Friday, October 30, 2015

A crazy October!

Trying to get my life back under control after the last foster kiddo we had placed with us has been a challenge. Her case broke my heart in ways I didn't even know was possible, and as a result I sort of lost focus and direction for a while. It's not good to lose focus and direction when you have as many balls in the air as I do - I have three munchkins under the age of six who all have multiple (competing) activities, a full time job, another full time job in keeping after my husband (sorry honey if you're reading this), managing a small non-profit, and various projects that help keep me sane (sewing, embroidering, and other crafty type stuff). I also started a small Pampered Chef business just before B came to us, but with the crazy, hectic pace life became with her case and everything else - I let that go by the wayside for a while.

I finally have gotten my head back in the right space - sort of and have gotten my house back in order, some projects that had been lingering taken care of, and I've even dipped my toes back into trying to get my PC business up and running. Things finally seem to feel a little bit more normal again. Don't get me wrong, there are still moments when I miss B so much my heart feels like it will just stop - but I'm adjusting to the fact that her new foster family just isn't on board with allowing us to still have contact with her. I've even managed to tone down the anger I've felt in my advocacy efforts lately (go figure - you KNOW I'm totally missing a filter most days) as I've slowly come to the realization that sweeping change will never take hold in the dependency system - change in this system is more like the glacially slow march of the slowest land snail in the world. But change has been happening, and that's a good thing.

I'm currently working on two pieces that I'll hopefully have up soon addressing the legislation dealing with the adoption interventions language (I'm so happy Senator Detert gets why this is important) and the requirements for placement matching - but those will be slower in coming out because I want to make sure I set the tone properly!

In the meantime, feel free to let me know what's going on in your world - and if you feel the need to add to your kitchen, stop by my Pampered Chef Party page! I'm closing out this party tonight and would LOVE to have your order!

Much love to all!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Because telling me to shut up works so well... ask my husband!

So anyone who knows me knows a few things are just part of my genetic makeup. I’m a loudmouth. Highly opinionated. Passionate. I have a super strong sense of justice. I am more tenacious than a Jack Russell Terrier. I like to talk – a lot. I also have a massively bad case of ADHD so I either hyper focus or can’t focus at all. I believe in follow through and good customer service. I will praise you to the ends of the Earth if you do great things, but I will point out when systems or processes are failing (and usually even provide possible solutions). I’m usually happy. I love mornings and coffee and evenings and the occasional glass of wine. And kids… I love my kids. I’m not afraid to be a mama bear when I have to (for mine or others). And the one thing that really makes me crazy is administrators dismissing problems brought to them by consumers without considering that there may be issues with their businesses or processes.

So given this introduction to my personality and quirks, it likely wouldn’t surprise you that I get really frustrated with bad service, lack of compassion, poorly designed systems and processes, and administrators who refuse to see the problems in their service delivery models – or worse yet, see the problems but refuse to acknowledge them or work hard to fix them. If you add an extra layer to the story and know that I’m talking about the provision of services to vulnerable children and their families and the agencies charged with keeping kids safe you can probably predict that when I feel things are not being done adequately to protect kids or help the families charged with protecting them that I probably get a little worked up.

Last Monday I was called in to the “principal’s” office to discuss the “vision and expectations of our system.” Read: I posted a challenge to the local agencies on Facebook that I would demand no less than Gold Standard performance for the kids and families in the dependency system and got called in to discuss that I was being overly critical and emotional and not being the good cheerleader that a lead should be. I knew going in to that meeting that it would be what it was – and despite the fact that I am not a paid employee of the agency or the CBC but rather a volunteer who has only ever tried to help the agency perform its duties more effectively and efficiently – I went anyway to be a team player.

