Foster Care; “Right to be Heard”

As stated in previous blog entries; I belong to a number of on line message boards dealing with foster care and adoption.

One, of numerous, issues I have seen from foster parents is proceedings being conducted in which they were not advised of or not being given the opportunity to be heard at proceedings. This is an issue because who knows the foster child the best but the foster parents. Foster parents care for the youth twenty-four/seven while a social or case worker might be the youth for 20 minutes or so a month; if they are lucky. The judge and they mainly rely on the “case file” in making decisions.

Recently I received my E mail copy of “Fostering Perspectives” November 2007 issue. This comes out twice a year from the North Carolina Department of Human Services. I consider it one of the best state agency newsletters dealing with foster care and adoption in the country.

Two of the first sentences in the issues immediately caught my eye:

“There is a lot of change afoot in North Carolina’s child welfare system.

Just consider: a new federal law gives foster parents the right to be heard at court hearings.”

My first reaction was, “What, I haven’t heard of a new federal law! What is it and when was it passed and why hasn’t there been any news about it?”

I immediately felt the need to research the issue because I know of its importance to foster parents and foster youth.

I went to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families web site. It is very detailed though it is done in a way where one must know what they are looking for. I did numerous searches entering a variety of words…then BINGO! I hit the jack pot! Surprisingly the answer is in the Social Security Act and not one directly related to foster care.

8.3C.2b  TITLE IV-E, Foster Care Maintenance Payments Program, State Plan/Procedural Requirements, Case review system, notice and opportunity to be heard
 
2. Do the notice requirements in section 475(G) of the Social Security Act apply to all court hearings? Do they apply to shelter care, emergency removal, adjudication and disposition hearings? Do they apply to procedural hearings, such as pretrial hearings or hearings on motions for discovery? 
 
Answer:  The revised statutory language confers a “right” to be heard instead of an “opportunity,” as well as changes such right to be heard to a “proceeding” instead of “review or hearing” as in the previous language. Thus, we are interpreting this change to mean that in having a “right” to any “proceeding” to be held with respect to the child, the foster parents, pre-adoptive parents or relatives providing care for a child must, at a minimum, be provided with notice of their right to be heard in all permanency hearings, as well as six-month reviews, if held by the court.

Source:  01/29/07
Legal Reference:  Social Security Act – section 475(5)(G), 45 CFR 1356.21(o)

If you wish to go to the source:

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/j2ee/programs/cb/laws_policies/laws/cwpm/policy_dsp.jsp?citID=1

As far as I can tell, in my initial research, that North Carolina is the only state to date to implement this change in the law regarding foster parents having the right to be heard in ALL proceedings regarding youth in their care. I have much more research yet to do about other states.

I believe every foster parent in every county and state should print a copy of this new federal statement and give it to their local agency and also send it to their state office and let them know they need to implement this new policy.

I am sure most states, as they have in the past on many issues, will move slowly on this issue or attempt to ignore it if possible.

This policy was established in January 2007 and it is now about to be December 2007. A year has almost gone by yet it appears foster parents continue to not be notified of proceedings and even when they are they are told not to come nor advised they have a right to be heard. This MUST change!

When it comes to foster youth, those who know the most about them; their problems, their improvements, etc. is the ones who provide the care not those who just read a case file…which many times is totally incomplete or contains wrong information.

It’s up to us; foster parents, youth advocates…the policy is now in place…WE must see that our state follows it!

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CPS and the First Christmas

I wonder how things would have been if CPS had been around 2007 years ago for the first Christmas:

INFANT DISCOVERED IN BARN, CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES LAUNCH PROBE

Nazareth Carpenter Being Held On Charges Involving Underage Mother

Bethlehem, Roman-occupied Judea – Authorities were today alerted by a concerned citizen who noticed a family living in a barn. Upon arrival, Child Protective Services personnel, accompanied by police, took into protective care an infant child named Jesus, who had been wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough by his 14-year old mother, Mary of Nazareth.

During the confrontation, a man identified as Joseph, also of Nazareth, attempted to stop the social workers. Joseph, aided by several local shepherds and some unidentified foreigners, tried to forestall efforts to take the child, but was restrained by the police.

Also being held for questioning are three foreigners who claim to be wise men from an eastern country. The INS and Homeland Security officials are seeking information about these, who may be in the country illegally. A source with the INS states that they had no passports, but were in possession of gold and other possibly illegal substances. They resisted arrest, saying that they had been warned by God to avoid officials in Jerusalem and to return quickly to their own country. The chemical substances in their possession will be tested.

The owner of the barn is also being held for questioning. The manager of the Bethlehem Inn faces possible revocation of his license for violating health and safety regulations by allowing people to stay in the stable. Civil authorities are also investigating the zoning violations involved in maintaining livestock in a commercially-zoned district.

The location of the minor child will not be released, and the prospect for a quick resolution to this case is doubtful. Asked about when Jesus would be returned to his mother, a Child Protective Service spokesperson said, “The father is middle-aged and the mother definitely underage. We are checking with officials in Nazareth to determine what their legal relationship is.

Joseph has admitted taking Mary from her home in Nazareth because of a census requirement. However, because she was obviously pregnant when they left, investigators are looking into other reasons for their departure.

Joseph is being held without bond on charges of kidnapping and child endangerment, and threatening a CPS caseworker when the worker attempted to take the infant from the mother.

