I’m writing a book (and have three publisher appointments this month).
a. present an accurate view of foster care
b. inspire people to step up and foster (or if they can’t foster, to support those who do)
I’d appreciate your input. Comment below to answer all or some of the questions (or write whatever you want). Be as detailed or as brief as you like. Alternately, send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather.
Also, if you’re willing, please repost this to your blog or other outlet directing people back to https://hypervigilant.org to post answers so I can collect them.
THANKS for your help!
*In your response, please include a name (pseudonym is fine) for quote purposes.
What is your experience with foster care?
Is foster care important/necessary? (please explain why/why not)
Was your experience positive or negative, and what made it so?
Who should foster?
Other than the obvious (e.g., people with legal or abuse issues, etc.) who shouldn’t foster?
What are legitimate reasons to foster?
What are not legitimate reasons to foster?
- What do kids in foster care need most?
What do potential foster carers need to know?
I live in a room
The door is locked
My mother is on the other side
I have a blanket
Sometimes I sleep
Sometimes my mother brings me food
So I eat
Sometimes I poop in the corner bucket
Mostly I wait
One day, strangers open the door
One is a lady
This is bad, she says
Very very bad, the others nod
I look around at my room
My room is okay
Do they mean me?
Am I very very bad?
Police come to my room
Police get bad guys
This is bad, they say
Very, very bad
And then they get me
I never knew I was bad
They don’t take me to jail but almost
There are other kids
The lady screams at us
STOP PULLING ON THE DOOR!
She sits on me
I’LL TEACH YOU. BE STILL!
The stranger lady comes back
She takes me to a new place
No biting! Be good, okay?
Biting is bad.
Very, very bad.
This house is cold
I don’t know these people, another strange lady and a man
The man is loud and big
I hide from him
Come here, let’s see who they brought!
The lady laughs
Why does she think I’m poor?
He reaches under the table
I swing my fists and crawl away
He grabs my foot and drags me out
He is laughing, too
Tough little man, we just want to see you.
I kick my other foot and uh oh blood everywhere
He stops laughing
She yells and brings ice for his nose
STAY under there, then!
The lady comes back, rolling her eyes
At the next house she says
Watch out he kicks and bites.
He’s wild, like an animal.
There is a big boy here
He says he’ll kill me in my sleep
I scream and scream
His mother says
SHUT THE HELL UP!
He hits my head every day
And makes me
He will kill me if don’t
Or if I tell
This is too much
I slam his head into a wall
And kick and kick and kick him when he falls
The stranger lady moves me again
This one’s violent.
I don’t understand any of this
These people are strangers, too
They smile and try to hold my hand
I just want to be safe
Don’t touch me.
I will not be sat on
I will keep them all away with my spiky mean
No one will ever hurt me again
I am bad
I am very, very bad
I wrote this one day as I tried to imagine early life through our son’s eyes. He was a wild, screaming child when he and his sister arrived.
He came to us terrified and determined to keep himself safe, a need that still causes him to struggle to interact with others, to sleep and to feel secure.
As he grew more able to articulate his memories, much of his behavior became understandable, even when apparently unreasonable.
Hubby and I work hard to soothe his terror and tame his PTSD.
I didn’t get what I wanted last week.
(Click on the “last week” link to go back to Part 1.)
I marched into the meeting armed with a thick file of psychological testing, neurological testing, notes I’ve taken through the last five years and a box of thirty-odd adoptive parenting books. I wanted to show the team we’ve done due diligence and our homework. Our daughter’s in-home therapist accompanied me.
A few days prior to the meeting, one of the lead therapists in the assessment company spent several hours on the phone learning about our situation. I’m sure she’s also thinking of the financial gain of a new client but she seemed very dedicated to helping our girl get what she needs. She even offered to join the meeting by phone. However, the night before the meeting she called to let me know the community services rep told her not to call. I thought it was a little strange; using every resource seemed like a good move to me, but I figured this wasn’t the rep’s first rodeo. She must have her reasons.
