Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is It Hard When They Leave?

Everyone who sees how bonded we are to the babies in our foster care always asks THE question: "Is it hard when they leave?" The answer, of course, is YES! But the bonding is what the babies need in order to be socialized human beings who can bond with people throughout their lifetimes. We love them as though they are our own and as though they are going to be with us throughout their childhoods. We know, however, that the odds are not very high that that will be the case. We can only hope that other persons involved with their cases will step forward and make sure the children are protected from further abuse and neglect.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sand Castles in the Air

"It is one thing for people to build sand castles in the air, but it is quite another for them to live in them!" Those are the words a foster parent used to describe the unrealistic advice she was getting from the social worker assigned by the foster care agency to manage the case of the child who was placed in her home. Social workers, anxious to be accorded status in the community, may describe themselves as "clinicians," hoping that the public will somehow connect them with the unquestioned authority enjoyed by the medical profession. In fact, when it comes to foster parenting, the knowledge base of the social work professon sometimes is little more than sand castles in the air.

Foster parents are generally people who have had success raising their own children. Success meant having high expectations of their children, and the children living up to or surpassing those expectations. Social workers working in child abuse or neglect settings are often people who have never been parents. When they teach the foster parents how to become "therapeutic" foster parents, they often teach them not to do the things that made them successful with their own children! When the foster parent tries to discipline a child by holding him accountable for his deeds, the social worker says, "no, no, no,: try to understand the underlying reason why the child misbehaved! Help him to understand his feelings."

So Billy is angry that his mother has missed six visits in a row, and then she finally shows up as if nothing had happened. Billy then comes home and expresses his rage at this outrageous behavior of his mom by hitting the dog or biting a foster sibling. What he needs at that point is a CONSEQUENCE strong enough to make him think twice before hurting some animal or person the next time he feels angry!

The social worker, however, cautions the foster parent never to raise her voice in anger at a child. What if the foster child is hurting a baby? I'll answer that one for you. You say the name of the offending child, and then follow ugently with the word NO! or, STOP! You let the child know that you say what you mean, and mean what you say, and you do not plan to keep repeating yourself to someone who chooses to ignore or openly defy you. If he cannot handle the freedom, he will have to lose it for a while, and then earn it back.

While foster parents are supposed to lower their expectations of the child, the system may have incredibly low expectations of the child's birthparents. Basically all they have to do in many cases is show up for visits, not abuse the child during the visits, then show up for court.

If someone has a different point of view than the "clinical" social worker, the social worker may proceed to analyze free of charge why there must be something in the person's personal history that explains why they lack the wisdom of the all-knowing social worker. This condescending attitude is hated by foster parents, and especially by adolescent foster children. We had a twelve-year-old girl, who was placed in our home after her mother died from overdosing on illegal drugs and alcohol. After she had been with us for a while, I asked the child what her experience had been with social workers, since she had been in seven different foster homes while waiting for the system to decide on her future. Her answer? "Caseworkers just mess with my life. They are unwanted strangers barging into my life. I don't like any of them. None of them really took the time to get to know me." This sad statement came from a child who was truly worth getting to know. Fortunately, a wonderful, dependable family with a solid rural American lifestyle, came forth, made several visits to our house, and adopted this young lady.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hard Realities

This week we heard from a mom, who along with her husband, is adopting a child who lived with us in foster care for one year. For confidentiality purposes, we'll call him Billy. His new mom sent us pictures, and told us that the adoption process is close to being concluded. This is wonderful news. His new parents are wonderful. The dad is a military recruiter and chef. The mom is a computer whiz, who stays at home with Billy during the day. They are mature adults with conservative beliefs and values. They are just exactly what Billy needs.

Billy is a charming, good-looking three-and-one-half-year-old. He was eighteen months old when he came to live with us. He had been raising himself. His mother was a teenager who worked at a fast food restaurant. The police found him hanging out at a convenience store with his brother, who was two years older than Billy. Billy knew a lot about violence. When he got in a fight, he fought to kill, and used whatever weapon he could. His favorite weapon was his teeth.