I came away from that meeting frustrated. I stewed and simmered for a week before writing any kind of response hoping that I could filter out my frustration before presenting any of the recent issues my families had brought to my attention for help. A week later I wrote up the most recent eleven service provision issues brought up in the last 32 days by multiple families. I sent the list to our local CBC leadership as well as the sub-agency leadership responsible for the delivery of the services. My original questions are numbered below – and then I provide the sub-agency responses and my responses back. I will say that I feel like most of the issues were dismissed as unimportant, and I believe this administrator does not want to admit that the performance of his agency is clearly lacking in many areas. I also feel that this is one of the reasons our area has such a critical shortage of homes and families willing to foster our kids. The short-sightedness of agency administrators who refuse to see the operational picture from the eyes of a different set of players only serves to exacerbate the problems that already exist. My hope is that we can work to alleviate these problems so that we can recruit more quality families willing to do the difficult work of fostering our most vulnerable kids!

1. Licensing has informed families that there are two months where none of the training they take can count towards relicensing so that Super Saturday hours and hours gained from the conference can't be used towards their licensing requirements. Is this true?

Sub-Agency Response: We have to submit a completed licensing packet 60 days prior to the license expiring to Big Bend CBC. That packet then needs to be submitted to DCF 30 days prior to the license expiring. However we can not start working on the packet prior to 90 days of the license expiring. Any training done from the time packet is submitted to Big Bend CBC and when the license expires can not be counted. In essence, our foster families have 10 months to actually do their training. I had a conversation with the DCF Regional Licensing Specialist today and she explained it this way. In order to submit a relicensing packet it must be totally complete. In other words we can not add to the packet once in has been submitted. Therefore if a packet is missing training hours it can not be submitted.

My response back: In speaking with another local agency dealing with licensing and training, it does appear that this is an issue for other agencies too, though they've been able to work around some of it with the timing of submission of packets. I have referred this to Carole Shauffer to work directly with DCF to develop a better solution to this issue, but in the meantime, wouldn't it be more ideal if we could allow the training hours to be used for the next renewal period even if they can't be used for the current renewal period? The reason I ask is we're pushing our families to attend Summit and other high level conferences for training, but anyone who has a renewal that falls in late July, August or early September cannot use those hours for training which defeats the purpose of encouraging our families to seek higher caliber training from direct sources like Super Saturdays, conferences and the Summit.

Sub-Agency Response back: We have also asked DCF to look into this issue. Training hours can not be “banked” and applied to future licensing periods. Hours are applied to the licensure period in which the hours were achieved, prior to the submission of the relicensure packet.

2. Omitted – handled (Original question which actually was handled through back channels was: Having no agency-issued IDs for transporters causes unreasonable risk to caregivers is there no way to make a temporary ID or to accelerate the process? Sub-Agency Response: We found resolution to our ID issue. All transporters should have ID’s when transporting. *SIDE NOTE: The initial Sub-Agency response to this item was there was no solution and this wasn’t a safety issue. By pushing back channels, a solution was found that solved the glaring safety issue.)

3. Is it in fact Big Bend's policy to discourage continued contact between children in foster families they have recently moved from? How is this reconciled with the DCF policy on transitions?

Sub-Agency Response: There is no policy to discourage continued contact between children and former caregivers. The decisions are made on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances.

My response back: I understand there is no policy to discourage contact, but there also appears to be no policy or direction to ENCOURAGE continued contact post-transition though the Partnership Plan specifically mentions it in item 9. There may be confusion about this issue with case management and supervisors as I was recently told by a supervisor that this is not promoted once a child leaves a caregiver's home. Maybe we should open this up to more dialog and additional training?

Sub-Agency Response back: As stated above, the decision to allow or not allow is assessed and determined on a case-by-case basis. I am very familiar with the supervisor’s comment to you and it was specific to that one case.

4. Trainers are currently providing misinformation to foster parents (Ex - babysitting requirements, photos of foster kids on social media, haircuts, etc.) I understand there are long term plans for additional training of trainers, but how is this being addressed in the short term to ensure that foster parents are getting accurate information?

Sub-Agency response: We are aware of the one class where there was an issue and it has been resolved. The trainers are now using the normalcy document provided by DCF as a part of the training. Further, Carol covered this issue in-depth at Super Saturday.

My response back: I appreciate that the trainers are now using the normalcy documents, but we've seen inexperienced trainers providing misinformation in a few other areas and in other classes than just that one you mention as well (ex - when independent living skills should begin and how they are delivered for one). I would like to know what the plan to supplement trainer knowledge is and what the timeline to implementation is so that we can be certain our trainers are delivering the best possible information to our new families. I know you specifically mentioned additional support in how to train, but system-specific knowledge also needs to be more thoroughly developed for individual trainers.