As the meeting started, I explained our situation, laid out the path we’ve taken to try to find answers and explained why we feel having an assessment (which is a large expense) would be helpful for our daughter. Several companies nationwide in the U.S. provide the service; some appear to have better results than others and many are very far away. This company is our closest option and has received great feedback from former clients.
The meeting facilitator asked for additional information about the company. I began handing out the company brochures as the community service rep spoke up. “Unfortunately, no one from the company was available to join us for this meeting, so we don’t have additional information.”
Mid-reach over the big oak table with a brochure, I locked eyes with the rep.
“Actually, she was available. She called me last night stating that you told her not to call in.”
The rep flushed, then said, “Well. Yes. I did. I have to say, the behavior discussed here is nothing like the sweet young lady who sat in my office.”
For half an hour. She saw my daughter for thirty minutes. She thought I was making this up?
The facilitator’s eyes flicked back and forth between us, possibly concerned I’d jump across the table.
I gritted my teeth and
sat down on my inner WWF wrestler* alter-ego,
who really wanted to pound the rep.
*Her name is Tai-Chi-Mama and she wears a cape.
Our girl’s therapist told the group she’s familiar with the program and thinks this partnership would be very helpful. Unfortunately, she was a young newcomer and many of the team members were…seasoned. Although they were mildly interested, her words held no sway with the group.
Another team member spoke up just then, explaining that she’s seen excellent results from the assessment with some of her own young clients. I’m not sure why she didn’t say anything earlier; maybe she was waiting to see if I needed help. Her testimony turned the tide from good-luck-getting-that-approved to we’re interested but not sold.
I still didn’t get what I wanted.
The facilitator told me I’d need to go back to our adoption district and request the funding in a process that can take up to two months (color me not thrilled) by going through the social work team (double not thrilled).
When we adopted, the head social worker in the original district was horrible and the director wasn’t much better. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve probably seen a few of those painful posts. Telling me I’d need to work with them again was tantamount to directing me to attempt firewalking.
I left the meeting somewhat discouraged. Thankfully, the meeting facilitator offered to call ahead to the social worker. Since the request came from the team, the social worker couldn’t completely shut me down.
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need
Today, I got what I needed.
The social worker called. She said,
We’ve had trouble building trust with a lot of our older families because of what happened in the past with other social workers. I want to let you know that things are very different now. I’m here to help you and I want to get your daughter what she needs. I’ve sent you information about the process and some paperwork to get it started. Oh, and let me tell you about a few other resources that may be helpful…
Several of the options she suggested weren’t even on my radar. And to think, if we’d been approved in the beginning, I would have never talked with her.
Sometimes, we think we aren’t getting what we want.
Maybe we aren’t.
And maybe, just maybe, not getting what we want is…good.
Our last five years in about five minutes (each).
I sit, chin in hands, watching as the tiny five year old builds a…something…out of the two disassembled captain’s chairs in the corner.
The old green dining room carpet, pilled and nubby under my feet, needs a thorough vacuum. I’m too exhausted to even consider cleaning. This undernourished creature and his sister, age seven and waif-like, have lived in our home for five days.
She does not fall asleep each until after midnight. He awakens most mornings at 3 am, screaming curses. I am working full time on fewer than three hours of sleep. I have no idea this will continue for almost a year. My oblivion is fortunate. If I knew what was coming, I might have a nervous breakdown.
We have survived three school days. Social Services insisted that we register them for school immediately. They arrived Wednesday at 4 pm. Thursday morning, we deposited them in their respective classrooms. And then Hubby stayed with the girl and I stayed with the boy. To keep them from wailing.
I’ve been at school the last three days, working with his teacher to keep him in the room. We’re asking the social worker to approve a behavioral aide. This child needs more help than he’s been getting. So far, she’s fighting me.
That’s okay. I’m stubborn. Vigilant, even. I will make sure these babies are no longer overlooked.
I gaze in wonder as he constructs some kind of bridge from the pieces of leather and wood. For a moment, it stands in precarious glory. His sister walks past and the slight floor vibration sends the creation tumbling to the carpet. He wails. I hear something else behind the frustration.
