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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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Call for Questions

So I’m feeling the pressure to keep posting with some serious regularity … As in, I am receiving actual verbal pressure along with some good old fashioned guilt and subliminal messaging. So here I am! (subtext: I actually love this)

What I’m realizing is that many of you – family, friends, and lurkers alike – have lots of questions about all of this and maybe don’t feel comfortable asking or are just waiting for me to post about it. Since I’m not a mind reader, here’s my call for topics! I want to hear from you – leave me a comment (you can be anonymous if you must) with a topic you’d like to hear my thoughts on or a question you have, and I’ll end up with a little list of blog posts yet to be written!

You know what’s going to be super embarrassing? When I don’t get any comments on this post at all …

Also, I seem to have only taken videos of Monica yesterday. So no pictures to post today! I promise that there will be pictures galore of the back of her head/other face-less poses as we embark on our little family vacation this weekend. Just you wait.

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First Day

OK we’ve officially gone viral (thanks to Facebook) – 232 visitors and ~700 views in 7 different countries today! Insane.

So Monica is napping right now. She slept through the night! And also through the morning! Poor thing was exhausted, and didn’t wake up until almost 9:00 this morning. E got her out of bed and she immediately stopped crying and flashed a big smile. She enjoyed her breakfast of fruit and puffs, and we took a little walk to Starbucks (much needed for E and me – we didn’t sleep as well as she did last night!). We came back and played with our neighbor’s 20 mo. old daughter for a little bit, then came back home for a bottle and nap time. She did cry a good amount when we put her down again, but eventually fell asleep and was out like a light in her weird, folded-in-half style.

On the docket for today: buy a few key items (socks, clothes, PJs, bibs, food), pick up some more key items (high chair, monitor, more clothes, toys), and generally make it through the rest of the day. We are so lucky to have such an amazing community of support. It really does take a village! Our friends and neighbors have jumped at the chance to lend/give us things, which is so wonderful. We don’t want to go out and buy a million things, in case she leaves us in 2 weeks. It makes things so much easier to know we won’t have to feed her meals on our laps like we did this morning! Or that we can give our arms a break with a Baby Bjorn (if she likes it) (yeesh she is heavy!). Seriously, you all are so fantastic.

Basically, so far so good. She is babbling (that’s for you, fellow SLPs) a lot, has great eye contact/is generally social, has a cute little pincer grasp (that one’s for you, OT friends), and was able to get some food into her mouth that way. She did get a little frustrated when things fell, etc – it seems like she might not have too much experience feeding herself (she mostly was opening her mouth and moving it toward things, waiting for us to pick them up and feed the to her). We haven’t seen any independent locomotion yet (PTs …) – but she hasn’t had too much of a chance. She definitely sits up well, sits up from lying down on her own, and can stand up holding our hands (but doesn’t love this). She likes balls, books, throwing things, hitting things, and feeding her food to Sheba (oy). And here’s a cute picture of her playing:

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Baby Makes Three

I’ve felt like a bad blogger lately, but there has been nothing to post about! After those first two calls, we went two weeks without hearing a word from DCF.  Just last night I was trying to come up with some witty and thought-provoking topic to post about (I came up empty).  Then this afternoon, we got the call.  And now our house has things like this in it:

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I think my writing will not be so eloquent tonight, so bear with me while I report the facts.

My phone rang this afternoon around 1:45, while I was with a student.  Luckily, I have an intern who I was able to leave with the kiddo while I answered.  As I’m sure you can assume, it was our family resource worker, who said “I have a beautiful baby girl here and I thought of you.”

The details (well, the ones I can share online): she’s not quite 11 months old, white with blue eyes (race has always been one of the first details we get), and was removed early this morning from a hotline call.  Since she came into care from a hotline call, this is considered an “emergency placement” (AKA a same-day placement).  I think her blog name will be Monica – because we love Friends and this baby eats as much as Monica must have eaten as an 11 month old.

Children in the care of DCF have to have a health screening within 7 days of coming into care.  Monica’s screening was scheduled for this afternoon, and I was able to leave work to meet her there to do the hand-off.  It was nice to be able to sit in on the appointment (the social worker was going to do it on her own and drop Monica off with us afterward) – I got  to ask the doctor questions, and get some basic developmental info that will help us care for her.  Per the screening, she seems to be healthy.  In terms of the case, she was living with her mom when she was removed.  Dad has been in contact but lives in another state and may or may not be a suitable parent.  If he is, Monica could be placed with him as soon as the next hearing, which is in ~2 weeks.  Given the timing of this placement, there is always the chance that a suitable relative will come forward at any time.  If that happens, DCF will clear their home and do background checks / generally investigate (since there’s an open case, wherever she goes will be checked out), and then Monica could be placed there.  All in all, there is no way to have a good guess about the length of this placement.  It seems the chances are equal that we’ll have her for a couple weeks or for a year or more.  The goal for this cutie is reunification with her family, and we will be thrilled to see her go home to live with family who love her and can care for her.  Who knows when that will be.  For the time being, she’s here, and we are a little family of three!