Sub-Agency response back: There will be one more QPT class provided this year which will afford our trainers additional time to come up to speed and resolve any outstanding deficits. This class will be facilitated by Carol Edwards.

5. Licensing counselors are giving inconsistent answers to families regarding requirements (Ex - some families being told drop side cribs with immobilizers are okay but other families are being told absolutely not; also some questions about relocation requirements when families move have been inconsistent).

Sub-Agency response: We addressed this issue with the licensing staff today. They all understand that drop side cribs with immobilizers are okay. What we are telling people is if they have a drop-side crib, go to the manufacturer and get an immobilizing kit. We haven’t told anyone that these cribs are not allowed even with immobilization.

My response back: Drop side cribs are only one example, and I can tell you that there is continued confusion about this one example between various licensing consultants as recently as the end of last week. There have been other instances where information about multiple policy areas has been inconsistent between consultants - maybe we could work on a clarification memo to all of the consultants about the drop side crib requirements (and copy me please) and possibly work on a series clarifying some of the bigger policy areas where changes have recently occurred?

Sub-Agency Response back: Thank you for the recommendations.

6. Omitted - BBCBC/DCF question (Original question was: Questions from families about the transition planning on kids who have PESS eligibility and were recently adopted. Is there a formal policy on how to handle these meetings? Sub-Agency response: I am not sure which meeting you are referring to, however Young adults that were adopted after the age of 16 from foster care or placed with a court-approved dependency guardian after spending at least 6 months in licensed care within the 12 months immediately preceding such placement or adoption met the eligibility requirements. *SIDE NOTE: this is actually not an issue the sub-agency deals with so I can give him a pass here.)

7. Several families are working through issues with school transport of kids who are out of their normal school zone but none of the case managers appear to be well (if at all) versed in helping with getting kids to the school of origin. Is there a policy on how to assist families in obtaining assistance through McKinney-Vento when they have kids in schools outside of their normal zone?

Sub-Agency Response: There have been several children who have been able to remain in their original school because the school system provides the transportation. In those situations the Case Management will have a conversation with Matt McKibbin who talks directly with the school system transportation department to resolve the issue.

My response back: Due to this being a sensitive issue currently with the recent start of the school year, maybe a communication to all of case management as well as all caregiver families would be ideal here to reinforce to everyone that there is a policy/procedure in place and that there is help with this issue available through BBCBC.

Sub-Agency response back: This topic was revisited with all Case Management staff this week.

8. Several families need post-adoption support but are not getting help with getting adoption decrees, birth certificates or information on switching insurance. Since there's a short window to change insurance plans and most people need help with getting kids re-registered for school, is there a current contact that can help speed up assistance?

Sub-Agency response: Adoption decrees, birth certificates and switching insurance should be discussed with the adoption worker.

My response back: There may be miscommunication in the adoptions unit given the number of families who have recently asked for help in this area. Having the adoption worker clarify this with families who have recently completed adoptions may help alleviate confusion? And having the adoptions unit identify families whose adoptions worker recently changed and proactively reach out to those families to see if they need assistance might go a long way in helping increase satisfaction with the families and ensure that the needs of the children are being adequately met.

Sub-Agency response back: Your feedback is noted and appreciated.

9. Many families in the process of adopting have said that they are having to wait several (more than four) weeks to have counselors assigned. Should it take more than four weeks to assign a new counselor for current cases? Who supports the families in the interim?

Sub-Agency response: I am not sure that I completely understand the question. Adoption workers are assigned as secondary workers at TPR if the goal is adoption.

My response back: I believe part of the issue here is the number of people who have recently changed positions. Several families who are in the process of a current adoption have had their worker changed but not had a new one assigned for several weeks. If an adoption worker changes and a new worker is not immediately assigned, who supports the needs of the families and children in the interim?

Sub-Agency response back: There is never a moment when a case is not assigned to a case manager. The thought that it takes several weeks to assign a worker is simply not accurate. Foster and adoptive parent support is a priority to our operations.

