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Thursday 30 January 2014

I Hate Tuesdays

I haven't posted in quite a while. This past year has been more challenging than any of us ever imagined it could be. I started this blog with the hopes of writing something that resonates with other foster parents. I have never wanted to paint an overly rosy picture of the reality of being a foster family. And while I have always openly written about my frustrations with the brokenness of our CPS system, this past year has brought an even deeper awareness of how dysfunctional and corrupt our system really is. With that, has been profound heartache. I may blog about it someday, but probably not. So, while today's post has nothing to do with her, I am dedicating it to my forever baby girl. To my 3rd born, although not technically born unto me. Para Marisol, te quiero con todo mi corazon. Soy tu mama para siempre!

Now back to hating Tuesdays:

I use daycare. This is something that I have struggled with for some time now. As a stay at home mom, I do not need to use daycare the way that families with two parents working out of the home do. I also know that daycare is not an ideal setting for kids with attachment issues. So, it feels selfish to use daycare to get a break. But here is what I have realized, those breaks allow me to nurture my true whole self. It allows me to give equal importance to the parts of me that are not just a mom or foster mom or wife. And while sometimes, even that notion sounds selfish in my mind, I know that I am a better mom for it. I realize there are still those of you who vehemently oppose the use of daycare and that is all fine and good and I welcome you to keep those comments to yourself :) But for me, and for our family, this is how we make it work.

I have come to relish my days with breaks. And Tuesday is not one of them. Tuesday is the day all the kids are home and I get no break. Now, there are often other days of the week this also true, but Tuesday is the one day I can count on for sure. And it would be nice to tell you I use Tuesdays to plan fun activities and we have a fabulous time together, but you need to read my previous post on planning fun activities with no fun kids to understand why that is not the case. I do, typically, still plan activities because I am a glutton for punishment or I guess because I think it is still the right thing to do. But many Tuesdays, I am white-knuckling it through the day just waiting for it to be Wednesday already.

This particular Tuesday, I took the little girls to the mall playground. This is quite a typical Tuesday activity for us. And on a typical Tuesday, Shirley (3yo) will get to the playground, stand in the middle of it and blankly look around like she has no idea what she is supposed to do there. At some point, she will cry hoping to get the attention of other adults (she knows by now I will not respond to this ridiculous outburst). When that does not work, she often just lays down. Right there. In the middle of the playground. Kids are stepping or even tripping over her and she just lays there. Now, we have had Shirley for almost 2 1/2 yrs and she is now almost 4yo. So, in that time I have tried many things. I have showed her the slide, tried to help her onto the climbing structures, given her several ideas of how or what to do on the playground (as if the running screaming kids around her were not enough explanation), but she refuses. She tries everything she can to either get other strange adults to pay attention to her or to get my attention by behaving inappropriately and earning a time-out or something like that. It's maddening. I know it should break my heart that she would rather be in control of every second of her life than to just let go and run and have fun and be a kid. And it does. It does break my heart. But, it also frustrates me to no end.

But not this Tuesday. This Tuesday, Shirley ran off to play with the other kids. And unlike other times when I have been fooled into thinking she is going to play only to do something really inappropriate to get herself in trouble, she actually did play. She interacted with other kids, she went on the slide, she climbed through the tunnels. She was running and laughing and being a kid. She checked back to see if I was watching, she wanted to show me her little tricks, she smiled and had fun. And it was amazing. I am sure she went on to do all kinds of crazy stuff the rest of the day, but for those moments on the playground, she was a normal, happy kid. And I sat there in disbelief that it took over 2 yrs. for this little girl to do what every kid wants to do when they see a playground. It was an amazing sight, really. And it gave me hope for her future.

And it made me think about progress. It made me think about how often I felt we were getting nowhere with Shirley and how often I was so discouraged by that.

Then today, while being introspective about my own progress, not related to foster care in any way, an image popped in my head that suddenly made the connection for me. It was a large, stone wall. We often talk about the walls that hurting kids put up around their hearts and many of these walls can be huge. Even some of the smallest little ones have become masters at such masonry in their short little lives. They can build some really massive walls. And here I am chipping away at it, one teeny, tiny fragment at a time and it feels impossible. But it is not impossible, just ask Michelangelo.

