Sunday, June 30, 2013

New Case Worker

Yesterday was the first home visit with the new case worker. He had called in a panic on Friday, while I was out of town, requesting that we set up a time, since he was running out of time to get June's required visit completed. I agreed to let him come over Saturday morning because...well, I really had no other choice...and I needed to meet the person that would be behind the recommendations that will be made on Lil Sis's case.

I posted this about it on FB:

Apparently, E has finally been assigned a new case worker. I got a panicked call from him today, since he's running out of time to do June's home visit. So, he'll be here at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Y'all know how I feel about strangers in my house...and that I don't trust men (sorry, guys, but it is what it is)...this child better be glad I love her because, tomorrow, I will tolerate a strange man casing the joint at an obscene time of the morning. No man should be in my house at that time of morning, unless he's cooking me breakfast...lol

 It was a rather uneventful, 10 minute home visit. Like the last CW, he knew nothing about the case other than her name and age. He assumed that she was a pre-adoptive placement, so I had to explain that termination of her mother's parental rights was not even on the table at this point. I also informed him of her upcoming parole hearing. He had no idea how her release would effect their offering of services to her. He wasn't aware that she was the "non-offending" parent in this case (because the child was not removed from her care & she was not responsible for any the circumstances that led to the removal), which does make a difference. He's never handled an ICWA case. He also didn't know when the next court hearing is, though he did assure me that he "will let me know what happens". I assured him that I have every intention of being there "because I never get straight answers about what happens when I don't make it & I wasn't even informed about the last one until over a week after it happened." He was clearly surprised, but I think that he got my point.

Lil Sis had been in care for 10 months now. I still don't have her medical card. It has been sitting in her DHS file since I ordered it, after she moved in. They also still haven't sent in her tribal membership application. Though I know they are supposed to handle that, I'm considering sending it myself & seeing if I can convince membership services to accept the application.

In the end, the visit was unproductive for much, other than checking the box on their little form. But, I did get to meet the new CW. He's a nice man, but he doesn't seem to really know how to really handle these cases, by which I mean ensuring the child is cared for & advocating for them. Also, he's never had an ICWA case, which means he probably hasn't been on this job long. After all, the majority of cases in my state are ICWA cases. My overall first impression is that he means well but he tend to just go down the little checklist & covers the formalities, like most CWs.

On the up side, a new worker means no triggering or meltdowns for Lil Sis. So, our lives continue on as normal. Her behavior has been staying pretty stable & she's been making some progress, which is always wonderful.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time to recharge

I've been feeling lonely & isolated lately.

There are several contributing factors, primary of which being the fact that I've just been completely overwhelmed. Studying for the Bar is hard enough on its own. But the class is designed to be a full days worth of work, with additional homework time. Since I no longer have a daycare for the two youngest to go to, I simply don't have enough time to devote to it. So, I've been behind & frustrated.

Add to that, all of the other emotionally draining stuff that I have going on, & it's been quite depressing. To make matters worse, the friend that I would normally talk through this sort of thing with seems to no longer be speaking to me. I'm completely aware that part of it is my stupid fault, but there's no way to un-ring a bell.

In any event, I finally decided to stop spinning my wheels & take a few days off. I spent 3 days of last week with various friends, just doing normal stuff...museum, zoo, splash park, just hanging out. Nothing stressful, just fun with the kiddos...and adult interaction. Oh, how I had been missing that! It was wonderful & I feel so much better.

I miss being a stay at home mom. However, I remember now why the kids & I did so much volunteer work. Being trapped in the house together constantly makes everyone cranky. And the whining that inevitably results makes Mommy crazy...especially if there isn't enough adult interaction to balance things out. So, it was nice to see friends & have time to recharge a little.

Time is passing very quickly & the exam will be here soon. I don't think I've ever felt like so much was riding on a single thing, in the way that my life (& that of my children) is dependent on passing this stupid test.  But, I try not to focus on that...because it's depressing as all hell. I will focus on the good things & on preparing to meet this challenge.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Judge not

When I chose to let the state place Lil Sis in my home, I knew that it would be surprising to people. I was a bit surprised, though, at how overtly and vocally judgmental that people have been.

  • One man told me that he couldn't understand why the state would even consider placing a child with a single mother who already has 4 kids.

  • I had a friend tell me that they were glad, because I should've taken her in as soon as I found out she was in care, rather than waiting to see how her placement was working out.

  • Several family members have said they understand why I would take her, but they make it clear that they think it should be a temporary situation. A few days ago, when discussing the after-school program that I have enrolled Lil Sis in for fall, I received a surprised "you think you'll still have her by then?!?" I answered honestly, "I don't know. There are no guarantees in foster care, but I have to be prepared..." To which I heard, "They need to just find her a good home to adopt her & get her outta there." "Ummm....ok...I really don't know how to respond to that."