I hear a wild animal.
Scooping him up, I carry him to his room and perch on the bottom bed, trying to balance him without hitting my head on the bunk above. I can’t quite get far enough in and the mattress slides back; metal bed rails bite the back of my legs.
He screams and screams. I’ll be deaf, I’m sure. I hold him tight, attempting to soothe. He clings like a monkey, wrapped against me. Still top volume. While shushing and rocking, I say, “It will be okay. I love you.”
He rears back and looks me full in the face. “No you don’t!” he spits. He is rabid with rage. “You DON’T!” He pushes away from me. I reach, but he throws my hand away. “Don’t touch me!” He screams.
I stare at him.
I sit, chin in hands, listening to the Principal.
“I’m not sure we can keep him here. He slammed her head into the cinder-block wall. She was just walking by, and he grabbed her. He’d been fine all morning.”
We were two weeks into the school year. He’d already been suspended off the bus; now this.
After begging, pleading, arguing and threatening, I’d managed to convince social services he needed a behavioral aide at school last year. She was approved in December and spent the second semester in his Kindergarten classroom. His self-control wasn’t fabulous but school officials conceded that, in her presence, his wild behavior was restricted enough for him to stay in school for full days.
The aide had taken another job over the summer; we were already on replacement number two. The first hadn’t lasted a week. This time, they’d sent a young man, with the explanation that maybe he needed a additional male role model. I read between the lines: “he needs someone strong enough to restrain him if necessary.”
I gave my boy a little card at the beginning of the week, “I love you,” printed in Sharpie marker. He was beginning to allow that maybe I did, but still never responded when I spoke the words. “You can keep the card with you as long as you behave,” I told him. “If you’re misbehaving, you have to give it up.”
He really liked the card, so for the first few days worked very hard to keep his disruptions to a minimum. I told the new aide to take the card if the boy was acting out. He was a young guy with a degree and the firm belief that I couldn’t possibly know how to handle this child—hence, his presence. He didn’t take the card.
Our guy’s behavior began to spiral out of control with the aide: screaming in the cafeteria, running around the classroom, pouring glue on his desk. Minor, compared to last year, but I was concerned about escalation.
I bring my thoughts back to the principal’s concerned face. “Where is he now?” I ask.
“Library.” She says. “We couldn’t keep him in the classroom after that. She’ll be fine other than a bruise, but the little girl is very upset.”
I walk around the corner to the library and stop short, stunned. The boy is in the middle of the library, holding court on a special rocking chair. The “cool” one the librarian lets them use if they’ve had stellar behavior. Flipping my card through his fingers, he gazes, stone-faced, at his aide.
The aide is sitting on the floor, staring at his own shoes. A teacher, not my son’s, hovers at the edge of the library, hesitant to enter. I mutter, “Are you kidding me?” and stride past the magazine racks and colorful posters.
“HEY!” I say, standing behind the aide. My son hardly reacts; his eyes widen a fraction. The aide, though, almost falls over. “Whoa! I didn’t even see you coming. You’re like a ninja, man. Wow!”
I frown. “Don’t call me ‘man’—especially not in front of my son.” He nods, scrambling to his feet. Furious, I point to the hall and he follows me.
“Why is he in that chair? It’s a reward chair. Why does he have the card in his hands? I told you to take it if he acts up. Slamming another child’s head into a wall is definitely acting up. Why are you sitting on the floor? You are the adult. What is the problem here?” I glare at him, incensed.
Flustered, he wipes his hands on his khaki pants and says, “I don’t really know. I mean, he was sort of cranky this morning, but I got him to do about half his work, so we went to lunch and I bought him ice cream for cooperating—”
“WHAT?” I break in. “Are you KIDDING me? We’ve HAD THIS CONVERSATION. He CAN’T HAVE SUGAR. He gets crazy. You have asked me almost every day if you can take him for ice cream after school, and every day I have told you that you may not. So you bought him ice cream AT school?” I am fuming; I try not to raise my voice but am not successful.