So, there you have it, this extremely cynical person's message of hope for today. I truly wish it could be more.

Happy Not-Tuesday to you all!

P.S. Apparently my web browser hates me, or technically is not compatible with my blog, but whatever, we all know that translates to it hates me. But, I could not upload any pictures. So, imagine a picture of Garfield hating Tuesdays instead of Mondays and a picture of the statue of David for my stone wall illustration. Work with me people, you will just need to use your imagination until I can figure out how to get a web browser that doesn't hate me.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Planning Fun Activities with Non-Fun Kids

I suspect many foster parents will know exactly what I'm talking about without even going any further in this post.

Am I right?

I talked a little about this in my post Grieving the Loss of Normal, but I'm not sure I can vent about process this too many times.

My older bio kids were going to the water park today, so I decided to plan a smaller scale water day for the "littles" (that's what we call the three girls 6, 4, 3).

Some days just getting out the door exhausts me. Today was one of those days.

One of the things I learned from Nancy Thomas was not to announce big things/fun activities because traumatized kids have a way of trying to sabotage fun. So, she suggests giving as little warning as possible. This is totally counter to all of the child development stuff I learned in college and applied to my bio kids when they were younger. We did lots of anticipatory talking about things and preparing and building excitment. But, it is true, we have found with the foster kiddos, we have better luck (less sabotage) if we give less warning. But as I am packing towels and getting swimsuits and sunscreen and water bottles etc., it's hard not to know something is going on.

To add to the build up, I still had lots to do in getting the big kids to the water park, picking up friends, signing up for season passes, standing in long lines etc., before I could take the littles to their water fun. By the time we get to the splash pad, I have already fielded about a million (yes, it was just shy of a million, I'm sure of it) ridiculous questions (in case you think I exaggerate, they were ridiculous: "Is this food?", asks Shirley at lunch), taken a world record number of potty breaks (something about wearing a swimsuit under your clothes not only makes going to the restroom more difficult, it also apparently makes your bladder shrink to the size of a pea), foolishly put the 6yo in charge of my purse while I helped the little ones in the bathroom (I know, I was just asking for it with that move).

But, alas, we arrive at the splash pad full of kids running and splashing and squealing and laughing and delighting in the joy that is being a kid.

Yeah, something like that.

And here are my kids:

Blankly staring at the water like they don't know what it is.

Shirley (3y.o.): "Mama. My finger got wet (holding out her one index finger). I need a towel."

Me: "You are here to get wet. No towels until we are ready to go home."

Jenny (6y.o.): "Can I go throw a penny in the fountain?" (pointing about a quarter mile away from where we are playing).

Me: "No. You are here to play in the water."

Jenny (after 30 sec playing in the water): "Those boys keep getting me wet."

Me: "Good. That's why we're here."

A table in the shade opens up, I go set my bag and shoes and water and all the stuff I carry around like a pack mule and plop into the chair ready to sit back and watch the kids play while sipping on my iced tea.

Jenny: "I need to go potty"

Shirley: "I need to go potty too"

Dusty (4yo): "Me too"

Me: "Alright. Get your shoes on"

We come back from the bathroom and my cozy seat in the shade is now gone. I set myself back up on the curb of the flower bed nearby and I turn around to see all 3 girls with handfulls of rocks just seconds from throwing them into the fountain.

Me: "It's time to go home."

And I know it's going to be like this.

But I still try. And I guess that's what I'm supposed to do, keep giving them fun, kid experiences even if they are no-fun-party-poopers.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Community Children

I've wanted to do a post on this for a long time. It's a subject that I feel very strongly about and an issue that comes up all.the.time for our family (and I imagine lots of other families too).

And what is it exactly? It's adults, other people outside the family that feel it is appropriate to parent, nurture or otherwise interact with my children as though they were their caregiver. It makes me nuts and it was never so apparent to me just how many people behave in this manner until I became a foster parent. Then it seemed, they were everywhere. People, with what seem to be the best intentions, were offering to do things for children in my care that are really a parent's job. These are things that I could never imagine anyone offering to do for my bio kids, nor things I would ever allow others to do for my bio kids, nor would my bio kids ever allow to be done for them by anyone but myself or my husband (or some other immediate family member). I often find myself saying "I could never imagine doing that with someone else's child"

My initial hypothesis as to why I suddenly noticed this phenomenon, was that people do not see foster children as my kids. It's like they see them as community children. Maybe they feel like you stepped up to take care of kids that are not yours, so this is their small contribution to the cause? I'm sure they feel the more caring, loving people in the kids lives, the better. I know there is no malice in this behavior. I just wish I could communicate to others how inappropriate it is and how damaging it is for kids with attachment issues.

