Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Fourth Placement

Our RFC* called shortly after Christian left our care three months ago to check up on us and ask how soon we wanted to take another placement. I told her it would be nice to wait a couple of months- at least until the end of the summer- so that we could have some time to “take a breather” and even grieve, if that makes sense. I know there are other foster families out there who constantly have their homes open to foster placements, one immediately after the other, and while I find that admirable, I don’t consider myself a “career” foster parent. For my own sanity and for the sake of my family I think it’s good to take a short breather and recover a bit from the drama and loss of saying goodbye to a foster child before diving into taking any new placements.

Anyway, I’ve been getting those feelings once again that it’s time to take another placement and eight days ago our RFC called with some information about a 22 month old boy who would most likely be removed from his home that day, depending on the results of a court hearing. I got as much information from her as was available and got a hold of my husband, who happened to leave that morning on a business trip. (Which is exactly what happened when we got the call for our very first placement- Murphy’s Law!) After talking things over and praying to know if it was just “my feelings” telling me we should take the placement or if it was God’s will for us (or both) I talked to our RFC again a couple of hours later to tell her we were interested and I expected to have him in our home that night.

Our RFC had some additional information for me about the case during the second phone call, including the fact that the court hearing was going to be put off for another week due to the fact that the removal was needful, but not necessarily an immediate risk type situation and the caregivers of the little boy (not his parents but some family friends who have been raising him his whole life) wanted to obtain legal counsel in their defense.  That gave us a week to prepare for the placement and let things sink in.

As for details, I obviously won’t be giving them, but I will share a statistic: Of our four foster placements, 75% have been drug-related and there may not be weekly visits (at least with his birthmother) because she will most likely be in jail. 

Also, when the caseworker told me the first name of this little boy I thought it was ironic that he shares the same first name as our last placement, and “Christian” didn’t have a particularly common name.

FAST FORWARD TO LAST NIGHT:  One week after we got the phone call from our RFC this little boy was taken into state custody immediately following the court hearing.  We picked him up last night at the DCFS Office and I'm surprised at how well-cared for and seemingly well-adjusted he is considering some of the circumstances he came from. 

After watching him, I've decided to refer to him on this blog as "George" because like most 2 year-old boys, he is active and very curious.  In fact, I considered getting him a monkey costume for Halloween but we found a Tiger outfit that fits him perfectly.

More about "George" in the near future as his case unfolds and we get more information.  In the meantime, I'm going to have my hands full with a toddler and a pre-schooler which is why I'll have to save my blogging for the wee hours of the night! 

[*]   Three or four months ago I was really disappointed to get a letter informing us that we were getting a new Resource Family Consultant (the caseworker who works with foster parents and calls us about potential placements).  I was bummed because we have a really good working relationship with our old RFC.  She was always very respectful and attentive and considerate to any concerns we might have as foster parents, which, in my experiences at least, isn’t always the case in the system as foster parents seem to be at the bottom of the totem pole in importance.  

Anyway, due to ever-present budget cuts the state has had to cut back on some of the casework positions and is the case with most cut-backs or lay-offs, the employees with the most experience are the ones that are able to retain their jobs, so our former RFC is going back to doing “regular” casework with foster children and their parents since that is where the bulk of her experience lies. The good news is that it’s a blessing for the families she gets to work with, because good caseworkers are VITAL to the child welfare system. The bad news is that I hate to see her go. But more good news is that our new RFC seems just as easy to work with as our former RFC was.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear

Today in church two young missionaries full of the Spirit and enthusiasm spoke, appropriately enough, about sharing the gospel and serving others. More specifically, they mentioned what keeps people from doing so when they know it’s the right thing to do. One of the young men noted that there are three main reasons why people are motivated to do things (or not do things): Reward, Love, or Fear.

I immediately thought of another reason to add to the list of motivating factors: Guilt. Perhaps guilt is not as noble a reason to do something as love, but when I feel compelled to exercise or eat better, for example, it’s not necessarily because I’m thinking of the rewards of better health, or because I love getting on my treadmill or because I’m afraid of having a heart attack, but simply out of guilt.

I also thought about the reasons why I fail to do things and I can definitely see how fear plays a role. In fact, if I could summarize in one word the number one reason why my husband and I didn’t become foster parents sooner I would definitely say FEAR.