“Well…” he stays, “in one of my classes, we learned that food can be a great reward tool, and I wanted to give it a try with him since nothing else seems to be working.”
I cut in. I’m not normally rude, but right now I can’t even think straight. “Yes, but he’s lived with me for a year, and you’ve known him for four days. I told you he can’t have it and you deliberately went against those instructions. I understand that at some level he is responsible for his own actions, but sugar puts him out of control.
As I’ve said before—if he has sugar, he’s maniacal within twenty minutes. So you thought you’d test it out AT SCHOOL. Maybe he would have slammed that girl into the wall regardless, but I’m betting not.
NOW, I have to deal with the school and a suspension and her parents—very likely because you thought you knew better than the countrified foster mama. Let me tell you something. We live in this county because we don’t want to live on top of people in the city: I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve worked with several levels of special needs children for fourteen years and I have my master’s degree. I have an undergrad in counseling. I’m not an idiot. If I make a request, you follow it. Got it?”
Like I said, I’m not usually rude, but I was P-I-double S-E-D. (Angry, not drunk, mind you. Just to be clear for my international friends.)
Incompetent aide in tow, I re-enter the library. “Let’s go. NOW.”
Meek and obedient, my son hands me the card. “You should take this,” he whispers.
As I sign him out, the principal tells me the girl’s parents have taken her to the doctor to be sure there’s no permanent damage. I grit my teeth, praying she’s fine. What we don’t need right now is a lawsuit. This year has already been Hell on Earth.
I stare out the window.
Writing 101 Day 13 assignment: tell a story through a series of vignettes (short, episodic scenes or anecdotes) that together read as variations on the same theme.
This post is in response to Writing101’s prompt, Write about a loss.
When you adopt, everyone talks about the amazing blessing and the newly created family and the happily ever after.
Nobody talks about the loss.
For some of my adoptive friends, the loss came in the form of doctors and tears and in vitro and devastation.
One of my friends chose to marry a paraplegic, knowing the challenges but not truly understanding the coming sacrifice. As we grew older, she ached for a baby, wanted to experience childbirth.
We watch other women grow roundly taut, put our hands over the round belly to feel the child kick, experience the miracle from the outside.
Five years ago this summer, two weeks before turning thirty-three, I helped decorate for a dual baby shower. My brothers’ wives were expecting. Baby girls, both. The desolation that washed over me as I placed pink…everything…around the room frankly shocked me. Unexpected.
I thought I was fine with this.
Hubby and I both had adopted family members. My oldest cousin, whom I adored and idolized, was adopted. Hubby’s oldest sister, with whom he was (and remains) close, was adopted as an infant. When we started dating, even before voicing ideas of marriage, we talked of adopting. It was always a foregone conclusion.
After we married, we decided to pursue adoption first. With naive best intentions, we wanted the adopted children to know that they were not a “last resort,” but our first choice. Deciding (like the innocent newlyweds we were) to wait a few years, then contact an adoption agency, we settled into learning to live with each other. As time passed, I began to feel the empty space in our home and my heart, to ache for a child.
Then I began to ache, in general. I started to sleep anywhere, anytime. We went to a classic car show (which I usually enjoy) and I had to go back to our car. I slept in the back seat, in the parking lot, for over six hours. On Saturdays, I rarely functioned before noon. I dragged myself out of bed for church on Sunday, then came home to sleep. On weekdays, I napped during my lunch break.
I didn’t really have other symptoms, so thought I was just tired. Hubby thought he must have married a seriously lazy chick. For two years, I mentioned fatigue and generalized pain to the doctor during checkups, but he chalked it up to being an adult with a job. After a while, he diagnosed the fatigue and pain as depression and gave me a Wellbutrin prescription. I never took the pills.
In 2005, during the daily phone meeting with a coworker I’d never met (I supported most of the east coast as a recruiter for a bank), I mentioned attending a wedding that weekend. “It was so weird; I was outside, and suddenly I felt horrible. I hurt all over, and I thought I was going to pass out. It was awful. I went inside and sat down for a while, and after a while it just went away.” He perked up. “Was the sun shining? Were you in the shade?” I told him I’d been standing in the sun. “Get an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Make sure you mention the sun.”