See, kids with attachment issues want attention from everyone except their families. This stems from an inability to form meaningful relationships. It's easy to be cute and charming to the outside world. It's easy to put on a show for people you have limited contact with. But your family, your mom and dad, they see you at your best and your worst. It's their job to protect you at your most vulnerable, to love you when you are being unlovable. It's a reciprocal relationship, however. You don't often think about it in those terms with a parent-child relationship, but the child gives back to the parent in a healthy family relationship. The child gives unconditional love and trust to their parents. And they learn this as infants. It's the lack of this reciprocal relationship that becomes very obvious, early on in the foster parent-child relationship. The rejecting of your parents love while seeking attention from other adults (the kind of attention you should seek from your primary caregiver) is a classic sign of attachment disorder. And to people outside the immediate family, it is not obvious at all. In fact, most times, they cannot see it at all. This causes all kinds of issues as well because there is this disbelief from outsiders that there is anything wrong. The child, to them, seems perfectly well-adjusted, friendly, seeking love and nurture etc.

I've come to question my original hypothesis after reading this article where the author is asking bystanders and others to not help her child. She is not a foster parent, but she is writing about this type of intrusive behavior by other adults toward her biological child. So, that got me thinking, it may not be that people behave this way more with foster children (although that may still be true), but that foster children react and respond to this behvior by other adults in a totally different way than kids who don't have attachment issues.

For example, both of my bio children as well as one foster that was placed as an infant, reacted similarly to being approached by strangers. They would move closer to me, maybe cling to my leg or hide behind me. Sometimes, it could be someone that was not a total stranger, but more of a casual acquaintance. In that case, they would likely be more open to the other person, maybe tolerate the high five or smile or laugh with them. They may not make any body movements toward me, but would certainly not tolerate me leaving them. And if that person reached out to pick them up or take them off somewhere, then all bets would be off. While, they may have been open to interaction, there were definite signals that this interaction had its limits. There was a definite identifying with their people (who they are there with, who they belong to, who they trust). With foster children, there is no such signal. They not only welcome the interaction, but they move closer to the stranger. The signals they give are that they are very comfortable and familiar with that person and would show no signs of opposition to being taken away from their primary caregiver to go off with this person.

Of course, this should all be making you very uncomfortable and wanting to scream "stranger danger".

And that is, of course, one of the many reasons this type of behavior cannot be allowed. But this is not simply a case of a child that just needs to be taught stranger danger or a kid that never learned it. The reality is, our bio kids learn this concept well before we are even able to have this type of conversation with them. They learn stranger danger inherently and innately. Sure, we should all have the discussion over and over with our kids about not going with someone to help find their puppy or get some candy etc., but inherently our kids already have some stranger danger well before they are able to understand the concept of bad people or strangers wanting to harm them. It's how we were designed to interact with our caregivers and the world. And that design has been disrupted and damaged due to abuse and neglect and trauma.

It's much more serious than having "the talk" about strangers. It's a signal that developmentally things are not right. It's telling us the hardwiring needs to be fixed.

So, what to do? Well, in an ideal world, you would keep your foster children close to you as though you would an infant. You (and your spouse) would do all of the meeting of basic needs. You would not allow others to feed, clothe, pick up, cuddle or in any way nurture your child. If you are fostering an infant, my suggestion would be to limit the amount of people and time others can hold the baby, do not allow anyone but yourself or your spouse (maybe an older sibling - immediate household members) to feed the baby, rock the baby to sleep or comfort the crying baby. This is especially true for infants that are still in that stage of developing secure attachments. Given their early trauma (being removed from their primary careiver and placed in foster care), you can do these things to help make sure they develop appropriate, healthy attachments and prevent developing attachment disorder. This is also the same method for working with kids who have already developed attachment issues, however, it is much harder to do. They will often reject your efforts and as I've described here, you'll always find yourself encountering people who want to "help" (a.k.a. interfere with developing a secure attachment).

