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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The Last Two Weeks.

Today I put in my two-week notice.

On April 18th I had an interview for a state position.  The interview went really, really well.  So well in fact that they had called my references as soon as I left.  Within a couple of hours I had texts from people saying, “I know I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’re frontrunner for the position!”  I was so excited for that happy news!  I received the offer phone call this past Friday while I was out-of-town at a tattoo convention (everyone has different outlets).

Today I put in my two-week notice.  I had written the letter yesterday.  For those looking for a well-written letter of resignation, here’s my letter (with the personal info taken out):

Full Name
Address
City, State ZIP
Phone Number
Email Address

Date

Manager’s/Supervisor’s Name
Manager’s/Supervisor’s Title
Agency/Company Name
Address
City, State ZIP

Dear Manager/Supervisor,

I would like to inform you that I am resigning my position as [Position Title] from [Agency/Company Name], effective two weeks from this date.  I have accepted a position with [Future Agency/Company Name].

This decision was not an easy one to make.  Thank you for the many opportunities of professional and personal growth over the past [length of employment].  I have thoroughly enjoyed working with [Agency/Company Name] and appreciate the support provided to me during my time with the agency.

[Agency/Company Name] has a special place in my heart.  I wish you and [Agency/Company Name] the best.  If I can be of any help during the transition, please let me know.

Sincerely,
Signed Name
Printed Name

Today I put in my two-week notice.  The moment was bittersweet.  I really do love this agency.  I really am looking forward to advancing my career.  My boss saw this coming as she was one of the references on my resume.  The hardest part will be saying goodbye to my clients.  How do I explain to a child who has been ripped from his/her birth home that I am leaving and someone new will be taking over their case?  **sigh**

The scariest part is moving from the nonprofit world to the state world.  I know how to do nonprofits.  This is outside of my comfort zone.  And I must continue to push on through the discomfort because I am going to continue my good work and help individuals be the best them they can be through advocacy and education and prevention.

My new job will still entail working with foster care, except the individuals won’t be quite children.  These 18-21 year olds have been in the foster care system and have “aged out”.  Many (if not all) states allow these young ones to sign themselves back into foster care until they are 21 years old in order to facilitate and educate these kiddos on how to be functioning, productive adults.  I will be teaching them life skills (money management, communication, resume-building, etc.), helping them find/apply for jobs, helping them enroll in college classes, etc.  I’m excited to be expounding on my experiences and starting this new chapter.

Today I put in my two-week notice.

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?

Joys of Foster Care: Camaraderie.

I woke up at 5:55am.  My alarm was set for 7am, however a coworker had text me asking, “are we still going to the meeting today?”  Said meeting was 2 hours from the office.  My response: “it’s not mandatory.  So, no.”  She said, “Yes it is.”  I rolled my eyes and let out a loud, “UGH!”  So, my boss, this coworker, and I met at the office at 7am (I pulled into the parking lot as my alarm went off).  I had informed my boss (who also didn’t realize the meeting was manadatory) that I did not think we needed to go to the meeting and that I was a bit cranky.  I kept saying, “the meeting that was canceled last week was mandatory.  The email for this meeting did *not* say ‘mandatory’.”  But I got in the car like a good social worker and headed out to the meeting.

Shortly after getting on the road we were chatting about the weather, kids, cases, parents, and other social worky things.  About 3/4 of the way to the meeting place, my coworker received a text, “Community based workers do not have to go to the meeting.”  I glared out the window and wanted to shout, “I TOLD YOU SO!”  But, I didn’t.  We decided to go about another 20 minutes past the meeting place to one of the main administraive offices.  My boss needed to sign paperwork and I felt like visiting with my fellow foster care workers.

While at the office I completed supervision with my immediate supervisor, gave advice to another worker about how to get the state to send her current license quicker, and got a referral for four children ages 1, 2, 4, and 4.  They’re all siblings (yes, 4 and 4).  So far I haven’t placed them.

On the way back to our office, my coworker, boss, and I talked about men and dating.  This is a fairly popular topic since my boss and I are both single.  We were all chatting away happily through our lunch stop at Chipotle.  That’s when I realized I am so glad we made the trip even though the trip wasn’t needed.  I really enjoy the company of my coworkers.

Later when we were back at our office I received a call from a dear friend and fellow foster care worker.  He works for a different nonprofit agency in the same city.  We were chatting about 2 girls that will (more than likely) be making a transition from their current foster home with my agency to an adoptive home with his agency.  Then we discussed another shared case.  And then I asked, “did you get a referral for four kids?”  Yes, he did.  We discussed our options and concluded that he would call the state worker back to inform her that his agency did not have a placement.  And then I would call and say that I have placement IF we can split the children into two homes.  The two foster families are good friends and the kids would see each other all the time.

See how that works?  Talking with fellow foster care/adoption workers makes the world go ’round.  Of course, I haven’t received a call back from the state worker regarding our plan for these kiddos.  But, the agencies in this community are working together to really try and provide the best services possible to our children and families.  I love that.

——–

P.S.  I’m really tired.  This blog could’ve been much better had I waited until tomorrow to tell the tale.

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: Uncertainty.

A child’s time in foster care is like being in a cryogenic freezer.  Time stops. Development slows down. Uncertainty encompasses every aspect of the child’s life.  PRIDE teaches that permanency needs to be established according to the Child’s Clock.  Do you remember how you felt when you’re 6th birthday was coming up?  How did time feel?  Time felt sooooo   s   l       o               w.  Nothing could make your birthday come fast enough.  Could you imagine how you would feel if you had been placed in a stranger’s home and you were waiting to find out when you could go home or if you could even go home at all?  What if a worker came to your foster home and said you can’t ever go home?  Beyond the devastation you’d probably be wondering where the hell you would be living.  Will my foster parents let me live here? Would I have to go live with new strangers? Would I be put in a children’s shelter?  What’s going to happen?

Because children spend so much time worrying about themselves, their birth parents, siblings, extended family, friends from home, and former teachers, coaches, etc., I often see very small children.  Eleven year olds that look like eight year olds, four year olds who have too much shit going on to even begin to contemplate potty training, 17 year olds that can’t read.

My heart breaks for my kids.

Today was one of the first times that I could identify with that sense of uncertainty.  And when I say identify, I mean that I’m in an uncertain situation, but I know that I’m going to be okay.  My uncertainly barely scratches these kids’ uncertainty.

I am currently renting the lower level of a townhouse.  In my area (and a lot of city areas) this is a fairly common occurrence.  I’m a social worker for a nonprofit foster care/adoption agency.  I don’t make much money.  I can’t afford much rent.  So I moved into this place on November 1st.  The lady living here has 2 children and she rents the place from a realtor.  She decided that she could no longer afford the place and asked the landlord to find someone to take over the lease.  He told her that by tomorrow at noon he will know if he has somone to rent the place by the 1st. Of FEBRUARY!  That’s next Saturday!  My roomy and her kids are moving into her boyfriend’s house (probably).  I’m fucked.

I have no idea where I’m living as of next Saturday.  No. Fucking. Idea.  **sigh**  I have been so stressed out about this that I cried while looking at places on Craigslist.  I did manage to set up two showings.  My big issue will be coming up with first month’s rent AND deposit at the same time.  I’ve never understood why the deposit has to be the same amount as a month of rent.  Who has that kind of money laying around?  If rent is $600 and you agree to pay that, then you can afford $600, not freaking $1200!!  Just saying.

So, while my living situation is crazy uncertain, my uncertainty will be aleviated in no time.  My kids, not so much.  I feel for them.