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The Letter

Writing 101 Assignment: You read it a letter. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

 

The social worker brought a letter. Their family finally made contact. 

Should I burn it?

 

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Adoption = Hypervigilance

Social worker to Hubby: “Your wife is hyper-vigilant. She needs to relax.”

Honestly, getting appropriate services for our foster kiddos was all I wanted…but six months from retirement, the social worker wasn’t feeling the urge to do more than minimum. She made that statement to my husband, right in front of me, as though I weren’t in the room.

As you begin the adoption process, be prepared to advocate for your child(ren). In our case, the social workers who weren’t jaded and unconcerned were overworked and overwhelmed. Even the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), an individual appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests, didn’t seem to understand the definition of her own title.

I tried going “over” our social worker’s head by contacting the GAL prior to one of our court dates.  She agreed to come to court with me. The social worker arrived, dressed in jeans and a stained top.  I was encouraged, feeling confident in my suit. The GAL finally arrived, minutes before our scheduled time in court. I no longer felt secure.

Let’s just say that she had once been a hippie…and forgot to stop.  Stringy, badly dyed long hair, Lennon glasses, big floppy, flowy outfit. She may have spent the 60’s in a van without showers; the habit (or lack of) apparently continued to the present.  I was concerned, to say the least. Then, she walked right past my offered handshake and embraced the social worker.

Feeling betrayed (and realizing she would not rescue us), I determined to work even harder to make sure the children received every service necessary. Two months later, our social worker called me hyper-vigilant.

Six months later, we received the children’s much-requested medical records.  Mind you, Department of Social Services had been in possession of these records for several years. I read every page.

EVERY page.

Our boy had a heart defect.

Found at birth, then confirmed through  follow-ups at one month and one year, the hole did not appear to be diminishing. He had a follow-up scheduled for his 18 month checkup, but there was no page in the record showing a completed appointment. The social worker paid no attention to the missing medical paperwork.

I noticed.

I took him to the pediatrician, who couldn’t hear a murmur but suggested a follow-up visit with the original specialist.

The specialist couldn’t hear a murmur but suggested an echocardiogram, or echo, a test that creates pictures of the heart with sound waves. The echo showed a significant hole the little guy’s heart.

Our cardiologist said that if I hadn’t noticed the missing document, it’s likely our boy would have died. “This is my specialty, and I couldn’t hear it. Your pediatrician would have never found it. Good thing you are attentive.”

Attentive, indeed. I believe the scientific term is “hyper-vigilant.”

Adoption = Advocacy (Chapter 3: How to Open a Can of Whoop-***)

“You have to consider the source,” opined our social worker. “I mean, the parents didn’t finish school, and obviously their IQs were not…great…so, you really can’t expect much out of these kids. If they graduate high school, you should be celebrating. They will probably never make Cs, much less As and Bs. Lower your expectations and everyone will be happier.”

Our less-than-stellar social worker made this statement when I voiced my concerns about our foster kids’ lack of academic progress. Yes, REALLY.

It’s a prime example of why we should have had a liaison. Unfortunately, we didn’t know enough to ask for one.

Learn from our mistake…even if DSS says, “Sure, you can work directly with us,” find someone to fight for you and the child. You don’t have to go through the expense of an agency–there are non-profits and even court-appointed guardians willing to help. Google “liaison for foster families” and you’ll get “About 368,000 results (0.32 seconds).

If you’re hard-headed (or naive) like me and plan to be your own advocate, prepare yourself for battling burned out/soon-retiring social workers, having sleepless nights and finding steel-gray hairs multiplying on your noggin like rabbits on Cialis.

(I must note here, not all DSS workers are awful. After 1.5 years, a new social worker took over our file. I’m pretty sure she was an angel. I’m also sure that if we’d had her from the beginning, our 2-year adoption process would have taken closer to 6 months, but that’s another story.)

For MONTHS, I petitioned (read: nagged) DSS. The kids needed extra help, for the following reasons:

1. The background paperwork noted that when he was 3 years of age, our 5 year old foster son utilized only ten words; all other communication was non-verbal. Although he’d made progress in two years, his vocabulary was still very limited. He screamed a lot.

2. Our foster daughter, 7, could barely read three-letter words and could not do simple math.

3. Our foster son, 5, could not read ANYTHING and did not even know the entire alphabet. I tried the “let’s think of a word for each letter” approach and found that he did, in fact, know multiple curse words for each of the letters A, B, D, F and G.

4. Both kiddos were failing (Kindergarten and First Grade) across the board. The girl was unable to do the work or focus; the boy’s behavior and inability to focus prevented any learning.

We felt these were legitimate concerns. Our social worker was not inclined to agree.

Something had to change, and it wasn’t our opinion that every kid should have a chance to excel.

At that point, I was clueless. No idea what services were available. Who to ask. Where to look. Google became my best friend. Here’s what I learned from GTE (Google, Trial & Error).

If your adopted or foster child is having trouble in school, he or she probably needs an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, as soon as possible.

Do not pass go, do not collect stipend dollars–march your frazzle directly to the school office and ask what the IEP process is. (It usually takes at least a month to get the ball rolling. You can give that ball a bounce by having a psych/educational evaluation done by an outside professional. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a child psychologist.)

After multiple DSS absences during IEP meetings, the frustrated school principal began faxing paperwork to the social worker. I pestered the mess out of DSS until they faxed the papers back. Both children were approved for IEP and began receiving extra help in reading and math. Results were not immediate, but we began to see steady changes. 2.5 years later, we see HUGE improvement in both academic and behavioral areas.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. Even if you haven’t adopted them yet (and even if that’s not in the plan), YOU are still the one adult who can make a difference. The social worker does not see the child in day-to-day activity. She’s not directly involved in homework frustrations. Not getting “the look” from a very concerned teacher. Not dealing with the irate bus driver. Not driving to school, yet again, because your foster daughter punched some kid in the face.

YOU are the one saving this kid from disaster. Put on your grownup panties (or boxers) and DO IT.

To recap:

  1. Get a liaison.
  2. Don’t let DSS bully you. Feel free to bully DSS. In some cases, it’s the only way to get what your child needs.
  3. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. Foster kids are under-served by the system and their school careers are interrupted, usually many times. Very few won’t need an IEP.
  4. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the teacher’s concerned note. If your child is having problems academically or behaviorally, get help. Now.
  5. Bring out Mama (or Papa) Bear. No need to be afraid. Everyone should have the child’s best interest in mind. If they don’t, REMIND THEM.

Also, never let anyone talk you into lowering your expectations (unless you expect them to make A+ on everything…in which case, you just need to stop smoking the proverbial crack).

Foster kids fully receive and believe the message that they are “LESS”…less capable, less wanted, less intelligent, less loved. Expect their best from them and show them how to attain personal success. Be careful not to inadvertently communicate that you expect perfection. Keep in mind, improvement = success.

And if your social worker suggests that low IQ is hereditary, perhaps it would be okay to ask about their parents’ intelligence quotient.

“Wow. If parental IQ determines the child’s ability and intelligence, then your parents must have been REALLY stupid.”

That’s what I should have said.

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