What we do:

1. No hand holding, lap sitting, cuddling with anyone outside the immediate family. Shirley* (3yo) is the worst when it comes to this. She tries to get others to hold her all the time. She cries and acts helpless and tries to get others to do things for her that she is more than capable of doing. And people love doing things for her. People love picking her up and having her go limp like a rag doll. I honestly do not understand this at all. To me, this behavior is very strange and off-putting and I would not want to hold a child that acted that way. My husband thinks people like to help kids who act helpless. I don't. I want to kick them in the pants and tell them they can do it themselves. Try harder. Come on, you can do it. But, I guess that's not everyone's reaction.

2. When mom and dad are present, they are the ones you ask for help. If Jenny* (6yo) needs help tying her shoe, reaching something, scrapes her knee and wants a band-aid, needs a drink of water etc., she knows she is to ask myself or my husband (or our older kids) for help. Since she is older, we have this conversation ahead of time before we go to some kind of gathering. She also knows that if anyone offers her anything, she has to ask our permission before she can have it. With Shirley and Dusty* (4yo), we keep them as close as possible to intervene if they are inappropriately interacting with strangers.

3. At restaurants, your focus is on your family and the people you are with. We go out to eat a lot. And it is quite common that Shirley and Jenny are looking around the restaurant trying to get attention from other tables. Shirley is often successful at this. She is little and cute and people respond to her that way. Now, this is more than just being curious of your surroundings. This is like an intent stare at others (I think it's creepy, I'm not sure why people smile at it) and a total disregard for the people at her own table. We redirect all of that behavior and encourage interaction at our own table. There are even times that Shirley has to lay her head down on the table if she can't stop staring at strangers.

4. We do all of the feeding/providing of food. As I've talked about in previous posts about food, providing food is a basic need and a significant source of nurture. We do not allow our foster children to get this nurture from strangers (or anyone outside the immediate family).

This is actually very hard to do. We find that people wanting to "help" are everywhere and our kiddos are good at seeking them out and eliciting it as well. It's very awkward to step in and stop this sort of interaction. My husband is much better at it than I am. He will ask people to put Shirley down if someone picks her up when we didn't notice. He will take food away from her that a stranger may have given her without us noticing and he will step right in the middle of any inappropriate interactions before they happen as well. He is good at explaining that it is not good for her and it's his job to do what is best for her even when it is awkward for other people. And he is good about just not caring if the other person doesn't understand or agree with him for doing it. I've gotten better, but really, I still stink at that part. It's very hard for me.

You'll notice I use "immediate family" a lot. I mean people within the immediate household. So, this means grandparents are restricted as well. This is probably the hardest one. Now, if grandma is the daycare provider, then they are now in the role of a primary caregiver. However, if the kids see grandma a couple times a month at family gatherings, they are more like strangers. And while a hug "hello" and "goodbye" is ok in our home, we don't allow lap sitting and cuddling and meeting basic needs or nurturing by grandma. This is sometimes a source of contention. Grandma wants to be in the grandma role which includes all of those things. Here is how I see it. I'm in the mom role, but not treated like a "mom" most times. While I may want to have a mom-child relationship with this child, it is not natural and it takes lots of work. The primary caregiver role is the most important one to establish. Grandparents just have to wait on this (and they may have to wait a long time. And if the child is not going to be adopted into the home, then they will likely never be in that role with this particular child. And that's ok). Everybody needs to put their own feelings aside and realize this is what is best for the child.

Now, here's my big disclaimer - We do have our girls in daycare. This is not ideal for attachment issues. And I am fully aware that while they are there, Shirley gets the staff to carry her around and do things for her she should do for herself. I know that it is not the best place for them to be. But, I have also come to understand that I can't do it perfectly, I can't beat myself up for using daycare, which is often the thing that allows me to continue to do this hard job. It's a life-saver in many ways. So, I just do what I can to avoid these things when I am present and I have to just let the rest go.

So, even if you use daycare and are unable to put these restrictions in place at all times, do it when you can. Be aware of the need for it, and be intentional about it when you have the opportunity.