Mary was taken to the Bethlehem General Hospital where she is being examined by doctors. Charges may also be filed against her for endangerment. She will also undergo psychiatric evaluation because of her claim that she is a virgin and that the child is from God. Psychiatrists at the hospital have told a source that they believe Mary suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The director of the psychiatric wing said, “I don’t profess to have the right to tell people what to believe, but when their beliefs adversely affect the safety and well-being of others – in this case her child – we must consider her a danger to others. The unidentified drugs at the scene didn’t help her case, but I’m confidant that with the proper therapy regimen we can get her back on her feet.”

The Director of Child Protective Services said: “Our caseworkers are interviewing the parents, Mary and Joseph. It has been determined that they are in need of services, and if they refuse to partake of them, we will promptly bring suit to terminate their parental rights.” When asked who will care for Jesus if that happens, the Director said: “We have many suitable foster parents who already want to adopt this beautiful child.”

Mary was deeply distressed when the child was taken away by a CPS caseworker. Mary said: “They didn’t have any right to take him from me!”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said, “Who knows what was going through their heads? But regardless, their treatment of the child was inexcusable, and the involvement of these others frightening. There is much we don’t know about this case, but for the sake of the child and the public, you can be assured that we will pursue this matter to the end.”

Please bear in mind that I know there are cases that CPS investigates and the children are justifiably removed from there homes. However, there are a number of cases where removal is not justified or where CPS should have removed and did not!

This basically shows  that once an allegation is made CPS considers one guilty  until you can prove you are innocent…and even then if they want removal they will do it! CPS can do/and does whatever they wish!

How Long Must They Languish in Limbo?

For a number of years it was the intent of our child welfare system that ALL efforts should be to reunify a family after a child was removed from their biological parent(s) for abuse or neglect. Because of this effort thousands of youth remained in foster care for a number of years without permanency. They languished in a state of limbo year after year; in many cases they simply in the end aged out of the system.

It was the intent of Congress and President Clinton that this would change with the passage and signing of ASFA (Adoption & Safe Family Act) of 1997. Some of the main parts of this act were:

Though reunification may still be an objective, if possible, it was no longer to be the all encompassing goal of the system; it was to just be one of many possibilities as an end goal plan

Termination of parental rights could commence when a child is in out of home care for a period of fifteen months out of the previous twenty-two month; unfortunately discretion of implementing this was left to the state and judge to determine

 An intent of this law is to move youth quicker through the system to some plan of permanency; in particular adoption

It is now ten years since the passage of this law and questions need to be asked:

Has the attitude of “reunification at all costs” been changed?

Are parental rights being terminated within a more reasonable period to allow for a plan of permanency to be established for foster youth; whether it is reunification, kinship care, guardianship or adoption?

From the government statistics available it appears that at first the new law may have helped. In 1997 there were 31,000 adoptions from foster care system wide. The numbers increased:

 1998: 37,000
 1999: 47,000
 2000: 51,000

In the years that have followed, through the last year government statistics are available, adoptions from foster care seems to have stagnated:

 2001: 50,500
 2002: 53,000 
 2003: 50,500
 2004: 52,500
 2005: 51,500 (last year available)

This is while the number of youth entering foster care has increased from fewer than 285,000 in 2001 to over 311,000 in 2005.

Though the number of youth entering care has increased the number of TPR’S has remained fairly constant at about 65,000 per year over the past five years.

This question was recently asked on a message board that I participate in, “How long have you had a child in your care awaiting reunification or termination of parental rights?”

Here are just a few of the replies that came back:

1. EIGHT YEARS for some friends of ours.

The Chancery Judge thought the druggie mom needed another and another and another chance. Bio mom finally volunteered TPR so the family that had had them for 8 years could adopt them.

Youth Court Judge does TPR’s. Chancery Judge finalized adoptions.

Hubby went to the adoption finalization. There were about 35 people there and the judge asked each and everyone why they were there. When it got to hubby he said he looked at her and said, “Judge, I mean no disrespect but it’s about damn time this happened. You made this drag out entirely too long.” He said the judge teared up.

2. Our little ones will be in FC for 35 months by the time we have TPR trial next month.

3. My friend has had her little boy for three years, since he was three months old. TPR trial has been going on for an entire year and isn’t over yet

4. I had my foster son for 4 1/2 years; they did TPR on bio mom, and then did separate TPR on bio dad. The judge did a suspended judgment on the TPR on bio dad, giving him 6 MORE months after the first 4 years, and then reunified him with the bio dad.

5. My adopted son both parents signed away their rights. But in Pa they have to have a hearing called a confirmation of consent. Anyways that hearing didn’t take place until my son was three years old. And we got him as a newborn. He was three and a half years old when he was adopted.

6. My foster son has been with us for over a year now. He went 6 years until TPR and now it has already been over a year for the appeal and we’re still waiting. I think lawyers get good at playing the system and coming up with delay tactics.

We’re just waiting till we can adopt our little man. Poor guy, can you imagine going 7+ years without permanence in your life?

7. My children were in care 40 months before TPR finally occurred.

Their former case worker has a case that she’s had for the last EIGHT years. The parents keep asking for extensions, and doing JUST ENOUGH to get them, but not enough to bring the child home.

8. Friends of ours boys TPR took over 4 years. BF was in prison and they refused to TPR while he was there and gave him a year after his release to work a plan. After all that time the BF ended up surrendering after making them wait for 4 years!!!

9. My former foster daughter was taken into care at 5 months old… her TPR was not completed until she was nearly 6.5 yrs old…..appeals were finalized at 7.5 yrs and adoption completed 6 months later.

10. We had our soon to be adopted son for 33 months before TPR was granted, appeals took another 5/6 months, then we sat in limbo for almost a year until we signed the adoption papers last week to get the finalization rolling. It was 4 years last Monday that he came to us – the same day we signed the papers!

