Friday, April 29, 2011

Fostering: Transitioning Children

The next step is to match us with a child to foster.  We are interested in adopting a child, so we are interested in finding a child whose parents rights have been terminated and is eligible for adoption.  We also have certain preferences about the child.  As I said earlier, we want a child who has a good chance of living on their own and being a contributing member of society with the help of our nurturing as they grow up.  We did not care about the child's race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and in fact I told the social worker that we would be a good family for a GLBT child.

She has found a child that may be a good fit for our family.  As I said, I can't say anything about the child due to privacy issues, but I can tell you how the process is going to work.

Resource parents (foster parents) get two weekends a month free from doing foster care.  During that time the child goes to another household for respite care.  So, first we will be the respite care providers for this child for a while.  Then, if that goes well, the child will transition to living with us as our foster child.  And if that goes well, then after six months we will be allowed to adopt the child (with the child's permission if the child is above a certain age).  Adoption will not be mentioned to the child until that last step, because we don't want to get the child's hopes up in case it doesn't work out.

There are other types of fostering that other foster parents do.  As I mentioned, there is respite care, where you care for different children on the weekend so the regular week resource parents can get a break.  There are also step-down resource families, who care for a child for a period of approximately six months, as the child transitions from a group home environment back to their family.  And then there are emergency care resource parents, who take in children who have just been removed from their homes and are in need of a place to stay immediately.  We considered doing the step-down program until an adoptable child came along, because the percentage of children in the foster care system who are adoptable is actually pretty low.  But it seems like there is currently a child who might be a good fit in our family, so we are going to pursue that child.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fostering: Paperwork and Red Tape

Of course there is a lot of paperwork to be done in order to become foster parents.  You have to give them a lot of information about your own upbringing, your family members and friends, and your finances.  They send forms to family and friends of your choosing who assess your personality, stability, and ability to care for children.  You have to show documentation about your family finances to make sure that you are not using the foster care payments to support yourselves.  You have to have a full physical to establish your fitness to care for children.  And you have to be fingerprinted and get a background check performed.

They inspect your house to make sure it is a safe place for a child.  You have to be able to provide the foster child with a bedroom, and preferably a private room if possible.  All your medications have to be locked away so that children can't get into them, and there must be enough smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your house.

They interview you about your life, including your childhood, what sort of discipline techniques your parents used, and what you use.  Spanking or physical punishment of foster children is prohibited, as are other abusive punishments such as withholding food or locking them up.  Luckily we don't spank (or abuse!) in this household anyhow, so nothing had to change in that department.  They ask why you want to be a foster parent, and what sort of children you would prefer or be most compatible with.  Each of us was interviewed separately, and also asked about any drug use or addiction issues in our immediate and extended families.

Then, the social worker writes up the home study, provides a copy for us to review and correct, and files it after incorporating our comments.  We are now licensed foster parents.  The next step is setting us up with a foster child.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fostering: Four Weeks of Training

In order to adopt a child from the foster care system in Tennessee, you have to complete 30 hours of training, become certified in CPR and first aid, and complete a home study.  Then, you are eligible to be a foster parent.  You have to do ten hours of continuing education, keep your CPR and first aid certifications up to date, and have your home inspected every year in order to remain a licensed foster home.  If you want to adopt a child whose parents rights have been terminated, you have to foster that child for at least six months before you are eligible to adopt them.  Depending on the child's age, he or she must agree to be adopted.

We began our classes the first week of October.  The first night was quite emotionally intense.  We watched a video with a man who had grown up in the foster care system and had never been adopted.  The losses he had sustained were still with him today, even though he is a highly successful doctor.  Listening to him talk about how he felt growing up, and just seeing the grief on his face tugged at my heartstrings.

I have experienced a limited amount of loss, but nothing like him (or any kid in the foster system).  But I could empathize somewhat with him.  Still, it was really eye-opening.

