On Entering the Foster Parent World

I'm getting a lot of questions via email and comments about our experience entering into the foster parenting world, and I did want to talk about this. Some people are critical, and think we're nuts (quite possibly), some people want to watch because they want to try this too (cool), some people have been there themselves in some portion of the system - as a worker, parent or child and have a lot to teach us. I wanted to put up a post that tells more about where we are and what we're doing - and also includes an important caveat about what I will and won't be writing about.

What I Will And Won't Be Saying on this or Any Blog

I'll start with the caveat. We are hoping to adopt, but initially, any placement will come as a foster child. Until we adopt, we don't have legal rights or custody of the children, and we are legally bound to keep their confidentiality. This means that I can't tell you their real names, many of the details about them and their circumstances, I can't post pictures, etc... The children simply have a right to privacy that we respect and value, and their birthfamilies have similar rights. While I've been pretty open over the years about our biological boys, until an adoption is final (if it is) I will be writing about the children under aliases, when any kids are placed in our house.

Now this is particularly problematic for me - a majority of foster/adoptive parent blogs appear to be written pseudonymously. It seems like it would be a little late for me to take on a pseudonym, given that all of you know my real name anyway (although it was kind of fun to think about possibilities). A lot of my readers have met me in person, met my kids, plenty of them have been to my house, and it isn't very hard to find out information about me. And while I'm not Oprah or anything, a surprisingly large number of people read my blog.

So I need to enlist all of your help - not only will I not be posting pictures, and will I be changing non-essential details, and not doing things I bitching about my experience even if I have things to complain about, I need your support in supporting the confidentiality of any children.

1. If you meet me, do not speculate on what child goes with which pseudonym, please. Particularly don't speculate online.

2. Don't post any children's real names other than the ones I've already named. If we have a playdate with little Roger and Emmaline, please refer to them as "Herman Melville" and "Emily Dickinson" if that's how I've been referring to them (no, I'm not going to give any kids early American writer pseudonyms ;-)).

3. Please don't take pictures of any of my kids - I'm delighted to meet people, but I just can't risk having a foster child's picture being circulated on the internet - people lose kids for that, and it isn't fair to the child either.

This part is hard, because I like being something of an open book - obviously, there are always things I don't share on the internet because they are private, but I'm sorry I can't give you cute pix here. But eventually, if we manage to adopt! In the meantime, I can post all the baby goat pix you want (once they arrive). That will content you, I hope.

Ok, on to the more fun stuff. I shall answer some questions I've been getting.

Where are you in the foster/adoptive process?

We are 4/5ths of the way through MAPP classes (foster parent training classes) and about 1/2 way through our homestudy. We had the first home visit (the "are you an axe murderer, and btw, do you have space for them?" meeting) and the second visit is scheduled for next Thursday (the "tell us about your childhood and decide exactly what age range and gender you are going to take" meeting). After that there are two more classes and the last home visit (not sure what the basic message of that one will be).

Paperwork-wise, we're mostly done, except that we had car trouble and my TB test didn't get read, so I have to have another TB test. They also lost Eric's medical form, so we have to get his redone.

We have done the "list every address you lived for the last 28 years" form (profound thanks to my ex, Matt, who figured out how to find the old addresses online, since I was reduced to staring vacantly at Google Maps) and surprise, surprise, apparently we were never arrested at any of our addresse. We have had a statement notarized that we aren't felons. We have filled out a form of profound antiquity in which we obtain "license to board orphaned children" where "applicant" is listed as "woman" and "husband" has its own space (Eric likes that the form doesn't assume he's going to be doing much of anything ;-)). Same form also included space for "church" and "pastor."

Eric was fingerprinted and got his mug shot (yup, they do call it that and they tell you not to smile - the FBI doesn't want smiling happy mug shots, dammit!). I have to find my passport, which is around somewhere to meet their ID requirements. We have to get our well water tested. We have to get our anal probes (ok, maybe not, but it seems like that's the only thing missing). Remarkably they do not require us to pee in a cup. I find that really weird - they make you do it to stock shelves at Wallyworld, but not to raise foster parents? Not that people who use drugs recreationally can't be good parents, just that seems surprising.

