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Did ya miss me?

I can’t believe I haven’t updated in 3 whole (eventful) days. I blame it on the new job. And the eventfulness.

Our visit from the SWs was a nice check in, and offered us some additional information about the case. First of all, we found out that Monica’s mom actually did not attend the visit. Her dad (and one of his other children) did. We also found out that Monica’s mom has other children who have been adopted (her parental rights having been terminated) in that other state. Fascinating new information. That info doesn’t affect us at all because Monica has a different father, but interesting (and sad) nonetheless. It was nice to see our family resource worker. She informed us that only 2 other people from our MAPP class (remember how there were like 30 of us?) have had their home studies completed and now have placements. She also said that multiple times over the past 6 weeks they’ve had kids come into care and she’s wanted to call us and stopped herself. As in, there is a chance in a parallel universe that we would have multiple children here right now.

As far as the actual case, nothing is any more clear. The inter-state work that has to happen is just a big unknown. It doesn’t happen often enough (and is apparently different every time), so no one really knows what will happen, how quickly it will happen, and generally how things will go. Ah well.

In other news, E and I had our first date night. Cousins S and C came over to baby (and doggie) sit. I was much more anxious than I thought I would be! I definitely micromanaged with the instructions (sorry guys), and needlessly worried about her ability to fall asleep without me (ha). She, of course, was a champ, despite deciding that while we were out was a good time to develop a cold. The evening went off without a hitch (except maybe a backwards diaper … but it still held!), and E and I got a much needed night to focus only on each other.

Today we took Monica to the zoo for the (probably) first time. She was so attentive and absolutely loved it! She took every single thing in and didn’t skip a beat. I loved seeing her little face as she saw each animal. She would get entranced and stare, then look at us and point. Adorable. As if she could be anything else.

E and Monica enjoying one of the free-roaming peacocks.

E and Monica enjoying one of the free-roaming peacocks.

Monica showing me where the gorillas are hanging out.

Monica showing me where the gorillas are hanging out.

She was mesmerized by the fish.

She was mesmerized by the fish.

 

Showing E the giraffes and zebra.

Showing E the giraffes and zebra.

L was thrilled to show Monica how the bouncing bug worked.

L was thrilled to show Monica how the bouncing bug worked.

Checking out the goats! Monica showed this goat her supreme skill of knowing where his (her?) nose was. Glad she still has all of her fingers.

Checking out the goats! Monica showed this goat her supreme skill of knowing where his (her?) nose was. Glad she still has all of her fingers.

 

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Opinions

Pre-Monica, I had a lot of opinions. Okay, I still have a lot of opinions. The ones I am referring to here are about parenting. Now, I am actually a very tolerant and inclusive person. I am all about different parenting styles. No mommy wars over here. Anyway, I used to have all of these opinions about how was going to parent. And I no longer have so many. Examples:

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These ridiculous things that you strap onto a crib that play music and project light shows on the ceiling. Ew. What’s the point of distracting your baby while they’re trying to sleep? My new opinion: Aahh, this is the magical thing that makes that terrible “I’m dying” noise stop. Okay. Love it.

Gerber meal

Microwave dinners for babies. Okay I am kind of steadfast in my opinion that these are no good. If your kid can eat these, they can eat whatever you’re eating. The old K says, “WHO WOULD BUY THESE?” The new me? Ah, this baby goes to sleep before I eat dinner … soooo … sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

And there are more. The list goes on (leaving babies in clothes with food all over them, diapers visibly sticking out …). It’s amazing how quickly things change when practicality is the guiding force.

So back to foster care …

Monica has had a busy week. Her first EI visit was on Tuesday (we were just meeting her permanent provider and signing things), she had her one-year check up yesterday, and her lawyer visited again tonight. In terms of updates – she is still a healthy happy little nugget, making excellent developmental gains (crawling, pulling herself up, more and varied babbling, increased self-feeding and helping with dressing …). I learned a little something about the court system – apparently (in MA), the child’s attorney represent’s the child’s desires. If a Guardian ad Litem was assigned, they would represent their best interests (remember that often their desires do not align with their best interests – I know mine never did growing up). When the child in question is so young, the attorney has to take in all of the information they have and make an assumption as to what the child would want – which can be different from the child’s best interests (or the birth parents’ best interests). It’s good that Monica has someone advocating for her. The whole system is set up to advocate for her parents (while simultaneously ensuring her safety) – every piece of the plan that is made must be with the end goal of reunification (until the court moves to terminate parental rights).

