foster care

watching a worm

Of course the child we’re caring for, Kabooyah, is Someone Else’s Child, but that point was driven home the other day:

The other morning, I was making breakfast while Seth and Kabooyah were “playing tag” with Ladybug. They have done this before, and while it’s probably not Ladybug’s favorite activity, they only ever chase her – never grabbing or even actually touching because she is too smart to let herself get caught by a 4- and 5-year old. Well, that morning, she had had enough, and plopped herself on the couch to signal, “No really! I’m done with this game!” Kabooyah got up in her face, and she nipped him on the ear. (I was within hearing, but didn’t have direct line-of-sight, so this is how I picture it to have happened.) When K started crying, I rushed over to comfort him, and learned that Ladybug had bit him. I checked out his ear, and saw no marks other than his ear looking slightly pink. No blood, no scratch marks, etc. I told the boys not to chase the dog anymore, as this was now proof that she doesn’t like it.

K was scheduled to have a visit about 90 minutes later, so I sent an email to the social worker along the lines of “Everything’s okay! but just in case he mentions it, our dog nipped K’s ear but left no marks.” Upon picking up K from his visit, his SW told me she had taken a photo of his ear, and asked me to get him checked out by the doctor. I said, “Sure” and within 10 minutes I scheduled an appointment for on our way home.

While we were waiting the 30 minutes for the doctor to check K out (which, by the way, is a 30 minute block I’m so glad I never have to re-live again. Thirty minutes in an 8 x 8 room with tired, cranky 4- and 5-year olds who just spent an hour in the car, with only a single Let’s Find Pokemon book and the contents of my purse as entertainment, is NOT FUN.), a licenser called to ask if we were going to be taking K to the dr. I said that we were waiting for the doctor as we spoke. She said, “Great! Because his SW didn’t know if you were going to be taking him or not.” Grr. When the doctor did finally arrive, she said to keep an eye on it for signs of infection, and apply cool compresses or give him children’s ibuprofen if he complained of pain. And to be fair, between when I looked at it in the morning, and the afternoon, the spot had developed three teeny-tiny marks. But other than me checking on it occasionally over the next couple days, K never mentioned it again.

A few days later, the same licenser called to make an appointment to come to our house to interview K and meet our dog. I got pretty anxious, not knowing what level of seriousness this was — if I would get a black mark for being in a different room than kids + dog, or if they would want us to get rid of Ladybug, or remove K from our home… Fortunately the licenser was much friendlier in person. She stayed for about for about 45 minutes, getting the low down from K about what happened (whose details by then were pretty fuzzy), met LB, and spent a lot of time talking with me and answering my questions about what this meant. Now we wait for her report, in which the claim of a WAC violation will come back as “Valid” or “Not Valid.” Even if it is valid, all is okay, as long as dog bites don’t become a recurring problem. Even then, we would simply figure out an Action Plan, such as not letting K and Ladybug share space, or for me to make sure that I always closely supervise their time together.

I have tried to remind myself that if the shoe were on the other foot, I would probably want the same level of investigation if our son had gotten bit by a strange dog at a strange house. But long story short (too late!), this incident is a great reminder that parenting K is a very public job.

A 4 year-old boy, whose name on the blog will be “Kabooyah,” has joined our family on a “short term” basis. He’s been with us for a handful of days so far, and I gotta say, this is a steep learning curve. He is a sweet, loving boy, who loves cuddles, playing, drawing and putting together puzzles. Bedtime with him is a breeze, and he seems to be okay with having Todd and I be his caregiver for the time-being.

Now the steep part:
We have to suddenly be more organized in how we run the household. MUST’s include actual meal planning beyond glancing in the fridge at quarter past 5; doing a load of laundry from start to finish every day; doing dishes every evening after bedtime. These may all be things you already do — we sometimes did them, and sometimes let things slide and would play catch up the next day because there would be time for that.

Now the steeper part:
S has been an only child for over 5 years. As far as we know, Kabooyah is also an only child. There have been countless arguments, needling, trouble with sharing, and hurt feelings on both sides…since K arrived. There have also been twice the giggles, epic games of hide-and-seek, and a whole lot of fun. But helping these two boys navigate this new relationship has me at times feeling more like a referee than a mom. Who knows if this is the way a lot of natural siblings act toward each other? Or if circumstances or personalities (or, give them a break, Betsy — it’s been 5 days!) are making it so tough? Anyway, I have a newly-heightened respect for all of you folks parenting more than one child. I’ll be praying for harmony at your house, as hopefully you can pray for harmony at ours.

About that “short term”: it seems to be a flexible term. If, say, a relative asks that K come stay with them, he could be moved tomorrow. Or he could stay with us until his parents are able to take care of him again, which could be six months or longer…

staring contest

We got to dip our toes into foster care this last weekend. Friday afternoon I received a call asking if we would be willing to provide ‘respite care’ for a wee one. Foster parents earn ‘respite’ at a rate of two days per month of a kid being in their care — it’s kind of like vacation days. Kids in care can be babysat during the day by anyone the foster parent trusts, but overnight babysitting has to be done by a foster family and arranged with CA.

