Foster Care Judgment Day

Foster to Adopt

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Have you thought much about your own Judgment Day?

I hadn’t. That is until our more recent visits to the courtroom.

Last Tuesday was a pretrial hearing for Little A’s case. We sat in the gallery of the courtroom several pews behind A’s mother. She sat at the defendant’s table all alone. Her shoulders were shrugged into herself and she looked even smaller than she is in the black and grey hooded sweatshirt she wore. The judge’s bench loomed in front of her. On the other side of the courtroom at the prosecution’s table sat a gaggle of well and colorfully dressed blonde-headed ladies – lawyers and caseworkers – all representing the best interests of Little A. It was impossible not to notice just how lonesome A’s mother was, juxtaposed to the pack of older, educated women at the competing desk. My heart was in turmoil, oscillating between demands of justice for Little A and gut-wrenching empathy for the solitary young mother before me. Her lawyer had called in over the phone – distant representation without a face or physical presence to offer guidance and support.

This was an important day in the courtroom. It was a day to determine if the case would proceed to trial on September 2.

Let me give you a little foster care process background so that you know what brought us to this point…

Biological parents have a set amount of time to work on and complete their treatment plans. In A’s case, due to her young age, the “set amount of time” is one year. If representatives for the child can agree that enough progress has been made on the treatment plan prior to the one-year mark, visitation with bio parents is ramped up and a schedule for reunification of the child with bio parent(s) is put in place. On the other hand, if representatives for the child do not agree that reunification of the child with the bio parents is in the best interest of the child, yet the biological parents still seek to regain custody, the case is brought to trial.

Bringing a child’s case to trial is not ideal. I am told it is an emotional situation for everyone involved and is to be avoided if at all possible. A’s parents and their state appointed lawyers will face off against A’s team of lawyers, caseworkers, and volunteer advocates. A day and a half of testimony will be presented. Witnesses will be called to the stand. Experts will be asked to weigh in. A’s bio parents as well as Adam and I will likely have to take the stand (um – freaking out!). Supporters for either side will fill, or not fill, the seats in the gallery.

If A’s lawyer’s “win” this case, the rights of the biological parents will be immediately terminated. A would essentially become an orphan for a temporary period of time until her adoption day. If the bio parents “win” this case, A will remain in foster care for a newly specified amount of time while the parents continue work on their treatment plans. (“Win” is an inaccurate word to use in situations like this.) From what I understand the case would then go back to trial in some months for reevaluation.

It has been suggested that the experience of a trial will be devastating for A’s parents, win or lose. They will be faced with tough questions on the stand and hard to swallow presentations to the judge of them as people and as parents.

Did I mention that I am also freaking out about taking the stand? Speaking in front of people is hard enough for me. Speaking in front of people, about another person, who is also in the room, whom I hope to have a relationship with in the future, is going to be infinitely more terrifying. Oh man, I don’t even want to think about it. And I’m trying not to – too much – as I’m still praying for one of the other options to come to fruition.

The other options are voluntary relinquishment (best case scenario), or that the parents won’t show up on trial day and the case will default to termination.

Voluntary relinquishment was one of the major points of the pretrial hearing last Tuesday. The judge wanted to hear from the parents that they still intended to go to trial. They could, after all, throw their hands in the air and surrender custody of their daughter. Voluntary relinquishment is the preferred route because trial would be avoided, state imposed termination would be avoided, and more time in flux and in temporary foster care for Little A would be avoided. The parents would also avoid having a termination on their permanent record forever, which carries with it several implications including red flags if they have future children and the inability to ever work anywhere or anyplace involving children. Relinquishment, on the other hand, carries with it no legal ramifications.