Last MAPP class is in early May, and then we have the last visit and wait for the homestudy to be done (all assuming I remember where I put my passport - it is around somewhere). By law the homestudy must be complete by 3 months afterwards, so sometime between May and August we'll be certified as foster parents. Then we wait. Or not - I know people who have been emergency certified even before their homestudy was done because there were kids in need, I know people who waited many months for a placement.

What does MAPP stand for?

Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting. In other words, it is bulshytt (In Neil Stephenson's book _Anathem_ Bulshytt is a polite technical word to describe knowingly false corporatized or obfuscatory speech - this is a term that needs more use ;-)).

I'm told if you have ever been divorced with kids, and taken the state mandated parenting class for parents undergoing divorce you have a pretty good idea how stupid this is. Note that I don't think the stupidity of the MAPP classes is a reason not to take them or foster parent - they are just the dumb hurdle you have to jump.

The basic content of a MAPP class so far is:

1. You are a moron. You know nothing of value. MAPP will teach it to you, but don't forget you are a moron.

(Although there are no morons in my foster parenting class, I accept that dumb people do become foster parents, and I get that they need to assume a very low level of awareness. What I find a little troubling is that they don't respond to their audience, and go on assuming you are an imbecile. The other problem is that the worst kinds of teaching start from the devaluation of everything the student knows, and spends a lot of time reminding them that what they know doesn't matter - this is the colonialist model of education. Apparently the writings of Paolo Friere have not made it to the world of MAPP. This is not surprising, since my mother (a social worker who worked every end fo the social service rainbow) taught MAPP classes in the 1980s and early 1990s and they are apparently more or less unchanged since then, down to the kids in the case studies still carrying walkmans ;-)).

2. Don't hit the kids. We'll take them away. See, look, you could use a sticker chart instead, or maybe time out. That's mostly why people beat their kids, because they don't know how to use stickers.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with not hitting the kids. That goes double, triple and quadruple for traumatized kids. And I understand why they have to say this - because there are shitty foster homes out there. It is the underlying assumption "if you just knew how to give stickers, there would be no domestic violence" that I find a little weird.)

3. Don't give the kids back to us because they have tantrums/wet the bed/are weird. You'd be weird too if you went through what they went through. They aren't bad because they are acting out. You'd act out too if you'd been through it.

(Again, I think this actually makes sense, even though it gets old fast if you grasp it. I'm sure they've had crappy foster parents call up and respond to normal behaviors from kids who have been damaged by stress/removal/abuse/neglect/etc.... and demand that they go. Given that I have four kids, and one kid with autism, weird behaviors and bedwetting are not exactly out of my experience. II also grew up with parents who did foster care, so I'm not stunned by this, but again, moves are bad for kids, this is important.)

4. Foster parenting (which you have to do before adopting, although we could eventually take our homestudy and look for legally free kids elsewhere) isn't as bad as you think it is. You can do this - and you can deal with the reunification stuff that scares you.

(This part of the training actually does work - most people who come in wanting to adopt probably don't think that highly of reunification with parents, but that's always the first goal. While most foster parents eventually adopt, most kids go home - so any given kid is much more likely to go home or to relatives than to stay in your house. This is emotionally scary for a lot of people, who do become attached. The training helps you actually feel the benefits of this part, and I think it does it fairly well.

At the same time, if you know other foster parents and listen to their experiences, you will also come to understand that foster parenting is often a lot *worse* than you think it will be - that is, you are caught up in a system that is fundamentally mostly interested in covering its own ass, and only then interested in the kids. They aren't interested in you at all, mostly, except as a very cheap (the money doesn't even begin to cover the kids -one evaluation suggested NY state would have to raise its reimbursements by more than 50% to even reach base coverage of a child's needs) babysitter they don't have to respect. They need you, but they don't have to treat you well.

At MAPP class, this perspective is not seen. You have to talk to the other foster parents to get it.)

5. A bunch of psychological stuff that may or may not have value, mostly formulated in the 1960s-1980s, some of which has been scientifically discredited, some of which may be valid, but they don't distinguish - it is presented as fact. No actual data or statistics.

