Foster Care: When Birth Parents Give Up.

I have not written a blog on this site in a very long time.  My apologies.  My former laptop is kaput and I just recently got this new laptop.  Blogging from work is highly frowned upon.  I miss writing!

I have this case.  Well, I have several of them, but this one case in particular is especially — trying.  This has been an ongoing case for several years and I acquired it in December.  This has been one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever had.  I have plenty of experience dealing with difficult birth parents.  This one takes the cake!

Here’s some history:
-Daughter came into care in 2012, initially.  She was placed back in mom’s care twice since then though the state has maintained legal custody since initial placement.
-Son came into care in 2014.  Mom and dad were incarcerated due to a domestic violence issue.  They didn’t have an appropriate caregiver for the kiddos to go to so they entered foster care.
-Since being released from jail, all mom needed to do was follow court orders and follow recommendations of (mental health, anger management, substance abuse, domestic violence, parenting) professionals and obtain/maintain employment and housing.
-Dad has been out of the picture since this past July.

At the beginning of December, the state motioned to change the permanency plan from reunification to adoption.  The change was granted and now the state will be petitioning the court to terminate parental rights in May.

Since January, I feel that mom has given up.  We’ve had a little more than a dozen scheduled supervised visits.  Of those, mom has canceled 5 visits and has been late to another 5 of them.

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been doing a dance around the visitation issue.  She finally said something to the effect of “what’s the point when I’m not getting my kids back anyway?”  **sigh**  These visits are so important to the kiddos.  I get that seeing her children is difficult especially when she’s right – she likely won’t be getting her children back.  She has the capacity to parent; however, I don’t believe she truly wants her children back.  She likes being “free”.  And at this point, the state’s hands are tied.  When a child has been in care for 15/22 months, the state is required to seek termination of parental rights.  Now, for the daughter, we should’ve moved forward sooner.  But now that the son has also met the 15/22 month rule, we cannot grant mom any more time.

The saddest part about this case is that reunification could’ve been so easy!  But instead of following through with court orders and following recommendations given by professionals, she has pussy-footed around and now… it’s too late, frankly.

I didn’t want her to give up though.  The kiddos are heartbroken that mom isn’t coming to see them and trying to explain to them why visits are continually being canceled… well, I don’t like making little ones cry.  If I could stop visits altogether at this point, I would.  At least I wouldn’t have to disappoint the kiddos week after week after week…

My job now is to document everything that happens, to continue building my case for court.  These children want their mother and yet somehow she is showing me that she doesn’t truly want them.  So, when a parent gives up, the social worker has to step-up his/her game.  I have to be harder on mom, easier on the kiddos, and more aware of my actions.  I have long discussions with the foster parents and my supervisor regarding this case as I need to make sure every base is covered.

Really, every case should be completely covered at all times – always documenting, always on point.  But cases like this need that attention ever more so.  My stress level is through the roof right now.  I’m not sleeping well, I’m gaining weight, I have difficulty concentrating at work, and I cry easily.

I need a vacation

I need this case to be done!

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Outrage and Response.

I know my blogs are far and few between on here.  Let’s face it – I’m a busy lady.  Today though, I need to let this out.  A coworker happened across an article that has us both fuming.  Not because of the initial story, but because of the stereotypical outlook on CPS (Child Protective Services) Workers, the misunderstandings of what social workers do, and the outrageous lies the author of the article spilled for the world to read.

The article gave “10 Things You Must Do if CPS Knocks At Your Door”.

  1. Take the accusation seriously.
  2. Ask what the charges are.
  3. Shut up.  Shut up now.
  4. Find an attorney who has experience fighting CPS.
  5. Be polite.
  6. Never let them in your home.
  7. Record everything.
  8. Have a doctor examine your child.
  9. Get family and friends involved in the fight.
  10. Never admit guilt.