  • I hear things like this all the time about my other kids, too, of course. Some people don't think it's right for me to have had another child after my divorce. Apparently, "half-siblings" (I hate that term & we don't use it in our house. In our tribe's kinship system, this sort of distinction isn't made) and blended families are a bad thing, in the eyes of some.

  • It will, surely, come as no shock to anyone that some people object to transracial adoption. So, I'm sure my little multi-racial family is offensive to them in some way.

I'm a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Sometimes, though, I think we should have the wisdom to realize that something is simply none of our business.

Judgments can be a heavy burden to bear, especially to a person that's already struggling. I'm fortunate in the fact that I learned, long ago, not to care what other people think about my choices. I evaluate the facts and try to do what the best I can with what I have to work with. Other people, however, haven't gotten there yet. And that's ok.

What is not ok, is for us to add to their hardship with our insignificant opinions. I call them insignificant because they are only as valuable as they are helpful. Constructive questions, encouragement, and things of that nature can be helpful. Criticisms, like the ones I mentioned, are not. They are destructive, harshly judgment, and, quite frankly, mean spirited.

I see foster parents struggling under the weight of these added burdens all the time.

Some people think foster parents only do it for the money, which is laughable considering the fact that the payments are very little and some placements are not paid for some reason or another. Mine, for example, has been here for several months and I have not received any payments. Will I at some point in the future? Supposedly, but who knows.

Foster parents, especially those that plan to adopt, are often called baby-stealers. Contrary to what you might assume, it's not always just the families that have lost kids to the system that believe this.

The truth is, though, that foster parents, as a rule, are neither hero or villain. Most of us are simply parents. We take the children that are placed with us, just as they are, and do what we can to care for them and help them heal. We aren't perfect. Mistakes are made. Human fallibility is an ever present difficulty. The good one's, though, do their best for these kids.

My friend wrote:
"When you are handed a child, either a wee baby just snatched and pushed from your body, or a screaming toddler terrified of your strange face or a silent preschooler angry at their exploding world, a mother, a good mother, hands them their heart.  This little person holds your world, and they become yours.

There are the good times that poets and mothers often write about, and remember on Mother's Days or in impassioned essays on the wonders of motherhood.  There are horrible times that only are spoken about in hushed tones in a therapist's office or in the knowing, silent looks of other mother's of teenagers whose hearts are bruised and broken.

There is terror, and passion.  Anger, pride, adoration and again more fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of what failing your child means to their life.  Fear that every decision is the wrong decision and that any decision could break them, or break you."

I firmly believe that she is right. Good parents--those that care about their kids, whether biological, adoptive, foster, step, etc.--all go through struggles. Life is complicated & parenting is hard. But, let's be honest, it is harder when a parent is caring for a child that has been through hell. When a parent is trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered child and help them to heal, they are navigating treacherous waters with no way to predict the twists & turns that are ahead.

One thing that is certain, it makes every decision seem more important. Every success is more sweet. Every mistake more guilt-addled. At times it's can feel like even the small decisions can result in a failure that could derail their healing and their future. "Fear that every decision is the wrong decision and that any decision could break them, or break you."  It can be overwhelming.

Now, consider the fact that foster families do this for multiple children. I recently met a couple that have been fostering since the 1970s. Over those years, they have adopted 11 children and have fosters between 50-60 kids. They are actively involved with as many of those kids as they can be--and some parents in the cases of successful reunifications. They gave all of themselves to each one of those children. They loved them. And they had their hearts broken over & over again. It has all been worth it, they tell me, because they can see the difference they have made in the lives of the children that they have cared for, even if their parenting role was only temporary for most of them. That is what foster parents do.

So, next time you cross paths with a foster family. Maybe, just maybe, think about how you interact with them. I encourage you to do your best to make it positive. I'm not saying throw them a parade or anything like that. Just treat them with respect. Don't pass judgment on things that you haven't lived. Treat the kids just like any other kids, rather than "foster kids" (this is the one thing that has played a HUGE role in the people that I have interacted with lately & those that I haven't. I get tired of people looking at Lil Sis like she's somehow damaged goods, so I tend to avoid those people).

How's this for a revolutionary idea...just treat everyone like humans. Just be respectful & don't add to their burdens with your judgments or criticisms. It's really that simple.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Crossed over to the dark side...

As I write this, I am listening to the sounds of Lil Sis & her therapist. She has been making small amounts of progress, so far. Today, though, she is actually engaging in the exercises to help her learn to identify emotions. This is a HUGE improvement. Up until this point, she has flatly refused to take part in anything that involved identifying or discussing feelings of any sort.