It is a choice for A’s parents that I do not envy. It’s a battle for them of head versus heart, desire versus ability, pride versus honesty, and the fight for love versus the strength to surrender in light of it. It is a lot to process and A’s parents are young and largely unsupported. We can hardly imagine being in their shoes. Yet participating in this case has personified the faith we have in the nerve-wracking fact that we too will be sitting at the defendant’s table in front of The Judge some day. I had never visualized this occasion before. Seeing A’s mother there brought the whole thing to life and got me thinking about some important questions…

Will I have an advocate at my trial to represent me, or will I have to speak on my own behalf? Will it be a somber or joyous day? Who will I call to the stand? What will my witnesses say? Who will the witnesses for the prosecution be? Is there testimony I will be ashamed of? And most importantly, how can I make restitution for my choices now?

I have not and do not always love God or others well or enough, but I believe God’s “treatment plan,” in theory, is simple. The Bible says the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is like it, to love people. Everything else [in the “treatment plan”] hangs on this. This case has reminded me to relinquish my rights on a daily basis and to continue to chip away at the treatment plan. I’d like to avoid the trial all together. How about you?

We should have some answers regarding Little A on September 3. I will keep you posted!

As always, thanks for reading and would love to hear from you.

Xo,

Kara

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How Foster Parenting Fosters Faith

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melissayoungphotography.com

One of the first nights we had Little A I was singing her songs as she was falling asleep. Without much thought I started to whisper the words to Jesus Loves Me. It’s a song I’ve sang a thousand times, but the words had never hit me quite like they did that night. This 18-month-old little darling had just been pulled from all things familiar and placed into the arms of strangers. She had absolutely no control over what was happening to her. She was weak.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I sang familiar words, new circumstances giving this seemingly simple song new meaning…

“Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.”

In that moment, singing those words, I was surprised by the conviction with which I believed in that last part. I didn’t yet know how my faith would be put to the test.

It is 8.5 months later and we are in the thick of this foster care process. Expectations regarding A’s future change weekly. We are left to question, interpret, and put our spin on the information given to us by “The Team”.  If we felt good about A’s prospects and her future outside our home this whole thing might be less emotional. But the circumstances are what they are and the ups and downs are taxing.

“Do you guard your heart with her?” some friends have asked.

“Guard your heart,” other well-wishers have suggested.

I know that all these friends mean well, but guarding our hearts is the last thing we want to do.  I don’t think God guards his heart in case his people walk away from Him. I don’t think the world needs guarded love like that.

The foster care journey with Little A has been faith testing in the best and worst of ways. Trusting Jesus is something we must surrender to daily. It is not easy. Now, each night, as we tuck Ana into bed we sing “He is strong” as more of a prayer than anything else. As a nightly ritual, when we are done with the song, A looks up at us, puts her hands together in baby sign language, and pleads in her little toddler voice, “More Jesus please.” We couldn’t agree more. We really have no other choice.

Do you struggle with trust like I do? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

With a grateful heart,

KG.

Foster Care Introduction – The Basics Part 1

Foster Child

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Visitation. Treatment Plans. The Team. Vacations. Here we go.

Visitation.

I am not exactly sure how visitation time with bio parents is determined. Little A gets an hour with mom and an hour with dad 3 times each week. In the beginning we were doing the driving to and from visits. Now that A is accustomed to the caseworkers, and because visits were moved to the middle of the workday, A is picked up and dropped off by caseworkers while at daycare. Unless something big happens at visits this is a part of her day that we often hear nothing about.

Sometimes there are behavior differences from one evening to the next. We don’t know whether to attribute these differences to visits or not.

As a concerned foster parent I want to know what A ate for lunch that day. I want to know if she calls her bio mom “momma.” I want to know if she caught some Z’s on the 30-minute car ride each way. But these are things that I just have to let go. It’s a bit of a challenge to not be in control.

Sometimes, when I’m able to stop focusing on us and how we feel, I think about A’s mom… She doesn’t know what A had for breakfast or dinner, how A slept at night, or what she’s been doing for fun. I wonder if there are behavior differences during visits and if mom considers attributing these to how we are raising her daughter? Sometimes I wish A’s mom had a blog I could peek in on. I wonder how she feels about all of this… to what level does she care?