There was homework after every class, mostly review questions on the material we'd learned.  A lot of what we discussed about the kids and how to handle them I already knew, but maybe not in words.  The take-home message for me was that the kids may do things that appear strange and dysfunctional to you, but that in their previous environment, those behaviors serve a good function.  For example, an older kid may wet the bed because it's a good way to keep their abuser away.  The trick to changing those behaviors is to help the child feel in control and no longer need to do those things.  (Of course, that is often easier said than done.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fostering: the Origin of the Idea

When I was about ten, a woman from an international adoption agency came to our church and talked about international adoption.  It seemed like the most wonderful thing: we could essentially rescue a baby from a dead-end life and provide them with the unbounded opportunities that we have in this country.  A great way to save the world, one child at a time!  I was hooked.  I decided I would adopt a child when I grew up.

But as an adult, I began to see just how problematic international adoption is.  Wouldn't it be better to create opportunities for the child (and everyone else) in their home country instead of whisking one child out of there?  International adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars per child -- and that kind of money could go really far in an impoverished country towards satisfying the needs of many children.

Furthermore, there are many children right here at home who need families.  Why go halfway across the world when there are kids halfway across the city who could use your help?  I decided that adopting a local child would be best.

A lot of people prefer to adopt babies, which leaves a lot of older kids without a home.  This did not strike me as fair to those children.  I determined that I would want to adopt an older child.

That being said, I realized that I had some constraints.  I would want to adopt a child to provide him or her with opportunities that would enable the child to live independently and become a contributing member of society.  So I would be the most interested in adopting a child who had a high probability of being able to live independently and be successful.

Jeff was always aware that I wanted to adopt a child.  He wanted to have a biological child, which we did. After a lot of discussion and thinking it over, Jeff was ready to start down the adoption pathway with me.  So I looked at the state's website and tried to figure out how to be eligible to adopt a child from the child welfare system.  I made a couple of calls, trying to figure out what to do.  The state social worker suggested that I contact one of the private agencies that the state contracts with.  I looked at the websites of several local agencies, and finally connected with someone at an agency that I liked,* and signed us up for the classes.

* I was cautious about private agencies because most of them are religious-based (e.g., Catholic charities, Baptist adoption agencies, etc.), and I did not feel that they would be accepting of my reverse-traditional, nonreligious family.  But I found one that was secular so I went with them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Our New Adventure

In October, Jeff and I embarked on a new adventure together.  It began with thirty hours of classes (plus homework, despite the promise I made to myself after graduating that I would never take another class again).

Lots of paperwork and elbow grease later, we are licensed foster parents (or, as we are called in Tennessee, resource parents).  Our first foster child arrives this next week, for 48 hours of respite care.

For privacy reasons, I can't tell you anything about the child, or even how the visit went after it is over.  But I can tell you about our journey: what made us decide to do it, and what we had to do to become licensed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

House of (Poor) Health

This has been a month of sickness at Casa Rebecca.  It began on April 1, when we were supposed to go to Kentucky to see my sister, should-be sister-in-law, and nephew, who were at my parents' house.  Jeff was too under the weather to go along, so I took Vinny up there for a 24-hour visit, because I had to get back home to fly out early Sunday morning for a conference.  We were stopped on the interstate in the middle of nowhere because there had been an accident, when Vinny started screaming about his eyes hurting.  Two hours later, my bonus mom looked at his eyes and declared that he had pinkeye.

I felt like the world's best aunt: bringing my contagious child to expose my nephew to disease at the very beginning of an epic two-month cross-country trip.  But I took Vinny to an urgent treatment center on Saturday morning to get him medicated, and then we devised ways that the boys could play together without spreading infection.

Treating Vinny for the pinkeye was not so fun.  He was really scared of the drops and I would just hold him down and put them in, but I didn't know how Jeff was going to handle that after I was away.  But luckily, Jeff had a stroke of genius and let Vinny put allergy eyedrops into Jeff's eyes.  After it became a mutual eye-dropping process, there was no longer an issue.