10. Parents are being told they absolutely CANNOT transport their kids to dental appointments now that the only people allowed to do this are the case managers or case manager supervisors. Is this true? I had a CHS supervisor email me that it was, but it seems contrary to what we train families to do.

Sub-Agency response: This is an old issue. We have worked extremely hard to ensure that children go to their dental appointments. Due to the extremely limited number of dentist seeing our children appointments are challenging to set. There have been children who have missed their appointment because the caregiver could not take them. We made a decision to ensure that all of the children make their appointment. That decision included staff taking children to the appointments. We certainly hoped that it would provide some level of relief for caregivers.

My response back: This is an issue I've taken to Carole to address specifically with DCF as this decision is in direct violation of the Partnership Plan. I recognize that there are a limited number of dental appointments available and that there has been difficulty in getting our kids to those appointments, but the decision to remove the caregiver from the solution is incredibly short sighted and in direct contradiction with item 14 of the Partnership Plan. Additionally, this change was not communicated to caregiver families when it was made, nor was input for a solution sought from the caregiver families (or the associations who serve them) when the issue was identified. Other areas of the state had similar issues and were able to solve them utilizing their partnerships with the caregiver families - I believe we can address this issue in a way that emphasizes the importance of the caregiver in alleviating anxiety the children may experience with a dental appointment while still allowing the agencies to meet their target goals for getting kids their dental care on time!

Sub-Agency response back: Thank you for your input on this issue. We have had several caregivers thank us for the assistance with transportation. We are certainly willing to revisit this issue.

11. Omitted - BBCBC/DCF issue specifically (Many, many, many families are still saying there are not enough medical providers (particularly specialists) who take the Sunshine plan. I know this is technically an AHCA issue, but since it affects our families we should be being proactive about it. Sub-Agency response back: I totally agree! We have even started taking children to walk-in clinics to meet their needs. *SIDE NOTE: This is a HUGE issue and still needs to be resolved, though the CBC and sub-agencies really have no control over it as it’s an AHCA issue.)

Clearly, there is more work to be done.

Clearly, I’m not going to shut up anytime soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Dear Daughter

My Dear Daughter,

I know you’ll be much older before you ever read this (if you ever read this), but I wanted to tell you the story of how you came to be my daughter. I wanted to tell you the story of how you changed me as a person. I wanted to tell you the story of how much you are loved. You see, you did not grow in my tummy, nor are you my permanent, legal daughter. Instead you came to me because placement called me very early one Friday morning – 1:27 AM to be exact – asking if I could take you and your brother on an emergency, over-night basis until they could find you and your brothers a permanent foster home the next morning. I remember thinking about how tired I was because the week had been a very long week already since daddy had been gone and wondering how I was going to fare at work the next day. It seemed like it took the investigator forever to arrive with you guys in tow, but when he pulled into the driveway at 4:32 AM, I was wide awake from having been thinking about you for the previous few hours. All I knew was your names and ages. I hadn’t really asked very many questions because I was not in the habit of taking placement calls anymore so all of my “good” foster parent skills were rusty from disuse.

When Mr. Byron opened the car and got you out I remember noting how little you seemed, but my goodness you were so brave for such a little munchkin. You came right over to me with your half-eaten happy meal in hand and jumped into my arms. I asked you if you were sleepy though I didn’t really need you to answer as you were already asleep before your head touched my shoulder. Mr. Bryon bought your brother inside; I carried you. Since all the other kids were asleep, we put you both on the couch in the living room, toes to toes, covered you up with warm blankets, and neither of you moved a muscle until I had to wake you for court a few hours later. You were both so exhausted.

I didn’t realize the significance of that morning at the time, my love. I had no idea that you would end up occupying more space in my heart and life than just the tiny fraction of the couch your sleeping form covered, and I had no idea how deeply I would end up loving you or how fiercely I would have to fight to be sure the people charged with your care would make wise decisions for your life. All I knew at that particular moment was that you and your brother needed to sleep and that we would all be heading in to court in less than four hours.

