Category Archives: Fostering

Becoming a foster parent isn’t actually that hard. You take some classes, fill out some paperwork and, if you’re a relatively decent human being “BAM!” Now you’re a foster parent.

However, once you have a foster kiddo and you’re “in the system”, there are a lot of situations to navigate.

I am a first-time foster mom and I’m blogging about my experiences. I write about everything from how much school foster kids miss to getting doctor’s appointments scheduled.

Honestly, it’s a little risky. The reason it’s hard to get “real” information, is because everything here can be used in court. Often, words get twisted.

However, when people know the truth, steps can be taken to improve the system.

So many of the “resources” out there don’t fully prepare people for what it takes. I’m trying to change that, with one blog post at a time.

It may just change your mind about fostering altogether.

 

One Year in the Foster Care System

This month marks H’s one year anniversary in the Florida Foster Care system. Child Protective Services removed H on August 8, 2018. Since then, he lived with a family in Panama City for a month. After that, he moved to Tallahassee, where he lived with a new family for 3 months. Then he came to us, where he has been for 8 months.

One year. 3 families. 2 new schools. 100 different rules.

The most frustrating — no, INFURIATING, part about this is, H has grandparents in Georgia who want him. From the day they found out he was in foster care, they started the process to become primary caregivers for their grandson. H knows them both. He’s been up for visits from the time he was a baby.

But the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) has a million hoops they must jump through first…

They started this “process” in October 2018. They submitted their paperwork in December 2018. It got “lost”. For 3 months. To this day, no one will own up to the mistake. I talked to his grandmother on Friday. They’re still waiting on approval.

If only H’s grandparents lived in south Florida instead of north Georgia. The ICPC paperwork wouldn’t be required. So much of the trauma he’s experienced could have been avoided. No strange families. No new schools. The same consistent set of rules from day one.

Trauma in the Foster Care System

There’s a lot of talk about reducing trauma in the foster care system. In our foster parenting classes, teachers devoted hours to discussing the sexual assault and abuse that 90% of kids in foster care deal with. What is NOT discussed is the additional trauma that these kids endure because of the structure of the system.

Even the words they use downplay it. Behavioral issues. Self-harm tendencies. Aggression.

You take a dog to behavioral classes. There’s a whole movement out there that classifies tattoos as a form of self harm. And aggression? That’s a word my dad uses to PROUDLY describe my actions on the soccer field.

It wasn’t until I started specifically detailing the exact behaviors taking place that people finally got serious about getting H help. He’s hitting himself. He’s biting. He’s pulling out his hair. For 5 months, the “behavioral issues” went ignored, despite my requests for a behavioral therapist.

In other words, that’s 5 months of trauma that could have been avoided, had we got the help we needed when we first asked.

Then there’s visits. Every week, he, along with hundreds of other kids across the state, get carted 3, 4 & 5 hours away for a visit with their parent. At the end of the visit, they are literally ripped out of their parents arms and put, crying, into a mini-van with ONE adult driver, to go back to their foster families.

I guess they just process that trauma every week, on their own, in their carseats?

The Blame Game

But it’s not my fault” everyone is quick to point out. The reason the ICPC paperwork is held up is because of Georgia. The reason H can’t get medical services is because of funding. The reason case management can’t respond to an email is because they’re in court all day.

Every single person has an excuse on why they can’t do their job. And they aren’t wrong. Yet everyone continues to operate in a system that is clearly broken.

My husband and I became foster parents to do good. To help these kids. But to be honest, every day we continue to work within the confines of this broken organization, we hurt thousands of children. Every time we follow a ludicrous rule we are in effect saying “it’s ok to operate in this manner”.

And it’s not ok.

None of this is ok. I keep thinking, we need a movement. People need to rise up. March on Washington. Storm the capitol. Change must happen. But how do you unite 443,000 oppressed minors*? How do case managers, who barely make enough to survive, strike for better wages? How can this broken system get lobbyists as good as the NRA?

I don’t have these answers. So instead my alarm goes off. We wake up. And we teach H how to brush his teeth. And how to pronounce the letter “P” and we tell him he only has one brain, and he must protect it. And we live to fight another day.

*

*On any given day, there are nearly 443,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2017, more than 690,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

There are about 19,000 children in foster care in Florida. About 600 children waiting for permanent placement are without identified families. There are about 340 foster children in the Tallahassee area.

Teaching Love to a Foster Child

How do you define love? It’s honestly not something I’ve given much thought until this moment. I never really had to, I suppose. Growing up in the church, I remember hearing “God is love” a lot. But I never had to think about it, because I’ve always had it. Because I am privileged.

How To Define Love

If you actually look up the definition, it’s “an intense feeling of deep affection”. 

It’s a feeling; an abstract concept. It’s not a physical, tangible, “let’s show it off to the neighbors” kind of thing. So how do you explain it to a child?

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t. Not accurately or effectively, anyway. Because love is taught through actions and by building trust with another person. A strong bond forms, that eventually turns into love.

But what if there’s no trust? 

What if the actions of others around you are erratic?

What if you’re 4 years old, and you can’t read, and you certainly cannot break down abstract concepts and you can barely color inside the lines of the heart shapes in your coloring book? 

