Mother’s Day as a Foster Mom

My first Mother's Day as a foster mom has left me with mixed emotions.

Yesterday was weird. I felt like an impostor all day. So many people called, texted and emailed me wishing me a happy Mother’s Day. And it was so nice… but it still felt strange. Because H has a mom. And it isn’t me.

We were driving to Thomas’s mom’s house and I looked back at him staring out the window and I said “Whatcha thinking about?” And he said “my mom”.

We tried to call her, but her phone was out of minutes, so instead we talked about her and I told him I hoped he would get to see her soon.

Throughout the day, I think he had about 8 meltdowns. Perhaps they were more frequent because the routine this weekend was different. At school, there were more talks about moms and Mother’s Day, so that could have been the reason. Or maybe he was just tired. The past few nights he was up much later than usual.

But I do know by the 6th one, I was exhausted. And frustrated. I thought to myself, is he even going to remember this? Will he remember me? Our house? What are we even trying to do here? WHAT IS THE POINT? It is so easy to feel hopeless.

My first Mother's Day as a foster mom has left me with mixed emotions.
H enjoying a pre-dinner strawberry. This morning they were yucky. By 6 PM, they’re “SUPER yummy!”

Then later that night, we were sitting at dinner. I have been working with him on eating slower. He makes everything into a race. He’ll shovel food into his mouth and say “I’m beating you!”

However, tonight was different. He was dawdling. His TV privileges were revoked and I think he knew the end of dinner meant bedtime, which, like every 4 year old, he wasn’t ready for.

To speed things along, I took a bite of my food and said, “I’m almost done. You’re slow!”

He looked at me and solemnly said “it’s not a race, Woo-sy!”

Which is something I say to him every time we eat. Something I’ve said to him since the first day he ate dinner at our house.

And it gave me hope. Maybe he will remember us. Maybe we are making a difference after all.

What to Expect as a Foster Parent

4 year old playing at Cascades Park in Tallahassee

About 3 weeks ago, visits stopped with H and his mom. I wasn’t notified by case management. Rather, we dropped him off at daycare with some snacks, assuming he’d be picked up like he had been every other week. 

Later that day, I texted his mom to let her know I sent a game with him for them to play. She said she wasn’t going to be there because she got a new job. It required all day training for 8 weeks. She had told case management on Friday. So, no one was coming to pick H up from daycare. 

Case Management Won’t Notify You of Changes

Apparently no one felt it necessary to alert the foster parents. Who cares if all the kid has to eat for the day is goldfish and gogurt. (Normally he eats lunch in PCB with his mom, so we only pack snacks. We got tired of throwing out $10 worth of spoiled food each week). 

After I’m done panicking over the food situation (daycare assured me they had extra food that he could eat), the text convo with the mom continues. She tells me she got a notice that morning that she had to get a drug test but would miss it (and therefore fail) because the testing center wasn’t open after 5 pm. 

The System Sets Impossible Goals and Blames Others When They Aren’t Met

Now, I’m a skeptic by nature. So I spent my lunch hour looking up every drug testing center in PCB. And she was right – all but one of the testing centers were open from 7am-4pm. 

The one outlier, the one where she was required to go, is open from 8am-12pm, closed for lunch, then re-opens from 1pm-5pm. 

I called 2 case managers, the foster support specialist and an attorney. Then some woman, who (not sure what she does) but has always sounded pretty smart on the phone, happened to call to check in and I unloaded on her. 

Luckily, I was told, “there’s a process”. Well, whew, I feel a LOT better now! 

There’s Only “A Process” When It’s Convenient For Them

Let me tell you what the process is. But first, keep in mind the following: 

Parents who have children removed, for the most part, must do the following as part of their case plan: 

  1. Have a job that pays enough to show they can support themselves and their kids
  2. Get to visitations every week, sometimes multiple times a week (and better not be even a few minutes late)
  3. Stay clean and sober

Which all sounds reasonable, ESPECIALLY if there’s a process in place…right? 

So first, and I pretty much covered this in the last post, but as a recap, I still don’t understand where people are finding these good jobs if they have to leave for 2-4 hours in the middle of the day every week, but that aside…

The process, as was explained to me, is as follows:

The offending parent receives a call recording* telling them they have 24 hours to get a drug test. Apparently on this recording it tells them where they have to go to get the test.

If that center isn’t open at a time that works with their work and visitation schedule, they must call their case manager, then the case manager can help arrange for an alternate time that works with their schedule. 

The Advice You Are Given is Unrealistic & Unusable

I was also told from case management that I should relay to the mother that “honesty is the best policy and she should just tell her boss when she is hired that she has pending criminal charges and may be subject to random drug tests so she may, randomly, be late to work or have to leave early.”

