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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!