11. Friends of mine just adopted three foster children they have had for SIX years. They had to hire their own lawyer because after five years in foster care the county was still trying to reunify. They spent tens of thousands of dollars but they finally got TPR.

From just the examples above it appears the attitude of “reunification at all costs” remains in the lexicon of social workers and judges.

Bear in mind; I am all for reunification if it is possible and it is able to be accomplished within a reasonable period of time. A youth should not be held in limbo year after year in hopes the bio parent(s) will get their act together.

It has been shown that the longer a youth remains in care, the more moves a youth experiences and the older the youth gets; the lesser opportunity for adoption.

While the number of adoptions has been fairly stagnant the past fiver years the number of youth aging out of the system has increased from 20,000 a year just a few years ago to over 24,000 last year.

Recently I listened to a documentary on Minnesota Public Radio produced by American Radio Works entitled, “Wanted Parents.” It was a program dedicated to the need to finding adoptive families for eligible teenagers before they age out of the system.

One statement during the program caused me to call in after the documentary aired to participate in the discussion program which followed.

The statement was:

An adoption recruiter for The Homecoming Project in Minneapolis arrives at the group home to meet a new client, and tell a worker why she’s there: 

“My goal is to find this teenager an adoptive home.”

“He’s 17,” the worker says. “Why bother?”
 
Having spent my youth in foster care and being very familiar with this type of attitude caused my blood to rush to my head in anger towards this worker…no wonder an adoptive home was never found for me!

I however loved the response of the adoption recruiter.

She calmly says to the worker:

“Let me ask you something: do you still have family that you talk to, family who are important to you, family that you visit with or call when you have a problem that you’d like to talk to someone about?”

She sees a light bulb go on inside the worker. “Well, of course I do,” she says softly.

The recruiter finishes, “You say to me ‘He’s 17, why bother?’ and my answer to you is this: because he’s only 17.”

During the discussion program that followed I called in and said how the group home worker’s comment truly bothered me. The recruiter said it obviously did her as well and unfortunately this is an attitude she finds still very prevelant within the system.
The text of the entire documentary (not the discussion) may be found at:

http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/fostercare/index.html

How many times have workers said, “Teens are too old to be adopted.” “Don’t get his/her hopes up.” “No family would want to adopt a teen.” “Don’t disturb her foster home placement.” “Let’s leave him in the treatment center until he isn’t angry anymore.”

What will happen to these youth when they turn eighteen if they don’t have an adoptive family? Because the truth is, most teens skip around from placement to placement like stones across water. Eventually they turn 18 and age out of the system.

For teens that age out, research tells us that their future is bleak: many don’t finish high school, become homeless, jobless, addicted, incarcerated, pregnant, pregnant again and many times their own children end up in foster care repeating the vicious cycle all over again.

It is wrong that these teens are moved around, ignored, unprepared for adulthood, and then bounced out of the system at an age when most kids are still either living at home or financially supported by their parents.

It appears the system today continues to allow youth to languish in limbo and to move children from one home to another with no apparent reason. This does not take into account the emotional costs to the child of being raised in a non-stable environment. They also separate siblings, often allowing no contact between those siblings.

You can quote the Adoption and Family Safety Act of 1997 and get a totally blank look from the people who are supposed to be in charge of enforcing the act. They need to get “all their ducks in a row” and follow the intent of the act which is “the best interest of the child is uppermost”. As it stands now, it’s the rights of the parents.  Their “civil rights” have to be protected no matter how much further damage is done to the children already scarred by the placement in the system.

Overall it appears to me that ASFA of 1997 has been a failure!

Too much discretion has been left to states and judges to determine when a TPR may occur or whether it occurs at all. Youth are being allowed to languish in the system year after year with permanence being no more than just a word in their vocabulary.

When a child is removed from their home and placed in care after all other alternatives were researched I believe that the ASFA law should be changed as follows:

1.If the reason for removal was neglect: the parent(s) should be given a case plan which MUST be accomplished within ONE YEAR otherwise TPR MUST proceed. Biological parent(s) cannot be allowed chance after chance after chance while the youth remains in foster care.

2.If removal has been for severe physical abuse or sexual abuse: the person allegedly responsible MUST be charged. If convicted TPR MUST begin immediately. No child should be placed in the position of the offender having yet another opportunity to harm the child

3. Red tape Must be streamlined to make it easier for foster parent(s) or others to adopt youth from care. This is one of the main complaints from those who end up adopting overseas rather than domestically.

4. More effort needs to be concentrated toward finding adoptive homes for teenagers.

I am sure there are other changes that need to happen with the law but these are the few primary ones I will address in this blog entry.

According to most childcare experts, children need four things:

1) Connectedness; “children need to feel that someone is there for them and they are a part of someone’s life”

2) Continuity; a sense of continuous belonging with another person

3) Dignity; all children are worthy of respect caring, love, thought, and courtesy

4) Opportunity; children need an opportunity to grow and develop- need to be able to explore and express their capabilities-access to quality education, recreation, and leisure appropriate to their developmental levels

The best way to achieve all the above is a permanent, stable, loving family rather than years of languishing in limbo within the system moving from one temporary home to another!

They need someone to adopt them and treat them as their own son or daughter long before they face aging out of the system and possible destruction of their lives!

Today there are 114,000 youth eligible for adoption across the country. Many of them are teenagers who have been in foster care five years or longer…far too many of them face the prospect of aging out of the system. 
 
All must be done to make a youth’s time in foster care short and with as few moves as possible. Any decision made MUST be made in the child’s best interest…this needs to become the reality rather than the myth it is today!