I’m not even sure if I can address the author’s comments on these 10 things with class.  I’m not a CPS investigator, but I do work closely with them.  Here are my basic thoughts on these:

  1. Please, please do take the “accusation” seriously.  If CPS is showing up on your doorstep, this means that the report was “screened in” (the person taking reports gave said report to a Child Welfare Supervisor, who then reviewed the case and made a decision to have a CPS Worker begin an investigation).  This happens less often than one would think.  Many times we get petty reports (i.e. parents having custody disagreements and wants to make the other parent look bad by reporting abuse/neglect).  Sometimes we get superficial reports (i.e. healthy, responsible 15 year old being left alone at home for an hour).  My point is, if CPS shows up at your home, there is a damn good reason.
  2. By all means, ask what the “charges” are.  Really, at the initial stage of an investigation, we don’t “charge” anyone with anything.  CPS is investigating serious concerns regarding risk and safety.
  3. If you don’t talk to the CPS investigator you will be making his/her job very difficult.  CPS workers do not want to be involved with your family for any longer than they absolutely have to be.  Having a conversation does not mean that you will lose your children.  The goal of this whole process is to figure out how social services can help the family unit stay together, and if placing children in foster care/kinship care is necessary, then what can social services do to ensure the children are back home as soon as possible.  Social services does not want to rip families apart.  Really.  (I am saying “social services” because every state has their own version: Dept. of Health and Human Resources, Dept. of Social Services, Dept. of Child and Family Services, etc.)
  4. You should absolutely find an attorney.  Every parent is given the opportunity to have legal counsel.  You can either get a public defender (generally, certain public defenders work solely on CPS cases and are very experienced in this area) or hire a lawyer.  I don’t like how the author of this article says to find an attorney who “fights” CPS.  Social services isn’t about “fighting”.  Social services wants to find the family’s strengths and identify the needs so that those needs can be addressed (i.e. drug treatment, parenting classes, therapy, medication management, daily living skills, etc.).  So, I’d say find an attorney who can be honest with you about your case.
  5. Be polite.  Yep.  I know that being investigated is a terrible ordeal and can heart-wrenching and maddening.  Keeping your cool can help all parties move the investigation along so that everyone can get about their lives.  If you blow up, social services will understand.  If you become physically violent, that will be a problem.
  6. Well, if you don’t let social services in your home, the CPS Worker (I just spoke with my coworker — who is an investigator) will report a high risk of harm in the home.  Because an investigation cannot really be done, the CPS Worker will indicate abuse/neglect and then close the case.  If more reports continue to come in and you continue to refuse to work with social services, court action will be taken at which point a judge will do his/her thing (this could include criminal charges, a mandated investigation, etc.).  I’m not an expert on the constitution, so I’m not sure about the 4th Amendment.  But there’s a link to it.
  7. Record everything?  I mean, you can.  The CPS Worker will do his/her job the way they have to regardless of being recorded.  Social services has procedures for everything their workers do.  And I mean everything.  Social workers have multiple checklists for each case and many of those have to be done in a certain order.  So, record away.
  8. CPS will want you to have your child examined as well.  And the CPS Worker will not care to whom you take your child so long as you share the results with the worker.
  9. Social services really, really wants to identify as many strengths as possible.  If you have friends and family that wish to become involved, that is good!  Again, social services doesn’t want to “fight”.  Social services wants to figure out how to resolve any issues that may be identified as quickly as possible.  Social services wants to take a team perspective – everyone should be included in the decision-making: social worker, lawyers, parents, children (if they are capable of doing so), doctors, teachers, etc.
  10. Admitting guilt does not increase your chances of having your child removed or (if a child has been removed already) returned to the home.  Everyone does stupid shit.  Sometimes that stupid shit gets you into a lot of trouble.  Talking about mistakes made or continuous struggles helps the process move along swiftly.

I could keep going and going.  I may continue this later in a new post regarding the comments about the article (REALLY PEOPLE?!  CPS DOES NOT HAVE A “QUOTA” NOR DO CPS WORKERS GET COMMISSION!).  Until then, keep your heads on straight and have a conversation with someone who works in the field.

Welcome to social work (stigmas, stereotypes, and other things that mean ‘bias’).

Social Work Topics: Law v. Best Interest.

Here’s a little snippet of one of my cases:

Kids were removed in August 2013 for neglect, probable possible unsubstantiated physical abuse, and dangerous housing. The birth parents are not doing well in their improvement period. The state worker is going to advocate that parental rights be terminated. The three youngest are in a foster home together. The foster parents want to adopt. A kinship home has an approved home study and they want these children (there are two older half-siblings in a different home that this kinship home is not interested in taking).

Law states that if at all possible, children should remain with family (kin).