Billy misinterpreted kindness as weakness. Billy received the most kindness from my wife Colleen and my son Jon, who was then four-years-old. Yet, Jon was most often the target of Billy's biting, and Colleen was the target of Billy's sand-in-the-face throws and most vociferous temper tantrums. Once a neglected child gets a whiff of what it is like to be nurtured, he may want that nurturing non-stop. The foster parent must then teach the child that in the real world people over the age of eighteen months do not get nurtured non-stop! The fact that he did not get that nurturing as an infant does not change that reality.

The children foster parents take into their homes are in many ways similar to the foster parents own children. Some are physically very attractive, as is Billy, and to the untrained eye may seem to be "adorable." But, because of their unique experiences being neglected and/or abused, they will bring with them some behaviors that the foster parents never saw in their own children. Add that to the fact that the bond is not the same as the bond they have with their own biological children, and you may have a situation that can test the patience of the best foster parents.

Foster parents may get to reap what is sown by birthparents: the child's deep-seated anger and resentment that his needs were not taken care of in those crucial first eighteen months. As frightening as it is to see the depth of rage the child may exhibit, it is equally heartbreaking and sad. After missing five straight weeks of scheduled visits with Billy, his biological mother finally showed up for a visit with Billy and his older brother, whom we shall call Jed. Jed had always rejected Billy. They were placed in two different foster homes because of their extreme history of violence with each other.

Jed's foster mother, a single woman aged 63, was a former civil rights attorney, and tough as nails. She was terrific at the core job of a foster parent who has a child like Jed: civilizing him! She made him give Billy a kiss, while we all waited in the waiting room for the biological mom, who was late. When the mom comes into the visiting room waiting area, Jed's foster mom encouraged him to go give his mom a hug.

After the visit I encouraged Billy to give his mom one more hug, which he did, but then showed no sorrow at leaving her, because he now had parents who were there for him every hour of every day. When we arrived home after the visit, he saw our truck and got excited, because Colleen is usually driving it, and that meant that she was probably home. He runs to her and holds out his arms for her to pick him up. He exclaims, "Mama!" Colleen has successfully created a bond, not to mention the fact that this child who came to us speaking no words is now speaking words with a flourish.

When Billy first came to us, he would go to anyone, from teen girls to adult women, but was always very frightened of men. The man with whom his biologiccal mother was living had a record for violent crimes, and we can only guess what kinds of violence Billy was exposed to when he lived with his mom. He bonded much more rapidly with Colleen than he did with me. When he first came to us I had to be very protective of my own children, whom Billy was biting several times a day. Colleen was often working outside the home. I had many stern face-to-face talks with Billy about "NO BITING!" He kept his distance from me the first few weeks. Soon, though, he learned that he could get his nurturing from us, and he no longer looked for it from strangers.

Nevertheless, the next week after the visit revealed the depth of Billy's anger. He kicked and bit other children, and spit at Colleen (transferring the anger he felt toward his own mom). He picked up objects and hit other objects as hard as he could. He headed toward other people with the weapons in his hands. No doubt about it: if he had the right weapon and the right strength, he would have been homocidal. Each time he abused someone, he earned a time out; throughout which he screamed bloody murder.

We will never forget the looks on the face of another child, a six-year-old girl we shall call Ginny, each time we took her to a visit, waited the required fifteen minutes, and then were told by the visitation supervisor that there would be no visit because Ginny's mother did not show up or call. The mother, still mired in her substance abuse addictions, loved Ginny, but not nearly so much as she loved her own narcissistic image in the mirror. Ginny's father loved her, too, but the mother had bad-mouthed him to the naive caseworker, so instead of immediately pursuing the father as an option for Ginny, the initial months of casework focus were to reunify Ginny with a mother still in the throes of alcoholism. Meanwhile Ginny got her hopes up time and again, and time and again the mother thought only of herself and her booze.