The sooner youth have permanency in their lives the better the opportunity for them to become stable, productive members of society as they reach the age of maturity.

A National Adoption Day Celebration

adoptiondayc2.jpg 

Yesterday began as just a normal fall day in Fargo, North Dakota. It was however to be a special day.

I was driving through a light snow fall to the Cass County Courthouse to attend a National Adoption Day ceremony. I had not attended one before and thus had no clue what to expect.

The outside walkway to the entrance had colorful large lollipops on each side. A person’s first name was on each. Later I was to learn that each represented a North Dakota eligible for adoption but still awaiting a family.

Inside the courthouse a crowd was gathering. For no particular reason I chose a courtroom to enter. I was to find out I made the right choice.

Today six children from our county were to have their adoptions finalized. The courtroom I chose to sit in was to be where one family with three children already were about to add four more children to their family. The courtroom was full to capacity with soon to be grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and numerous friends.

The clerk called the courtroom to order as the judge entered. The lawyer then had the clerk swear in Ronald & Billie Jo (adoptive parents) and each took the stand to affirm to a series of questions. Jemisyn was then called forth. Jemisyn was the oldest of the four children being adopted by this family and since she was over the age of ten she had to verbally give her consent to be adopted as well as sign a form also stating it.

The lawyer then asked for the judge to approve the adoption. With a signature and a few words he so declared and suddenly four children were a part of a new family. The judge joined the family for numerous photos being taken of this newly enlarged forever family. I made the choice not to take any photographs during this time as I did not want to intrude on this moment of celebration.

A reception followed in the courthouse rotunda followed by a short speaking program. Letters of support were read from both our U.S. Senators, a word from each of the two judges who conducted the adoptions (two adoptions by two families were held in a second courtroom).

The four of the children said a few words oh how they felt about being adopted. The highlight was one of the boys, who appeared to be maybe five, stood in front of the crowd for a minute or so and finally blurted out, “I don’t know what to say!”

The program concluded with Mom (Billie Jo) giving very heartfelt and tearful comments of what the day meant to her and her family.

While the reception was going on I had the opportunity to speak to one of the county social workers about our situation in North Dakota. We have over 1,400 youth in foster care. Over 300 of these children are eligible for adoption; with over of 100 of them just in our county. These are high number considering North Dakota has less than 800,000 people living in the state.

I was also able to share a few brief moments with Ronald (the adoptive father of the four children). I had a much longer conversation with Billie Jo’s father, the new grandfather. He told me more of the family’s story.

Billie Jo & Ronald have one biological child. They became foster parents a number of years ago and have cared for twenty-two youth. This is their second adoption. They adopted two children earlier. Today their family grew from five to nine, including the parents.

The inside program ended and it was time to move outside for a balloon ceremony. Each color balloon released held significance:

White: Love and unity
Green: Remembering the birth families of each youth
Yellow: Remembering former foster families of the youth
Red: Honoring the three sets of adoptive parents
Orange: Thanking extended adoptive families/friends for their support
Blue: Celebrating the lives of the newly adopted children

adoptiondaya.jpg

Each of the newly adopted youth were given a bouquet of these balloons and released them one at a time as words of remembrance, thanksgiving, honor and celebration were offered. The photographs on this page obviously were taken during this time.

Jemisyn, Raziah, Kaisha, Charley, Cale & Elizabeth today have forever families.

The program concluded and I moved on to a local restaurant for a late breakfast. I didn’t know it would end up being the same place Ronald, Billie Jo, their now seven children, extended family and friends would also choose to gather in one of the private dining rooms.

During the course of eating my breakfast Billie Jo unexpectedly came over to my table. She thanked me for being present at the ceremony and also spoke of some of the comments I had shared with her father.

This turned out to be a very special morning for me. I am glad I attended the ceremony. It was also bittersweet. As I sat in the courtroom listening to the finalizing of the adoptions I could only think back to my own childhood. I had lived in foster care my entire youth, experienced sixteen moves during those years; however, I never had the joy of experiencing what these children experienced today.

There will be another National Adoption Day next year (the Saturday before Thanksgiving); it is my hope and prayer that a far larger number of foster youth in our county and state eligible for adoption will be joined together with a new forever family.

This is but one celebration held across the country yesterday. In over 250 courtrooms well over 3,000 foster youth became part of a forever family!  

Every child deserves a stable, secure, nurturing and loving family…whether it is a biological or adoptive family!

What Foster Parents Wish Social/Care Workers Knew & Did

I have mentioned in previous entries that I belong to various on line message boards dealing with foster care and adoption.

Recently I was reading threads on a board I belong to and came to one that definitely drew more attention from me than many others that day. It was entitled, “What foster parents wish social workers knew and did.”

Though I am not a foster parent but rather a foster care alumnus I could very much relate to the issues discussed. During my eighteen years in foster care I was rarely spoken to about decisions being made about my future; just as rarely were my foster parents ever made a part of the decision making process.

In matter of fact as far back as I have any memory I remember my foster parents being told of the decisions after the fact. Their advice was not asked for though they were supposedly part of a team. It appeared to me that there were viewed as “babysitters” rather than the temporary parents that they were.

The social workers seemed to think they knew ALL the questions as well as the answers to them. This was despite the fact that many of them were young, right out of college and never parented children themselves. Their maybe twenty minutes, if lucky, spent with the foster parents or youth per month carried ALL the weight in the decision making process rather than the ones who cared for me twenty-four/seven.

I firmly believe the attitudes of many of the social workers in the field today need to be changed. Some of those who posted to the thread entitled above say it far better than I as they are current foster parents.