(It is interesting, every time I've straight out asked for data or resources, or suggestions for where to look for them, I've been put off - I think because they mostly don't actually know. For example, my county has made a major effort to find kinship care and reduce the overall number of kids coming into care. This is great, and it seems to have worked - there are fewer kids in care and more with family, which is good. The figure I wanted was to know how many kids reunified with parents or in kinship care come back into the foster system within one or five years - that would be a useful way of evaluating how well this is working, and also how much risk there is to our family of having us work for reunification, only to have a child come back molested again, or having lost all the weight you put on them or with cigarette burns on their behind. This is the kind of thing that (gee, I can't think why) burns out foster parents, and while stats are only part of any given story, I find it useful to know. No one seems to have or know the stats. On the other hand, I can get all outdated psychobabble I want.

6. Oh, and by the way, the kid will probably be African-American, but we don't have time to talk about race or culture much, and the kid might have Reactive Attachment Disorder - look that up on the internet. The Law Guardians sometimes do their jobs and sometimes not when you are in family court...I'm sure you know how that goes, right? Here's some big booklets of legal issues, you'll read those for any questions you have about law. Adoption issues...yeah, there's a booklet somewhere, we'll get them to you....sure, the babies are mostly drug addicted, but the internet is good for that....

(This is the thing that drives me insane about the classes - there are so many things that we do need to know that simply aren't even remotely covered. 85% of the kids in care in my county are African American - the discussion of "culture" (never is the word "race" used) is shallow and empty, the discussion of skin and hair issues limited to "we offer a class once a year" and the discussion of how to be part of a multi-racial family "you could go to African American heritage days at the Capital!". The total discussion of RAD was "you know what that is, right." FAS/FAE and drug involvement issues don't even get that much attention. How to navigate an unfamiliar legal system, how to use it as positively as possible, how to even understand the legal complexities - left off. I had to explain to a fellow classmate that the state reimburses for adoption legal expenses - it is buried in a lengthy booklet and no one mentioned it. This is the stuff that has value, and it gets skipped for nonsense.)

Should I take MAPP Classes? They sound like they suck.

They do suck, on the other hand, the world needs foster parents. Kids need homes.
There are 513,000 kids in care in the US - that's a lot of kids who need temporary and permanent homes. Not everyone will want to do this, but the reality is that as we go over the energy decline slope families will be under more stress and the need will almost certainly get greater while the service level gets lower.

I also find foster parenting fascinating, because foster parenting is the one place where the family has not been industrializable. This is an important point - for the most part, we have industrialized most segments of the family to encourage participation in the formal economy. Kids go to daycare centers and to public schools. Elders go to senior programs, assisted living and nursing homes. Meals get produced in restaurants and cafeterias - we eat a majority of our meals out now. Many of the things that were done by families in the informal economy were industrialized so that the informal economy could be dismantled.

Foster care is an odd piece out, because children simply don't do well in industrialized settings without a family. We know that children can only really attach and grow appropriately in families. We know they die at higher rates, we know they suffer trauma, we know they end up having kids who end up back in the system if we try and industrialize their experience. The only way to raise healthy kids is in a family. Foster care is just about the only place in the system where this is explicitly acknowledged - everyone else will tell you that Grandma is much better off in the exclusive company of her peers, that it is just too hard to care for her at home. Everyone will tell you that daycare and homecare are the same, and that Mom should put the baby on formula and go right back to work. There is, however, a fundamental place where that *cannot* work - families are the only way to successfully raise kids, and the foster care system is a deep and implicit acknowledgement of the value and importance of informal economy family work - this is one of the reasons it interests me.

They also treat you like crap as is typical of informal economy work. There's no sense that foster parenting is treated as skilled labor (although it obviously is, at least a lot of the time). But the rehabilitation of the informal economy really needs to include the issue of foster parenting, because in a society that negates any claims that industrial structures aren't just the same as familial ones, foster care stands out as a significant, if limited, acknowledgement that children need families and someone has to do informal economy labor.

And if you want to adopt, the one thing that you know from the foster system is that it is *PROBABLY* at least a case where families have not been in any way coerced into giving their kids up. Families who lose their kids get a lot of services from the county, and a lot of legal and physical support to enable them to keep their kids. Reunification is always the initial goal - the parent has to screw up a lot to lose their kids permanently. While this isn't always true, often all that is offered private adoptive birthmothers is money - they don't get the same kind of support. In many cases mothers in foreign adoption don't even get that - they don't have a choice but to give up their kids, and nothing at all is done to enable them to keep them. I am not claiming here that all adoptions are coerced, just that in our weird society it is easier to get services if you have neglected or smacked your kid around than if you haven't done those things, but are vulnerable.

