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Foster Factoids

While most of the time I feel like my life has proceeded relatively normally (as normally as one might expect when you get past the whole instant parenthood thing), during those times when I feel like a foster parent I get a lot of questions about what that means. Feel free to skip down to the pics if you already know, but if not … read on.

Why / how do kids come into foster care?

In Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the agency in charge of the safety and welfare of children. Children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. This can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Neglect is the failure to provide minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, etc. Kids come into foster care (or start being followed by DCF) when abuse or neglect is reported by a teacher, neighbor, police officer, etc. If it is determined that there is basis to the allegation and the child is not safe at home, they are removed from the home. The Department then tries to contact family member who may be willing and able to take the child or children. If family cannot be found or is not suitable, the child is placed into a foster home (like ours).

Will you get to adopt her?

No. Monica is in foster care with the goal of reunification. That means that our job as foster parents is to provide a stable and loving home during the time when she is unable to be with her parents, and to provide consistency and love to build a strong base for attachments, emotional well being, and development.

Who can be a foster parent?

Probably you. In Massachusetts, you have to be at least 18 years old, live somewhere with adequate space that meets the safety requirements, and have adequate income to support yourself/your current family. You can be single, married, divorced, partnered, you can rent or own, stay at home or work …

How long are kids usually in foster care?

There isn’t a good answer to this question – the DCF website says the average stay is 3-18 months. Honestly, some kids are in care for a week or two while family is found, some kids are in care for much longer than they should be because their parents are given a lot of second (third, fourth, fifth) chances or they are awaiting adoption.

How do you handle the expenses?

Children in DCF care are eligible for MassHealth (Medicaid) and WIC (if they are under 5). We, the foster parents, receive a daily rate to offset costs of caring for the child (it’s something like $20/day). There is also a quarterly clothing allowance (no idea how much this is – we haven’t received it yet). Though it is not guaranteed, DCF has vouchers for daycare as well (which Monica is benefitting from now). For us, all of these things make it do-able (though not, as some may think, profitable).

How do I become a foster parent?

Contact your local authority (DCF area office in MA) and register your interest. Your home needs to pass a safety and standards check, you have to pass a background check, and participate in a home study (which includes interviews with all members of the household about backgrounds, upbringing, parenting styles, and motivations as well as satisfactory references – personal, work, and health). You also have to take and pass a 30-hour MAPP course.

Do you have control over what child or children are placed with you?

Yes, absolutely. Part of the home study process involves working with your social worker to decide what ages and genders you are prepared to parent, as well as how many children and what level of need (e.g. medical or developmental needs) you are equipped for. For example, on our license, E and I are approved to foster parent up to two children (we’d only take two at a time if they were siblings) under age 4.

I like most (not all, or as strongly maybe) of the points made in this post, What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew. Recommended reading – definitely check out the end, which reminds us that “You don’t have to be a foster parent to HELP support kids and families in crisis.” 

And for your viewing pleasure, Monica’s little fingers feeding carrots to Sheba (both of their favorite activity).

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Guest Post from E

So I decided to write something because – well, my experience I think has been slightly different from K’s.

I never had the desire to be a mother.  I played with dolls when I was growing up and liked bossing my little sister around, but when it came to the practical implications of being a parent, it didn’t appeal to me.  I like kids well enough, but after an hour or so I’m ready to give them back to their parents. I never felt the urge to give birth or to be pregnant, particularly if it meant being sushi-free for nine months.  I never felt like I needed to pass my genes on to another human being.

When I met K and she told me having kids was a deal breaker, I figured I could handle kids if she wanted them that bad.  K loves kids, and always has, and I felt confident that I could successfully co-parent with someone who was born to be a mother.  I could do the cooking, shopping, cleaning, bath times, and K could be the primary caregiver. She used to joke that I’d make a great Dad one day.

When we decided to be foster parents, I thought of it more as community service.  Long-term babysitting, but not parenthood.  Enter Monica.  Enter my maternal instincts.  I had no idea I was cut out for this until that little nugget arrived.  Are any of you fans of the West Wing?  Remember when Toby tells Jed he doesn’t think he has the capacity to be a father?  I felt like that.  And then the kids are born and poof – you just are.  I suddenly have very strong opinions about what time to eat, how often to bathe, and when bed time should be.  If you had asked me three weeks ago when an 11 month old should be put to bed, I’d say: “How the hell do I know?  Ask K.”  Now Monica better be in bed by 7pm or my morning will be a disaster.

