Things are going relatively smoothly here with A and E’s transition. I would say that they are doing better than I expected. I am doing worse than I expected…just worn out and emotionally drained from responding patiently to tantrums (so far I’m doing well), teaching concepts constantly that would generally be taught to toddlers…sharing, taking turns, using gentle hands, being a good loser, having patience. I expected to be exhausted and for the whole thing to be quite taxing for many months, and so far I am right. I would say that things are good overall. The attachment process is a long one for children, parents, and siblings, but we are off to a good start.
Sibling rivalry has been the biggest problem. The four kids are trying to figure out their new place in this family. That comes with a lot of battles.
And of course there are a lot of expectations and routines in a stable family that you don’t find in an unstable family. And that takes some getting used to. I am actually amazed at how well A and E are adjusting to our family life. It feels like they were craving this stability and adult attention, and so far they are thriving in that.
HOWEVER. Insert Social Services here. Insert the reality of foster care here. The KIDS are transitioning fine. It’s the SYSTEM that we’re having trouble with. AGAIN.
We were very clear about our criteria for placement with these kids, and social services and our foster family agency were very clear about what we were accepting when we took these kids. Except that now they are changing their tune. Is anyone involved in foster care surprised here? I can hear knowing, cynical chuckling from across the country.
Because we’ve been in emotional upheaval for the past two years with Midge, Greg and I agreed that we were not willing to take on visitations with our next kiddos. They become such a drain on our time and emotional well-being. We need some time to help our family recover from losing Midge and regain some normalcy. So we told the agency we would not do visitations.
And these kids came with two 2 hour visits a week (one with each parent.) BUT we were assured by both the county placement worker who was working directly with our foster family agency (FFA) and assured by our agency placement worker that the visitations would take place at a monitored visitation facility. This was already in place and we would not have to monitor. In fact, we would only have to transport for a little while until the order for transportation went through and was cleared. So we accepted the placement.
Now three weeks in they are telling us that it is standard procedure for the county to refuse to fund/host monitored visits at their visitation centers or to transport once a case moves to an FFA. The FFA is supposed to be responsible for the visits at that point. And we know from vast experience that our FFA relies heavily on foster families to monitor and transport for visits. They offer up interns to help when they can, but ultimately the burden falls on me. Which is why we weren’t accepting placements requiring visits. And did anybody at the FFA mention this standard procedure to us when we were talking about this placement FOR A WHOLE MONTH? No.
Greg and I struggled with what to do here. In the end, we both agree that we are in a life stage with our kids where we just don’t feel like it would be wise to take on the responsibility for monitoring visitations for these or any other foster kids. We made this clear to our agency before placement, and we were misinformed by our agency, whether intentionally or unintentionally, about the distinct possibility of needing to monitor visits for these kids.
So I stayed intentionally vague when my agency case manager and my county social worker were talking about visitations the other day. I gave them a chance to hash it out so that they could follow through with taking care of the visitations as they said they would.
But I got an email from my agency case manager on Thursday, saying that they could monitor one of the two hour visits but we would have to monitor the other one. And we would have to transport for all visits. I know from experience that as time moves on, the agency monitoring one of the visits could very well fall through, and the whole burden of the visits would fall on us. Not to mention if/when they increase the visits to twice a week for each parent. We are not willing and able to take on this burden. So I wrote the following letter. I hope with all my heart that these kids don’t have to be ripped from another family, just when they are starting to attach and feel safe. But I need to remember that none of this was our fault. We were clear about what we could and couldn’t do, and if a move has to happen, the agency and the county are the ones at fault. But that doesn’t make it any easier on these kids. Which makes me really, really sad for them, and for all the other kids in foster care who are jerked around as if their needs don’t matter.
The letter reads:
In regards to the recent request for us to begin transporting and monitoring visits for E and A, we need to clarify several issues that have happened with this placement.
When our family decided to continue on with FFA and take a new placement of a sibling pair, we made it clear from the very beginning that we were looking for a sibling pair at the end of the foster care timeline, with little or no parent involvement and no visitations. We recognized that this placement might take a while to find, and that was fine with us. If a pair came up, we would consider them, and if it never happened, that would be fine, too, as we aren’t desperate to adopt. When we got the call for E and A, FFA Placement Worker told us their medical and behavioral information, the number of visits they had and that they would be transported and monitored at a county facility, and that services had already been terminated so they were just waiting to set the hearing to terminate parental rights. The kids seemed to fit all our criteria and we began doing a few visits to get to know them.
A few weeks later, we found out that E has a life-threatening heart condition that will always require medical supervision and several medications three times daily, and will likely shorten her life expectancy. This is a condition that we would not have accepted for placement, but we realized that FFA had no notification of her condition (although the county did) and because we’d already met and bonded with the kids, we decided we would move forward with the placement anyway, knowing that we were looking at additional paperwork and doctor’s visits, as well as the three times daily medications and a lifelong serious disease if the placement moved towards adoption.
