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: 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.

Hazards of Social Work: Flat Tires

In February 2012 I went to a home visit in the middle of nowhere.  Most of my families live in the middle of nowhere.  This particular nowhere required a lot of manuevering around potholes, taking sharp curves, and watching out for random, large animals meandering in the streets.  Again, that describes much of this area.

Anyway, I arrived at the home and the foster father warned me that the child was being very defiant.  I asked what he meant by defiant.  Foster father said that the child cussing and throwing things.  I asked if anything could have triggered the behaviors.  He didn’t know.

I entered the home and could immediately sense the tension.  He was angry.  I asked him what was wrong.  He said he didn’t know how to spell his spelling words.  I asked him which word he needed to spell first.  He said “work”.  I asked, “How do you think ‘work’ is spelled?”  “W-O-R-C.”  I told him he almost had it.  I asked if he knew a word that sounded like work.  He said, “Yeah. Fuck.”  “Okay,” I said, “those both end with the same letter.  They don’t really rhyme though.  How about fork?  They don’t rhyme but they’re spelled almost the same.  Do you know how to spell ‘fork’?”  “F-O-R-K.”  “Right, I said.  Now since you know that work and fork are spelled almost the same way, can you spell ‘work’ for me?”  “W-O-R-C.”  **deep sigh**  “How about we try a different word and come back to that one?”  “Dad said I have to finish this before I can play x-box,” he cried.  “Well learning is very important.  And doing homework comes before playing,” I said gently.  At that point he screamed.  He just opened his mouth and belted out a loud yell.  He lifted both of his arms onto the table and side-swiped his books and papers onto the floor.

He got up and retrieved his shoes.  “Where are you going,” someone asked.  “For a walk,” he replied.  We let him go into the yard and for a long time he just walked around kicking the ground.  I discussed his behaviors with the foster parents.  I told them that I needed to call my supervisor and let him know what was happening.  I had, unfortunately, left my cell phone at home.  I borrowed one from the foster parents.

As I was on the phone with my supervisor the child decided he was going to run away.  He walked down the hill and onto the road.  He had a large branch in his hands.  The state worker was just arriving at the home.  She saw the child walking down the road and stopped to ask him where he was going (I assume that’s what she asked.  I couldn’t really hear the conversation).  He took the branch and started hitting the vehicle.  He suddenly dropped the brach and ran back up to the house.

His face was wet with tears and snot.  He went to the bathroom.  When he came into the kitchen no one said a word.  He stated crying again saying that he was sorry and to please, please not send him away.  Because of our concern for his mental health we decided to take him to the emergency room for a psychological evaluation.  The state worker took him in her vehicle and I followed.

While on the way to the hospital I hit a humongous pothole.  And I hit it so hard that I busted both tires on the passenger side.  The road was dark and narrow.  I couldn’t just stop there and put one spare on my car.  Now my turn to cry had come.  I slowly drove my vehicle another two miles to the parking lot of the hospital.  I had to pull myself together before going inside.  I scrounged around for change knowing I’d need to use the pay phone (if they had one).

I got inside and met the state worker to discuss the next step regarding the child.  She presumed that he would need to return to the psychological hospital from which he had come prior to being placed with this foster family.  I agreed.  This little guy needed specialized care.  The state worker went back to be with the child during the evaluation.

I headed to the pay phone (my heart filled with thanks that a pay phone was available).  I called my boyfriend, crying.  I had to take several deep breaths to calm down so that he could understand that I needed him to come get me from the hospital and that we’d have to figure this shit out tomorrow.  At this point it was 10pm.  No car store was open.  I didn’t have AAA.  My parents would’ve been asleep.

He came and got me and the next day we returned.  He replaced one tire with the spare and we took it to get replaced.  We returned to the vehicle and put the new tire on and replaced the other flat with the spare.  Unfortunately the second tire’s rim was bent.  I was very glad that only was rim was bent.  I called my dad and told him the story.  He told me that he would buy me a new rim.  A couple days passed before the new rim came so I had to drive around on a spare.

Because I was working when the flat tires incident occurred I was hoping that I would be compensated.  Nope.  Not their problem.  That was a very costly work trip.

Recommendation: have road side assistance of some kind available for such incidents.

Joys of Foster Care: Making a Difference

Generally when people find out that I work in Foster Care I get one of two responses or a combination of the two:

  1. Oh my!  That must be really hard work!
  2. Oh my! That must be really rewarding work!

Truth be told, those who understand that foster care is both hard work and rewarding should receive a gold star.  Working in foster care is certainly hard work, but the rewards definitely outweigh the hardships.