On Sunday I traveled to San Francisco for a conference.  I was staying at a beautiful hotel at the top of Nob Hill.  On Monday I was abnormally tired -- beyond the usual fatigue of sleep deprivation, jet lag, etc.  Monday night I woke up with severe chills -- I suffered through them all night because I had not thought to pack any medicine.  In the morning, I had a choice: walk three blocks straight downhill to a pharmacy, and then try to hike the three blocks straight back up, or pay $10 for some gold-plated tylenol from the hotel.  I paid the $10.  They even delivered it to me.  I spent most of Tuesday lying around in my room.

I found out that a friend of mine was going to be on the same flights as me on the way home, and on Wednesday morning we left San Francisco.  For the connection I had requested assistance to get between the gates, so I got to ride one of those people movers for the first time, which was fun.  But the landings of my flights were incredibly painful to my ears, which were apparently congested (I had no idea until I flew).  I understand why babies cry when the plane is landing.  I was tugging at my ear lobes in the hopes that something would help.  When I got home, my ears were so clogged that the outside world sounded like it does when I wear earplugs.

The next morning, I went to the medical center at work, where they gave me some antibiotics for my ear infection, and then I stayed home for two days.  I was feeling enough improved to go to work on Monday, especially because I wanted to avoid the paperwork.*  But I did go to my regular doctor on Wednesday, because my ears were still incredibly painful.

I am a good and sharing wife, and I passed whatever I had over to Jeff.  I had blamed him for my illness, and it may be that he did give it to me and then I gave it back to him in mutated form (with earache).  So he went to the doctor this past Tuesday because he was feeling so lousy.

On Tuesday I hosted an interviewee.  Normally I am polite and shake people's hands, but I did not shake his because I had noticed that my eyes were feeling grainy and painful and were getting kind of pink.  The next day I went to the doctor and she confirmed that I had pinkeye.  And yesterday it seemed like Jeff was coming down with it too.  We have washed all the towels and sheets in hot water and are now using them only once before throwing them back in the wash again, until the infection subsides.  We are also watching Vinny's eyes to make sure that he doesn't get it again.  He has been dispensing the drops into my eyes for me, and takes the whole process, including hand-washing, very seriously.

We had invited my dad and bonus mom down for the weekend, but they uninvited themselves after finding out about all the germs in our household.  "We'll come another time," they said.  We've been sick for nearly 4 weeks in this household, but surely it's got to end!

* My workplace has a strange policy that if you are absent from work for more than 4 days in a row with the same condition, you are placed on short-term disability.  Weekends count against the number of days, probably to discourage people from using sick days for vacation.  This is not the first time I have dragged myself in to work in order to avoid the arduous paperwork process.  All you have to do is survive a half day and the counter gets reset.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Racing for a Cause

This May will be the third time that I have run in a 5K race benefitting a local CASA group.  A colleague of mine was the original organizer of this race and she is also a CASA volunteer.  For those who don't know, CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, and these volunteers are there to represent the best interests of the child as they navigate through the family court and child welfare system.  I admire my colleague and her tireless efforts at bettering the lives of children.

I do what I can to support the cause.  Last year, I strong-armed a lot of friends into participating in the race.  This year, in conjunction with a wellness initiative at work encouraging people to walk more, I have started a walking group and invited the people in my department to participate, with the goal of training up to walk this 5K race in May.  And on Wednesday, we will hold a pizza party/informational meeting about the race, in an effort to encourage more people to sign up.

I don't think I could do what my friend does, at least not at this point in my life.  It's important work and I hope to contribute in my own way to bettering the lives of children in the foster care system.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jim's Pancakes

This is a cool site my should-be sister-in-law tipped me off to: Jim's Pancakes.  Jim is much more talented than I could ever hope to be when it comes to making pancakes, and makes all kinds of interesting pancake sculptures for his daughters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Fair Pay Day!

What, you aren't having a big party?  Actually, neither am I.  Today is the day of the year that marks how many additional days it would take for the average woman to earn as much as the average man did in 2010.  Not exactly something to celebrate.  Female Computer Scientist has a good post about it, for your erudition!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Intelligence vs. Kindness

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people. -Abraham Joshua Heschel (via)
Intelligence is so over-hyped and over-rated!  As a child, my intelligence was honed sharply from birth.  All the music, the education, and the extracurricular activities were aimed at putting me at the top of the brightest and best.  My intelligence was to be used to change the world -- to fix all its problems, to make a difference.