My job is to advocate for these children’s best interest. I tell my families and children that I have three main tasks in my cases:

  1. Ensure the children are safe
  2. Ensure the children are healthy (body, mind)
  3. Ensure the children are happy

Here’s my dilemma:

At the beginning of the case birth mom was pregnant with the youngest of these children and she knew that she’d be having a girl. A kinship home stepped forward stating they were interested in adopting the baby girl should that become an option. They did not want the two boys. The boys were placed in their current foster home and the little girl joined them when she was born. The boys literally bounced off the walls. These were normal behaviors:

  • Biting, hitting, scratching
  • Pulling safety caps off outlets (I can’t get those out without some sort of tool)
  • Taking off outlet covers with no tools
  • Tearing all of their clothes out of the closet
  • Pulling closet doors off the track
  • Opening doors and dashing outside
  • Escaping from car seats
  • Climbing out of high chairs
  • Throwing food
  • Waking up with night terrors at least once a week

Now when I go visit these children they are well-behaved. They’re still very, very busy children, but the foster parents are able to keep them in line. They sit through dinner. They listen to and follow through with directions. They can sit for several minutes at a time without tearing something apart. These children are so completely different than when they were first placed.

Law states that if a kinship home is found that we (the children’s team) should do everything we can to place the children with that family IF we feel the family is an appropriate home. This family has passed a home study. I do not know if this is the same family that initially just wanted the baby girl. My fear is that if the state worker advocates that this family should become the caregivers of these children that these precious kiddos will end up back at square one – wild. And then, if this family decides they cannot handle the behaviors that they’ll just toss them back into the system…

My job is to make sure these kids are safe, healthy, and happy. I do not feel that these children would be healthy (mind) or happy if they left their current placement.

Decisions, decisions.

Really, this isn’t a decision. This is more like a I-need-a-game-plan-to-ensure-the-judge-sees-things-my-way type situation. I’ve received letters from service providers and doctors. I need to talk to the kids’ GAL (Guardian ad Litem) and get her perspective. I need to talk with my supervisors and have more advocates in the courtroom.

Sometimes the law and best interest of the children do not coalesce.

So, which should/will be upheld?

Social Work Topics: Perspective

This week’s DPchallenge asks us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to tell a story.  When training perspective foster/adoptive parents I encourage my students to do the same.  How do they think the birth parents are feeling? What might the birth parents’ side of the story be?  Here’s one story from the perspective of a birth mother (names are of course changed):

“You know, Gizah, I was sitting in court wondering what the hell had happened.  One minute we’re having fun and the next my baby is being ripped away from my arms.  Where did we go so wrong?”  I had asked the social worker this question more than once during our foster care experience.  I knew the answer of course.  Chris and I fell in love, like really in love, several years ago.  I mean we haven’t been together forever, but we do love each other.  And we love our little Toby very much.  He’s such a bright little guy.  I guess it all started a couple of years ago.

We had some friends who liked to party.  At the time I was pregnant and didn’t do any of the drugs and I didn’t drink either.  I was so excited to be having a baby!  After Toby was born I still didn’t do the drugs.  Sometimes I drank though.  Chris liked to drink and snort cocaine sometimes.  After about a year I started doing cocaine too.  I mean, we all smoked pot, but that’s just pot.  Who the hell cares about pot, right?  Wrong.  The state cares about pot.  Anyway, one day Chris came home with a new drug, something neither of us had done.  It was called bath salts.  I heard nasty stuff about it.  I told Chris that we shouldn’t do it.  I heard it was worse than meth.  But, Chris didn’t listen.  He did the bath salts.  I’ve never seen anyone freak out like that before.

A few days later the neighbors got upset with us over something.  Their kids had been in foster care for several months already and I don’t know. Maybe they were mad because they knew we sometimes did drugs but still had Toby.  The thing is, we took care of Toby.  He was just two years old and almost potty trained!  He could walk and talk better than any baby I’d known.  The neighbors though?  They’re hoarders and she prostitutes herself.  They wouldn’t feed the kids.  The baby was always crying.  They were always filthy.  Half the time the oldest kid didn’t go to school.  Or if he did he never had a jacket on.  Their two year old was a handful, too.  Always causing problems.  Those kids were obviously not taken care of.  And then one night an ambulance came and took the two year old away because he’d been beat so bad he almost died.

