OFFICIAL SIBLING VISITS HAVE ENDED
Our little guy had his last official sibling visit with Brother E and Baby S this past week. I gotta tell ya, dropping him, my mom, and Sister Z off at the DCBS offices Wednesday morning was bittersweet. In a certain respect, I am so glad that we are no longer working with social workers and foster care representatives within the constraints of their program and oversight. On the flip side, the security of knowing that the bi-weekly visits will continue is over.
Still, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude and praise God that the babies were placed with reasonable and loving parents. The foster mom said that she would like to continue meeting up monthly, just on a more flexible schedule and at a more centralized location. (They live pretty much as south as our county extends and the scheduled visits were at a facility as north as you can get). I’m hoping we can schedule more engaging activities for the kids instead of having them cramped in that dingy, stuffy DCBS office. Foster mom even sent my son home with some photos of the babes from Easter. I wish I could post them here because it’s unbelievable how much they all resemble one another!
Another day in fosterland and a major chapter in our life closing. Our separate lives will continue to forge ahead. I hope that this will make us feel even more blessed for those moments when we can come together so the children can spend time together. I’m sure there will be tension and hurt feelings that we will have to work through but, for now, I will be optimistic that everything will turn out alright.
WHO’S JUSTICE BEAVER?
Originally published March 1, 2012
One thing our case worker really lacked was attention to detail. Seems like that would be a crucial skill for a social work job, right? I was looking over our permanent custody order for Noah again and just noticed that J is listed with the first name “Justice”. That is NOT his name.
As frustrating as these errors have been, for some reason this particular one was hilarious to us. Perhaps because of this little exchange between the characters Jim and Dwight on the Office?
THE GREAT INDECISION
Originally published March 2, 2012
This post has been incredibly difficult for me to write. It has been sitting in my drafts folder unpublished for several days. I keep returning to it, adding to it, editing it, considering deleting it, and so on.
N’s mother, my sister, called me this week to discuss his custody arrangements and signing the paperwork to allow J and I to adopt him. During the call she related to me that she’s seriously considering a voluntarily termination of parental rights for Brother E and Baby S (N’s two younger siblings who are currently in pre-adoptive foster placement). See, N’s father turned up in court last week during a child support hearing and, to avoid jail time for missed child support payments, he signed the dotted line and that was that. When she related the circumstances to me over the phone her voice was heavy, paced, and burdened with regret. She said, “I’ve already put them [the babies] through so much. I can’t pull them away from that family now.” It was the most mature, logical thing I’ve heard her say in the past ten years. It doesn’t make it any less difficult to process and accept as an advocate for N and as a concerned and loving aunt.
As a relative and the caregiver of N, the full sibling of Brother E and Baby S, I have absolutely no legal standing to stop the adoption or advocate for continued visitation unless I can prove to the court that I am a viable option for relative placement before the termination order is signed. Even if it can be agreed upon, open adoptions in the state of Kentucky, which are strictly between birth parent and child, are subject to an honor code. My understanding is that there is no legal ramification if the foster family decides to stop fielding inquiries from the birth parents. There is nothing legal that can be done to coerce the foster family into maintaining a relationship with our family. I want to be optimistic about their commitment to provide the best care, including emotional support and maintaining familial ties, for these children but I know how difficult it must be for them.
J and I can make a last ditch effort to file petitions for custody of Brother E and Baby S, even though DCBS does not recommend us, but therein lies the problem: it’s too late. The indecision to become their parents from the beginning was the most decisive choice of all. When all of this was bearing on me this past week I happened to see this post pop up in my blog reader. It speaks on how indecision can be loveless and I felt the pang of that truth acutely when reading it. The best of it reads: “But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring… To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.” There it is. It isn’t a cop-out but a reconciliation of the uncertainty I have felt over Brother E and Baby S’s placement during all these months. My failure to identify that I do not have the ability to parent them and tossing this idea around in my head that I can and dragging my husband down with my depression was a failure to make a decision out of faith and love, even if it may turn out to be the wrong one. If my decisions are made out of faith and love, N will know that. One day he may ask why we didn’t step up to parent Brother E and Baby S and I hope that I can tell him confidently that I made a decision that I thought was best for him and his siblings.