They don't teach caseworkers about these crushing realities faced by abused and neglected children. The graduate schools of social work are dominated by left-wing faculty members who hold views idealizing the "poor," and making endless excuses for irresponsible behavior. Feminism is also rampant on these faculties, so it rarely seems to occur to these social workers who graduate from these schools that a father may be an appropriate choice to parent his child. Ginny eventually was placed with her father, who had been calling us long distance from the East coast regularly to talk to his daughter. We hammered the point home to the caseworker, who finally woke up.

If the system does not intervene and truly protect a child in the crucial first twelve to eighteen months of the child's life, the child is likely to have had many reinforcing experiences teaching her that her adult caretakers cannot be trusted. The more of those experiences that pile up in her life, the more difficult it will be for the child to learn to trust an adult who really is there to care for the child. She may decide she must fend for herself, thereby becoming perhaps increasingly manipulative and narcissistic, putting herself above all others at all times. This can lead to her seeing other people as objects to be manipulated, rather than as fellow humans with whom she can interact, learn from, and appreciate.

In the Best Interest of the Child, or Move the Case Along and Return the Baby to a Parent to Avoid Hassles and Complications?

Today we took our foster baby to the doctor. The doctor suspects shaken baby syndrome or meth use during pregnancy. He ordered a complete neurological workup at Childrens Hospital in Denver, a place where they do have expertise in diagnosing child abuse and neglect. We had previously gotten orders for the baby to get physical therapy weekly and occupational therapy twice a week in our home. When we told the caseworker about these professionals coming to help the baby in our home, she made absolutely no response whatsoever. It will be interesting to see how she responds to this latest development. My guess is she will show no interest.

Looking Out for Number One

Just as the main function of a bureaucracy is to perpetuate itself permanently, so the main function of the bureaucrat is to cover his ass in such a way as to keep or improve his position in the bureaucracy. One who is trying to protect children must always keep those truths in mind.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Protecting Children, or Pretending to Protect Children?

After a career as a child protection social worker, I have been doing foster care with my wife for the last three years. We have taken in children of all ages, but in the last year we have specialized in babies. We made that choice because we found that our own six children are not threatened so much by babies as they are of children closer in age to themselves. Also because we like to adopt, so we take children who someone in the system believes will become available for adoption, because it appears that the parental rights are headed for termination.

We currently have a precious little girl who is now 6 and one-half months. She has been with us for two and one-half months. Her mother is an exotic dancer with additional experience in the cooking of crystal meth. Her father is a man with a long criminal history. She was removed from the home after her father was arrested for domestic violence and her mother received a broken nose from the baby's macho dad.

After going through the intake process, which invoved several caseworkers, she was assigned to an "on-going" caseworker. That caseworker and the lawyer (Guardian ad Litem) appointed to make sure that the case served the best interests of the child, actually took their charge seriously. They were determined to see changes in mom along the lines of sobriety and an ability to provide safe living conditions for her daughter. Likewise, they were determined that the father would show evidence of learning that beating the crap out of mom was a stupid way to show his manhood.

Suddenly, the caseworker quit and decided to go home and take care of her own babies.
A different caseworker received many of her cases, plus some from another worker who had quit. Gone was the determination to protect the innocent baby. The new worker appears to be a go along and get along type person. A caseworker who truly insists on protecting children faces many obstacles and conflicts. The way to advance in the system is not to make many waves. The system is not about protecting children. The system is about pretending to protect children, while making sure that not too much money is spent on protecting the child and providing needed services to the child to bring her up to where she needs to be developmentally.

So now we have a foster family, each of whose eight members adores and is bonded to the baby, a baby who is wonderfully bonded to each member of the foster family, and a Guardian ad Litem, who we hope is still committed to protecting this baby. We shall see what we shall see.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finding the Kingdom of Heaven

My wife Colleen told our children that God wants us to search for the Kingdom of Heaven. Colleen asked our youngest child, two-year-old Sara Jane, if she has been looking for the Kingdom of Heaven. Sara said she knew where it is. "It's in the back yard Mama."