There are ethical issues with all forms of adoption, and I'm not suggesting the institutionalized racism and structural problems the foster system don't exist, but for us, at least, wanting more kids, this is a way I personally feel comfortable with. I don't mean in any way to judge other people's choices here, and I hope that won't be seen that way.

Why the hell do you want more kids? Don't you have like, enough?

Yes, this question is, in fact, verbatim from an email ;-). I also get the opposite one "Obviously, you are a saint and any children in your home will be so lucky, but isn't this too much?"

The answer is that I'm selfish, and sure as hell not a saint. I'm having a blast with my kids, and I'd like a couple more to extend the fun. So would Eric. The funny thing is that right now, my life is more relaxed than it is has ever been. My youngest is 5, not a baby any more. Eli, my oldest is a great, mellow, sweet nature kid despite his disabilities. Compared to most of the past decade, say, when I was pregnant, nursing an infant, had three kids under 5, was running a 22 person CSA and caring for two elderly people at the end of their lives, things are pretty easy now. Compared to writing three books in two years with four kids under 7, I'm not hurting. I like to keep busy - it keeps me from getting bored.

I've always wanted adoption to be part of how I make my family, and so has Eric. We grew up around it - my mother's best friend, my honorary aunt who I'm named for had 6 kids adopted through foster care and we grew up playing with the older two. My mother and step-mother were foster parents. My husband had a foster-sister when he was little.
I think it is a nice way to make a family.

I also grew up in big complicated families - they feel comfortable to me. My Dad remarried and at his house, there were two older step-sibs, so there were five of us. My Mom and Sue only had the three, but then they had four foster kids for an extended period and we were a household of seven - plus we shared a duplex with neighbors with three more to whom we were close, and my Mom ran a daycare for much of my younger years. My life was always filled with hustle and bustle. Obviously, there is a point at which one couldn't give enough attention to kids, and I have no desire to get myself a Lifetime TV show ;-), but honestly, I four seems a little quiet. (Please, please, no one tell my kids I said they were too quiet!!!!!)

Aren't you worried about inviting this much scrutiny into your life?

Oh, yes I am. I don't really like it. I know, for example, that my worker has cast some pretty strong judgements about our religion and about Eli's disability, and that's just the beginning. It scares the heck out of me to open my life up to this much scrutiny, and I worry about false accusations and risks to my kids. But I want to do this more than I want to avoid the risk. I might be insane - I'm not sure.

Won't your heart break if you have to give the kids back? It would be too hard for me.

Yes. I promise you my heart will break. I promise you I will come to love the kids and I will be crushed when we have to send them home - even if that is the right thing for them. I will be more crushed if they go home to bad places, where I fear or know they will be hurt again. My kids hearts might get broken too.

This is a calculated risk - how much heartbreak do we risk for good stuff? How much do we let the fear of heartbreak dominate us? Will we think it was better to have loved and lost later or not? I don't honestly know.

At the same time, I'm not sorry I grew up with foster kids in my home. I'm not sorry that kids my parents loved and we thought of us brothers and sisters got time in our home, where they got three meals a day and were safe and loved. It was hard - the longest stay came during my sisters' and my adolescence and we were frankly jealous of the attention they got. It was hard as hell when my mother and step-mother gave them back, especially the baby they adored. But so what? Life is hard. Hard stretches you. Maybe I'll be sorry I did this, but I know that all the main regrets in my life come from *not* doing the hard thing I wanted to, not taking a big risk.

I was married before, and it fell apart, and that was so hard. I loved people and lost them, and that was hard. I used to work hospice, and care for the dying and grew to love some of them and they died. I lived, and I don't regret any of it - I wouldn't go back and change my life so that I didn't have to have pain. I'm going to trust that that's true about this too. And remember, I'm selfish - I'm doing this because I *want* to. Maybe that's nuts, but I do, and so does my whole family.

Screw that other detail stuff, give us the dirt! Are you going to take boys or girls? What ages? What else? How soon?