Anyway, her visit tonight was helpful. She let us know that the plan set in place at the last court date was still in motion – that our state and the other state are in the process of doing home studies on one of Monica’s out of state relatives with the intention of transferring the case. I believe that the hope is that that will happen at the next court date (late September). I know that her lawyer will advocate for Monica’s perceived desires – and she made it seem like she sees our home as preferable to Monica (considering the only information she has to go on is the reason for removal from her family, their behavior thus far, and what she has seen of Monica’s progress and happiness in our home). Of course, her lawyer is just one of many involved in this case, all in a system that aims to keep birth families together at all costs. But it is nice to know that (and how) her interests will be advocated for independent of her parents.

Speaking of her parents, Monica’s 6th family visit was scheduled for today. Drumroll please … they showed up! We don’t really know how it went yet, since her SW picked her up and dropped her off at daycare, but our SWs will be visiting tomorrow evening and hopefully will let us know how things played out. I’m happy to hear that they were able to have a family visit. I am really looking forward to hearing how it went. It’s so easy to build fictional ideas of who they are and how they would be with Monica when they are completely absent from our lives. We signed up for this – to be foster parents, to parent and fall in love with children who will be with us for just a little while, but also to work with, get to know, and hopefully support birth parents. It just makes it difficult when you fall in love with the child and so easily lose sight of the part where they are going to go home. I have mantras – I constantly remind myself that Monica is our beautiful, happy, and charming child for a little while, and then she will go home to her family to be their beautiful, happy, and charming little girl. But I do believe that foster parents need more than just will power and mantras – we need to be included as a part of this system, reminded not just that our children’s biological parents exist, but also who they are and how hard they are trying to get their kiddos back. Even supported and encouraged to work with them and be ongoing parenting supports. I know that this also causes infuriating situations when the families are not working hard to get their kids back – but that’s part of all of this too. The more we, as foster parents, are kept on the outside, the harder it is for us to buy into, work with, work around, and exist as a part of the system.

So that’s my opinion on that.

I have one more opinion, and that is that this little ball of sweetness is far too adorable for words (recognize that bedtime soother thing and the sticking out diaper?):

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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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Visits Galore

OK so there were only 2 visits. Does 2 qualify as “galore?”

I left work early today to have Monica home for her EI intake visit. The woman from EI was lovely, and it was fun to have extra time at home with Monica before her evening routine (also there is no A/C in my office and it feels like breathing soup there this week). Her EI evaluation is early next week, along with a follow-up doctor’s appointment, and the end of her emergency daycare placement. A lot to keep track of and figure out! Our problem is that we’ve been delaying all of the figuring out because we were pretty certain Monica would be leaving any moment. Well at this point it seems she isn’t going anywhere before all of those things happen so here we go – E has to use her week off to fill out a mountain of paperwork to get a more permanent daycare solution in place and take her to/be there for various appointments. Such is parenthood I guess!

Our second visit tonight was from Monica’s ongoing worker. She is very nice, very young, and very green. She told us that, for a first placement, Monica’s case is very complicated (which we knew). I kind of got the feeling that she was overwhelmed by the complicated-ness of it all as well. She did have a few updates, none of which I can share here and none of which give us any more certainty in terms of how long the nugget will be with us and where she will go next. What I can say is that they are continuing to try to transfer the case out of state, but it will involve both states conducting home studies for a relative of Monica’s and then agreeing to transfer/accept the case. Although the worker had no idea how long that would take, it seems like a week or two at the least. Monica actually moving would also be dependent on the relative passing both home studies. So we don’t know if or when that will happen, but we feel like we can plan week by week instead of day by day or hour by hour like we have been doing for the past few days. There is an additional court date set for September … which I guess will happen if the case is not transferred?

So obviously we still don’t know very much and there isn’t a clear plan or timeline, but I feel better knowing a bit more information, and knowing what the possibilities may be for Monica (and us).

Since I know you all love reading about the minutia (okay, maybe I just like writing about it), I am pumped to share that Monica has gone to sleep without crying for 2 nights in a row! Hardly a pattern, but I’m hoping it’s the start of something good. I probably just jinxed it though. I am really proud of both her and us – she has gotten much better at self-soothing, and trusting that we will indeed return to pick her up out of the crib in the morning. And we have been excellent at keeping a consistent evening routine of dinner, (bath), change diaper and into PJs, books, bottle, bed. During such a tumultuous time for Monica, we think it is really important to have something predictable and comfortable for her to rely on. Here’s hoping that if and when she leaves, it is carried over. (Rookie pipe dream).