Treatment Plans.

Bio parents don’t always show up for visits and this plays a part in how the case is presented to the judge. Also of importance is how parents are progressing on their treatment plan. The treatment plan is something that the team involved in the case comes up with for the bio parents. It is a checklist of things that parents need to do in order to regain custody of their child. Plans vary based on the individual and the reasons for the removal in the first place, but some examples of “to-dos” might be therapy, counseling, classes, drug tests, stable employment or housing, staying out of trouble with the law, etc. Bio parents review the treatment plan and sign off on it. Theoretically, they should then get to work on completing its contents. After a certain period of time, I think usually 60 or 90 days, the judge reviews the progress and decides next steps. In our case initial progress was presented in March and a follow-up date was scheduled for May. May was delayed and the hearing was rescheduled for June. Adam and I are anxious to get a sense of where our case stands when we attend court next week.

The Team.

There are quite a few people involved in cases like this. There is a lawyer appointed to represent each bio parent. There is a lawyer for the child. There is a caseworker for the child. There is a volunteer court advocate for the child. There is a caseworker for us. And, as this progresses, we can hire a lawyer to represent us if we choose. Both caseworkers, the child’s lawyer and the child’s volunteer advocate are all supposed to visit the child in the foster home on a fairly regular basis to ensure all is in the best interest of the child. These visits are in addition to other specialists who may be in and out of the home, such as therapists, parenting coaches, etc..

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Vacations.

Oh, sweet, sweet vacations. They are not as easy to take as they once were. In order to leave the state with a foster child, foster parents need bio parent approval and/or judge’s orders. Leaving the country is not allowed. Any visitation time that is missed during vacation is made up for surrounding the trip. Despite the hoops, vacation time has been extra special for our family. Not knowing what A’s future might look like, being able to take her to the ocean, on an airplane ride, and to Disney World have been trips we have not taken for granted.

We are praying that God’s will be done in little A’s life, selfishly hoping that means many more trips with all of us together.

Thanks for reading and as always, love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions!

Xo,

KG.

Parenting on the Foster Care Coaster

 

Little A loves baby dolls. She likes to put clothes on them, pretend to feed them, make cry noises and pat their backs and rock them. Particularly troubling to her is when another child is playing with a baby doll she wants to play with. She is communicating better now, but just a few short months ago she would point and fuss and whine, “mine.”

As her parents it is our job to teach her what is and is not socially acceptable behavior. Yet if ever my heart has been able to relate to hers, it is in these moments. Sometimes I want to act the same way.  I just wish little A was mine… Waaaa.

Have I mentioned that we are foster parenting with the hope of adopting? That wasn’t the original goal, per say. When you go through the process to get certified you can check all sorts of different boxes indicating what type of court case and / or child you would like to foster.

Within 12 hours of having A we knew we wanted to adopt her if that were to become an option. I’m not sure if it will be like that with every child we foster. I do suspect that wanting to adopt her has made foster care all the more emotional for us (or perhaps just me as Adam tends to have a great perspective and a level head).

At this point in the game the emotional roller coaster has become routine. About every two weeks we get an update from a lawyer or caseworker that either leaves me feeling elated or wanting to crawl into a hole. The emotions were intense at first. Now that we are a little more accustomed to how all of this works I understand that today’s update on the case may look nothing like tomorrows. Sometimes updates are based on how visitation with bio parents is going. Sometimes we get information regarding how A’s parents are doing on their treatment plans. Sometimes we hear about A’s extended family members and the interest and/or appropriateness of them adopting her.

I wish I could be more specific on details. Perhaps when this is all said and done I will be able to go back and fill in some gaps. Suffice it to say there are some days when I feel strongly that A will be ours forever. There are other days when I feel hopeless and have to remind myself that God is in control and knows what’s best. Little A is not “mine.” She is His.