And what if you are a friend or family member of a foster parent and want to know how to help w/o being one of these "helpful" people I have described here? I found this great article with 10 ways to support. The first 5 things are all about how not to interfere:

■1. A RAD Mom needs help teaching her child with Reactive Attachment Disorder that mom’s are in charge of taking good care of their children. And that their mom is a good mom who takes care of her children.
■2. A RAD Mom needs friends who don’t hug her RAD Child. The best way to help a family dealing with a child who has reactive attachment disorder is to help the child learn to get his or her hugs for mom and dad. The same is true for other intimate things the child might want to do, like sit on laps or give you a neck rub.
■3. A RAD Mom needs friends who can support how we respond to our child. No matter what the situation looks like the parents need to be considered the ones in charge especially when it comes to discipline.
■4. A RAD Mom needs people who have suggestions, ideas or criticism to talk to us privately when our child is not around. Triangulation is a natural behavior for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder and questioning the parents in front of the child empowers the child.
■5. A RAD Mom needs friends who don’t fall into the trap of hearing the child say, “I wish you were my mom, you are much better then the one I got.” Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often shop for new, improved and better parents.

Quit trying to be the "village" to the child. What the child needs is the village to support and empower its parents and stop trying to care for its children.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Therapy, part II

Since my last post on therapy, Dusty has now had one therapy session. Next week, she will have been in our home 8 mos and she had her first appointment yesterday. How's that for efficiency?

The good news: The people I have talked to that are familiar with this therapist say she is great (that was maybe 2 people). In my intake meeting with her she requested that Dusty not be present b/c we would be discussing many things she should not hear. This seems like duh common sense, but she is the first therapist I've ever worked with that seems to get that. In other intakes, the therpaist is asking me to talk about the child's history, their trauma, their bio parents' issues, their current behavioral issues - all while the child plays in the room next to us and pretends not to be listening or aware of anything we are saying. But they hear it ALL! And a therapist should know that. So, she earns points for that one from me.

Another good thing is she seems to understand trauma and how kids will play out their trauma as a way of processing it and coping with it.

Now for the not-so-good news:

In the intake, I asked if I would be present during the sessions. She said "no". I asked if we would talk after the sessions to discuss what is happening in them and things I should be working on with her at home. She said she was not able to discuss specifics with me about what goes on in the sessions, but could tell me if she had a particularly emotional session or if she had a hard time etc.

I have a problem with this. A BIG problem with this. But, I also know this is standard and my raising an issue only makes me seem weird.

Let me walk you through how yesterday went. Imagine this is your child.

We arrive at the counseling center (a place that Dusty has never been to before), we go into the "lobby" (I use that term loosely, the lobby is a very small room (think large closet)with a few charis, a table w/some coloring books and crayons), there is no one in the lobby, there is no receptionist or anyone to check in with or let know you have arrived. There is a sign on the door that says to wait there and someone will come get you. The therapist (who Dusty has never met before) opens the door, stands in the doorway and says "are you ready?" Dusty walks back into a room with her. I stay in the "lobby". About 30min later, she opens the door and Dusty comes out. The therapist says "She did good. See you next week".

Now, remember I said, pretend this is your child. Would you be ok with this? I know that I would never have done this to my bio kids. NEVER!

If I felt my child needed therapy it would be because they had probably suffered some trauma. As their mom, I'd want the help of a therapist the help me help my kids to process it. I would want to be there to assure my child that this person is safe and that I trust them. I would want to be there so that when my child did begin to process their trauma and experience big emotions as a result, I would be there as their mom to comfort them, support them, love them. I would want to be in the room at all times because there is absolutely NO reason for this therapist to develop a private relationship with my child. The therapist is simply a tool our family is using to cope with difficulties.

Now, let's consider foster children:

1. They have tons of confusion about who is safe and can be trusted.
2. They often will go off with anyone and have difficulty discriminating roles of people (particularly understanding the role of primary caretaker).
3. Therapists come and go like (I can't think of a funny cliche here for things that come and go - so enter your own), so working on getting a child to trust a specific therapist only to leave them and get a new therapist - bad idea!
4. Therapists only see this child 1 x per week - the goal should be to empower the family with the skills to work through the issues the other 6 days of the week.

Let's not take this issue of stranger danger too lightly here.

