Friday, March 28, 2014

Social Workers

March is Social Work month, so it seems only fitting to post about the people who have helped us along in this journey.

We foster with a private agency. When DFCS can't find a placement in one of their homes they contact the private agencies to see if they have space available. They are still involved so we end up with 2 case workers.

I was completely intimidated by having to meet our DFCS case worker. DFCS gets a lot of negative press. I was expecting incompetence or rude and standoffish behavior. I've never been so happy to be wrong. That has not at all been our experience. It is some people's experiences, but fortunately not ours. We've had 4 different DFCS case workers so far and we've been happy with all of them. They've been kind, helpful, grateful, and easy to work with.

Our saving grace is our case worker from United Methodist Children's Home. Where DFCS caseworkers follow the children, at UMCH the caseworker follows the foster parent. That means we always have the same caseworker. She knows our family. She's become part of our family. She's the one we call when we need something, when we're confused, when we just need to vent. The amount of support we receive is unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as the hours she works.

I can't think of another job that requires so many hours for not near enough pay or respect. Our eyes have been opened to a lot of things on this journey. Now when we hear a story about DFCS in a negative light, we have a different perspective. We wonder how many kids over their limit they are. I think they aren't supposed to have more than 12, but often have 20. How they often get the blame for decisions others make, including judges.

Realistically, we'll probably run into a difficult worker along the way. Hoping if that happens we are mindful of their job and how busy they are. Hoping we can remember to try to lighten their load any way we can.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our First Goodbye

I have no idea how many times court happened. How many times we wondered if they were going home. We prepared countless time to say goodbye to our first girls. They were never ours to keep, and we knew that. That didn't keep us from falling in love. What we were told would be 30-45 days turned into 367 days.

One year and two days. That 10 week old baby had all her first year firsts at our house. We got her first laugh, her first word, her first tooth, her first birthday. We saw her crawl, pull up, and walk first. At the same time we were celebrating these accomplishments, we were heartbreakingly aware that her mother was missing them.

After a year of 4 hour a week visits with their mother we asked for a small transition time for the baby. Our three year old just wanted to be with her mommy, but we felt the transition was important for her little sister. 2 weekend visits were granted and then we took them home for good.

It was the day before my birthday. We packed the car with tons of their stuff we had accumulated over the past year, and then made the drive to their mom's house. She was home alone, the older siblings were gone. We carried all their belongings in and visited a few minutes with her. I had been holding the baby. I was doing so well. I felt strong. I knew I'd be upset, but hoped to wait until we left.

We said goodbye. I kissed the baby one last time and set her down. That's when I lost it. I burst into tears right in front of her mom. I so didn't want to do that. She'd missed her whole first year, and here I am crying that she is going home. I apologized and told her I was really happy for her. I meant it. I was. I am. She hugged me and thanked us. No idea what was going through her mind, but she was outwardly gracious.

We got back in the car as I tried to compose myself. Going out to eat was now out of the question as I was not fit to be seen in public. We stopped by the store and my husband came out with frozen pizza, chips, soft drinks, and cookies. I told him we were like a teenage girl after a breakup.

I loved my husband's Facebook status that night. "367 days. After 367 days our girls went home to their mom today. They had my heart after 10 minutes, so you imagine after 367 days. We will all love them forever. There seems to be good hope that we will be able to continue having a relationship with them. Time will tell. Right now I just feel, well, I don't know. I guess like I wish it could have been 368."

Although it broke our hearts to take them home, we wouldn't trade that year with them for anything. What an honor to have known them and watch them grow. Two little girls we would have never known existed, and we got to share in their lives. The night before they left we ran into a friend at a high school football scrimmage. I told her they were going home. She placed her hands on our sweet baby's head and said, "Oh baby girl, may God bless you all of your life". Yes God, please bless our girls as much as their lives blessed us.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." -Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Honeymoon Is Over!

Our sweet girls came in August of 2012. We'd been through all the training. We were ready for the crying and sadness of the separation from the family. We didn't experience that. Our three year old was sweet and cute and funny and precious. She didn't tantrum when she left visits. She was compliant. She woke up each day with a smile. This foster care thing is pretty easy...

Then October came. I guess she was comfortable. Ever heard of the Terrible Twos? Whoever made that up never had a three year old. Our sweet, funny, silly girl changed. Tantrums like nothing I have ever seen came out of the blue. Screaming, hitting, kicking, and spitting were happening multiple times a week. It came in waves. We'd have some good weeks, then back into a cycle of screaming fits.

Intellectually we could understand how confused she was. How awful to be torn away and kept away from the mommy you want to be with. We felt for her. We wanted to help her. In the moment, with the screaming and the kicking and the spitting, it was a bit harder to be objective. The more upset we got, the funnier she thought it was. We tried to remain calm. We are the adults. We've had training. We have this all under control.

Until one Sunday morning on the way home from church. I don't even remember what set her off. She was mad. She just started screaming at the top of her lungs. Not words. Just screams. Loud screams. I tried to reason with her. I tried being firm. Then I did what every mature, trained adult would do. I just started screaming with her. Loudly. AHHHHH, AHHHHH, AHHHHH....It shocked her into silence for a moment. It shocked my husband who was driving. Thankfully, he didn't run us off the road. He started laughing. I started laughing. She continued screaming. Not my proudest moment.