It’s comforting and scary how transformed I feel I’ve become – even in the first few days of knowing Monica.  On the one hand, I know I can handle parenthood.  Having a permanent child in my life will not alter the quality of my life, or diminish the things I enjoy the most, as I feared that it would.  I learned that I have the capacity to love another tiny human and put their needs before my own without begrudging them.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to picture our life without Monica. We love her.  We’ve taken on this role of temporary parents, and it’s scary how fast our new family has formed.  K is much more even-keeled when it comes to her emotions.  I tend to have more emotional swings.  I’ve broken down more than once at the thought of Monica leaving – and yet sometimes I daydream about it going back to the days of just K and me.  It’s scary to not be in control, to not know what will happen.  Having a baby makes it harder to plan dinners, fold the laundry, and walk the dog.  Life overall is less structured.

Today is Monica’s third day at the new daycare.  When I pulled up and walked to the back seat to take her out of the car – a huge smile came across her face.  She’s gotten good at moving her arms to get free from the car seat, and she’s so excited to get out.  When I walked up to the provider, Monica wrapped her little arms and legs around me tight and started sobbing, reaching for me as I pulled away.  I felt like a parent passing her off, and I felt like a parent walking back to my car and driving away.

The speed at which all of this is happening – the placement, my emotions, our attachment – is surprising and overwhelming.  But when I drive back to the daycare this afternoon, and see her little face light up as I take her back in arms, all the negatives fall away, and I’m left with a beautiful little kid giving me a big sloppy kiss.

"Any more toys in there?"

“Any more toys in there?”

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

There are moments when I marvel at how little our life has changed. It amazes me that we still get sleep (maybe not rest, but certainly sleep), have our friends over, go out and about, get things done around the house … I just expected my life to feel more upheaved I suppose. I mean, our friends have come by 2 nights in a row to watch baseball (E will kill me for just calling the Home Run Derby and All Star Game “baseball”), we went on a road trip/family vacation 4 days after getting Monica, we’ve managed maintain previous social engagements … Now, I am fairly certain that this is all me kidding myself. In truth, many many things have changed and our lives have totally been upheaved. Just maybe not as much as I thought. Every once in a while I look around and realize all of the things that have changed around here. Little reminders that I’m living in La La Land if I think everything is normal.

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(Okay those movies are E’s – Monica has very little interest in TV …)

So I guess things have changed. Maybe I don’t notice the changes because I like them all so much. 🙂 I feel like I haven’t really blogged about the fact that we are new parents. It’s been overshadowed by the very foreign adventure that is foster care/DCF/parenting other people’s children. And the truth is, I feel like the parenthood part has been cake (I’m jinxing myself again …). We stepped into these roles without much difficulty. It just feels natural. Our true struggle has been figuring out this system and how and where we fit in it.

Still no word from DCF regarding any updates with Monica’s case. We are very happy to be planning things on a weekly basis instead of daily. As you read yesterday, E spent time setting up a lot for Monica that we had been waiting on in case we wouldn’t need it. She went shopping today and used the WIC checks she picked up yesterday to stock up on baby food fruits/veggies, baby cereal, and formula. Side note: given the struggles I’ve read on other foster blogs with using WIC, it seems we had an easy time of it. E did have to go to 2 grocery stores because the first didn’t have enough formula and you have to use all of each check at once (and the second store kept the WIC formula behind the counter instead of on the shelves), and I guess they had to call over a manager to do the transaction, but it wasn’t so bad overall. We’re also excited that our grocery store (less than a block from our home) takes WIC. Monica had her first official day at her new daycare today, which seemed to go well. Our only complaints (ugh I don’t want to be those parents who complain about everything): the provider called this morning to say she wanted to drive her son to camp and could we come a little later (that better not be a regular occurrence – it was only okay because E wasn’t working today), and we didn’t get a record for the day of her naps, eating, etc. We DID, however, get a picture text in the middle of the day, so that was nice.

Monica’s EI evaluation was this afternoon as well. It was really fun watching her interact with the EI providers (an SLP and 2 developmental specialists), and show off her skills (though I kept thinking “no don’t do that in front of them … we want you to qualify!”). Overall the results are that she’s doing fairly well in all areas. She did end up qualifying for services just barely, which I’m very glad of. Regardless of where and when she goes, I am comforted knowing that there will be someone in the house regularly to keep Monica from slipping through the cracks. If she goes out of state there is no guarantee of that, but they will at least have the evaluation and the recommendation of carry-over services.