So Far

I promise not to give a play-by-play of every minute with this baby, but it feels appropriate to say how the first night has gone!

After telling my boss I wouldn’t be in tomorrow/generally freaking out to my coworkers, I got in my car and called my mom. Things I asked my mom:

  • OMG, what do 11 month olds eat?
  • When do they eat? How often?
  • How often should I bathe her? (her response? “K, bathe her when she’s dirty”)
  • Will she sleep through the night?

I met Monica and her (temporary) social worker at the health screening. She’s such a little chunk-a-monk! And is pretty much totally bald. I’m going to need to velcro a little bow to her head or something, even the doctor (who had her chart in front of him) kept referring to her as “he.”  Awkward. Monica came to us with a carseat (phew), very minimal clothing which was all gathered from donations at the Department, and some formula/diapers purchased by the social worker to get her through the next few days.  We waited in the exam room for an hour before she was seen by the doctor, but he was great with her and helpful in general. Poor nugget had to get a blood draw after that. 😦 She cried while it was happening but recovered SO much faster than I thought! She was her smiling self by the time we walked out of the room.

I was officially on my own with her when we left the appointment. After such a long day, she fell asleep as soon as I pulled out of the parking garage. We didn’t get home until around 7:00, and I really wanted to get her into a routine immediately. She and E got to meet, and we introduced her to Sheba the dog.  Sheba will be something we figure out as we go – she got very excited/hyper and wanted nothing more than to lick Monica’s feet, which she was not a huge fan of.  It seems like the little nugget may not have been around dogs before, so we’ll do a gradual introduction over the next few days. When we got home, we started on the night-time routine of bath, books, bed. Monica is used to co-sleeping, and apparently has spent most of her time being held. As such, we were a little worried about how bed time would go. We are not certain that she has ever slept in a crib/room by herself. Still, we were set on starting the routine right away – so into the crib she went. She cried (slash screamed) for about 15 minutes, but I think she was just too exhausted to fight it. As I type, she is peacefully sleeping in the crib, and has been asleep for about 2 hours. Here’s hoping tonight goes well! When I went in to check on her, this is how I found her:

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What a chunker right?! Anyway, poor thing must have fallen asleep sitting up. Don’t worry, I adjusted her positioning appropriately, but not before taking a picture!

So that’s what’s happening. And here’s where I ask for advice! What do we do with an 11 month old? Any suggestions for activities/toys/foods/etc? Help these first time foster parents out!

 

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Another Call

We got another call today. This was for another brother/sister sibling set, 3 and 8. I was surprised at how quickly another call came in, especially given that, if you recall, we are still not officially licensed. After talking to E extensively, we agreed that we just aren’t equipped to parent an 8 year old right now. So it was a no from us this time. There’s no denying that things are in motion now though. Here we go!

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The Home Study that Wasn’t

I had been expecting to write a post today about our scheduled home study, which (as can be inferred from the title) didn’t happen.  I also debated titling this post “The First Placement that Wasn’t” – so that’s a little teaser for you.

We were scheduled to have our final home study visit today, so that our family resource social worker could ask all of her final questions to write and submit the home study.  I got a call today from said worker, and she started discussing an emergency in the office.  My immediate thought was, “ugh she’s canceling.”  Turns out, she was calling about a placement.  A brother and sister – 2 and 3 years old – who needed a placement today.  Like, within a couple hours of the call.  After the initial freak out (something along the lines of “really?! Are we even licensed yet?! Ummmm we don’t have furniture.  Or food.  Even adult food.  Or diapers.  Or day care.  And my blog is called sometimes three, not sometimes four …”), I called E to discuss.  I assumed she would say no right away – we are theoretically getting licensed for only 1 child, we have none of the things we need …   Long story short, she didn’t say no.  We talked with our worker and agreed we could make it work given we could get respite this weekend (we are headed to a wedding in Virginia) and that a day care situation could be pulled together.  We left the call with the impression that we were kind of the only option (rookies), and waited for the confirmation call.  Now I’m sure you all know where this is going (or we would have a very different post title on our hands) – they placed the kiddos with another foster parent who works on a typical school schedule and will be able to stay home with them within a couple of weeks.  And probably doesn’t need respite within the first week of placement.

Emotion-wise, I am feeling a mix of relieved, slightly disappointed, and happy for the kiddos.  I’m glad DCF was able to place them in a home where they will get great attention and (hopefully) good care.  E is feeling fairly annoyed with the up and down situation – she felt the pain of unmet expectations a little harder than I.  Here’s Sheba’s reaction:

sleepy shebaHard to read, but I’m thinking she’s just happy she doesn’t have a couple of small children pulling her hair tonight.

So that’s the update.  Moving forward, our social worker reported that she’ll be submitting our home study by the end of the week, so we can expect another call anytime after this weekend.  With that in mind and the shock of everything being much more real, we headed to Ikea this evening to purchase a crib/toddler bed.  Next time, we’ll at least have somewhere for the kid to sleep.