Thus I have snagged some of their comments, having changed the wording of some, as to what they wish social workers knew/do. I decided their suggestions needed a far wider audience than the message board I saw them on. Thus I am relating them here; though I have removed any identification from them so as not to put anyone in a bind with their social workers. Some of the suggestions may be repeated…it means they were stressed more than once and one should pay heed to them!

I believe that if they even adopted a few of the suggestions they would make for more informed decisions and have far better relationships with foster parents as well as the foster youth.

Here are just some of the ideas stated:

BE HONEST:

1. We know the youth may be damaged; we just need to know how and in what way.

2. Tell me if you have 75 cases so I will know I am pretty much on my own.
 
3. Tell me if the teen uses drugs or if sexual abuse is involved in the case.

4. Tell me if this is the youth’s first time in foster care or a return to care. Tell me how many previous homes they have been in and how long they have been in care.

5. There is no reason to lie to us; we’re all supposed to be on the same team.

6. Tell me if you know the youth has more appointments in a week than there are days. I have a job that I need to work around.

7. If a teen is involved; tell me if on probation/parole and why.

8. Tell me if the youth has a different religion and what I need to do to respect it.

9. Tell me reimbursements are delayed, don’t tell me it is in the mail.

TRUST US:

………. because we are with this child day in an day out……

1. We should know if the youth is peeing in the corner.

2. Yes the child needs to see a doctor; I know how to use a thermometer.

3. I am not in it for the money, though it helps.

4. I saw the youth get on the school bus / I walked the youth to their class.

5. You did a background check, psych evaluation, and contacted everyone in the world who knows me. If I was like that it would have been found out sooner.

6. I have no reason to lie.
 
RESPECT US:

1. We are suppose to be part of a team, don’t blow smoke up our behinds and tell us we’re part of the “team” and leave us in the dark, ignore us, or discount what we try to tell you. We usually know more about these children than you or anybody else involved in the case. We do not have the time or energy to make things up or exaggerate. If we tell you about a problem or concern, take us seriously. Don’t dismiss us. Don’t blow us off. Don’t interrupt with excuses or get defensive, but listen to what we have to say. If you don’t know the answer, be honest — don’t tell us more lies. Find out and get back to us. We really DO want to work together.

2. I will not yell at you, don’t yell at me.

3. I have to replace my (appliance/air conditioner/plumbing/roof/car) because the last kid broke it. I am not asking you to pay for it.

4. I only called your supervisor because I have been calling you for 2 weeks.

5. I had the decency not to yell at the bio-parent when they were yelling at me.

6. Believe it or not, I have a career aside from being a foster parent.

7. I am much smarter than you realize.

8. I don’t really mind too much if you are 5-15 minutes late now and then, but when you don’t show up at all, don’t call, and show absolutely no respect for my time or the children’s pre-visit anxiety, it really ticks us off. There is no excuse for that. We DO have a life, we DO have things to do, and we DON’T have time to wait around on them. We are NOT sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for them to throw us a crumb. We are busy people with things to do and families to tend to.

9. They also need to be reminded to keep your egos in check. YOU are NOT God, you do not know all things, you need to remember that you have these children’s lives in your hands and you will one day answer for the decisions you have made, so you better make good ones. Don’t be spiteful or ruin the kids’ lives because you want to show the foster parents how much power you have or you just want the file off of your desk.

UNDERSTAND US:

1. We have been bitten/slapped/punched/spit-on/pee’d on/poo’d-on/cursed at/ by someone who is not our family member and still found it in our heart to forgive the little person who did it and even love them.

2. I was attached to the child. Of course I cried. At least I waited until they were gone. I want you to realize that these kids are NOT just a number on a case load to US. They are OUR children…even if it’s temporary…We LOVE these children.

3. I absolutely hate it when you a social worker…or worse yet your supervisor thinks they know more about a child that they have spent 20 minutes a month with (or worse yet…never met) than a foster parent who has cared for that child for MONTHS or YEARS.

4. I wish caseworkers wouldn’t say I know how you feel – because unless you have loved, rocked, held, fed, etc this child you have know idea how I feel.

5. When we were going through the roller coaster of adoption – Our caseworkers would keep saying to us we want what you want, we want her to be yours forever; we don’t want to see her go back into that situation. Yep, but at 5 p.m. you go home to your family. This child is not my job she is my life and there is a huge difference. If she goes home tomorrow you still have a job – we have a huge hole in our hearts and an empty quiet house full of memories!

SHOW INTEGRITY:

1. Please get your facts straight before 1) going to court, 2) calling me accusing me of something I didn’t do, 3) writing about me or my kids in a report.

2. Please care enough about the kid to know his correct name, age, where he goes to school (after he’s been in placement for long period of time already)

3. Please listen to me when I say I need help. You know by now that I can handle most anything, when I say I need help, I’m over my head, listen to me

4. Many, many excellent foster parents quit due to caseworker stupidity. Work with us, we’ll bend over backward to work with you.

5. Don’t blame us when you’re the one who screwed up, forgot something, didn’t do your job, etc. We have enough to deal with without taking the blame for things we didn’t do or are not responsible for.

 BACK US UP!!!!!
 
1. with birth parents (tell bm why we didn’t buy designer jeans for her child)
 
2. with lame investigations (stand by those who do the hard job and dont turn your back on us when times get tough. support us dont act like we are guilty until proven “unsubstantuated”)

3. with therapists (tell them that the child has beaten the crap out of us, dont tell the therapist that he has some anxiety about the foster home…hello it is not us that cause him to beat us up)
with the schools (help us fight for IEPs and in school services)

4. with GALs and in court (LET US SPEAK. We have something to say that might just make a difference.)