This question is pretty much my mother's take on the whole thing. I've been asking her questions about the process all the way through, but Mom has gotten to the point where she just isn't that interested in anything except ages, sex and clothing sizes of her potential grandkids,. and she'd like them right now, thanks ;-). Actually, I'm pretty much there too - I always thought pregnancy took too damn long, and a part of me (the irrational one) just wants to get on with it. Not quite ready, though.

So here's the plan, which is obviously like all plans of mice and men - subject to ganging aft agley. We'd like to take a sibling group - I never thought it was a good idea to take one kid who would have a totally different experience of our family than the other boys, so we'd like (remember, haven't had our second home visit yet where this is officially decided) to take 2-3 siblings. This is important because they are hard to place, and because frankly, when I think about my kids having their lives totally disrupted and overcast, all I can think of is that they could live without Eric and I if they had to, but being apart from one another would kill them.

Simon is functionally the eldest in our family, so we're looking for no kids older than him - so a sibling group (no gender preference - I'm torn between thinking I make a good Mom to a big herd of boys and secretly kind of wanting a daughter) with all members under 8. I don't mind taking babies as part of a group, but I don't have a passionate desire for a little baby myself, so I'd rather not take really little ones. We have no racial preference, but again, 85% of the kids in our county are African-American. Even though we live in a rural and mostly white (although not as white as you'd think) area, I have a bias towards taking harder-to-place kids (within some parameters), and African-American and Latino kids are much harder to place than white ones in a society that very clearly has strong skin color preferences.

Eric would like a daughter, but not strongly enough to have a preference. Simon wants a sister. Isaiah wants brothers. Asher wants at least one of the kids to be littler than him, so he can be a big brother. We're all pretty comfortable with accepting, however, that we have no idea what kids will need a home, and just as one doesn't get to pick the sex of their babies, one doesn't get to pick everything here.

As for when, well, that depends on when kids need care. Our plan (remember those mice and men) is to open our home for taking kids in the second week of July. We are attending my college best friend's wedding in early June and have planned a family visit for the same time, and then travelling in July to visit my MIL. After we get back, there's a week before Eli's summer program starts, and ideally we would not take kids while Eli is on vacation, just because he hates disruptions in his routine and needs more attention from us then. After the second week in July, I've entirely cleared my schedule until October. I'm hoping we won't have to wait too long after that - I'd much rather have the kids come during the summer when a. everyone can do their adjusting to new things *outside* rather than crammed in the house in the winter, and b. while Eric is able to work from home more.

We are still, by the way, looking for an inexepensive, used-but-functional, large (9 passenger plus) van so we can have this big a family and still occasionally leave the farm (need it for the farmer's markets too). If you know anyone getting rid of one, email. If you have one and want to sell or barter (I've got goats, herbs, plants, books and well...I hope you want a lot of them if you want to barter for the van, but there is money too ;-)) drop me a line at jewishfarmer@gmail.com. If you'd like to join those of us knitting and crocheting along on facebook to make afghans (Since the odds of my actually getting them done myself were pretty damned low, my kind friend and reader MEA took over!) please join us here.

So that's the long summary of where we are on this. Hope this answers questions - and thanks in advance for everyone's support and help on the confidentiality front!


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Sharon! How exciting and scary! Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I can't imagine sitting through those classes - I got angry and frustrated just reading about them! The kids - well that will be an adventure! I hope you can help the little ones that come into your home, lots of love and good food and sunshine. And I hope just the right little person(s?) find their way to you. I don't think I could go through all of this myself, but I am enjoying reading about your journey. :)

Loved this post. We tried to be foster parents twice during our marriage and both times failed. The first time was before our children were born, and we were living in a tiny townhouse and signed up for one kid. They insisted we take three teenagers - no chance of that under the circumstances. Years later after we had hired Job Corp mother's helpers, these kids asked us to apply to be foster parents. The rules were so onerous we, along with the majority of our class dropped out. We ended up informally mentoring various kids as they appeared on our horizons - with the attendant joys and sorrows. Although it didn't work out for us, we still regret that it didn't happen. Good luck with this new venture. It should be exciting.

Sharon, if you really want the statistical stuff about kids in kin care/return to the system and it exists somewhere in the state or county's bureaucracy, you might be able to get under open public record acts laws. Off the top of my head I can't remember how that works in New York. Presumably since it's statistical, it wouldn't impact any confidentiality issues. Of course, it may not exist -- but I can't believe New York with it's endless layers of bureaucracy doesn't have a functionary somewhere calculating this stuff - whether or not anyone ever looks at it.