With all of our placements (and respite kids), we have had issues with an inability to distinguish between people they know well and trust and any random person that approaches them and calls them cute. Every. One. Of. Them. It's not a small problem, it's a pervasive problem.

In a child that is well adjusted and has a secure attachment, there will be some hesitation to being approached by strangers or even people they have met before, but are only casual acquaintances of their parents. There is a clear distinction between who you go to when you are sad and need comfort, when you scraped your knee, when you need to go to the bathroom. It's not normal for kids to just ask the nearest adult to help them with these things. But kids in foster care do. Not only do they do that, but they will intentionally seek out adults other than their parents. When my children were young and a stranger talked to them, they may avert their eyes, lower their head, move closer to me, take a step back from the stranger (all things that signal "I don't know you, I am being cautious of you"). I LOVE when my kids do that. Love it! I know some people have real issues with shyness in their children and work hard to help them to get over it. And I get that too. And if we are talking about kids that have grown up in healthy homes and have secure attachments with their primary caregivers, then that's ok. But for kids in foster care, we should rejoice over "shyness". It's good. It's progress.

Now, if I had taken one of my kids to see a therapist, pulled up to a strange building, sat in a strange room, asked them to walk through a door with a stranger while I stay back in the other room, we would have had some serious protesting (probably screaming and crying as though they were being abducted). In fact, just the therapist approaching and talking to them would have elicited something like this:

Had Dusty behaved as though she were uncomfortable going off with this strange lady, I'm sure she would have had me sit in on the session until she was more comfortable. But the fact that she willingly went should be a red flag to the therapist. And we should not exploit this child's disorder/issue (whatever you want to call it) by asking them to do something, that if not for their issues, they would not do. Essentially, therapists working with the most vulnerable children (those in CPS custody) are exploiting their unhealthy attachments and further encouraging unhealthy behavior. Wonderful!

Friday 9 November 2012

Let's Play Dumb, Part III

As promised here, today I'll post about what I can happily call "what used to be our daily shoe fiasco". That's right, it's no longer a daily issue and I can actually say it's becoming a rare occurrence. It's always so much nicer to blog about an issue after we have successfully come out on the other side of it :) Yay for progress!

Apparently, doing weird things with your shoes is a thing for kids with attachment issues. Remember when Jenny walked out of her shoe in the middle of the street and we all had to watch as it was run over repeatedly?

Or when Shirley lost her shoe in the corn maze or the numerous times she just couldn't keep them on her feet while in the stroller or the time she tried over and over to lose a shoe at Disneyland?

Well, Dusty has shoe retardedness as well. When she first came, she tried the walk-out-of-my-shoe routine, but soon decided that was not fun enough and adopted the put-my-shoes-on-the-wrong-feet-everytime-I-put-them-on routine instead.

Here she is walking down the street with one shoe on:

And that's exactly how we deal with that issue. If you want to walk around with one shoe on, it only makes you more uncomfortable, so knock yourself out.

Dusty has been with us over 7 mos now and just very recently, she stopped putting her shoes on the wrong feet. So, for more than 6mos, she put her shoes on the wrong feet every time she put them on with very few exceptions (and in our house this is several times a day b/c we take our shoes off at the door).

Now, how did we deal with it? At first, I would verbally remind her that her shoes were on wrong and to fix them. In the beginning, fixing them took her forever. She would take them off her feet, switch them around a few times and put them back on the wrong feet. Other times, she may take them off, look at them, look at me, appear very confused and just sit there. Once we determined this was a ploy to waste all of our time as we were on our way out the door, we started asking Dusty to get her shoes on immediately in the morning, before eating breakfast or anything else. That way, if she was going to waste time, she'd be wasting her own time, not ours. We also started sending her to her room to fix her shoes. That way, she couldn't sit and stare blankly at us as if she didn't know how to put her shoes on. The longer she took to fix her shoes, the longer she stayed in her room. This totally worked, in that, she immediately switched her shoes and was out of her room in seconds. It didn't immediately work, however, to get her to stop putting them on the wrong feet in the first place.

Over time, she started to have days where she put them on the right feet, every time, all day long. There were very few of those days, but they existed. Soon, the shoes became our barometer for measuring Dusty's internal state, how regulated she was that day. She may start the day out putting them on the wrong feet and typically that is how her whole day would go. Other times, she would start out great and something throughout the day would happen and I'd find myself saying in my head "she's going to put her shoes on the wrong feet". And I was right.