5. with our disipline when the child tried to separate and divide (tell that kids that they have to follow rules of the house, dont negotiate with them for lesser punishment without speaking to us first)

6. with getting the paperwork done on time without excuses. (We know you are busy, we know you have other cases, but the kids under our roofs are the most important things in the world to us so acknowledge that and don’t give us lame excuses.

7. with telling us what is happening with the case, all of it. We understand confidentuality and all but we are in the middle of this case too and we, once again NEED TO KNOW if Dad is out of jail or if grandpa is dangerous AND if bm has shown up to the visit high….this might effect our childs behaviors.

8.with showing us pictures of the bios so we will know if they walk up to us in a store.

9. with inviting us to court.

10. when you talk to a foster parent be honest. WE WILL FIND OUT SOON ENOUGH IF YOU HAVE LIED TO US. So be upfront from the start so that we can go into this with trust and a sence of teamwork instead of us vs you.

11. by not treating us like a babysitter. We DO “need to know” and so don’t pull that “it is on a need to know basis”

12. with showing respect for us and what we do and tell us that once in a blue moon, we need to hear it too. Our job is no easier than yours.

13. with not picking the child up once a week for a short time and then try to tell us about his behaviors and what you have decided will work for him because more than likely we have already tried it.

MEAN WHAT YOU SAY & SAY WHAT YOU MEAN:

Examples of how many sayings seems today:

WHAT THEY SAY:
He’s a very busy little fellow
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He’s destroyed my office apart in 20 minutes flat.

WHAT THEY SAY:
She seems to have a little cold.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Her temp is 102 and she can’t breathe for coughing.

WHAT THEY SAY:
The family situation is slightly chaotic.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
They’ve been living in the family car which has been re-possessed.

WHAT THEY SAY:
Mom needs to get a little more organized.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Mom doesn’t remember where she left the baby.

WHAT THEY SAY:
These children need an organized, consistent atmosphere.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
They’ve never worn clothes and they eat off the floor.

WHAT THEY SAY:
You’re the only one I would trust with this child.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Everyone else has turned me down

WHAT THEY SAY:
This child is a picky eater.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He eats only cheetos, twinkies and Mountain Dew.

WHAT THEY SAY:
She has difficulty with peer relationships.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
She tried to kill her foster sister in her last placement.

WHAT THEY SAY:
We may want to talk about counseling in a few weeks.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
She thinks she’s a dog and barks constantly

WHAT THEY SAY:
It’s a complicated case.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
I think the grandfather is also the father but he may be the uncle.

WHAT THEY SAY:
I know I promised to take the child on the visit but I have an emergency.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
I’m dumping it on you.

WHAT THEY SAY:
Don’t you think you are overreacting?
WHAT THEY MEAN:
I don’t know what to do either.

WHAT THEY SAY:
He needs a lot of love and understanding
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He’s locked himself in a workers car and he has a knife.

WHAT THEY SAY:
The school staff seems fairly unsupportive in his last placement.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He held the principal hostage.

WHAT THEY SAY:
We’re going to move quickly to get the child home
WHAT THEY MEAN:
We can’t find his mother

WHAT THEY SAY:
Previous foster mom has switched jobs and can’t deal w/ him right now.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He’s 2 months old, weighs only 9 lbs, can’t keep anything down, screams constantly cuz he’s starving, and nobody can figure out what food he can keep down.

WHAT THEY SAY:
She’s very unique.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
She has so many mental and/or medical issues that even the doctors get confused.

WHAT THEY SAY:
It’s only temporary…
WHAT THEY MEAN:
…Unless no one else wants a 16 yr old with RAD, ADHD, dyslexia, autism, texture sensitivity, eating disorders, anxiety, bi-polar, fascination with fire, a history of acting out violently and sexually towards other children and adults, has been expelled from twelve schools, etc. ad nauseum.

WHAT THEY SAY:
She’s a very easygoing child.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
She’s probably RAD, so she doesn’t care if you’re there or not, or where you take her, or what you feed her, etc.

WHAT THEY SAY:
His hair needs to be washed, and he has a rash around his diaper, but he’s a sweet little baby.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He has lice, so you better wash his hair and clothes and bedding and then repeat the process for everyone else in your home after you discover this.

WHAT THEY SAY:
You work well with boys like this one.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Lock up is full and they have no place to put him.

WHAT THEY SAY:
It’s interim, he’s going into a residential program.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
They haven’t found one that will accept him.

WHAT THEY SAY:
He needs close supervision.
WHAT THEY MEAN:
He runs away.

WHAT THEY SAY:
Keep him away from younger children.
WHAT THEY SAY:
He has sexually assaulted little boys and girls..

WHAT THEY SAY:
I’ve been meaning to call ______________(pick one or all: the therapist/the attorney/the parole officer/the bio mom/you)…
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Now that you’ve left me 15 messages and gotten a hold of me completely by accident….I’ll pretend to get right on that thing you’ve been bugging me about for three weeks now.

WHAT THEY SAY:
You’re just wonderful to do this
WHAT THEY MEAN:
Its 5 o’clock and I’m out of here!

If social workers were held accountable for their actions or decisions they might stop and think before making them.

A social worker, if they have children of their own, should think of how they would like their children to be treated if someone were making the same decision about them as they are about someone else’s children before making them!

November’s Hero for Our Foster Youth

The following story hit me with both admiration for a young man trying to keep his nephews in the family and give them a good life ~ and heartbreak for the children ~ as well as for the young man.  Joseph had a difficult childhood himself yet instead of living as a victim of the past he’s trying to give these children what he didn’t have. 