In regards to visitations, the county placement worker and FFA’s placement worker both told us that visitations for each parent were one hour twice a week, which was later clarified as two hours once a week per parent. We were not interested in children who required any visitations because of our family’s schedule and our experiences with visitations with our last placement, but were assured by both workers that it was already arranged for all visitations to take place at a supervised visitation center, and that transportation had already been requested for the kids. The most we would be required to do was to transport them to and from the visit until the transportation order came through. They also assured us that the social worker was working to get the visitations back to back so that we would only have to transport once a week for that back to back visit until the transportation service began (two hours with each parent for a total of one four hour visit a week). With this assurance from both the county and from FFA, we decided to move forward with the placement.
After several shorter visits with the kids, one day long visit, and one overnight visit, the county placement worker came on Tuesday, April 30 to check our house and discuss the timeline for the kids to move in. At this point the kids had already been told that they would be moving in with us, and we were already getting to know each other pretty well. When Worker arrived she told us that she had received an email from the social worker that morning which would double the number of visitation hours. Also, she said that actually the parents’ services had NOT yet been terminated, as we were told initially. These two pieces of information were both huge shocks to us, but Worker assured us that the increased visits would still take place in a monitored facility and that transportation was being arranged, and that the court date on May 7 was supposed to be the day they terminated services. With all of this information, and because we didn’t want to be more adults disappearing out of the kids’ lives after getting to know them, we decided to move forward and the kids moved in two days later, on Thursday, May 2.
Now that the kids are settled in and beginning to attach, we are being told that the services still have not been terminated, there is no 2-6 hearing set, we are looking at a possibly lengthy trial timeline, AND we are being asked to both monitor and transport for visitations.
We can understand FFA’s misinformation about the unknown medical condition, as it was not properly noted in E’s file. We also know that FFA cannot predict the length of a child’s time in foster care or the outcome of the case. However, we should never have been told that services were terminated when they hadn’t yet been terminated. This changes the entire position of the case and the timeline. Also and more importantly, if it is standard procedure, as we are now being told, for the county to not provide transportation and supervision for visitations when an FFA becomes involved, we should have been informed of that standard procedure by FFA before the placement. Instead, all assurances were made to us by both FFA and the County that visitations would be covered, and we accepted placement based on that information. Now, both FFA and the County are claiming that maybe neither knew that we were an FFA or that there was some kind of miscommunication, when both placement workers clearly knew that we were with an FFA. Both workers were kind and helpful, so we can’t imagine that they were willfully misinforming us, but we are wondering where the breakdown occurred in giving us accurate information about this placement.
The bottom line is that we are not in the position as a family to monitor visitations for any foster children at this time. We recognize that monitoring visits is a part of fostering, which is why we made it clear that we needed a placement without visits (or in this case, with visits already covered.) We were not planning to have to transport for visits either, but were willing to do it for a few weeks while transportation was arranged. At this time, because of the kids attachment to our family and how emotionally damaging it would be for them to be moved, we would be willing to transport only for visits at a monitored facility or with an intern supervising, working around our schedule, even though we did not want to do this. As we look at our schedule and the emotional needs of our family, that is the most we can do, and we will not now, nor any time during this placement, be able to stay at the visits and monitor. If we cancel a visit ourselves for sickness or vacation scheduling, we will take it upon ourselves to monitor those make-up visits only.
We want to make it clear now, as we did when giving FFA our criteria originally, so that there is no confusion in the future and so that FFA can make whatever decision necessary regarding the future of this placement. We would hate for the kids to have to be moved just as they are becoming attached and feeling safe, but it is better for FFA to know up front what we are able to do. That way we are being honest with FFA about what we can and can’t do, and FFA can decide what is the best way to proceed with this case. If this means that our family needs to be done fostering, we are willing to accept that. We would love to continue serving as a foster family if it is feasible for FFA, but we can only do what we deem healthy for our biological family at this time.
This has nothing to do with our current case manager, who has been wonderful and accomodating and supportive. I’m sure she had no idea what we were told upon placement and what we told FFA that we were able as a family to do. It would be sad for the kids to be moved just as they are beginning to feel safe and bonded, but we need to look out for the needs of our biological kids as well. We are hopeful that FFA and the County can work out a way to provide us with the visitation coverage we were promised without having to move the kids, but if that is not possible, we understand and will support whatever next step is necessary.
I am hopeful that the agency will step in and monitor the visits or pay for a monitored facility rather than making the kids move, but it really could go either way. We just were not ready to monitor any visits, knowing what a slippery slope that is in foster care…monitoring one visit so easily turns into monitoring just one more and another, and another. Next thing you know, you’re driving all over the place several times a week and farming your bio kids out to friends and family for hours on end while you monitor and transport incessantly. And in these kids’ case, the visits have to be on nights and weekends, cutting into our much needed family time as we heal and try to become more “normal” than we’ve been able to be for the past two years. It is tempting to feel guilty because we can’t do what they want us to do, but then I remind myself that we were honest about what we were ready to do, and they are the ones who changed things after the placement. If the kids have to suffer because of it, that is terribly sad and destructive for them. We are praying because we know that if they are meant to be with us long-term, God will make it happen. His intentions will not be shaken. And if they’re not meant to be with us long term, hopefully they will have soaked up the best of what we’ve had to offer them before they are moved. Keep us and the kids in your prayers and I will update you when I hear anything.