After the judge made it clear that you and your brothers would need to stay in care, the case manager began telling me that they would start looking for a home for you but that since there weren’t homes available locally that you and your brother would likely have to be moved to the central part of the state. I knew what that would ultimately mean for you so I got on the phone and started calling my foster family friends who might be able to help. We were able to find a family locally that could take your two youngest brothers, your other brother would stay with the family who initially took him that night and you would stay with us – I couldn’t keep your brother with you because you guys didn’t all fit into my van and the other family couldn’t take you because they didn’t have space either. I knew I was going to have to do a lot of explaining to daddy. I also knew I couldn’t just let them ship you guys all over the state willy nilly, and I figured this would only be for a few days until the placement team would be able to find a home that could take all four of you together. Even before I knew I loved you, I knew I needed to protect you.

What started out as me loudly nagging everyone on the case to see if a home had come available to accommodate all four of you eventually turned into the quiet questions during our monthly visit with the case manager. Daddy and I were both very clear with all the players that we were a temporary stop because you needed to be with your brothers longer term, but along the way, everyday life was happening. We signed you up for taekwondo (which you were lukewarm about at best), swimming lessons, a music class on occasion, and got you set up with our regular pediatrician and dentist. We worked on learning everyday skills like recognizing letters and colors and numbers, and we started learning your food preferences (I should tell you now that you were a McDonald’s junkie, sweet girl, and that you could smell a French fry a mile away). We figured out that you needed a nap in the middle of the day or you would fall asleep in the middle of taking a bite of dinner and that you absolutely loved the song “Drinking Class” because you would belt out every single word at the top of your lungs when it came on the radio. You eventually slipped out of calling me and daddy Miss Heather and Mr. Evan and started calling us mommy and daddy, though that seemed to happen quietly and before we really knew it, and I even heard you and Warren referring to each other as sissy and bubba a time or two when you weren’t too busy arguing with each other.

You and Warren would fight like cats and dogs one minute, but then two seconds later you were thick as thieves plotting some mission of mischief – do you remember the time the two of you locked the babysitter out of the house? Liam, who almost never uses anyone’s real name, would run around screaming “Naaaaana” because he couldn’t pronounce your whole name – but he couldn’t stand not being in the same room with you and would search all over until he found you. You guys would fight over the Leappad in the car but would gang up on Warren if he tried to intervene at all. You and Elie had a more tumultuous relationship because you shared a room and she would regularly steal your toys, but even so, you guys would sing together at night when it was time for bed, and I could hear you telling her bedtime stories long after we had told you guys lights out and good night.

I think we got so caught up in the swing of everyday life that the passage of time slipped quietly by until we were reminded that summer was coming to a close and you would be starting kindergarten soon. Somewhere in all the craziness of these last few months you took up permanent residence in mine and daddy’s hearts, and the conversations he and I were having about the time when you would have to leave us became almost unbearable for either of us. I think both of us had privately entertained the idea that you could be with us forever, but as selfish as both of us can be on occasion we also knew that you deserved to be with your brothers. We knew that the home and love you had with us would never be able to overcome that deep connection siblings share – no matter how much we loved you and no matter how much we tried to change that. We knew that all of us were going to hurt and that you were probably not going to understand things initially, but we also knew that if we didn’t push the system to try to get you back with your brothers now it would never happen. So to keep you from having to change schools and to give you a chance at getting your brothers back, my voice to the case manager and placement team grew loud again. Baby girl, if you know nothing else about any this, I want you to know that I have fought for your long term life with your brothers tooth and nail. I have pushed people to think about the consequences of their actions to the point of even doubting myself and my own motivations at times. My only regret is that I didn’t stay as loud as I should have the entire time – though I know that if I had I wouldn’t have had your sweet smile, infectious laughter and mischievous spirit with me as long as I did – so I am torn as to whether I did right by you or not.