Generally speaking, she tries to pretend that she is happy all the time. I have no idea why she feels this is necessary but, for whatever reason, she will always tell you she's happy and attempt to hide her true feelings about things. Of course, pretending to be happy when you are not is a lot of work. So, what happens often is she spends so much energy keeping every other emotion inside, that she is often emotionally overwhelmed. Naturally, then, when something does finally tip the scales, she falls apart. There is a huge meltdown, followed by her withdrawing from everyone.

Because it's pretty much impossible for her to make progress if she's spending 2/3 of her time in crisis mode, her therapist and I have been brainstorming ideas on how to help her avoid triggers. I am hopeful that her biggest trigger, the CW, is in the process of being resolved. However, there was another huge issue that caused dramatic meltdowns.

Even the slightest pulling of her hair sends her into a panicky meltdown. This, of course, makes detangling and styling very difficult. Protective styles, like cornrows, help to space out the episodes, but makes each one last longer. So...what to do...?

Well, I crossed over to the dark side.

I did something that I swore I would never do.

I put a relaxer on her hair.

Now, before you break out the pitchforks & torches, let me explain my reasoning.

I never thought I'd relax her hair because I want her to be happy about who she is. I want her to know that she is beautiful, just the way she is. However, sometimes, when dealing with so many complex issues, the needs have to be prioritized. In the hierarchy of needs, feeling safe takes priority, & is precedent to,  positive body image. So, even though I cringed the entire time, in order to help deal with her more immediate needs, I went ahead and straightened her hair.

So far, this has made a dramatic difference. Less tangling means less pulling...which means fewer meltdowns. There have actually been some days, recently, with no meltdowns at all...over anything. And it seems to be resulting in positive progress. As much as I hated the means to the end, the strategy seems to be working out. As for helping create positive body image, that's a battle we'll have to fight on other fronts & leave the hair issue for the future, when she's at a point that she can deal with it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Play time!


I made an awesome garage sale find! $20 for a swing set.

It's not perfect, of course. The poles are slightly bent & there were some rust issues. I think she was having trouble selling it, simply because it was ugly & it certainly didn't look like much, just laying in a pile. But, some new bolts and a little bit of paint & it will work just fine for my little ones. Remarkable what a little time & effort can do. The Littles couldn't be more excited.

Now that they've got something to do...maybe I'll get some work done.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Breakthrough

When Lil Sis opens up about stuff, it sorta works like a floodgate. There's a rush of information, the it gets shut own completely for a while.

A couple days ago, she not only started chattering constantly about her last fosters, but she also brought up her Granny. This is a huge breakthrough because, previously, she would shut down at the mere mention of Granny. She wouldn't talk about her or any experience related to her. Suddenly, she not only mentioned her, but started talking about how she used to live with Granny and asking "who carried me in her belly". I said, "your mother carried you".

She was confused by this & said "I don't have a mother". I have a Granny & my Dads & you're my Mom. So I explained to her about her mother: her name, how she is also Beautiful's mother, how she lived with her when she was a baby, etc. She asked to see a picture. However, she froze at the site of the photo & refused to talk about her anymore. She did, however, want to know how she got out of her mother's belly as a baby, so we got to have an entirely different discussion...

In any event, I also found out that they have set the date for the girls' mother's parole hearing for September. IDK what this means for Lil Sis's case. With overcrowding the way it is in the women's facilities in my state, they are letting out just about anyone they can. So, it's likely that she will make parole, unless there are some disciplinary issues that we haven't been made aware of.

Most of the transition programs that work with the facility she's in operate right here in the same metro that I live in. So, she'll be close. I don't think she's a threat as long as she's clean...but she's unpredictable when using.

I'm concerned about them starting visits, if she's released. Lil Sis hasn't seen her since she was a toddler, so I don't think she even really remembers her. She told me that her Granny never talked to her about her mother, but seeing a photo was distressing. So, there doesn't seem to be any bonding or attachment to draw from...so, her therapist & I are concerned that it will be terribly traumatic. We're just now breaking the ice on dealing with any of her issues. She doesn't need more added on.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lil Sis update

Since Lil Sis moved in, I've been extremely frustrated with her CW because nothing gets done. Add to that, the fact even seeing her CW is a HUGE trauma trigger for Lil Sis and it's been several months of 2 steps forward, a dozen steps back.

Every time Lil Sis sees the CW, she immediately freezes. Then, we have at least two weeks of regressed behavior. The nightmares come back. She starts acting out & is an emotional mess. This starts leveling out after a couple weeks. Then, we can finally start working on her real issues...for about a week or so...and, then, it's time for the monthly CW visit again. So, we get back on the roller coaster.

Her counselor had started coming here to stay with Lil Sis, while the CW did her monthly visit. She observed the reaction, and the fall out, as well. Acting on her recommendation to request a new CW, I called the supervisor. And that became an exercise in frustration...