I know that we could of done it. I know that we could feed, clothe, and love on those babies like any other parents. We could have balanced our expenses and budgeted our income to work for a family of five. But what would have been a result of such measures? There was the fear of stretching a dollar to the point that it would put a strain on our relationship and that it would exempt all the children from some of the enriching luxuries that our income affords. Then there was time. How could two full-time working parents juggle the needs of three children under the age of three? Would placing them in daycare instead of allowing them to be at home with a committed mother they are bonded to be the best plan? And then there was the uncertainty around the birth parents and their treatment plan. Would we raise these children for so long and then they’d return to their parents? Could we handle that separation, knowing that if they returned to them then they would not be raised the way we intended? Deliberating on these circumstances has left my head spinning so many times.
The placement of Brother E was intended to be temporary. Maybe I was delusional at the time but I really thought that the permanent custody orders that were put in place in April 2011 would have driven home the severity and urgency of recovery for my sister and N’s birth father. But addiction is beyond the range of logic. It is fueled and compounded by feeble-willed individuals, denial, and the enabling that comes from friends and family. Maybe the latter is what is so troubling to me.
Maybe it’s not me feeling guilty so much over my inability to parent Brother E and Baby S but more over my failure to help equip my sister with the tools needed to become a better parent. Is that my responsibility? I suppose not, but I feel like I owe it to N to keep his siblings close by, through any means necessary. So now I must working on bridging the relationship with Brother E and Baby S’s foster parents so I can be certain that I am doing everything I can to maintain Noah’s familial ties. I am currently working on Noah’s LifeBook, trying to document everything I know about his siblings and the people they are with. Just another chapter in our journey.
Originally published March 8, 2012
Thorn over at Mother Issues recently wrote an excellent post about the public adoption and foster care system and its many failures, specifically in regards to the support of familial ties. In it she writes: “If we care about families, which I’m not convinced we as a culture do, we need to support parents even when they’re poor or young or overcoming addiction or dealing with hard times.”
N’s mother is feeling increasing pressure from the case worker, the judge, and even her own court-appointed attorney to voluntarily terminate her parental rights to Brother E and Baby S. They may be right in saying that, in the long run, it will be best for those children (especially considering the fact that she has no relationship with them at all and they’ve bonded to the foster parents) but the reality is that she was never provided with the resources needed to be come a better parent. Sure, she made a lot of selfish decisions and decided to ignore a lot of the case plan recommendations but, as I’ve said before, addiction is a disease that requires patience, love, and an overwhelming amount of support to overcome its challenges. Even the most determined addicts would have a difficult time meeting some of the expectations of certain court-ordered case plans.
Obviously the goal of a case plan is to restore the parent to a healthy state so it has to be strict and demanding but when a person fails the plan the response from the case worker shouldn’t simply be: “Well, this doesn’t bode well for you.” It should be: “What do you need to be empowered to overcome these issues? What can I do to help you get back on track?” That support is simply lacking in the system and it leads to a lot of broken families and failed reunification. That may sound like I’m being a super soft liberal but, it’s actually quite the opposite. I mean, wouldn’t it be best for everyone if the child was returned to a healthy and stable environment with the biological parent rather than shuttled through a system on the tax payers’ dime? Some foster parents receive stipends even after children are adopted. Wouldn’t it be better to invest money into education, training, and substance abuse counseling for biological parents who are failing their case plans so that the long-term expense of providing a stipend for a foster child can be avoided?
There are obviously LOTS of instances where biological parents are unable or unwilling to parent their child and, of course, loving and committed foster parents should be identified and be able to adopt those children. And they should receive support from the government to do so. My issue is that reunification and maintaining familial ties doesn’t seem to be a priority in the system, at least in my experience. Recommendations from case workers, interpretation of law, and orders coming down from judges vary, even when the circumstances are the same case-by-case. We’re in a huge, convoluted mess where no particular policy or decision made by the court is ideal for everyone involved. What I see from where I’m sitting right now is that the TPR order will only be 100% benefical for Brother E and Baby S’s foster parents. Of course the children will benefit from it - they will be in a safe, happy, healthy, and loving home. The caveat is that they may or may not be raised to know their biological parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents and I see that as a major failure.