And now, she puts them on the right feet almost every time and almost every day. Progress. And to the extent that this tells me something about her internal regulation, emotional progress (even better!)

So, for those of you that wonder, what if you just said nothing or did nothing? Just let her wear her shoes on the wrong feet? Well, I had those same thoughts. And actually for close to a week long period, I actually did that. I just said nothing about her shoes, did nothing, let her wear them that way. However, I found that it still frustrated me that she did it and I wasn't as successful at just letting it go as I needed to be for this approach to work. Then I had a discussion with my husband and his take on it was this:

You told her to go put her shoes on. You gave her a direct instruction which you expect her to follow. And putting them on the wrong feet is her small way of being defiant. It's like saying "ok, I'll put them on, but not the way you want me to". In other words, "Eff you, lady. You aren't the boss of me". And the reality is, we see this behavior of challenging your authority at every turn with attachment disordered kids. And just as I have said before, it's crucial they learn you are in charge. Not because you want to be the big scary boss, but because you need to be in charge. They need you to be in charge to take care of them, meet their needs, keep them safe. And even small challenges to your authority need to be met with a (gentle) reminder that you are the boss, even of how they put their shoes on :)

Tuesday 16 October 2012


I try not to make my blog posts seem like one long gripe fest without at least some kind of tip or solution to the problem. If that is my goal, I should stay far, far away from this topic.

But, here I go anyway. So, let me apologize in advance that what you are about to read will be a substantial list of problems and a very short list of solutions (that is if I can think of any by the time I get to the end of this post. Otherwise, it will just be a list of problems).

We've all heard the stories, or maybe experienced first hand, how hard it is to get CPS to intervene and respond to reports of abuse and neglect. We all know about numerous kids who should be helped, but the problems going on in their home do not rise to the level of CPS intervention. So, what does that tell us about the kids in our homes, then? It tells me, the conditions they lived in were worse than most of us can even imagine. The abuse and neglect they suffered was severe. Most of the population will never experience this type of abuse and neglect in their entire lifetimes. Their needs are different than most every other kid you know. So, what kind of therapist would best suit this specialized, rare population?

Well, my answer would be a very experienced therapist, one who understands abuse, neglect, and trauma, one who knows the substantial effect abuse and neglect has on the development of growing children. They also need a therapist who understands that because their "child development" is different from most kids, they need to be parented different from most kids. They need a therapist that knows how to include the children's foster parents in all aspects of treatment and one that can help foster parents understand why these unconventional parenting methods work.

Now, what kind of therapists do kids in foster care get?

They get recent college graduates who may or may not have done some practicum hours on actual live people, but not necessarily children, let alone abused children. They get therapists who have taken this job as an entry level and plan to leave as soon as a better job becomes available (which means over the course of their time in care, foster kids may have as many therapists as they have case managers). They get therapists who are not required to take specialized training on child trauma and attachment disorder. They also get behavior coaches who have degrees in areas not even related to mental health, they often are not parents themselves and would probably struggle to help a parent, that is not a foster parent, understand behavior issues.

According to a study by Casey Family Programs, a disproportionate number of former foster children have mental disorders as adults. Foster children have nearly double the rate of PTSD as U.S. combat veterans. I know that I hear about programs to help veterans that suffer from PTSD (although, I don't doubt this is an underserved population as well). I hear of no such programs for children in foster care. While, I can't assume cause and effect with these studies, it does make me wonder if the number of foster children as adults with mental health issues would be much lower had they received the appropriate care when they were children?

Another huge issue with therapy and foster care is the amount of time and effort it takes to get services started. It often seems to be a big battle just to get services that I am not really sure I want, once I have them.

Here's an example that is not a rarity:

Little Dusty, 3yo (you can read about her here) came to us on 4/2/12. Within a couple of days of being placed with us, Rapid Response came to check on her (step 1 of system in place to ensure children receive services - check!). According to the information we supplied RR, a referral was made for play therapy for Dusty as well as a referral for speech assessment through public school district.

Enter Dusty's oh so wonderful CPS case manager, let's call her, Little Miss Scatterbrain (that's my nice name for her :).