I’m not that kind of mother.  My baby is my world.  After the neighbor’s kids got taken Chris and I didn’t do much partying.  Then Chris brought those bath salts home.  That’s when CPS showed up.  Chris was having a fit at the time, thought there were bugs crawling around the couch and on him.  There weren’t though.  I keep my house clean.  We don’t have roaches or anything.  I think the neighbor called us in.

I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.  My Toby was gone.  I didn’t know where he was.  I didn’t know if he was crying.  I didn’t know if he was safe!  I called and called and called my state worker to figure out when I could see Toby.  A week after he was taken we got a visit.  We’d taken drug tests and had a meeting with our lawyers and the state worker. We knew this wasn’t going to be an overnight fix, but we were ready to fight for our Toby.  We’d do anything for him.

When I saw Toby at that first visit I just held him close.  Chris and me and Toby just held each other.  The visit was only an hour long.  I didn’t think that was fair.  But I wasn’t going to cause a scene.  I just wanted to do everything to get him home.

The next week we had a meeting with everyone involved with our case.  I got to meet the foster parents.  They seem really nice.  They said that we could call Toby at night to say goodnight to him.  That made me tear up.  Everything seemed to make me want to cry.  The foster parents had a lot of questions like if he was allergic to anything or if there were any discipline techniques that we’d like them to use.  I thought foster parents just did what they wanted so they could get a paycheck.  I didn’t know they were so involved and wanted so much of our input.  That made me feel a little better.  I mean I was jealous that they got to be Toby’s parents for a while and not me, but I could tell they were good people.

Each week we got visits.  After a while the visits got longer and more frequent.  Chris and I went through drug treatment and counseling.  We also took parenting classes.  The foster parents were wonderful.  They’d send pictures of Toby to the visits and also pictures he had drawn for us.

Night time was hardest.  Not being able to sing him songs or read books to him.

After the longest six months of our lives we finally got to bring Toby home.  I was so happy!  I thanked my social worker, Gizah, because without her I wouldn’t have gotten my baby home as soon as I had.  She fought for us.  That’s her job though I guess.

So, where did everything go wrong? Drugs.  Don’t do drugs.  Keep a clean nose, do your bit to help those around you, too.  Love your family and do everything you can to cherish each other.  I know one thing for sure.  I will never lose Toby like that ever again.

Hazards of Social Work: Directionally Challenged People.

After landing my first social work position after graduation with a nonprofit foster care/adoption agency, I quickly learned the streets, back roads, and details of several towns throughout the many counties we covered.  I’m a quick study and am a good navigator.

Since moving to the other part of the state I’ve had to learn new streets, back roads, and details of several towns throughout the many counties we cover.  Thankfully I’m still a good navigator.  The same cannot be said for everyone though.

Yesterday I got word from a foster parent that the three kiddos that had their weekend visit with their birth mom who lives two hours from the foster home was unable to bring the children back at the scheduled time due to unforseen bad weather.  Ok, no problem.  Whatever.  I called a million and a half people and made arrangements for a foster care aide from the county in which the birth mom resides to bring the kids to the foster home.  Birth mom was to drop the kids at the office at noon.  No biggie.

Foster care aide calls me at 1020am today and says, “the weather is dropping really fast.  The sooner we can get the kids back the better.  Can you call birth mom and see if she can come to the office now?”  So I called another thousand or two people and birth mom was like, “Sure.”  1145am I get another call from foster care aide saying birth mom isn’t there yet.  Worried that she and the kids are in a ditch but just hoping she uncharacteristically blew off her responsibilities, I called another three hundred people and ascertained that yes, she’s on her way and that everyone else was also worried about the ditch scenario.

At this time foster care aide requested that I meet her halfway.  I asked which direction she was going.  If she took the back road she may end up not making it to her half of halfway.  I said she should take the interstate.  Being a rural state, lots of people who were born and raised in the state distrust the interstate.  So was apprehensive but said she’d meet me at the gas station I suggested.  I gave her verbal directions and then emailed her MapQuest directions that were correct (I know because I checked to make sure before sending them).

