery shopping or take her kids to the doctor or do anything else once the state stops providing transportation services for her. Even worse, I can't help but feel that once the judge finally lets her have all her girls back, she's going to end up going off the radar entirely at some point. I'm convinced she's not going to be able to take care of the girls, and is going to let the stress of trying to take care of four preschool and younger girls lead her to asking people to watch them for her who aren't any better able to do the job than she is, and she's going to get back into drugs again, eventually losing her housing and having to couch-surf with her other druggie "friends." If her girls are lucky, the state will find her again and take her girls away, this time for good, but even if that happens, we don't know if we'll have an opening here to take another child, because we might have another placement by then.

The whole situation pisses me off big time, and I keep having to fight the urge to contact V's mom and say, "Listen up, if you aren't prepared to be a parent 24/7, you need to relinquish your parental rights and let these girls grow up in homes that they'll be properly taken care of in before you ruin their lives." I also want to smack the caseworker upside the head until she's got some sense knocked into her, because she's taking a shitty attitude about how this is progressing, and doesn't seem to care that things aren't under control.

We also recently did respite care for another child, a 15-year-old girl I'll call "M." Respite care is when a foster parent needs someone else to take care of their foster child for a short time, usually due to vacation plans (especially when the vacation is out of state and for whatever reason, the child isn't able to come, usually because a judge hasn't signed off on it, or plans were made before placement). V was in respite care during our spring break road trip.

M was an interesting short-term addition to our household. She hadn't been in foster care very long, and we never really knew her entire backstory. We know that there was abuse from her father, although the exact nature of that abuse isn't clear. M was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, which we aren't really familiar with, but we did learn that she's never celebrated a birthday or a holiday of any kind (which made us very sad... how can you be part of a religion that doesn't let your children enjoy these celebrations?). M was very polite and helpful for the short time she was with us, even offering to wash the dishes a few times (A was very happy about that, as that's usually his job). Even better, she would play with Desi a lot. Desi got really attached to M very quickly, and was devastated when M went back to her foster mother.

Honestly, I would have liked to have M staying with us, because she was overall a decent fit into our house. I think there would have to have been a lot of conversations with her about her religion, and we would've also had to crack down a bit on the amount of time she spent on her phone Facetiming with her boyfriend, and probably needed to get her into some therapy to deal with what's happened to her, but I think we could've helped her a lot. We had long been leery of the idea of taking in teenage girls because of warnings we'd got about what could happen back when we were training to be foster parents (apparently, a lot of teenage girls are in care due to sexual abuse, and they get it in their heads that they need to have sex in order to be a part of a group... including trying to have sex with their foster dads. Another issue tends to be allegations being made accusing the foster dads of sexual abuse. Neither of these are things that we need to be dealing with!), but if there was another teenage girl who could be as helpful and friendly with the other kids as M was, we'd be open to it.

So, what are we looking at now? We know that A won't be adopted by us. Instead, he's going to be staying with us through high school and even afterwards, in what's called extended care while he goes to college or trade school. We don't know what's in store with V. And there's yet another potential situation...

Desi's biological mom has two girls who are currently in foster care, although not with us. This is the second time these girls have been in care -- the previous time, we had one of them with us. We are concerned that she is not doing all she needs to do herself, and is falling back into some bad habits again. What makes her situation particularly bad is that her kids aren't with regular foster parents, but with someone who's considered a family friend, but who really isn't a family friend. This woman has said multiple times that she wants her daughter to adopt Desi's half-sisters, because her daughter can't have kids of her own... and if that happens, we know that their bio-mom isn't ever going to see them again, because she and the woman taking care of her kids do not get along at all. There have been allegations made against the kids' mom several times, and things said in family court that don't look good. My wife has been trying to mentor her during all this, but she doesn't seem to want to listen to Jessi any better than our kids do (bad enough for them, but as an adult she should know better).

We have suggested that if she's not going to commit to getting her girls back, that if she surrenders her parental rights with the condition that we get her girls, we're open to that. However, the clock is ticking on that offer. If we get to adopt V, there's no way we can consider adding two other kids to our home (we've already got four here right now, we can't possibly deal with six, especially with two additional preschoolers, and I don't think either of them are potty-trained yet).

How do I feel about all this? Frankly, I've gotten so frustrated with V's mom and that whole situation that I kind of wish that she'd get V back sooner rather than later so that we can be open to other children who would be a permanent part of our family. I'm not even sure that I want to adopt Desi's half-sisters, for that matter (although I'd like them to continue to be part of Desi's life, just as we keep her bio-family in her life), but as much as Desi's bio-mom has been flaking out on us, it's hard enough on Desi when she does, I don't know how we'd be able to deal with having three girls all dealing with it when it happens.

Ideally, I'd prefer to adopt one more child who's past potty training (because I'm kind of done with diaper changing and all that stuff), preferably a boy who's got dark brown hair (it seems we keep getting blond boys and dark-haired girls... it would be nice to have a boy who looks at least a little like me, instead of them all looking like Jessi). Then again, I'm also not sure we need to have another permanent addition to our family at times, because when we've had a foster child who gets returned, sometimes it's a nice break to have one less child in the home before the next placement.

Obviously, we're in a "wait and see" position right now, and only the future will reveal what finally happens. Whatever comes, we'll figure out a way to deal with it and continue onward!

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