Tag Archives: foster care

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.

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)