Joseph Democko is my choice for “Hero for our Foster Youth” for November. My recognition is small compared to the recognition he is receiving in his hometown as well as across the nation. He deserves all the recognition he receives!

Why would such a young man take on such a huge responsibility?

“I couldn’t live without them,” Democko says. “I hear all the bad things about kids going into foster care. … I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.”  And, he says, “I want to do everything my parents didn’t do with me.”

Democko and his sister grew up in Santa Ana’s Clinton Mobile Estates near the intersection of Clinton Street and Westminster Avenue. Their father, an itinerant manual laborer who briefly worked at the Orange County Fairgrounds, left them when Democko was 6 years old. They lived with their mother, who residents thought sold drugs from the mobile home window, according to Clinton Mobile Estates Manager Vadette Mariscal.  

Democko also says a park resident molested him, his sister and other children in the park – incidents Mariscal confirmed. “We sued the mobile home park and sent the guy to jail,” Democko says.

The family moved to a one-bedroom hotel room on Harbor Boulevard, which became home for 13 years. Then the family ran out of money, moved, was evicted and moved again.

“I had to grow up faster now because my mom couldn’t support us,” Democko says. 

Two years ago Joseph was a carefree 21 year old young man in Orange County, California. This soon changed as Joseph became Orange County’s youngest foster parent.

His charges: three children, all under 5, one with severe disabilities. They are the offspring of his twin sister, Jody, whom Democko describes as a sweet if wayward girl whose drug addiction, past prison time and whereabouts – unknown – make parenthood out of the question.

 

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Joseph & his boys! photo from Orange County Register

The children were wards of the state. Democko hoped they will not stay that way. With little experience, less support and almost no money, the rail-thin, dark-haired young man with a worried expression but a determinedly upbeat outlook wants to prove he is capable of being more than a foster parent. He wants to be a dad.

A loving heart, not a large salary, big house or even child-raising experience, is the main criterion for becoming one of Orange County’s nearly 500 foster parents, according to the Orange County Social Services Agency. Demand – more than 3,000 children need homes – makes Democko’s imperfect if committed parenthood possible.

From the beginning, Joseph showed a strong determination,” says Julie Akau, the social worker who monitored Democko’s case. “(He) proved to be a nurturing parent who was very interested in the boys’ well-being.”

Democko’s role as a foster parent and his desire to adopt puts pressures on him that other parents do not have. At any time he can be visited by a caseworker and penalized if the house is dirty or the children improperly dressed or fed. Democko knows that his youth – he got possession of George at age 20 – subjects him to special scrutiny.

That was the huge issue,” Democko says. “Social Services said I’m a 20-year-old male. Males can hardly take care of themselves, much less a child.  “I said, ‘I’ll prove them wrong.'” That determination means taking on even the toughest tasks.

Chris was the first child of Democko’s sister’s marriage to a man who “expected women to stay home and the man to make money, only he didn’t make any money,” Democko says.  Three children later, the husband has disappeared. Democko’s sister, who he suspects is a chronic user of morphine and other drugs, calls occasionally but has not been seen for more than four months.  “She’s a very good mother, but she was just too young,” Democko says. “She wasn’t ready for it.”

The original story about Joseph appeared in his local newspaper…it included what one could call, “A day in the Life of.”

www.ocregister.com/ocregister/homepage/abox/article_1653106.php

The initial reporting for this story was done more than a year ago when the boys in Democko’s care were wards of the state. In September, after nearly three years of evaluation by Orange County Social Services, Democko was allowed to adopt all three boys.

Memocko’s mother, Susan, died of heart failure in November 2005. Chris found her body. The death was “devastating,” according to Akau, the social worker, yet, “Joseph seemed to mature as a result.” Democko put the boys in day care, quit his night job at Disneyland and got a better-paying job at the medical-collection agency where he once worked. His rent increased to $1,575 – more than his take-home pay. He pays bills with the support the state gives him for the children.

Democko’s sister Jody finished a five-month prison sentence for vehicle theft on Jan. 22. In prison, she gave birth to a fourth child, a girl, whom Democko plans to adopt “when I can prepare a little more.” A colleague from Democko’s office is caring for the child.

Democko, now 23, has not had a vacation, a date, or a day off for more than three years.

Despite the difficulties, Democko remains unswayed by what he has taken on.

When my mom died, I was freaking out,” he says. “For a moment, I didn’t want to keep doing it. I (felt like) I didn’t have anybody.”

“But I’m better now,” he says. “I’m ready. I’ve done it so far. I’ll do almost anything I can to make sure these kids are not put in a bad spot. It keeps me going. It keeps me from being what the average person would be.”

Since The Orange County Register published the in-depth look at Democko’s struggles as Orange County’s youngest foster parent, the 23-year-old man and his three small charges received more than 300 phone calls and emails from members of the community shocked at the austere, even grim, challenges Democko faces.

“His story is beyond inspiration. I am at a loss for words for what Joseph is doing for these kids,” wrote one reader. “I am in tears typing this,” wrote another. “I am 30 and have a 4-month-old daughter and have felt at times overwhelmed and that’s with me having a wonderful mom and husband who help me … this story really puts things into perspective.”

With the accolades came an outpouring of offers including cash, grocery gift certificates, clothes, furniture, toys and even babysitting. The offers also include more dramatic possibilities: a new house, a new car, a variety of community groups that want to support Democko over the long term.

For Democko, however, the initial response alone – hundreds of emails from concerned readers that lie waiting for him in his inbox – has been both gratifying and overwhelming.