Long story short, the system was not able to find a home with enough space or resources to take all four of you – though I pushed everyone really hard to carefully consider the long term implications for you and your brothers if we didn’t work hard enough now to try to keep you guys together. I tried very hard to make everyone understand how the loss of a sibling can hurt deeply – even decades later – though I know I was preaching to the choir most days. I was angry – and frustrated – that it didn’t seem like the folks making the big decisions understood what I was talking about on a personal level though. There were so many people all trying to look out for what was best for you and your brothers so I want you to know that none of the decisions about your life were ever taken lightly. Ultimately, we had to compromise and agree that being with one brother was better than being with no brothers at all – though I am really sad – no, angry – that we have to make choices like this.

Up to this point in my life, I’ve never had to make the kind of decisions that I’ve had to make in the last few months. Yes, we have had many children come through our home, but you were the only child we ever took in who was old enough to know what was happening. You were the only child I’ve ever had to have adult-level conversations with about things that would make most adults cringe and run away crying. Sweet pea, you have handled all of this chaos in your short life like a little champ and have shown so much strength and resilience that I know you’ll end up changing the world someday. You have amazed me continually with your ability to heal and grow and your capacity for love and wonder. My sweet child, I am not your permanent, legal, forever mommy, but you will forever be my permanent and forever daughter even without the legal paperwork. You grew love in my heart almost without me even realizing it, and you changed the way I view the world because you forced me to recognize the places in this world where things need to change. But because of you, I am a stronger person with a renewed sense of passion for fixing what’s wrong with the system that brought you into my life.

You came into my life in an unconventional manner for certain, but you’ll be in my heart and mind forever.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sometimes you have to say "No"

In the normal course of being a foster parent, you're asked to do a lot of things that take time, energy and sometimes even cash or other resources, and while most people are pretty good at knowing what their limitations are and sticking within the confines of those limits, I am definitely not one of those people! When people or organizations ask me to do something, my immediate answer is usually "sure" and then sometime in the future somewhere in the back of my head I start calculating how I'm going to pull off doing the things to which I've committed myself. This is how I ended up on the board of the association; this is how I've ended up with 15 kids in six years; this is how I ended up flooding my jeep one night after final exams (oh wait... that has nothing to do with fostering... I'll save that story for a future blog post).

Seriously, most people are able to keep a sane schedule. I don't understand that concept.

Now that we have four kids (one currently in foster status and three adopted) who all have multiple therapy appointments in a week and multiple extracurricular activities a week, I'm realizing that I have not done a very good job of protecting my own identity or needs. I have not done a very good job of being a good wife to my husband either - because not only do I stress myself out when I commit to crazy - I take away time from him and my kids - and I end up neglecting my relationship with him thinking that he will simply understand eventually. I also end up committing him to the crazy too, and that's simply not fair to him. Please don't tell him I said that though - it would totally erode my street-cred. I also am not doing a very good job of being the leader of my organization, friend to my friends, parent to my kids, advocate to the system, or even nurturing my relationship with God (yes, I know that likely makes some of you who know me scratch your heads because I don't come across as very religious, but I do have my own internal struggles).

As a foster parent, there are certain things that come along with any child placed in your home. You don't just get a kiddo and get to go on your merry way. Nope! Each kiddo comes with a whole constellation of players - they have biofamily. The have case managers (DCMs). They have child protective investigators (CPIs). They have therapists. They have baggage and trauma. They have guardians ad litem (GALs). They have children's legal services (CLS) attorneys. They have judges or magistrates. Did I mention trauma? Oh, and trauma. There's also trauma. And just in case I'm not clear, there's trauma. What looks like it would be so easy (you know, adding a child to your family), actually ends up becoming a carefully coordinated dance of meshing schedules and accommodating multiple, competing responsibilities and requirements. When you already have multiple kids and busy schedules, it makes things so much more complex.

Since DCMs are required to visit the kids in the home every 21 days and GALs are required to visit in the home every 30 days, and your licensing consultants are required to visit your home every 90 days, (and unannounced visits are required as well), it can get really interesting trying to make things work with an already packed schedule. Since my schedule is already so crazy and we live in a rural county it makes scheduling visits so much more difficult. But I've been doing it by ignoring my own needs and skipping my taekwondo classes (which are my sanity-saving time) to meet the needs of the players in the system. I made the decision not to do that anymore last night. I decided to make a stand and start realizing that I am important, and that if I do not advocate for my needs as well as the needs of others, that I wouldn't be able to effectively advocate for anyone else either. So I made a stand and sent the following email to our current DCM (whom I absolutely adore - so please don't think this is a judgment against her).