Then what is Love to you? It’s “mommy is gonna buy me a blue transformer next week.” 

Tangible goods.

In other words, money CAN buy love. 

How Do You Teach Love?

So how do I explain that “your mommy loves you but…love is spending time with each other. Love is being kind to each other. Love is consistency. Love is keeping you safe. Love is teaching you how to function within society. Love is teaching you that there are rules. And establishing consequences when those rules are broken.”

Love is everything that you didn’t have.

So we try to teach (cram) 4 years worth of life lessons into the short time he is with us. Kindness, consistency, self-worth, laughter, truthfulness. We are trying to teach him all of these things, yet I am filled with such anger. 

Every inch of me rages. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the second I fall asleep at night, there is a dark cloud of hate that churns inside me. Every core of my being wants to fight: the system and the lawyers and the case managers and the therapists and the parents and judges and the politicians… because it’s all broken. And we are all failing. 

I want to help. I want to “be the change I want to see in the world”. I want to make a difference. 

But how do you teach a child love, when you’re so filled with hate?

Can he sense it? When he hugs me, does he feel my heart race? Am I just one more “do as I say, not as I do” example in his life? 

I hope not. Because as much as I hate this system, I love this little boy… even if I can’t define it. 

What you MUST know about court hearings in the foster care system

to illustrate the difficulties of navigating the court system when it comes to foster care in bay county, florida.

On May 15, a court hearing was scheduled regarding the case involving H’s mother. On Thursday, May 9, there was a death in my husband’s family. The funeral was the same week as the hearing, which would prevent me from being able to attend the court hearing.

Mind you, this particular hearing was not one of much importance as far as hearings go. I knew what the judge was going to ask, in regards to H’s mother’s case plan. I knew the requirements had not been met (i.e. proof of a job and stable housing). I also knew that the court would simply reprimand her and set the date for the next hearing where there was a slight possibility concurrent goals* would be recommended at that point.

Because I knew this, because the hearing took place at 8:30 am on Wednesday morning in Panama City (2 hours and 1 time zone away) and because I had a funeral to attend, on Friday morning, May 10th, I sent an email to the case manager and the attorney asking for a call in number as I couldn’t physically be present for the hearing.

There’s a “process” for everything…

To be honest, I didn’t think this would be an issue at all. The foster care system provided a call in number for the permanency staffing meeting that I sat in on in March. Additionally, multiple system workers informed me, because we were in Tallahassee, requesting a call in number was pretty routine stuff.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a 5 paragraph email from the attorney telling me, in so many words, because I asked 5 days and not 7 days in advance, it would be impossible to provide me with a call in number.

So, first of all, I’m not asking them to build a handicap accessible railing to the courthouse with 5 days’ notice. I’m asking for a call in number. This isn’t the kind of thing that takes days (or even more than a few minutes) to set up.

But no matter. I’m going to let this go. Instead I follow up and say “no worries. Who can I contact to get a transcript from the court reporter?”.

I mean, that’s why they have court reporters, right?

…yet logical requests still get denied

I get a second email that states (and I quote): There is not a mechanism for a foster parent to receive a transcript of the proceeding. 

I’m furious (which is part of the reason it’s taken so long to get this blog post up. Every time I’ve sat down to write it, my blood starts to boil and I walk away).

But I’m also exhausted. This is a child who came to us with 13 cavities. We are his third placement. I’ve been asking for weeks to get him an eye appointment and months to get him into therapy to help control his self harm behaviors, but to no avail. His grandparents, who desperately want him, have been waiting 8 months for the paperwork to go through so they can take him.

I. Just. Can’t. Fight. Another. Battle.

On Tuesday before court, I walk to the mailbox, like I do every night, to check the mail.

There an official looking envelop inside, postmarked May 11, 2019.

In it is a letter, signed by the attorney. The same attorney who emailed me and said I didn’t give enough time to request a call in number.

The letter says:

The following hearing is scheduled in your dependency case at the Bay County Juvenile Justice Courthouse…you have the right to attend the hearing…if you would like to talk and listen by phone, let your case manager or caregiver know and they will attempt to make arrangements.”

The date on the letter itself is May 9, 2019. 7 days before the hearing.

That’s right. The official letter from the foster care system telling me I had the right to request a call in number, was written 7 days before the hearing. It was sent 5 days before. And it arrived 12 hours before. The letter made NO MENTION of needing to request a call in number 7 days in advance. Yet somehow, my request, which I made 5 days in advance (due to a death in the family), was “impossible” to fulfill.

It’s been a month. I’m still furious.

Concurrent Goals

*A concurrent goal is put in place if it seems like the parent is not making progress on their case plan (which they must successfully complete to regain custody of their child/children).

The goal of the state is always reunification with the biological parent. But, if progress isn’t being made by some (un)specified amount of time, a second (aka concurrent) goal will be set by the court. Generally, it’s adoption or permanent guardianship by a relative or non-relative caregiver.

This is to ensure the child doesn’t remain in “limbo” for over a year. Although children from Bay County, where H is from, routinely stay in foster care longer than a year. On August 8, H will have been in the Florida foster care system for 1 year.