And of course, best of luck on this venture.

By Susan in NJ (not verified) on 07 Apr 2011 #permalink

Love love love! Best of luck on this amazing and totally insane journey. This is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, and hopefully also the most rewarding (it has been for us!). Be prepared for awful and crazy things you cannot possibly be prepared for... and be prepared to be amazed by things being more wonderful than you could possibly imagine. In other words, there is no way to be fully prepared for the feelings you'll have, the behaviors you'll encounter, etc - But you have done a heck of a lot more of the legwork than most people who become foster parents, and you have access to a tremendous amount of support and resources. You guys will do wonderfully.

What a wonderful, joyful post. Thank you for sharing. As always, I appreciate the outlook, especially your comments about regretting avoided risks much more than taken ones. And am, as always, impressed by your ability to be patient with rude, impertinent questions. Best of luck in your venture!

Giving them back. Giving them up. Having them go live with family after you've had them straight from the hospital at 5 days old (though you probably won't have that).

Here's some of what you have to remember:

Don't believe anything the County tells you about likelihood of adoption. They mean well (at least in Rensselaer County that was our experience) but they don't know.

If your neighbor's kid needed a safe place to live for a few months, you could take them into your house, but you wouldn't confuse that with permanence. That's a good thing to remember when you're a foster parent. That's why it's do-able.

The two most important things in dealing with kids leaving: your expectation and where they're going. Living with uncertainty was not something I could do well - I had to assume that they weren't staying, or that they were. It affected how I thought and felt and dreamed about them -- again, especially for the babies. Maybe you can keep it uncertain in your own mind; I couldn't. Maybe it's different if you already have kids; we didn't. Anyway, even if you assume that they won't be staying, and then they do, you'll bond to them just fine later.

But having confidence in the environment that they're going back to makes all the difference in the world, as far as I'm concerned. One baby we felt pretty good about; the other ... our hearts are still broken.

But that grief fades and changes with time, as most do. It's been more than 5 years; the dreams of his future that died aren't nearly so present in my mind any more.

And when J saw him at age 3 (he'd left at 18 months), he seemed to remember her; he remembered the sign language word for "milk" which we'd taught him, and made it to her. And then I finally believed everybody who said "You made a difference in his life." We probably gave him a better start than he would have, and his brain perhaps had 18 months of better growth than it would have.

It's worth it. You already know that.

I'd like to quote and re-post your two paragraphs about the institutionalization of the family. May I?

Brynaleh, thanks - I appreciate it. I found the state data once before, but it is good to see it again - what I can't find is the recent info for our county. I'm sure, as Susan points out that I could get it if I made enough effort - I'm not sure how much time I have for it. I just think it is fascinating to observe the reactions people have when I ask for it - I find it weird to think I'm the first potential or actual foster parent to ever ask for this.

Reb Deb, I suck at uncertainty, so I'm pretty sure this is going to be tough for me. My guess is that I'll go too far one way and get nailed. I don't know if it is better with other kids - the good news is that we don't lose our whole family and come home to an empty house. The bad news is that a lot of people suffer. I don't know.

Of course, please repost anything you want - it is small payment for all the help and advice!


In our experience, the last visit was approximately "are the medications in your bathroom in childproof bottles and appropriately labelled? do you have food in your pantry? is there anything non-baby-safe in teh kid room?"

In our experience, the last visit was approximately "are the medications in your bathroom in childproof bottles and appropriately labelled? do you have food in your pantry? is there anything non-baby-safe in teh kid room?"

Also, I asked similar questions about statistics. At least then, it seemed pretty clear that they really don't have them. Whether they have the raw data they could gather them from was even a little doubtful. The whole of dcyfs was run off a big mainframe with ancient terminals that only sometimes sorta worked, and then not even available for every worker. The assistant head of homefinding had most of her information in notes on index cards strewn around her desk. I am not kidding, nor even slightly exaggerating.