‘Sweet Pea’ came over after dinner on Friday and stayed with us until lunchtime on Monday. We went to the children’s museum, spent hours playing play dough, and even got a walk in to the library. I’m sure it would/will be a different story when it’s me parenting two kids all day all week long, but as it was, Todd was home nearly all weekend, so it went pretty smoothly. We were able to divide and conquer during bedtime, and arrange it so one parent could do meal prep kid-free. It also gives us an idea of things we need to do to get ready for our next placement (freezer meals!).

Seth was a champion through having to share his parents’ time and attention, and his toys. It was such a great reminder of how different 5 is from 2, and how he’s developing his self-control and patience.

At the time of our last update, we were hoping to have our license in hand within a few weeks. Well, it took a bit longer than that… Almost exactly five months after our third and final homestudy, we finally have our foster home license! Whee!

foster home license
Think we should post it next to our door like restaurants do with their liquor license?

After receiving the email from our licensor telling us our license had been finalized, my heart would not stop racing. What if a placement worker called right away? What if that was me and S’s last leisurely morning as a one-kid household? This is not completely unfounded, by the way. One of our friends was called within one hour of having received their license.

Now, 2.5 weeks later, having not received a single placement call, I have stopped compulsively checking my phone for messages. Because our license is for one kiddo, age 0-4, our licensor told us it might take a while. But she also told us that placement workers call people all the time asking if they’ll go outside their parameters — either age, or number of kids. Upon going over capacity, CA has something like 36 hours to file an amendment to your license to say you can care for more kids. (Every time I see CA, I think “California” instead of “Children’s Administration.” I wonder if there will come a time in my life when the opposite will become true.) We’re pretty firm on the age, as if it turns into a permanent placement, we don’t want to upset the birth order. But Todd and I go back and forth all the time on whether we could do a placement of two kids — it often depends on my energy level at that exact moment.

So for now, we’re waiting. But even more so, we’re trying to relax into the present, enjoying our family right now as we are, because who knows what is coming around the corner?

zippy's giant burgers

Some of the processes between preparing for our open adoption and becoming licensed foster parents, are the same, and some are very different. This second time around we had to get our fingerprints sent off to the FBI. Unlike last time when we went the courthouse and were surrounded by teachers and sex offenders, this time we were sent to a third party company. Boring! And I was looking forward to having ink rolled on my hands, simply for the sensory experience of it, but now they roll your plain ol’ fingers across a small scanner-type machine. Double boring!

Our written home study last time was a positive description of our home, as well as our lives. “Red walls, cozy kitchen” — stuff like that. This time, there are specific WACs (Washington Administrative Code) that we, and our home, need to comply with. For example, we need to have a 5 lb fire extinguisher. We need to keep a flashlight in the foster child’s room. We can’t feed our foster kids anything home-canned other than pickles and jams. And what I would consider the most disrupting to normalcy: keeping all medicines (both prescription and OTC) and vitamins locked up — with internal, external, pet, and any medicines the foster child may come with, all separated. That said, we were taught to keep in mind that some WACs came about as a direct result of a foster child getting hurt because the foster parents weren’t doing the above.

We have now completed all three of our home study visits. The first was an initial walk-through of our home, seeing what WACs we were already following, a chance to meet Seth, and an interview with me and Todd together. The second was an interview with just Todd, and the third was an interview with just me plus a final review of our home. We also both went through CPR/first aid/blood-borne pathogen training, physicals and got tested for TB. Now we’re waiting to view a draft of the written home study, and hope to have our license in hand within the next few weeks.

Upon finishing fostering orientation, there were a few different Next Steps we could take. We could start on the big packet of paperwork, or work on some of the other requirements. Todd and I chose to attend the 27-hour training, again thinking that seeking more knowledge, as opposed to filling out forms, would help us discern whether this was right for us.

Because everyone (potential foster families, potential adoptive families, etc) was having to go through the same training, and that kids could be 0-18 when they enter the foster care system, some of the information couldn’t get too specific. The class touched on attachment; recognizing that kids placed in out-of-home care have experienced trauma, simply by being taken out of their homes, not to mention any trauma they experienced prior to then; the range of emotions kids may be having; having compassion for the birth families; advocating for your child; among others. I said to a number of people upon completing training, that even if we didn’t go on to pursue becoming licensed foster parents, PRIDE still would have been well worth our time.

(I’m reaching back into my memory for these. Oh, to have written things down as they were happening!)

Picking up from where we left off, Todd and I were feeling pulled in the direction of pursuing foster-to-adoption. It sounded like a mix of heartbreaking, risky, and a whole lotta hard work. We went to a few orientations to learn more and/or get scared straight:

We visited a private agency that does domestic and international adoptions, as well as works with families to become licensed foster parents. Their fostering program has the same requirements as working directly with the state, but you pay a fee to them for acting as go-between you and the state.

We went to an informational meeting of a program in our county for people who want to foster-to-adopt. This program has since been discontinued due to budget cuts, and the process has been streamlined so that everyone (foster families, foster-to-adopt families, adopting relatives) has the same requirements.

And finally, I went the state-required three hour orientation. This orientation is an overview of the family home study process – the kinds and amount of paperwork in the application packet, what licensors will look for during home inspections, and other requirements (CPR/first aid/blood-borne pathogen class, a physical and TB test, etc).

After all this information gathering, and even though it seemed to confirm our impressions of being heartbreaking, risky and hard work, we still felt like this was what we were meant to do…