So, Little Miss Scatterbrain did not inform anyone of the intake that had been set up as a result of the RR referral, so the date came and went and the referral closed. As I started reporting Dusty's behaviors to Little Miss Scatterbrain, she informed me that she had let it lapse. So, you would assume she would then get right on it and put in another referral, right? Wrong.

Fast forward to a court date (not sure what hearing this was, I was not informed of it eventhough I repeatedly asked for this info). The court ordered a Best for Babies Assessment (something the court has started routinely doing for 0-5yo in foster care).

We are now over a month into the placement and the Best for Babies assessor determines the same thing the RR person did and that is, Dusty needs play therapy. Due to the behaviros we were now reporting, Dusty was assigned an intensive case manager with Southwest Network (SWN). Oooh. This kind of sounds like someone might be taking her needs seriously.

Nah. Not really.

Now, we have an intensive case manager (ICM), who I will call Little Miss Helpful, which means, she needs to come interview the family about Dusty's behaviors, observe Dusty in the home, at daycare and on visits with mom. THEN she can make a recommendation for services. We have our first meeting with Little Miss Helpful at the end of May. She does her observations in our home and in the daycare over the next couple of weeks. Now, she has to observe during visits with bio mom.

Here's where Little Miss Scatterbrain is able to FUBAR the whole process, yet again. Since she is completely unresponsive to Little Miss Helpful, she is never able to observe Dusty during visits. But since this is how the process is supposed to go, Little Miss Helpful continues to run her head into the brick wall a.k.a. Little Miss Scatterbrain which results in delays for services for Dusty.

Little Miss Helpful eventually gives up on the idea of observing during bio mom's visit and just goes ahead with her recommendation. Shockingly, she recommends Play Therapy. That's right, the very thing RR recommended and put in a referral for within a few days of us being placed with Dusty. Little Miss Helpful came to the same conclusion. She needs Play Therapy.

Now, in order to put in a referral for play therapy (mind you this was already done months ago and let lapse by Little Miss Scatterbrain), Little Miss Helpful must hold a CFT. So, we are now in July. It takes that long for Little Miss Helpful to actually get in contact with Little Miss Scatterbrain and finally nail down a CFT date and time. Nevermind that this date and time conflicts with my schedule. I cancel certain things so that I can be sure to be there and get this whole therapy ball rolling.

Little Miss Scatterbrain does not show up to this CFT that we scheduled around her. Doesn't show up, doesn't call and actually never even addresses the fact that she completely blew this off. When I bring this to her attention a week later in an unrelated conversation, her response "I was sick and I didn't know you were going to be there, so I didn't realize I needed to let you know I wasn't going to make it". The CFT was at MY HOUSE. Not sure how she possibly thought I wasn't goin to be there. Anyway....

Little Miss Helpful gets right back at setting up another CFT. It's now August. Still no CFT, still no referral for therapy. Now, we have a new CPS CM. She is ready and willing to participate in a CFT, however, she feels bio mom should be present as well. So, we need to reschedule to accomodate bio mom.

Fast forward to 3 more reschedules due to bio mom's "family emergencies" and various other needs to cancel. It's now Sept. and Dusty still has no services now because mom a.k.a. Little Miss Attempted Murderer, ok, I shouldn't go there, is being allowed to delay her child's therapy (therapy she needs as a result of the actions of her mom in the first place). Is this making sense to anyone?


We finally decide to proceed with the CFT in mom's absence. And, now we can actually put in a referral for play therapy which was identified as a need over 5mos earlier. Yay for our system! And, yes, we tax payers actually pay for this incompetence.

Now, it's October. I was told a referral was put in weeks ago. I still have not heard anything from the agency that is supposed to be providing the therapy. She has been with us over 6mos. We identified this need immediately. And here we are.

And the worst part is, after all this pushing to get therapy started is over, we will have inadequate, ineffective therapy and I'll wonder why in the world I ever worked so hard to get it!

And that makes me....

Looks like this will just be a post about problems with no tips or solutions. Oh, how I wish it could be different :(

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Foster Parent Forum

I have added a foster parent forum to my blog! My hope is that foster parents can use this to connect with each other, ask questions, post prayer requests etc.

Look for the "Foster Parent Forum" page at the top, click on it and post under one of the topics or start your own!