All of this custody stuff will unfold over the next 4 months or so. We go back to court on June 20th (next Friday!).

How is parenting your own children a roller coaster? Or is it? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Xo,

KG.

Foster Parenting: How Long Will You Live With Us?

Foster Child Little A

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I may have been a little overly ambitious with this whole blog thing. In theory I love the idea. In reality, how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do working moms survive? I’m lucky if I get a shower every day, let alone some personal time for writing and reflection. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.  I’m also feeling like parenting is still the most rewarding thing in the whole world. You probably feel that way too? In that way foster parents and bio parents are the same. Yet I’ve been thinking more about how foster parenting is different…

I have some friends who have recently or will recently send their first born off to college. It is not an easy time. The kid spreads their wings and the parents can only hope and pray that the foundation they have poured over 18ish years is solid. Mom and dad watch in anticipation to see which nuggets of wisdom will stick. 18 years, typically, to feed into the lives of children before sending them on their merry way.

We very likely will not have 18 years with A. Unless we get to adopt her we won’t even have 18 months.* That means that every day we do have with her REALLY counts. Like a parent sending their teen off to college, we hope that the impact we are having is profound and that the effects are long lasting.

As A grows up she probably won’t remember us. She won’t remember the nights we woke up 12 times to comfort her back to sleep or the 17 different sleeping arrangements it took to finally find one she was happy with. She probably won’t remember splashing in the pool or sledding down small and then bigger hills. She won’t remember what she learned from our snowboarding lessons or the grandma’s and grandpa’s she visited with who were absolutely in love with her. She may not remember the little songs we sang, the prayers we prayed, jumping on Papa Adam, burping with Aunt Mel or being smooshed between a kiss sandwich. She likely won’t remember that she had a dog named Roxy who she loved to feed and walk and torment.

But all that begs a question: If a person doesn’t remember the nice and the good things, does it make those things not worth doing? (This awesome guy, Stu Graff, has a great post about the topic. You should check it out.)

While A won’t remember specifics, I am confident that all this love and all these experiences are making a difference for her. The footing of a home isn’t the most glamorous part, but it is the part on which all else depends.

In my first post I made the statement that foster care is something you need not be scared of. I am seriously not sure why I said that? Did anyone out there think to call my bluff? I guess I am still processing. I guess I was hoping more people would want to do it (and you should). But I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like to retract that statement. We are absolutely in love with this child and we may be about to “send her off to college.” Truth be told, we are scared shitless…

The bottom line is though, whether it is 12 months or 18 years, every day counts.

I believe it counts whether they remember it or not.

Do you?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.
xo,

Kara

*There are time limits with regards to how long a child can remain in foster care without a permanency plan. Due to A’s age, she is only allowed to be in the system 1 year. At 1 year a permanent solution needs to be in place. That means A could be with us until October. In future posts I hope to outline how all that is determined…

“I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make” – Jason Mraz

Getting to Know our Foster Child

The first night we got little girl “A” (to protect her we will call her that), we put her to sleep on the couch and I lay awake next to her the entire night. I was mostly just looking at her. I bet it is the same for new birth parents as well? I was in awe of her little face!

I was also curious about her likes and dislikes, wondering about basic things like where was she born and when was her birthday, unsure whether or not she used a bottle or a sippy cup and if she drank formula or normal milk, and hopeful she didn’t have any allergies we didn’t know about. These were just a few things I was thinking about.

The next morning was a Sunday. It’s kind of weird, to show up at church holding a baby, when the entire congregation knows you were neither pregnant nor are you Hispanic like the child in your arms. At that point most people did not know we were going down the foster parent path. There were a lot of questions and looks.
Most of all there was love. Within hours we had people we didn’t even know dropping off clothes and toys, toddler food, parenting books, blankets, a high chair and a crib!