To cap off my post tonight, here is proof that “Annie” exists. I’d like to note that this is the stuffed animal that I thought E was talking about and showed her last night, to which she insisted “no, there’s another bunny with pink pajamas that is smaller.” Well there isn’t, but I’m glad she feels better about it anyway. It’s the little things I guess. 🙂 Also, I just noticed from this picture that Annie the bunny has little bunny slippers on. How weird slash adorable.

photo-8

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Holding Pattern

The only news we’ve received about Monica’s case today is that they are “trying to see if the case can be transferred” out of state. The ongoing worker said that she would give us more info tomorrow evening at her scheduled visit to our home. While we were prepared to live in uncertainty when it comes to foster care, we never thought there wouldn’t even be any semblance of a plan, so that’s been hard. Oh, and it is totally notable that we wouldn’t even have any information (like “hey, court didn’t finish today,” or “they’re trying to transfer the case”) if we hadn’t asked. So we will just keep on keeping on with Monica until we hear more, and keep enjoying those cheeks of hers. Que cera cera.

We have an Early Intervention intake scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, before Monica’s case worker comes to the house. She’ll have an eval early next week. We also have a follow-up doctor’s appointment next week, and she is due to switch daycares (“emergency” voucher will be up and we’ll need to switch to a DCF voucher) midweek. All of these things are annoying when you don’t know whether she’ll be around or not – do we jump through all of the hoops to get the daycare and voucher figured out or not? Will we need to cancel all of these appointments? If we do, how will her medical and developmental care carry over, or will it at all?

On the seriously adorable front, Monica has learned how to give kisses. If you ask her for a kiss and start kissing her cheek, she’ll open her mouth up and slobber all over your cheek/nose/lips and then back away smiling. It’s probably the best thing ever. She is starting to seemingly want to move around more, which is really nice. Today when we got home, Monica was playing in the living room while I cleaned bottles (if you don’t do them right away it’s somewhat impossible to get motivated and then there are a million dirty bottles and no clean ones). Anyway, when I walked back into the living room, Monica had made her way over to the TV stand and pulled all the DVDs off. Awesome slash annoying! I also got blog-appropriate photographic evidence of her lunge and roll for your viewing enjoyment:

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Too cute right? I can’t take it. I wish I could post pictures of her kisses.

Any foster bloggers out there have advice on how to deal with the holding pattern? Or, you know, just want to commiserate?

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Nothing to Report

E and I were so anxious today waiting to hear how court went. The hearing was scheduled for 9am. Monica’s attorney told us that 9:00 hearings are usually done by the time they break for lunch at 1. By the time 1:01 rolled around, we were anxiously and impatiently awaiting news. The most difficult thing about all of this is not knowing what is happening. We just want to know the plan so that we can emotionally, mentally, and physically prepare. So, of course, we were both bouncing off the walls all afternoon waiting for news that never came. Monica’s ongoing worker finally e-mailed us at 5 letting us know that she had just left court and that they still weren’t done deciding the case. In fact, she shared that she still had no idea what would happen with the case. After all that, we still know absolutely nothing at all. UGH!

For now, we have to keep physically planning that Monica will be with us for the foreseeable future, while telling ourselves emotionally that she is leaving tomorrow. With that in mind, we visited a DCF voucher-approved daycare today after work. Monica’s emergency daycare situation will last us through the middle of next week, but we need to get a more permanent spot for anything after that. Luckily, we got good vibes from this provider. Plus she only has 2 other little guys in her care right now, both of whom are within a year of Monica’s age. If Monica does stick around, this feels like it will be a better daycare situation. And I must say it is helpful for us that there won’t be a language barrier between us and the provider.

A quick note about Monica – we have been excited the past few days to see her starting to show some signs of attachment. She has been crying and reaching for us when we drop her off at daycare, and preferring to be with us when others are holding her. While these things make it even harder to think about her leaving and having to form new attachments, they are really good signs of her emotional development. When she came to us, she had no problem going to anyone who approached her, and was really a “love the one you’re with” kind of gal. It’s nice to see this age-appropriate change in her (but again, all the more heart wrenching).

So today, our news is that there is no news. We should know more tomorrow (“should” being the operative term here). For now, we’ll just keep enjoying Monica and her smoosh-able cheeks for as long as she graces us with her presence.