Thinking this was a little odd, I nevertheless did as he instructed. My physician reacted as usual when I mentioned my complaints of fatigue and aches, but when I mentioned the sun, he whipped around on his little stool and stared at me thoughtfully. “I’m sending you to a specialist. It might be nothing.”
A week later, I was on potassium pills and heading to a rheumatologist. I still didn’t know what was happening. Arthritis? At my age?
Not arthritis. Lupus.
Take these meds. Stay out of the sun; UV rays are a trigger. Wear protective clothing and SPFLatexPaint. Avoid stress. Oh, and no grapefruit; it reacts with the medication.
NO GRAPEFRUIT? Of all the inconveniences, this was the one that broke my heart. My favorite fruit.
And how in heck can I avoid stress? At the time, I had a driving commute of over an hour each way. Traffic was not New York stressful, but it also wasn’t a Sunday drive.
I began working from home. I took my medication faithfully. Usually happy to be nut-brown in the summer, I hid from the sun. Too bad the vampire craze was still ten years away.
Two years in, with my long dark hair, pale skin and purple-encircled eyes, all I needed was glittery body dust to start TEAM CASEY! The Cullen family would have accepted me as one of their own.
One other repercussion of Lupus: babies. The doctor said, “If you’d like to get pregnant, you definitely can. There’s a 50% chance you could lose the baby in either the first or last trimester, but we can monitor things closely.” So, wait. Let me get this straight. Even if I make it through 8.5 months of pregnancy, the baby might die.
For me, this was equivalent to saying, “Hey, send your toddler into that four-lane highway. She might get hit by a truck, but there’s only a 50% chance.” Both Hubby and I thought the odds were just too great. Some of my friends had a burning desire to experience a baby growing inside them, but for me, “having” a baby had never been important, and thankfully Hubby felt the same way.
The Lupus solidified our decision to adopt. Overall, the loss I felt was not that “we couldn’t” create a new life; the loss, for me, was that I could no longer say there was no medical reason we chose adoption. Although that was still technically true, for some reason I still felt a bit cheated.
And occasionally, as during the baby shower, I felt the loss of all of it. We had decided to delay—or even, possibly, to forego—a biological child, but having that decision effectively removed from our hands…
But our loss was nothing.
For us to adopt our children, they had to lose everything.
Children seem to be born with an innate ability to forgive the most atrocious behavior. No matter how badly someone treats a child, the child still feels an attachment. Our kids continued to see their birth parents on a weekly basis until they were five and seven, then…nothing. Social services cut off the visits (with no explanation to the children), knowing they were coming to us.
They lost their birth family. Extended family. Familiar surroundings. Connections.
I explained it to a friend (who was frustrated with my children’s behavior) this way:
Imagine you live with a husband who isn’t generally the nicest guy but you’re used to each other and you understand the expectations of your relationship.
Five years into your marriage, a complete stranger swoops in, announcing that he’s no good for you. You must move to a new home with a new husband.
You stay with this new man for a few weeks, but again, the stranger arrives, packing all your things into her car with no explanation. You move to a third home. After a couple months, when you’re almost settled, here she comes again to take you away.
You stay with this fourth husband for a year and a half. You begin to believe in stability. He’s fairly nice—nicer, in fact, than your first husband. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re okay. You think he likes you, and you start thinking this might work out.
The stranger reappears. As you drive away from your fourth husband, he smiles brightly and waves. How can he be happy you’re leaving? You thought he liked you.
Now, seriously…if this happened, would you be a well-adjusted, normal individual? Or would you spend the next years waiting for that crazy lady to show up and drag you off? Would you continue to try to make connections, or push others away? Would you have a grip on reality?
Because the above story is exactly what happened to my babies.
My children lost their stability, their ability to trust, their feeling of safety, their sanity.
We are finally making headway, after almost four years, but before we could begin to help them, our children experienced utter loss.
Adoption is a gift, don’t get me wrong. But before it all,