We made the 45 minute trek to Target that afternoon to get a few additional essentials. Here is another weird part about fostering… We knew nothing about her parents other than the fact that they lived nearby.  With this information I was on high alert with basically everyone we encountered in the store. I was looking up and down at absolute strangers wondering if they were somehow related to our foster daughter. Did that guy look like her? Did that lady look at her a little longer than normal? I was nervous we might run into mom or dad, aunt or uncle or cousin, grandma or grandpa or a family friend. What would we do if some angry person walked up and tried to take her?!

Also, the entire 45 minute car ride I was turning around in my seat looking at her. It is very surreal to just get a baby like that. I wonder if Pharaoh’s daughter experienced any of these feelings after she plucked little Moses out of the river? I was looking at her with love and yet at the same time wondering, “who in the heck are you?” Perhaps it is also like that for birth parents, as you wait for your baby’s personality to emerge? I imagine it’s a little weird for any parent to suddenly have a kid in the backseat? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Xo,

Kara

“God does not call those who are equipped. He equips those He calls.” – and sometimes that just means some very awesome people showing up on your doorstep with hand-me-downs

The Arrival of our First Foster Child

We got a call on a Saturday afternoon. It was 3:30 PM. It was a caseworker from our county asking if we were available to take in a baby girl that evening. She had left a message. She wasn’t positive the child would be removed from her home, but it was likely. I told Adam about the message fully expecting to have a very long conversation about it. Not because I thought he wouldn’t be up for it. Only because this was uncharted territory and we had plans. We had plans that night, we had plans the next day, we had plans the following week and the following month and beyond. All of our plans did not involve a small child because, well, we hadn’t planned on having one that particular month. The conversation with Adam was not a long one. His response to the invitation was more of a, “Really? Oh my God. Sure.” Adam is just awesome like that.

I called the caseworker back. I asked a few questions. “How old was she?”

They weren’t sure exactly. 

“How long might she stay with us?”

They weren’t sure exactly.

“When will you know if she is in fact being removed from her home?”

They weren’t sure exactly.

With all that information, how could we say no?!

I told the caseworker to keep us posted and hung up. Two hours later she was back on the phone, “the baby is on her way.” Ten minutes later they knocked on the door.

Luckily we had a few donated toys on hand. I pulled them out of our trunk and the baby with the perma pout on her face slowly started to engage. After 30 or 40 minutes and one signed release form later, the caseworkers handed over her diaper bag and car seat and left. I was alone in our house with a baby and without a clue in the world what to do next! It was now 6:30 pm.

We had nowhere for her to sleep that night.

We had no sippy cups.

We had no extra diapers or wipes. (She had arrived with two diapers, 4 outfits and a blankie.)

Most importantly, we had no experience!

It’s kind of an awkward thing, having two caseworkers you don’t know walk into your not-totally-clean-house-because-you-weren’t-expecting-this with a child in arms who is about to be in your care. They came through the door. I rubbed the little girl on the arm and asked her how she was doing. Wait. Really? “How are you doing?!” To a baby who probably can’t speak and is in the arms of a stranger after suddenly being taken from the only life she’d ever known.  I wasn’t off to a great start. Ten minutes later I was at it again when I asked her in my limited Spanish if she wanted a cookie. “Tienes un caballo?” The caseworker informed me that in reality I actually told her that she was now the proud owner of a horse. Shoot! I was zero for two!

In the weeks and now months that followed, it quickly became evident that when it comes to parenting, you don’t actually need that much. You need lots and lots of love. And, if you want to have a ton of fun, a cardboard box!

We have not yet had children of our own, so I am wondering what you guys think of the standard 9-month pregnancy? Does it seem like forever? Is it a necessary period for preparation? Would you make the pregnancy period longer or shorter if you could? Do you have any advice for a different opening sentence for next time – something other than “how are you?!” (omg).

XO,

Kara

“Cause all I know is we said, “Hello.”

And your eyes look like coming home

All I know is a simple name

Everything has changed” – Taylor Swift