 

Addendum / after thought – It should be noted that this hearing was the “72 hour hearing” that should have been scheduled for within 72 hours of Monica’s removal. The law gives parents the right to a 72 hour hearing, but apparently they aren’t always scheduled within 72 hours. Just a little glimpse into how the system is broken from all angles.

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Things I Love

Things I love about being a foster parent (so far … in my vast week and a half of experience):

  • smooshing my face up against Monica’s chubby cheeks (okay that’s just a thing I love about Monica)
  • having an awesome reason to wake up in the morning, leave work on time, have the house clean, and have generally good vibes all the time.
  • trying my hand at parenting, and liking it
  • doting on a little one day and night
  • taking care of Monica and the very concrete feeling I get that I am doing something good for my community – not just giving money or volunteering for an hour, but a real commitment to help in a real and tangible way

There are things I don’t like too – like not knowing what will happen tomorrow, feeling so attached to a beautiful child that I will say goodbye to (at some point – tomorrow or otherwise) and maybe never see again, and not trusting that “the system” will do what’s best for the kids. But today I’m focusing on the things I love.

Switching gears a bit to get back to our daily affairs – turns out it is not easy traveling with an 11 month old! Our car ride home was eventful … but I’m certain it could have been worse. I just never thought I’d be one of those people stopping on the side of the highway to get my kid to stop crying. All told, I shouldn’t have expected an 11 month old to be able to handle a 6 hour car ride without incident – I can barely do it. Sheba didn’t help either – she wanted nothing more than to get into the back seat with Monica and me (and all of our accompanying stuff). She succeeded a couple of times too – I guess there just isn’t enough room in the front seat for her to stretch out like a queen. Monica thought it was hilarious, but I have a bruise on my thigh that illustrates how I felt about it. We eventually got home, and only had to pull over three times (plus a stop for a sit down dinner – which E and I would usually pass up in favor of getting home quickly). And bonus – we got in a couple hours of sleep. So all was not lost. Some highlights of the second half of our long weekend:

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E and Monica playing at E’s mom’s house – getting ready for our “meet the parents” dinner.

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Monica and her EFGs. She was chugging water from a mason jar like a champ! The little nugget must have been thirsty.

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Guzzling from a strategically-placed mason jar. Sorry about the diaper shot … we haven’t taught her to sit like a lady yet.

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Monica’s lucky her EFGpa knows just how to play with her favorite toy.

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Aunt C’s flip flops are apparently hilarious. (By the way, all of these pajama shots happened about 45 minutes after we put her down – she had serious FOMO (fear of missing out) and (not-so) gently asked to rejoin the party).

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And finally – a moment of relative calm in the car. We let Sheba have her way for about a half hour before Monica told us that wasn’t a good idea. As you can see, they’ve decided to put aside their differences and be best friends. I am fairly certain that this picture depicts Monica trying to grab Sheba’s whiskers (with her perfect little pincer grasp), a practice that Sheba endured without flinching I might add. What a pair.

Little developmental updates – we have an Early Intervention evaluation scheduled for next week, if the chunk-a-monk is still with us then. She seems to be liking standing (while holding onto us) more than she did a week ago. She was really working on those leg muscles in the pool this weekend! She is trying to crawl – I keep thinking she’s almost there. I really think it is the sheer weight of her hind quarters that’s holding her back. She gets in the position and I think she’s about to do it … and then she does the lunge and roll. I’m sure she’ll get there soon. In the speech realm, it seems like she is repeating some words here and there – hi, bye bye, all done, she waves hi and bye, and she has a DEFINITE word for Sheba – “dada.” It’s one of her favorite things to babble so it may not seem like a word, but she pairs it with this specific tone of voice (high pitched and sing-songy) while gesturing or waving at the dog – and it is so consistent that it is clearly not just babbling. I’m not sure if maybe she’s saying “dog?” Or if “dada” is what she decided Sheba’s name is. Either way, it’s adorable. Oh, also, her hair is totally growing. I’m certain you can’t tell in the pictures and that you all think I’m insane but there is definitely more there than there was. And we’re not even using Rogaine.

Court is tomorrow morning, and we will certainly know more about the plan by tomorrow afternoon. We are preparing ourselves for Monica to leave as early as tomorrow, and hoping only that the judge makes the decision that is best for her and her happiness and well-being. Selfishly we might hope that that means staying with us a while longer, but we truly hope at the very least for a solid plan with good intentions and reasoning behind it. Famous last words?