So why did we end up fostering when we were so fearful and hesitant at first? I think it has to do with those nagging feelings that kept creeping up and just wouldn’t go away. I refer to them as “nagging” feelings when I didn’t want to listen, but when I was more faith-filled than fear-filled I guess I would actually call them inspiration. Whatever you want to call those feelings- nagging, promptings, intuition, inspiration, I’ve noticed that many other foster families share a similar theme in their stories and reasons for fostering- it’s almost a “calling” they feel they’ve been given or duty assigned to them.

Two other main reasons people choose to become foster parents are

1) Pure altruism: simply wanting to help children out of a sense of love, and
2) Wanting to adopt a child.

Of course, oftentimes things aren’t so black and white and people could choose to foster for a combination of reasons. In our case, we did so primarily because of those feelings that we were “supposed to”, so it wouldn’t be completely honest to say I did so completely out of altruism or without any thought of “reward” because it would, in fact, be very nice to be able to do foster care as a means to the end of another child joining our family. In fact, I often get jealous of families who end up being able to adopt their very first placement. “Not fair!” I think to myself. “They don’t have to go through any of the heartache.” Then again, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity I’ve had to be able to interact with the parents of our foster children- even though it hasn’t always been easy. There is much to learn from “sharing” a child with someone. It is truly a humbling and refining experience. Speaking of which . . . we’re looking forward to meeting Christian and his dad in the near future for the first time since reunification. His dad has full-time custody now.

Back to the topic of fear and it’s antidote, FAITH and it’s sister attribute, LOVE: I wish I could say that once we made the choice to become foster parents that all of our fears were put at ease, but it’s more realistic to say that with each and every call we get for a placement the fears creep back up and it’s a constant battle of faith. With our most recent call for a placement, I was particularly confused about distinguishing my own feelings and desires from the Holy Spirit. I think my biggest concern was that overall I felt that taking the placement was a good thing, regardless of if it ends up in reunification or adoption, but I just had so many “What Ifs” about the child: What if they have attachment issues? What if they are a holy terror? What if my daughter gets her heart broken again when it’s time to say goodbye?  What if the birthparents hate us for having their child and try to track us down and stalk us?

I took some time to pray and consulted the scriptures because I can always use some extra help from someone much wiser than I. As I was browsing through the pages I had one of those experiences (when I actually take the time to do so, that is- I’m far from perfect) where the verses I came across seemed to speak just to me and my unique situation. I was so comforted that the verses I came across had to do with doubting not and fearing not and giving cheerfully and being obedient. I also read some verses about sowing what you reap and remembering what it feels like to receive inspiration.
Fear nor to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” -Doctrine and Covenants 6:36
“He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
Every man as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”  -2 Corinthians 9:7

“Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth.”
Did I not speak peace unto your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”   -Doctrine and Covenants 6:15, 23
Other than the written words which served as a confirmation to me, I got a feeling that I should “JUST DO IT” even if it is hard and presents some challenges. Just because we’re told to do something doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s going to be easy and this placement may very well be a difficult one, but whether it’s easy or not isn’t the important thing, it’s obeying that’s important. A story comes to mind of a man who was commanded to push against a large rock. He did again and again with all his night and the boulder never budged. He thought he was a failure because he couldn’t get it to move but the Lord reminded him that he wasn't necesarilly supposed to move the rock, he was just supposed to obey and push against it.

BOTTOM LINE: When we have more FAITH than fear we will be filled with HOPE and LOVE and one of the scriptures that one of the missionaries shared in church was “There is no fear in LOVE; but PERFECT LOVE CASTETH OUT FEAR” -1 John 4: 18

What a great reminder of the best motivation to keep foremost in our hearts and minds.

I’ve rambled on enough, tell me your thoughts on the subject:

Those out there who have a desire to foster but have not yet done so (perhaps you’re one of those who has a “nagging” feeling in the back of your mind):

What is it that keeps you from doing so? (I won’t judge you . . . I’m just curious)

What are your motivations for wanting to foster?


What is your motivation(s) for fostering?

How do you subdue your fears about fostering (if you have them) and keep your faith and love revitalized?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Ultimate Director

Alternate Title:  Why Pee-Wee Herman Was Never Cast as Darth Vader

A couple of years ago when I was with my mom she introduced me to a woman we ran into. My mom and this woman briefly chatted about their families and what was new in their lives and then the friendly exchange was over. My mom turned to me after the woman was out of earshot and quietly told me “She used to date dad when they were in college . . . before he met me.”