This is a very timely post for me - we went through MAPPs last year and did in fact foster an African American child for 11 weeks before we had to confront the reality that we were underprepared, undertrained and essentially lied to by our caseworker. The bottom line is we could not ensure his safety in our home and he was having suicidal ideations and hitting himself in the head with his fists and objects. It was scary, heartbreaking and devastating. The caseworker withheld vital information that could have changed the situation, but her motivation was to get him out of a residential facility and into a community home at all costs. I won't got through the litany of things DSS neglected to do for the child or disclose, but the child is *still* not getting the help and services for which he is eligible. There is little to nothing we can do about that. I still can't believe what went down here. There was absolutely no safety net AT ALL for this kid.

My spouse and I very much wanted to be foster to adopt parents but I will never trust DSS in my downstate (but not nyc) county again. The system is broken. I felt like we failed this child for a long time but, in reality, the system failed this child. We were only pawns. I could never do this ever again after what happened the first time out of the gate.

I wish you and your family success and joy on your journey and I hope the outcomes are positive for all of you.

My family is considering caring for children in need of nurturing through foster parenting, but we use the humanure composting toilet system, eat no pre-packaged foods, drink raw milk straight from the cow/goats (strained first through muslin squares, of course!), grow and preserve all our fruits and vegetables, and practice voluntary simplicity with an income well under the federal poverty level for a family of four. We've been concerned that our unconventional, power-downed way of life might mean we wouldn't pass the state scrutiny.

So I've been curious to read of your foray into this area, given that you are living in much the same way as our family. How open are the officials around, say, non-water wasting sewage disposal, for instance? Does one have to provide a toilet filled with drinking water to be certified to care for children in need? Is a television mandatory? How do folks living an alternative lifestyle fit into this system?

By Island Girl (not verified) on 07 Apr 2011 #permalink

Sharon- the thing is, I totally understand the "you are a moron" teaching style. Just grit your teeth- and, um, remember - you ARE a moron. :-)

I'm in the adoption biz. Plants. I grow up my babies, and then people adopt them.

For years, we wrote instructions for smart people. They killed my babies in droves.

So we dumbed the instructions down. They still killed them in droves. So I got rude about it. That helped a little.

Basic illustration. A university which shall remain nameless, but whose initials are MN bought a bunch of my babies. Cool, I thought. A month later, I got the complaint- "Your plants don't survive. What's wrong with your plants; why did you sell us bad plants?"

See, I knew I hadn't sold them bad plants; I'd inspected those personally; they were in perfect shape. So - I went to see what was wrong. They had a delegation meet me; 6 people, to check up on my checking up.

Guess what? At this research site? Overseen by like 3 professors? They'd planted ALL the plants - with their roots 3-4 inches out of the ground.

AND THEY COULDN'T SEE IT. Until I pointed it out.

So. Yeah, when life is on the line- you teach for morons; because there are just a ton of them out there.



About your reactions to the MAPP class.

Items 1-4 in your list are there to answer a specific problem. Just as your time is worthwhile, various dept or human services, or child protective services, or what the organization you deal with is call, has a supervisor or three that gets evaluated annually - for numbers of applicants for foster parents, for number of applicants that backed out, for number of children returned that weren't planned for.

So those first points are for the naive people with a good heart that have never been exposed to serious family problems, that they recognize and acknowledge. Many actually do start out with the 'Shirley Temple' depression era version of a 'waif' in need.

Number five is intended to bring this home to those with rosy-tinted delusions still intact, and is not intended for anyone familiar with 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain'. The obstacle you face over this point, is that you want to evaluate 'the system' honestly. The reality is that all the plans and hopes and needs often boil down to a new case worker that read the file and hasn't met the child sitting down with a new supervisor and choosing to change something. It can feel terribly arbitrary at times, with no recourse, except to work with the child to make the next step no more traumatic than necessary.

Acceptance of the random is as much a part of foster parenting, I think, as it must be for the child.

Blessed be!

Confidentiality is such a double-edged sword. Working as I do in residential treatment, I too have to watch what pictures I take, what names I utter, what stories I tell when I come home, when I write online, and so on. At least I don't use my full name in most online posts (though I used to.)

What really gets me is that confidentiality at our school means that we have trouble even doing things out in public as a school. We want to do fund raising and participate in town fairs and other events, but we've had problems even allowing the kids to show their faces. One year we put a float in the town Memorial Day parade, but had to give each kid a pair of cheap sunglasses and a straw, "farmer'" hat to wear, not to look cool, but to hide faces. I once proposed doing exchange work with the vocational/agricultural high school across town, (which would be really neat for a whole host of reasons), but can't because then those students would then learn the identities of *our* students, and so it goes.