I’m not saying that Brother E and Baby S should be returned to their biological parents or that they shouldn’t be adopted at this point. There really is no stopping that train. The circumstances leading up to this point have led us to the inevitable. Still, as a person advocating for what is best for all the children involved (including my own), I have to look back at all the factors that contributed to this mess and say that something has got to change in the system so that this doesn’t continue to happen to other families. Of course N’s parents should be held accountable for the decisions that they made that led to DCBS’s involvement and their continuing inaction that resulted in the placement of all the children in permanent homes but I don’t think that either of them will ever be able to live without that regret and shame. However, the system needs to be held accountable for its inability to provide families with the resources needed to keep children together. If that means throwing the biological parents in jail when they fail to complete certain court-ordered elements of their case plan (because that is essentially what motivated C to get clean over these past six months), then so be it.
MORE VENTING AND FUMING ABOUT THE SYSTEM
Originally published March 14, 2012
I stumbled across this blog post criticizing the child welfare system in Kentucky yesterday while I was perusing a few foster parent and adoption resource sites. I can’t substantiate any of its claims (except maybe through my own anecdotal evidence!) and it seems to be focused on one county in particular, but the claims are alarming nonetheless. It refers to findings of a 2007 study which probably evaluated the system in 2006, over five years ago. Many, many things could have changed since then but, still, I was interested in finding that particular study. The writer mentioned that they were unable to locate it and, of course, I wasn’t able to either.
However, my Google search did land me on this particular official report from the Program Review and Investigations Committee in 2006. On page 34 of this report, in the section that defines caregivers, two particular titles jumped out at me: Licensed Relative Caregivers and Resource Parents. These are two terms I have never heard spoken from any social worker, judge, or anyone on the case that I’ve communicated with over these past two and a half years. From the report:
“The least used relative care option is the relative as licensed resource parent. Such a relative must complete all the training required of resource parents, as well as the background checks and home study. Once licensed, the relative would receive the usual foster care reimbursement of $600-$660 per month depending on the age of the child. Additional funds would be available for advanced levels of care and for extra expenses. Children in foster care automatically qualify for Medicaid and free school lunches.”
I am unable to find any further information on “Licensed Relative Caregivers” or “Resource Parents” within my state so I’m not even certain whether they are still accepted titles/programs. Most of the information on the entire welfare system is not shared with the public or is only published in highly esoteric written law that the average Joe cannot decipher.
However, this concept is the EXACT one I presented to Noah’s case workers time and time again when discussing possible placement of Brother E and Baby S. I asked over and over again whether any type of assistance was offered to help offset the high cost of raising two additional infants in my home. I was told that the only assistance that I could even apply for would be K-TAP, which is based off income (and you have to be near-poverty to receive it) since the children were “dependency” cases and not children removed from a home due to abuse or neglect. Kinship care (the $300 monthly stipend) wouldn’t have even been offered, supposedly.
So why was it never mentioned that I couldn’t become a licensed relative caregiver? Especially when I specifically asked about this type of licensing. When considering placement of Brother E and Baby S, I asked whether it was possible to take them in as relative caregivers first and then become a licensed foster parent, eventually adopting them under the SNAP program if reunification wasn’t an option (which would provide continued financial assistance after the adoption). This is the exact response I received from the social worker after she “spoke to the attorney on the case” about all of my questions:
“The children would not qualify for the SNAP adoption program. The SNAP adoption program is for children who have special needs, and at this time Brother E nor Baby S have special needs.”
Hmm. Well, I wasn’t asking whether they qualified for at that exact moment but, nevertheless, the cabinet’s own website defines a SNAP eligibility as:
“The children are considered special needs because they have a physical or mental disability, have an emotional or behavioral disorder, have a recognized/documented risk of physical, mental or emotional disorder, is a member of a sibling group consisting of two or more children to be placed together…”
I am just so completely floored by the incompetence of the people working within the system. How is it possible that I am aware of more laws and programs than those working directly in the system? Am I missing some major disconnected piece here that proves that the social worker does, in fact, know more about the limits and restrictions of the system than I do? Maybe I’m just misinterpreting the guidelines of these programs?
I’m not even certain what this information or these findings really provide me (if it’s true that we would have qualified), considering that Brother E and Baby S are near adoption with their current foster family. I can’t go back and retroactively apply a solution to all of these missteps to our situation to make it any better. But SOMETHING has to be done to better equip social workers with the knowledge needed to make the best possible recommendations to the court for placement and to ensure that siblings are kept together, that reunification is the ultimate goal, and that family is given priority.