WHAT? The thought of my dad dating somebody other than my mom totally weirded me out. Then I got to thinking, What if my dad had married this woman instead of my mom? Would I even exist if that were the case? I suddenly felt strangely resentful towards this virtual stranger. Don’t get me wrong, this woman was nice and lovely and actually had quite an impressive resume- Harvard educated, college professor with numerous publications, etc. but she just wasn’t . . . well, she just wasn’t MY MOM.

This week I came across three different blog posts which resonated with me because they all share a common theme that happens to stir up a lot of thoughts and feelings inside of me, similar to what I described when I met my dad’s former girlfriend. I’ve come to call this theme (or debate, if you will) “agency versus destiny” and I’ve written about it at least once before, in this post. The blog posts I read which got me back on the “agency versus destiny” train of thought are these:

Blog Post #1- A certain birthmother shared the experience of meeting up with two of the adoptive couples whom she considered placing her baby with. The keyword here is “considered”; she didn’t actually end up placing with either of the couples although they were both fantastic families and would have made great parents. Instead, she placed her baby with the family she felt was right.

Blog Post #2- I came across a clip on a friend’s blog who happens to be a big fan of both Michael J. Fox and Eric Stolz of Stolz playing the role of Marty McFly in Back to the Future, before the role was offered to Michael J. Fox. As I watched the footage I kept thinking- “It just doesn’t feel right.” The directors were spot on when they said that it’s not necessarily that Eric Stolz is a poor actor (I happen to love his touching performance in MASK) but rather that Marty McFly just wasn’t the right role for him- it was a role much better suited for Michael J. Fox.

Blog Post #3- Adoptive Momma wrote about finding the “right” child for your family- even if that means saying “no” to other possibilities . . . and not feeling guilty for doing so. I couldn’t help but make the comparison of what people go through when they search for a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend and try to find Mr. of Mrs. Right. Just because somebody wants to get married, for example, doesn’t mean they should go out and marry the first person that comes along. On the other extreme, they shouldn’t have any unrealistic expectations of perfection, either, because they’re obviously not going to find it. The best solution, in my humble opinion, is to search for someone who they are compatible with and then fully commit themselves to that person.

The same thing goes for adoption: Just because a family is trying to adopt, doesn’t mean they should adopt just any child- but rather their child. In other words, a child or children whom they are compatible with- even if (and this is the hardest part) it means HAVING TO WAIT FOR THE RIGHT TIMING AND THE RIGHT CHILD.

The frustrating part about going through the adoption process (domestically speaking, at least) is that now days a child’s birthparents are the ones who choose which family to place their child with, and rightly so. In other words, my family’s future is totally in the hands of someone other than myself. It’s a very out of control feeling to know that my desire for a child is solely dependent upon another person’s agency.

Why don’t you just adopt an orphan from another country or a child whom is legally free for adoption from the foster care system? Yes, I can hear some of your thoughts through the computer screen. Impressive, eh? As for adopting internationally, cost is the biggest factor and as for adopting a legally free child I have actually searched through photo listings- numerous times- but as of yet I have never found “my” child.

There are so many orphans and children in the foster care system and a few (relatively speaking) women out there with unplanned pregnancies who are looking for a family for their child and there are so many couples and families who are waiting to adopt. It seems so unfair.

It is unfair, but I’ve thought of a solution to both problems. HERE IT IS: Get a really, really big hat and put all of the names of all of the orphans and children in the world that need to be adopted into it. Then get another really big hat and put all the names of the families who would like to adopt in it. Someone randomly draws names out of both hats and Voila! A child is matched with a family! Heck, the same thing could be done for marriages. Everyone who wants to be married would be guaranteed a marriage partner. Genius, right?
As pragmatic as my solution may be I, for one, know that I wouldn’t want my destiny left to random chance. And I certainly wouldn’t want anybody to choose a spouse for me, except for, well . . . ME!

AGENCY is the key factor at play. But besides agency, there can also be another really big factor at play when it comes to something as major as creating families or deciding whom to marry. That factor- IF we choose- is the hand of God.

But what about disrupted adoptions and failed placements- do those situations arise from “destiny” or the will of God? Because those seem like awfully cruel things for everyone involved to go through. I don’t claim to know the answer to that question, but I can tell you this: Birthparents have the right to change their minds just as adoptive couples have the right to choose how, when and whom to adopt.