Since I know it’s more fun when there’s a photo of Monica, here you go. E and I are so relieved at how things have gone with introducing a child into Sheba’s house (I would call it our house … but let’s be honest about who reigns supreme here). Sheba has been around kids before and is a very mellow dog – but kids can move in somewhat unpredictable ways and in the past, that has made her want to herd them. Anyway, Monica and Sheba love each other. In fact, Sheba refused to leave the house the other day (E was heading out and trying to get Sheba to join) and it really seemed like she wanted to stay to protect the baby. Adorable. Here’s a picture of their love fest this afternoon. Enjoy. (Also I just noticed the chili cheese dog on the TV in the background … haha)

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Kicking Ass and Taking Names

E was a baller stay-at-home foster mama today. She was everywhere – kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Seriously. On my first day solo-parenting (I just tried to link to a post from that day and there isn’t one … which perfectly illustrates my point) I was just surviving – I spent all of my energy making sure Monica ate and slept and didn’t get hurt. Well E struggled through that for a couple of hours (taking a short break to call me and inform me that she does not want to be a stay-at-home mom), and then she decided to get shit done.

Things E did today:

  • Woke up and walked Sheba with Monica in tow
  • Kept Monica alive and nourished all day long
  • Grocery shopped
  • Went down to the organization that coordinates day care to fill out a mountain of paperwork and get it sorted out so that she can go to a new day care tomorrow (yes!)
  • Went to the WIC office to apply, which apparently took 2 hours (but worked out – we’re set for 3 months to get formula/milk, fruits and veggies, and cereal for Monica, and the grocery store on the corner accepts WIC)
  • Came home and prepared food to host our awesome friends M and M for the home run derby.

Kickin’ ass and takin’ names right?! She is fabulous. What a gal.

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This picture was from yesterday – Monica helping E and me register at Crate & Barrel. I wasn’t there to take pics today but I imagine it was even cuter than this.

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11 month-olds need naps

Am I right? This seems obvious. I am at my wit’s end with this emergency daycare lady. I’m all done trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s kind, but I think that is where her qualifications to provide daycare end. At least from my vantage point. This is the 3rd time Monica has had less than an hour nap. 11 month-olds typically take 1 or 2 naps equaling 2-3 hours of sleep during the day (file under: things I’ve learned in the past two weeks from the internet/a book/people with advice). TELL ME LADY, HOW DID SHE FUNCTION ALL DAY WITH 30 MINUTES OF SLEEP?! When I picked Monica up, she couldn’t even hold her head up. At 4:45. You might be thinking that I shouldn’t care this much how much sleep she gets during the day, and here’s why you’re wrong:

  • Babies need sleep for their little brains to grow
  • I need my baby to have sleep so that she is pleasant when I get to hang out with her for 2 hours in the evening time
  • Most importantly … babies are no fun when they are overtired. Monica does the following things when she is overtired: hits E, hits me, pinches, cries a lot, squirms, doesn’t want to go to bed, cries some more. And then we had to hear her wail for 15 minutes when we put her down because she was too tired to want to sleep (I knew I jinxed the sleep thing yesterday … damn). And she did the folded-in-half-’cause-I-fell-asleep-sitting-up thing again, which is heartbreaking and uncomfortable looking.

We’ll be done with that daycare stat in favor of the non-emergency DCF voucher-approved daycare, which hopefully specializes in providing appropriate care to babies.

In other news, I bought a new carseat today (which will be reimbursed by DCF), because the provided carseat did not come to us with a base and had to be secured using the seatbelt-over-the-top method. While it technically is able to do that, I just felt more comfortable having a properly secured seat. Plus she was about to grow out of the infant carrier. Interesting activity: teaching yourself how to install a new carseat whilst parallel parked outside of your workplace. Not to worry, I read the instructions very carefully and it is installed securely. This is a convertible seat, so we can potentially use it with any child in our age range (5 lbs-65 lbs), which is nice. And it’s Eddie Bauer, which E appreciates. 😉

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Clearly, since I’m ranting about naps and carseats, there isn’t much to report today. We are thrilled to have another weekend to spend with Monica. We are so lucky to continue to have an amazing fostering support network – we had friends over tonight who picked up dinner and brought by some cute outfits, people continue to give us gifts of things and love and support … I just can’t say enough how important a good network of support is when you enter this crazy system. I’ve said it to a number of people and I’ll say it again here – Monica is a breeze. Being first-time instant parents to an 11 month old is a piece of cake. It’s dealing with the uncertainties, red tape, and all around craziness of the foster care system that gives us bags under our eyes and gray hairs (okay it’s just me with the gray hairs … and they were maybe already there). At the end of the day though, what we are doing is important – at least for this little girl, right now. She needs stability and love and good nutrition and a safe home – and even if she gets those things only for a few weeks, it is a few weeks more than she would have otherwise.