Over the time we had her we learned to be less reactive. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes we were just worn out. It was exhausting at times. Our case manager gave us some wise words, "You can't fix in three months what she's lived for three years."

Through it all we loved her. We still do. A picture of her or a story brings a smile to our face. The way she loved her baby dolls. The new name she gave herself and wanted to be called. The way her smile could light up a room. The sassy way she'd put her hand on her hip for a picture. How she loved Taylor Swift songs and could sing every word to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". Her sweet little laugh. Her prayers at dinner.

This foster care thing is NOT easy. We're dealing with broken hearts. Confusion with no possible way to understand. I'm learning. I'm hoping to be better. Honeymoons are nice, but they end. Then you have real life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We experienced a little of all of those. And as always, it was worth it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ready, Set, Go...

The phone call finally came. Could we take 2 little girls, ages 3 and 10 weeks? YES! We received the call around 4:30 in the afternoon. We were excited. We were unprepared! Since our kids were teenagers we had long since parted with all the baby paraphernalia. We chose not to go ahead and purchase all kinds of baby stuff when we decided to foster because we had no idea what age children we would get. That's where social media came to the rescue.

We can't post personal information about our foster children. We can't use their names or post pictures of their faces, BUT we did post they were coming and asked if anyone had anything we could use/borrow to get us started. Wow! What a response. I spent the next hour or so making a round trip around our town. I picked up an infant car seat from one house, a toddler car seat from another, a pack and play from a third, and toys and some clothes from a fourth. Another friend dropped off a baby bathtub and a diaper bag. Now we felt ready.

We had a little history and their names. We prepared for the reaction from a 3 year old being dropped off with complete strangers. They arrived at around 10:00 pm. The 3 year old was sleeping and the 10 week old was SCREAMING. She apparently had screamed the whole ride here. We brought her in, I took her out of the car seat and she quieted.

The 3 year was laid on the couch and my teens sat on the floor near her with some toys. She started to awaken but kept her back to us. She would shyly turn around and accept a toy and quickly face the back of the couch. There was no screaming, no tears. She fairly quickly warmed up to us.

We filled out the necessary paperwork and then we were all alone. In a matter of minutes, a family of 6. Trial and error becomes the new normal. We knew nothing of their likes, their schedules. They came with the clothes on their backs and a few things the foster care worker brought with her. Thank goodness for clothing allowances.

Bedtime was around midnight. It went better than expected. Our new 3 year old acted like she was on vacation. It was almost odd that she wasn't scared. She woke up with a smile. The first tears we saw were the next morning when she had to go with a transporter for a doctor's appointment. How I hate that part of it. Sending these kids off with strangers. You would never do that with your biological children.

I took the first day off, and my husband took the 2nd day to take them to court. There is always a court date within the first 72 hours. He met the parents. It was a slightly volatile situation. I can't blame them. They were upset to lose their children. Seeing your 2 little girls with some strange man can't be easy. Though they seemed upset, nothing happened. The father just asked my husband to please take care of the babies. He promised we would.

Though we had been through training, the real learning happens as you go along. Court dates are plentiful, all for different reasons. Many get continued, which basically means rescheduled for another date. There are weekly visitations, appointments, assessments, visits from case workers, and a whole new vocabulary to get used to. Adjudication, stipulated, deprived, and TPR are just a few.

We were told a family member would be getting approved to take them, and that process takes 30-45 days. We mentally prepared to have them for 30-45 days. That didn't happen. That often doesn't happen. Many times we mentally prepared for them to go home. Each court date I waited for the email to tell me what the verdict was. Since we don't live close to where they were from, my plan was always that I could get to the daycare before a case worker. That assured us that we would at least get to say goodbye. It doesn't always work like that. I was determined it would work like that for us.

Our first placement. 2 little girls who captured our hearts from the very beginning. I would love to share their pictures. They were a complete blessing to our family. We will never be the same. We learned how to love in a whole new way. It wasn't always easy. Some days it was just plain awful, but worth it. Worth the uncertainty, worth the behavior issues, worth the time, and miles put on our car each week. They were worth the heartbreak when it was time to say goodbye..

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Could Never Do That...

Quickly becoming my least favorite thing is hearing anyone say regarding foster care, "I could never do that, I'd get too attached." Though it's not meant that way, it implies that we are robots who don't get attached to the children who live with us.

If people who WILL get attached won't foster, then who will? People who don't care much for children? People who treat children indifferently? People who don't celebrate the birthdays of their foster children? There are enough of those homes.

Sometimes love hurts. Children are being taken away from the only life they know. It's scary. It's confusing. My wish is for every one of them to find shelter with someone who is willing to be heartbroken. Someone who will love them. Someone who will learn all their favorites. Someone who will take pictures and celebrate their accomplishments. Someone who give them security and a sense of "normal" that they can carry with them into adulthood.

Thousands of children are in foster care here in Georgia. Our one private agency turns away multiple placements a week because they do not have enough homes. Not enough people willing to be hurt in order to love.

It's not about us. It's about them.

John 3:30 "He must become greater; I must become less."