The big question I have in all of this remains: Will our next child come into our family because God has a hand in things or will the next child to join our family do so as a direct result of someone’s agency- either from a birthmother choosing to place with us or, in the case of foster care, as the result of a parent’s tragic choices which results in having their child taken away?

Am I the only prospective adoptive/foster parent out there who wonders things like that or am I just way too over-analytical?

Whatever the case, this is what I believe (using the Eric Stolz as Marty McFly example I shared at the beginning of this lengthy post):

I think that God is the Ultimate Director. He knows which roles are best suited for which actors. However, I also believe that actors can choose which roles to accept or reject, just as birthparents can choose to place or parent and decide whom to place with and adoptive families can decide which children to adopt.

Pee Wee Herman could have been cast as Darth Vader instead of James Earl Jones, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what George Lucas had in mind and the history of Star Wars would have been drastically altered by such a decision. Perhaps someone other than Julie Andrews could have played the role of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, but really, can you imagine another actress who fits the role as well as she did? And Michael J. Fox didn’t have to say yes to playing the role of Marty McFly, but I’m glad he did because it just seems “right”.

I’m putting our next adoption and my trust in the hands of the Ultimate Director.

After all, He did a great job orchestrating our first miracle.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I've had my eyes on a certain Etsy Shop for a while now, but I've never actually bought any of their items because I just couldn't decide which one I liked best . . . or I wanted to wait for a special occasion . . . or I would rationalize that I don't usually wear a lot of jewelry anyway. However, the jewelry that I do wear is very likely to have sentimental value or a deep meaning behind it. So last week as I was browsing, a particular necklace jumped out at me more than the rest and seemed to "call" to me- (seriously, it was almost supernatural!)

I am IN LOVE with this necklace:

And . . .  I splurged and bought it! 

What's the occasion? My husband and I will soon be approaching our third year of waiting to adopt and this necklace and the message behind it will literally give me something to hold on to while we continue to wait and hope and pray for our "eventually".

I can just imagine me fidgeting with it at the next baby shower I attend or the next time I hear that someone's pregnant (again)- not out of nervousness or jealousy, but out of hope and a sense of solace and comfort.

Eventually . . . it's a good reminder.

For similar sterling silver gifts of hope click here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Questions for "The Call"

When we went through the training to become foster parents we were given a list of questions to keep near the phone when our Resource Family Consultant (RFC) called us about a placement.

These questions were compiled to help foster parents get as much information as possible about foster children before deciding if a placement sounds like a good fit for their family. We were also given some great advice by our trainer: “When you get the call for a placement, be sure that the more logical/rational spouse asks the questions rather than the more emotional spouse.”  I’m definitely the more emotional one in our marriage who is more likely to act on impulse or intuition and use my feelings as my guide.  Although my intentions may be good, they are not always as carefully thought out as my extremely pragmatic husband who carefully considers all possibilities before coming to a decision.  Fortunately, we balance each other out pretty well.

I’m really glad I have that list from training because having a foster child in your home is a HUGE deal- it’s not just like watching a neighbor’s pet for a couple of days while they’re on vacation. This is another person joining your family- albeit temporarily- and the dynamics of your family and routines of your home suddenly change overnight. It’s best to arm yourself with as much information as possible in order to adjust to the change and deal with the uncertainty that fostering brings.

Have I mentioned that my husband and I much prefer predictability and stability to uncertainty? How ironic that we got involved in foster care in the first place and have built our family through adoption since the only certain thing in both cases is UNCERTAINTY!

Anyway, here is the list of questions we got in training and I thought I’d share them. I’ve bolded the ones which I’ve found particularly important and I’ve shared my thoughts on some of them (in italics).

Questions to ask the Caseworker about the Child . . .

1. The child’s full name, age, and birth date.

Some foster parents aren't picky in their preferences of age, gender, or race, but age of the foster child is definitely one of the biggest factors for my husband and I when deciding if a placement is the right fit for our family.  We also have a rule that all decisions regarding foster children must be unanimous; therefore, we've decided that we're willing to take placements as long as they are younger than our daughter.  [I know, I know . . . there's so many older foster children out there who need homes and it makes me feel a little guilty, but this is just my family's personal decision.]