"Hi *insert DCM here*,

In response to your question as to whether my inability to have evening weekday visits anymore is temporary, I have to say nope. This is not temporary... I work 7-5:30, and since I work in Leon and live in Wakulla it takes an average of 30 minutes to get home and kids aren't home from TKD until 6 on M,W,F. I have to be able to leave at 6:45 to make it to my class on time which means I need to have time to feed, bathe and get kids ready for bed by 6:30 so that I have 15 minutes to read and sing songs and get them actually ready for sleep (and actually try to spend quality time with them). And get myself dressed for class too and maybe even have the time to go potty before I leave. Here's a normal day schedule:

4:30 AM Wake up start getting showered, dressed, pack lunches, make kid breakfasts

5:50 AM wake kids up to get ready

6:10 AM leave house for daycare

6:36 AM absolute latest time I can walk out the door of the daycare and still get to work on time if there's no traffic

7:00 AM arrive at work

5:30 PM leave work (sometimes I may be able to leave at 5:20 if I've had a day where I didn't get to take lunch because the day went to heck in a handbasket)

5:55 PM pick up kids from daycare (M,W,F Evan takes big kids to TKD at 5:25 until 6)

6:05 PM arrive home get dinner on table

6:15 PM start baths and getting PJs on and brush teeth

6:30 PM - 6:45 PM read/sing get kids settled to go to bed

6:45 PM Elie to bed

6:55 PM Liam to bed

6:55 PM leave for class

7:00 PM Breanna to bed

7:15 PM Warren to bed

8:30 PM Home from class, make dinner for next day, make lunches, get laundry ready for next day

8:35 PM maybe take a shower if I can fit one in and am really stinky, try to get association work done

??? PM Try to get to sleep at some point in time so I don't snap everyone's heads off

On the second Tuesday of the month I have to run a support group for foster/adoptive parents (okay - technically I don't do this right now, but we're trying to get this group started back up).

On the fourth Tuesday of the month I have to run the TAFAPA membership meeting from 6-8:30

Every week on either Weds or Thurs we have a therapist that comes for Warren and Liam from 6-8 PM

I've been trying to help co-facilitate the QPT classes on Tuesday evenings so we can support new foster parents coming on board, but I've only been able to make 1 of those so far.

On Mondays Warren has play therapy and I have a standing dr. appointment to get my B12 shot (thanks to surgery I have to do this forever now... yuck).

Friday nights I TRY (though lately have failed miserably) to go to our synagogue services (because well... sometimes a person needs something to help give them faith that the world is a decent place - I wish I could make it more often but am simply EXHAUSTED most weeks - hopefully God will understand).

Now add in a DCM visit once every 21 days, a GAL visit once a month, licensing once a quarter as the bare minimum visits required.

Saturdays we have swim lessons and piano lessons, and during the school year religious school until 12:30.

Sundays I try to see my family in town.

I haven't been able to get a haircut since the last time the kids locked the babysitter out. I haven't had a pedicure in three months (and I have the grocery store feet to prove it). Evan and I haven't had a date since his birthday.

I've used my lunch breaks and (what should be my day off though I haven't had one of those in months) to run errands and handle the training classes I've had to take recently, and I use my time in the car travelling to make all the phone calls to people who've requested my time each day.

Throw in court, sick kids and doctor's appointments (remember, B isn't my only child - I have four of the little monsters to coordinate), speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy appointments for Liam and Elie weekly, and my own need to go to the doc or dentist on occasion.

So I've decided that I am going to make time to do something for me. I'm burning out, and that isn't good for anyone else if I do that because I'm not nice or well organized when I'm tired, not well fed or cranky! :)

I had to pick something to move. Can't move therapy for the kids. They need that too badly.

Not willing to give up my classes because that's what's keeping me sane right now.

Can't not work - unless you give me the winning lottery ticket.

It stresses Evan out too much to try to coordinate a visit with just him home with the chaos of the evening routine - and when he's stressed out it makes my life so much more difficult.