Everyday that I am working I am making a positive difference in the lives of children.  Being a positive role in a child’s life is the highest and best achievement anyone can have.  My heart is at this very moment all aflutter with the knowledge that I (along with many, many others) are trying our best to ensure that the children under our care are – oh, my gosh.  To explain what we do in detail is difficult.  How about I describe my day?

I arrived to my office around 815am.  I went upstairs and had three emails waiting for me.  Two were unimportant and one was very important.  Because of the nature of foster care, I work with a huge team of people.  I work with lawyers, state workers, other foster care agencies, birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, siblings, doctors, teachers, therapists, CASA workers, and others.  The email of upmost importance in my inbox this morning was from an adoptive parent through a different agency.  I had to call their worker last night due to some unkind things said by these parents about a sibling of the children they recently adopted.  This adoptive mom had told his current foster parents how bad of a child he was and how he was the reason that he wasn’t with his siblings.  As soon as I found out, I called Harry (not his real name) to let him know so that he could run interference.  Harry immediately emailed the adoptive parents and simply said (paraphrased), “I understand how giving negative information regarding this child would be easy, however you need to keep your narrative regarding this child positive so that a family can love and cherish this child for who he is now and not for his history.”  The adoptive mom’s response was (paraphrased), “I will keep that in mind.  I just thought they should know what happened because they are so out of the loop.”  Anyway, I am thankful for Harry and his diplomacy in addressing this matter with his family.  I felt relieved that the family got the message and am hopeful they will not speak of their positive experiences with him and will perhaps try to avoid negative talk.

My next task was calling a state worker in a county that is 5 hours or so away.  This case needs transferred to the adoption unit and I have been given nearly no information about the case.  I certainly am out-of-the-loop with this case.  Being that these kids’ case originated so far from where they are placed, communication has been lacking.  So, I called the worker and she assured me that she would email or call me when the staffing meeting has been scheduled.  These kids have been in care since March (?).  They have had a hell of a life and I can’t wait for the adoption hearing!

Tomorrow I am teaching PRIDE (Parents’ Resource for Information, Development, and Education) which is designed to be a 9-week, 27-hour class.  I’m teaching the first four sessions TOMORROW!  I gathered the materials from the main office (2 hour drive from my office) yesterday.  Today I realized that whoever copied the book did so incorrectly and that I needed to recopy everything.  (Sidenote: I’m so thankful for my intern!)  I still have one more section to copy and hole punch and put in binders tomorrow morning.  This class is required for people to become foster/adoptive parents.  PRIDE is designed to give people an understanding of foster care and adoption and help them make an informed decision as to whether or not they should provide foster care, adoption, both, or neither.

We ran out of paper.  Wal-Mart run!  While I was picking up the PRIDE materials yesterday I asked about getting a bookshelf for the office.   That request was approved.  While at Wal-Mart my intern and I picked up a box of paper, a bookshelf, Great Value goldfish, Great Value cookies, coffee creamer, styrofoam cups, and 1″ binders.  We then high-tailed our happy selves back to the office to start copying.  My intern left at 2pm.  I needed to leave no later than 315pm.

While she was copying, I was writing progress notes for the kids I saw yesterday.  After that was completed, I took over the copying since my intern left.  At 325pm I asked another co-worker (not a foster care worker) to just put the papers that were still coming out of the machine on my desk and I’d handle them in the morning.

I jumped in an agency vehicle and rushed to a home visit.  My two kids in that home are doing wonderfully.  They have a very messed up history, but all things considered, they’re doing well.  The boy didn’t sleep last night.  He has major anxiety.  When I asked him why he didn’t sleep he said he needed to lock the front door.  I asked, “And that took all night long?”  He then added that he needed to clean up a mess the dog made.  I again asked, “And that took the rest of the night?”  “Yep,” he said.  God love him.  The little girl chattered on and on about Veggie Tales and bubbles and her cat costume.  🙂  My heart smiles when I think of these two precious children.

We have a meeting coming up.  I’m recommending that the birth parents’ improvement period be terminted because they are not complying with the terms of the plan.

On my way home I arranged a visit between a boy and a prospective adoptive home.  And I called a foster parent to let her know that she and her husband were approved to take the kids on a skiing trip.

I love my job (most days).  I have the opportunity to ensure that my kids are getting everything they need, when they need it.  I get to make children’s lives happy, safe, and healthy.  Nothing is greater than this.

Welcome to social work.