In less than a week, four letters from well-wishers lay on the kitchen counter filled with – money, gift certificates, offers to baby sit, run errands and receive free medical care?

He has responded to one of the earliest and potentially most important offers to date – a letter from the Orange County chapter of Habitat for Humanity inviting him to apply for a low-rent apartment and, possibly, home ownership.  Already a possibility exists – a four-bedroom, two-bath Santa Ana rental for the impossibly low price of $977. The application form lies on Democko’s kitchen counter.  “Wow, that’s incredible,” Democko says when he hears the price. He currently pays $1,575 for his undecorated three-bedroom apartment in Anaheim.

Other unique offers include a year of free “Molly Maid” service, a used van, the possibility of being the first “test case” of a new foundation to support foster parents.

Then there are the several dozen readers who wish to nominate Democko for the ABC television program “Extreme Home Makeover” and the one who has already nominated him for a free minivan through the Mini Van for Mom charitable give-away (Democko seems a long shot – the charity concentrates on needy families in the Bakersfield area.).

Small offers are as heartfelt as the large ones.

“I am not rich (nor could I be considered poor) but I would like to send a $25 gift card to Joseph,” wrote Nina Valencia of Fullerton.

“My mom brought this article to me,” wrote Tiffany Mitchell, a 17-year-old senior at Laguna Hills High School. “. If there is ANY way I could offer any help like babysitting so he can get more sleep, donations of some sort, please PLEASE email me back as soon as you can…. I realize I am just a teenager and you very well could not take this email seriously, but I am determined and willing to dedicate whatever I can.”

Democko says he wants to take some time to look at all the emails and letters and decide how best to use the assistance offered.

“The obvious big (desire) is to get a house,” he says. He would also like to set up savings accounts for the boys, take a night course so that he can become certified as a medical biller – more money for his family, Democko says.
Yet Democko expressed trepidation about taking some readers up on their offers.  “It’s not that I don’t want it or need it,” he says. “I do want to succeed in life and make sure my kids are taken care of but I don’t want everything given to me.”

“I don’t even know how to express my appreciation,” Democko says of the offers of assistance he has received. “I’m afraid of what if I don’t say thank you enough?”  

Democko’s struggle as Orange County’s youngest foster parent was first chronicled by The Orange County Register last April.  That story was featured in publications across the nation, spurring a flood of donations, letters and expressions of interest from movie companies.

The July 9, 2007 issue of People Magazine had a multi-page story about this young man and his nephew’s titled ‘Raising My Sister’s Boys’.

“He moved our readers tremendously,” said Joanne Fowler, an associate editor at People. “We received hundreds of e-mails and letters from people who were so overwhelmed by his commitment and his love for these three boys. I think he’s a perfect hero really.”

The magazine features him again this week (October 26th edition) as one of its five heroes of the year. His story will be told on CBS’s “The Early Show” and he will be feted at a Beverly Hills luncheon on Nov. 8, the magazine announced.

Democko  has collected more than $35,000 in donations. His rent and groceries are being paid this year by assorted well-wishers. An Orange County foundation has “adopted” him and his boys. He and his boys will fly to New York to appear on “The Rachael Ray Show” on Nov. 10.

“I’m still overwhelmed,” Democko said Friday. “I’m still in awe over the whole thing. I’m freaking out because we get to go to New York, and I’ve always wanted to go to New York. I’m more than excited. I’m still kind of like, ‘huh? What?’ Now you realize how many people are out there that really care. It makes me want to do more not just for my kids but for others.”

To read the People magazine “Heroes Among Us” story:

 www.people.com/people/package/0,,20153759,00.html.

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Joseph & 2 of his boys, photo from People Magazine 

Sad and Painful News

Tuesday I received very sad and painful news.

Marge Monshor, wife of Sonny Monshor passed away Tuesday afternoon. Sonny, Marge and I were reunited back in 2003 after being separated for 45 years. Sonny’s parents were my foster parents 3 times back in the 1950s and tried to adopt me twice. Sonny & Marge also attempted to adopt me once.

At their invitation I was able to travel to Florida in 2003 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I had hoped since then to be able to visit them again before anything happened but just did not have the finances.

Marge has been in a nursing home tha past 2 yrs after suffering her 3rd major stroke. We knew this day was coming but it came somewhat expectedly as I spoke with Gayle (their daughter) just 2 weeks ago and Marge was doing well all things considered.

Her heart just gave out.

I spoke to Sonny for over an hour last evening. We shared some memories of the years his parents were my foster parents, how he and Marge wanted to adopt me after his folks were denied,as well as our last visit together…there were laughs and tears on both ends.

We recounted the story of their engagement on Christmas 1953 when he asked Marge to marry him and I went up to him and hit him…told him he couldn’t cuz she was MY girl…I was 3 yrs old then.

It is thanks to Marge & Sonny that I have some photos of my childhood including the one taken 3 days after my birth by the hospital where I was born for their adoption book….Sonny has no idea how his folks got it but it was kept all those yrs until Marge could give it to me.

Many thoughts and memories.

Please keep Sonny & Gayle in your payers as they go through this very hard time. Sonny I know is going to extremely lost without Marge.

I could write a lengthy tribute to Marge here but I think it better to refer you to when I wrote about them and our reuniting back in 2003 on my website if you care to read it at:

http://www.larrya.us/marge.html

I also shared the story of Mom and Dad Monshor in an earlier blog entry at:

https://prairieguy.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/one-great-foster-family/

Marge will be laid to rest Friday…I love you Marge, may you rest in peace!
 

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Marge & I on her 50th wedding anniversary