I called & left messages for 3 weeks, without a call back. FINALLY, she called me back Friday. Her explanation for not calling me back was that she had a cornea transplant, so she was out on medical leave. I'd like to know why the staff was just passing me to her voicemail, rather than dealing with the issue. We did get lucky, in the mean time, and a substitute worker did the May visit. The fact that there was absolutely no negative reaction from Lil Sis cemented for the counselor & me that we need a new CW. I explained all of this to the supervisor & she assured me that she would speak with the counselor &, if the counselor confirms what I said, we will get a new CW. So...here's hoping...

In other news, Lil Sis is doing well. She's making progress in dealing with grieving her last fosters. She talks about them just about every day now, without sobbing & works them into her imaginative play. Happy to see positive progress in that area.

Hopefully, once she works through some of that, she can start to deal with some of her other underlying issues. She still refuses to talk about anything about her family. There are definite red flags for SA, which I won't go into here. But, there's a lot for this child to deal with & I just hope & pray, every day, that she can heal from all that she's been through.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Contempt

Yesterday was the wasband's arraignment for the Contempt of Court charges, for not following some of the terms of the divorce decree and failing to pay support.

I was prepared for a simple hearing where he would plead "not guilty" and we'd set the date for trial.

Well...those things did happen...but so did a few things that I didn't see coming...

Firstly, he didn't dress for court. He showed up in stained jeans, old tennis shoes, and a faded "2nd Amendment" t-shirt. While this really isn't a big deal to the judge we were appearing before, it struck me as odd. In all the time that we were together & all the court hearings that we had attended, he had never dressed so inappropriately. So, it just struck me as uncharacteristic for the guy that I had been married to.

Secondly, his attitude in court was appalling. In all the years that we were together, I had rarely heard him be so disrespectful...and never in a situation where it was so unwarranted & inappropriate. When the judge asked his how he plead, he couldn't leave it with "not guilty". Instead, he had to add, "I know I'm behind, but that's two sided. Part of that is spousal support & she's got a baby by another man, so I just don't think it's right that I should have to pay her." This, my friends, is why I always tell clients to say the least amount possible in court. In any event, Her Honor took it in relative stride & just raised her eyebrows at him & told him "well, that's why you file something in court."

So, we get through that part & get the trial date set...then the judge asks a question that I hadn't anticipated. She asked my attorney if there was any reason to be concerned that Respondent wouldn't appear for trial. When I heard that, it sorta jolted me. I had never been involved in an arraignment in a civil contempt citation, only in criminal court. So, it hadn't occurred to me that there would be a request for bond. This matters because Wasband asked me, the day before, if I thought he'd be arrested when he came to court. I answered honestly and told him,  "I don't see any reason that you would be...". Oops! I had completely forgotten about the possibility of a bond being required to help ensure his appearance.

So...I listened as my attorney, who I have complete confidence in & had granted the authority to make these decisions (after all, what I've been trying, on my own, hasn't been too successful), explained that we have trouble even knowing where he is to serve him, that he works mostly out of state & how much he is behind in support...and requesting a $2500 bond. That really isn't a large bond, considering how much he owes. And, if he gets a bail bondsman, he only has to come up with $250 to get out.

When Her Honor explained to Wasband that a $2500 bond was being requested, instead of calmly explaining that he assured the court that he would appear, & explaining why a bond wasn't necessary, he took a different approach. His exact words to the judge were "Where I supposed to come up with $2500?". Clearly annoyed with the tone that he was using towards her, Her Honor looked at him, over her glasses and said "I can't tell you that." Then, he sealed her decision...he looked at my attorney and said, "I've got a $100 bill in my wallet & your welcome to it, Buddy, but that's all I got." Without another word, the judge wrote her order, then turned to the bailiff & said that she was remanding him to the custody of the Sheriff until bond is made.

Had Wasband handled it more appropriately, I believe, just from previous experience with this judge, that she probably would have let him by with no bond. Instead, he was taken away in pretty pink handcuffs.

As an attorney, I know that my council made the right call. However, I wasn't mentally prepared for the father of my children to be arrested. But, it is what it is & I just keep reminding myself that this is the consequences of his actions.

My primary concern, at this point, is what, if anything, he might say to the kids about this. I'm completely aware that, in his mind, this is all my fault. And he'd entitled to feel however he pleases. However, I am careful to not say negative things about him to, or in front of, our children. He, on the other hand, has blurred that boundary more than once. I'm concerned that he may tell the kids that I had him thrown in jail. I'm accustomed to them blaming me for not seeing him much. However, I think that this issue might require a bit more explanation...and I'm not sure how to go about that. Who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky & he won't tell them...