Birth mom made it to the office just after noon.  Roads were terrible apparently.  So, foster care aide and kids left the office and headed my way around 1220pm.  I arrived at the gas station at 115pm, filled up on gas, and waited.  And waited and waited and waited.  Finally foster care aide called me saying she was lost.  I told her to get back on the interstate and get off at a certain exit.  There was one gas station there and that is all.  I’d meet her there.

So, we exchanged kids for diapers.  (Not really.  I had diapers that needed to go to foster care aide’s office.  And I needed the kids.)  And I headed to my office.  I wondered quite indignantly how she could not follow the step-by-step directions I had given her.  Then I remembered that not everyone is so navigationally blessed as I am.

Directional challenges are just one of those hazards of social work.

Social Work Topics: Physical Abuse.

When I am doing PRIDE Training or talking to people regarding my job, I seem to always be asked, “How can you do your job knowing the children’s past?”

  1. I don’t judge, or do my very best not to.
  2. I don’t ask “why,” or do my very best not to.

Here’s the thing: most of the kids I work with have been neglected and ‘neglect’ covers a wide variety of situations which will be discussed in a different post.  I do not understand why people do the things they do to their children.

I have this conversation all the time:

“The kids are in care for physical abuse.  Did you see the pictures?  I can’t believe they did that to a 2 and 3 year old.  What on earth could a 2 or 3 year old have done to cause an adult to strike out and abuse them like this?!  I don’t get it!  The parents are the adults!  If a child pushes you to the point that you want to hit them then fucking walk away!”

And then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I will get nowhere with the case if I can’t keep my head on straight.  According to my experience (not statistics put out by social services) about 50% of children who enter foster care end up in need of adopion services.  That means only 1/2 (from what *I* have experienced) return home.  And children return home when the parents can admit what went wrong, when they complete an improvement period with flying colors, and when the judge feels they have made significant enough progress to ensure the children’s safety and well-being in the birth home.

All of that said, I think that only about 25% of children who have experienced physical abuse have returned home (again, from *my* experience).

Side note: spanking is NOT abuse.  Spanking and beating are different.  Spanking is a form of discipline (guidance tool) where as beating is an unreasonable act of anger.  Spanking can turn into abuse if the spanker is not in control of his/her emotions.  In general, if no mark is left by a spanking, abuse has most likely not happened.

In my opinion, all children who enter foster care have been neglected.  Not all children have been abused.  But those that have been abused have also been neglected.  By physically hurting your children you aren’t meeting their needs, which is neglect.  One resource states that 18.3% of children who enter care have been physcially abused.

Of the children who enter care, 18.3% of them have felt the wrath of a caregiver.  These are just the ones who enter care.  What about all the other children who never receive help for one reason or another?

All types of child maltreatment break my heart.  When I see the pictures and talk to the children of child physcial abuse victims, I just want to cry.  And I usually do when I’m at home.

I have a four and nine year old who came into care due to general neglect and physical abuse of the four year old.  The birth mom had a protection order against her boyfriend.  She was seeing the boyfriend anyway.  I’m not sure who called the abuse in, but when the state workers and police arrived at the home and they questioned mom as to the boyfriend’s whereabouts, she said she didn’t know where he was.  He was found hiding under mom’s bed.  The four year old was immediately taken to the ER.  She had two black eyes, bruises all over, and various cuts.  She had also lost most of her hair due to the stress.  This child’s father had 50% custody.  Later the state worker discovered that dad’s wife also hit the four year old.  Because birth mom and the boyfriend would not admit to harming this precious girl and because they refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong in their home, the judge terminated birth mom’s rights to her two kids and the boyfriend’s rights to his three kids (different case – same shit).  Birth dad and his wife have an improvement period for the four and nine year old in addition to the other three kids they have together.  They at least admit that they were wrong.  I’m praying they lose their rights, too.

Maybe I shouldn’t be that way.  The birth dad and his wife are nice people.  They have no clue how to parent or how to keep their kids safe.  They don’t understand why they need stable income or why they need stable, safe housing.

At the beginning of a case I want to get all of my facts together before coming to a conclusion about a person’s character or ability to change.  Sometimes a parent’s inability to parent is very clear.  This is one of those cases.

This four year old has been in her current foster home since October.  She always brings a smile to my face when I see her.  Her joyfulness is contagious.

Kids are resilient.  That doesn’t give anyone a free pass to hurt their children.  Before you react and hit a child, walk away.  Be the adult.