Not to be a basic b* here but I LITERALLY CANT EVEN! THAT IS YOUR ACTUAL ADVICE?! Does that work on the planet you are from?! 

And then, If I just set that to the side for a minute….

HAH effing HAH! 

You are telling me that people working in the foster care system are respectful of deadlines and time sensitive issues?! 

The offending parent basically has 12 hours to get in touch with case management to set up an alternative time. 

There have been multiple times I had to wait more than 48 hours to get a call back from a case manager, and she’s a good one… and that was just for a call back, not even a resolution. 

Even When You Follow Their Process, You Could Die Waiting On Implementation

To put this in perspective, I have been working through the process of getting my foster kid an appointment with an eye specialist… since JANUARY.

4 year old foster child playing at Cascades Park in Tallahassee while a foster parent looks on.

Did you know there is also a process for a child’s therapist to provide progress reports to case management? But that also hasn’t been happening. 

And apparently there is no process for informing foster parents of the whereabouts of the child in their care. 

Instead you’ll just get a call from some transportation driver, who decided the best way to keep her car clean is to not allow the children to drink in it (on a 6 hour round trip road trip) who will ask you where you are because she has your kid and can you please come meet her right now. 

“So sorry to waste your time ma’am.”

Maybe we should establish a process…

*apparently the call-in process is so difficult some company created an app to make the state’s system actually usable for the offender. Of course, it costs money (that they likely don’t have and/or should be saving for basic necessities…but I digress)

Rules in the Foster Care System (and when to break them)

4 year old boy blowing bubbles in the backyard

Last Monday H went to Panama City Beach for a visit with his mom and siblings. 

Around noon I got a text from his mother saying she was working across town and there was an accident. She arrived 15 minutes late as a result. Apparently, the visitation center policy is: if you show up 15 minutes late, they cancel your visit. 

There are many reasons why visits could (or should) be canceled. If the parent isn’t progressing in their case plan, cancel visits. If a parent is habitually late, cancel visits. Obviously, if a parent shows up inebriated, cancel visits. 

I (a lover of rules) get that this is the rule. They are trying to teach negligent parents about responsibility and showing up on time. They also don’t want to waste their staff members’ time (visits require supervision by staff).

But imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine if I was supervising visits and we were meeting at the park. I wait 15 minutes and pack it in just as the parent pulls up. Can you IMAGINE the wrath I would get from the parent, the case manager, possibly even a judge if I just took the kid and left a FOUR HOUR VISIT because the parent was 15 minutes late?

There are Exceptions to Every Rule

As with everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. And this should have been one of those times

Photo of our foster son playing in bubbles outside on Easter Sunday. We made an exception to our no candy rule, and let him eat some for lunch.
Throwback to Easter Sunday, when we made an exception and let H eat candy for lunch.

First, most foster kids get to see their parents twice a week (or more) but because H is 3 hours away, he only gets to see her once a week. 

Second, the mother was literally leaving a court mandated activity (a job) to go to another court mandated activity (a visitation). And while her previous actions (or inactions) may not have been satisfactory to the case manager, in this particular instance, she was doing her best. She was 15 minutes late, not an hour. She hadn’t been drinking. She wasn’t strung out. She simply got caught in traffic and was 15 minutes late, which has happened to us all, I’m sure. 

In fact, if one’s parenting ability was tied to timeliness, my husband would have been placed in care from the day he was born. I love my father-in-law, but I don’t think he’s ever arrived on time in his life. And my mom may have had some issues too…

Finally, who, once again, suffers from this policy? A 4 year old boy. That’s who. And a mother, who already distrusts the system, has even more incentive to hate it. 

In the eloquent words of my husband, after hearing my diatribe, “slow clap for the system. Way to suck at your job.”

A New Foster Care System Policy Proposal

And since I have a small obsession with solving problems, here’s how to handle tardiness for visits next time:

  1. Since the kid is already there, let the visit take place. 
  2. After the child has left, pull the parent aside and give them a verbal warning. 
  3. If it happens a second time, give them a written warning that they must sign in acknowledgement.
  4. If it happens a third time, reduce or cancel visitation SINCE (I would argue) A CANCELED VISIT IS MORE EMOTIONALLY DAMAGING TO A CHILD than no visits at all. 

When H got home that night, he walked over to the window where his dinosaur dream catcher hung. He painted it with his mom during their last visit. He reached up and touched it. Then he turned to me and said “I didn’t get to see my mommy today” and slid open the glass door and walked outside.

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