2. Why the child is in foster care and what is the legal status of the case?

3. Are kinship options being pursued?

The last part of #2 and #3 go together and are super important to ask regardless of a foster parent's reasons for fostering.  For example, some foster parents are interested in fostering but don't necessarily want to adopt; if a child is legally free for adoption and foster parents aren't interested in adopting, it's better for the child's sake to have him placed in a fost-adopt home (one that is willing to adopt foster children if they become legally free for adoption) so that the child doesn't have to get attached to a family only to be moved to another family.  On the other hand, if there is a good chance for reunification a foster family that isn't necessarily interested in adopting would be a great fit. 

Some foster parents do foster care with the sole purpose of adopting.  If that's the case, it's crucial for the foster family to know if a child is legally free for adoption.  Even if a child is available for adoption, it's imperative to keep in mind that blood relatives always take precedence over foster parents for placement (that's my LESSON #2). 

I know that I've said this before, but foster care is NOT an adoption agency.  At least not in my state where legislation is very pro-reunification.  The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary homes for children while their families work things out.  In other words, it's about fulfilling the needs of children, not getting your own personal desires met.  Therefore, if you are fostering only because you want to adopt and each time you get a phone call for a placement you decline because the child is not legally free- well . . . chances are you won't be getting too many calls because it just doesn't work that way.

HOWEVER, if you are interested in adopting a child from the U.S. foster care system who is already legally free for adoption refer to these resources: Bethany Christian Services, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Heart Galleries By State.

4. The child’s medical history including immunizations, special medical problems, medication, etc. When will a medical card be received?

All foster children are covered by Medicaid.

5. Last school attended and grade the child is in.

6. Does the child have any special needs such as clothing, food, or supervision? Are there any behavioral problems? What type of extent of abuse has occurred?

7. The caseworker’s name and phone number

8. Who should the resource parent call if the caseworker cannot be reached?

Just in case you have a caseworker who doesn't return your calls, (whether intentionally or because they're swamped with a huge caseload) it's always good to have the name of their supervisor handy.

9. What is the name and phone number of the Health Care Team nurse assigned to the case?

10. What is expected regarding visits with the family?

Generally, supervised visits take place once a week for about an hour at the local DCFS Office.  If children are younger or their parents are making significant progress, visits will be longer and/or moved to unsupervised visits.

11. Is this a basic or specialized placement? Is there an initial clothing allowance?

12. Does the child present a threat to other children, animals, or self?

I have to admit- this was one of those questions that really freaked me out and when I heard it and I thought, "Do I really want to be a foster parent?"

13. What is the child’s previous placement history?

I think another question just as important is the history of the child's parents:  Do they have a criminal history?  Is this their first removal (the first time they've had children removed from their home?)

14. Are there any cultural or religious practices of which we need to be aware?

15. Does the child have siblings, relatives, or previous caregivers who may wish to visit the child?

16. Does the child have possessions from home that may be important such as scrapbook, pictures of family members, or favorite toys?

17. Do you know of any special routines that will help the child feel more comfortable?

#16 and #17 are GREAT questions to ask, but not necessarily to the caseworker.  The best person to ask those questions are the parents of the foster child  at the first visits.  (Of course, if the parents are in jail or don't show up for visits then you're out of luck.)  If the foster child is coming from another foster home most definitely talk to the previous foster parents to get a feel for what routines or schedule the child is used to.

Even if the parents don't necessarily have any regular or specific meal, bedtime, or nap time routines (which is pretty likely if they are battling an addiction that gets in the way of parenting; hence the reason for their children being removed from the home in the first place) most parents have a blanket, toy, or stuffed animal that they will voluntarily give you so their child can remember home and lessen the trauma and confusion of being removed and placed in a foreign environment.  "Transitional object" is the technical term for such objects. 

Of course, if foster children have come from a meth house or a house which is dangerously unhygienic, use caution. 

18. Is there any other family information that would be helpful?

19. Has the child been involved in counseling or special education? What additional services would this child need?

20. When will the Child and Family Team Meeting take place at which the Child and Family Plan will be established?

21. Are there any other Child and Family Team Meetings scheduled?

#20 and #21 are ideal rather than real- don't count on it unless you have a stellar caseworker; however, in the case that there are Team Meetings scheduled (and the caseworker actually notifies you of it) most definitely go- YOU are a crucial part of your foster child's "team"!