While kindness was not optional, it was (ironically) enforced in a very unkind manner.  I was expected (based on my intelligence, I suppose) to be capable of age-inappropriate feats, such as being thoughtful at the age of four.*  And kindness to others was often motivated by our duty as privileged people, not as a natural consequence of being interconnected.

I have overcome a great deal of my elitist upbringing, although there is still much to do.  I attribute much of my success to my inner sense of justice, which has always been with me.**  My intelligence has also played a role, allowing me to think abstractly about others' hurtful behaviors, rather than being immediately insulted; broadening my outlook on the world around me; and giving me the ability to process stimuli in several ways before settling on a conclusion.

Kindness is my connection to humanity -- it is the love I feel for those I know and those I don't; those who are kind to me and those who are not; those who are hurting and facing injustice.

Becoming a mother has dramatically increased my kindness and sensitivity towards others, especially children.  Children are the most vulnerable human beings on earth, and I feel compelled to do what I can to help make their lives better.

While I know I cannot save the world (certainly not with my intelligence alone!), I can create a little ripple where I am that will propagate to those around me.  And perhaps if I make that wave, they will be inspired to create a wave of their own, and before long, the whole seascape has been redefined.

* As the mother of a four-year-old, I can tell you it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to be thoughtful.  It's just something their brains are lacking at this point in development.  The trick is to model the behavior you want them to eventually develop.

** My mom was once called out of the church service because in my Sunday School class we were playing Musical Chairs, which I found to be an unjust game because not everyone got to have a chair!  I threw a fit and they had to get her there to calm me down.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Tale of Two Blisters

Almost two years ago, my mean running coach was away for a while, so I was walking at lunchtime nearly every weekday with my friend "C."  She and I walked a 5K route that I had discovered.  Every day as we were headed out, we would see my friend "J" from upstairs, walking back towards our building.

My brain, although primarily occupied with math, does think about other things sometimes.  I had long ago realized that C and J had a lot in common, and would probably make a good couple.  But, at that time they were both getting over painful breakups, and neither felt that they were ready to date.  Still, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce them to each other in a non-dating, no-pressure environment.

"You know that guy I wave at every day?" I said to C.  "He's one of my colleagues from upstairs.  He has lost more than 50 pounds since the beginning of the year.  I bet he would love to see our walking route.  Would you mind if I invited him along sometime?"

Not at all, said C, always a good sport.  So I talked to J, really hyping up the awesomeness that was our walking route, and he agreed to try it out for a change of pace.

Alas, the day the three of us were supposed to go walking, I had developed two enormous blisters on the soles of my feet, and was unable to walk such a long distance.  My socks were not wicking the sweat away from my feet sufficiently, and the rubbing had caused these two big blisters to develop on the balls of my feet.

"I'm sorry," I said to J, "but I will be unable to walk today.  But I'm sure C would be happy to show you the route!"  J replied that since he didn't know her, he wasn't comfortable walking with her.  Despite my assurances that she did not bite, he could not be persuaded.  "Oookay," I said.  "I probably won't be better until next week, but we'll do it then."

C came over to my office later that morning, and I told her about my blisters and what J had said.  "Let's solve that problem!" she said, and we walked upstairs and she introduced herself to him: "Hello, my name is C, now you know me and we can go walking today."

They went walking that day, and every day for the rest of the week while my sad blisters healed.  In that time, they got a chance to talk and get to know each other, and they really hit it off.  After my blisters healed, I bought some expensive moisture-wicking socks and walked with them for a few days.  Then I was away for almost two weeks, and at one point soon after that they went on their first date.

Their relationship continued to blossom and I learned recently that they got engaged!  I have never felt such happiness about blisters as I did when they told me -- I could not have purposefully contrived such a perfect setup.

Still, I think I will keep wearing the expensive socks.  I'll figure out another way to help people fall in love.