I'm all for protecting the rights of kids undergoing "treatment" of course. Still, clearly there are times when all the rules and regulations about things we cannot do out in the community cost my students dearly.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 08 Apr 2011 #permalink

DW--I am sorry for all that your went though, but in all honest, non-foster parents of children who develop mental illness are also ill-trained, poorly supported and winging it. What we need, IMO, are better resources for parents of all types who are raising mentally ill children.

I agree with you, Mea. But a to me born child would not have been beaten and abused on top of it all. There *does* need to be a better support system for ALL parents.

I can't go into the whole story because it is too painful to recount but the mental health side is only one aspect of it.

Island Girl - to be absolutely blunt, what I don't have to talk about, I don't. When I do, I plan to comply with regulations - the reason being I don't think most of what I do is worth losing a kid for.

Poverty officially isn't an issue - lots of foster parents are poor. They do want you to be able to provide for the child's basic needs upfront, before you get reimbursed, but they have no official income restrictions (which is not to say that they might not have unofficial ones, but my guess is that they are pretty good about this, since they are accustomed to certifying poor families for kinship care as well). Healthy food is officially considered good, and most of the social workers seem to know so little about gardening that it probably wouldn't come up. Raw milk would depend on the legalities in your state, but in ours, it is illegal, and we have to buy milk for the foster kids. I will not be circumventing this law - I consider it a comparatively small price to pay. That said, I don't think my social worker even knows goats give milk, so she didn't ask - I did. In retrospect I would have left the question off.

I suspect they don't know anything about composting toilets, but no one looked in my toilet ;-). I think it would be important to distinguish here between what you *do* and what you *talk about* but maybe that's just me.


DW, I'm sorry that happened to you - that's truly terrible, and it is a story I've heard more than once. *Everyone* who has ever done this tells me that social workers lie to get the kids into your house. I agree with MEA that mental illness happens all the time - but there's something particularly terrifying about getting a pre-traumatized kid who you've only known for days who is now your responsibility doing this. I can only imagine. I'm just sorry.


Sharon-Thanks so much for your response. Sounds like we should be thinking through some of the additional adjustments our household might need to make to incorporate a new child, beyond the usual preparations and accommodations. I guess I would want to be up front, just so I didn't have any nagging worries about losing a child placed with us just because we ran afoul of the mainstream assumptions held by social workers at to what constitutes a healthy home.

I agree that most changes we might need to make would be "small price[s] to pay" for the blessings that come with the wild roller-coaster ride that an additional child would bring. We have a wealth of time, patience, fresh air and zeal for this wonderful life, and it would be lovely to share that with a child in need. I'm glad that you are undertaking this and sharing your process with the rest of us.

By Island Girl (not verified) on 08 Apr 2011 #permalink

Okay, I'm glad that you've heard from all the former and ongoing foster parents that the social workers lie to get the kids into a home. Or to get their stats looking good. (I'm not sure they *lie* outright, or slant the info just right...) In my 12 years online in the adoption community, everyone who has dealt with state adoption has had serious, *serious* reservations about the information given them before the placement, compared to what was actually in the files...or what was not in the files, but known to the social workers.

Anyway, best of luck. Be sure that you concentrate on the stuff in #6 when the kids are placed with you. That's the important stuff. Finding ways to integrate the child with his/her culture of birth. Figuring out what traumas the child has had to deal with, and what the repercussions are. Realize that attachment is a continuum, and it doesn't take full-blown RAD to produce problems. Also, realize that RAD isn't cured by love, but by therapy and lots of work *plus* love. Ask around for referrals for attachment therapists (not Evergreen-style, just folks who have produced good results with troubled kids with attachment issues).


I am a foster parent and have adopted two of my foster children. My passion is to learn more about how we can train foster parents to better equip them (us) for the children who come into our care. I am involved in the basic training for therapeutic foster parents for two private agencies in my State. I would love more detail on how the training failed you. I am working on my doctorate in Adult Education, specializing in training foster parents and developing curriculum for foster parents that truly prepares one for the experience.

By Mirae Grant (not verified) on 08 Feb 2012 #permalink