So yeah. Now we're back to Saturday or Sunday.

I'm sorry - but I simply had to do something to help alleviate the stresses I'm feeling. :) after all, you need me to be at my best to help advocate not only for the kids in my care, but the other families who look to me for help as well.

I'm not trying to sound like superwoman - in fact I'm admitting that I'm most definitely not. :)

Does this explain why I'm limiting visits to weekends now?

Thanks, Heather"

I'm hoping she doesn't take this personally, and that she understands I'm simply trying to do what's best for my family so I can help do what's best for other families longer term also! I'm hoping she understands why I had to finally say "no!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Changing the system sometimes means looking through a different lens

This is an excerpt of a letter I sent to our local CBC CEO today regarding a phone conversation we had yesterday where he took me to task for advocating for a family:

I'm sorry our conversation was so short yesterday - but I had a graduation to attend. It actually turns out to be a good thing I had to cut our conversation short because it's given me some time to digest your concerns and formulate a response. I will admit I'm actually a little upset with our conversation yesterday - with several specific instances in the conversation especially (which I will go over shortly) but also with the more general idea that the issues that arose in this particular case and others like it "aren't really broad." I think having the time to cool down a little last night was probably good - because my immediate response was one of extreme frustration - and I respect our partnership too much to use a knee jerk reaction to a temporary situation. I would like to lay out the things that bothered me with this though so that we can both be working from common ground and understand very clearly where the other is coming from.

The first thing I'd like to address is that this "was another instance of Heather Rosenberg tearing down the system." I'd like to address this one in detail because I think this one statement speaks volumes. First, I would like to challenge you to find an example of me tearing down the system just for the sake of tearing down the system. That's not ever been my MO or my intent - and I think you know that even if you don't like the method I choose to use to effect change. I've been at this a long time - as a child in the system, as a sibling of kids in the system and now as a parent of kids adopted out of the system and a foster parent to a child currently in the system. I've seen over the course of thirty years how things have changed and how things have stayed the same. Every single time I've sent an email about something failing in the system, I've provided a possible solution to the problem or offered to help work to solve the problem or issue - I've volunteered on many committees, have worked really hard to help connect people to other people who had the power to listen to their issues and try to help, and have tried to work to effect change on a system of care that directly affects the quality and even the length of human lives. I don't wake up in the morning looking for ways to tear people or systems down. I do wake up every morning hoping that the people in positions like yours will use the power you have at your disposal to make miracles happen for the families whose lives you hold in your hands. And I do this all as a volunteer - this is not my full-time paid job - this is something I am passionate about.

Second, I have a vested interest in ensuring that this system does not fail - that instead it self repairs and has the ability to adjust to the needs of the families it serves. I lost three siblings to this system - that's something I will never get back no matter how many children I take in to my home or how many families I help. I've watched many of my friends go through the ups and downs of this system that on occasion chews through the families it serves and spits them out utterly devastated. It's emotionally draining. It's heartbreaking. It takes a physical toll on my body to witness this stuff. And I don't want to see another person have to go through those kinds of losses - especially if we can avoid it by fixing problem areas. So yes, I am demanding. I demand that we do the very best we can to advocate for the families we serve. When it goes right, I am the very first person cheering for the things that have worked well. I will sing the praises at the top of my lungs to show where partnerships work and how teamwork pays off. I will support the case managers and CPIs and attorneys and GALs and every other member of the team in helping them do what they need to do to help our families - but I will also be the very first person to point out the places where we could do better. And you should want me to be doing that up front - because it's going to be much better if I do it than if a Carol Marbin does it after something goes catastrophically wrong.

As for the particulars of this case - if you will notice as I pointed out yesterday, I use the word "appear" quite a bit through out this email. I did that pointedly to show that many of the issues in this case could have been due to perception problems. These perception problems were likely exacerbated by the break downs in the communication chain with the parties involved. They were probably also worsened by the agencies failing to recognize outside issues that could have been influencing perception as well. As I pointed out yesterday, the current political climate surrounding same sex couples is highly charged right now. With all of the DOMA stuff last year, the Supreme Court hearing the Obergfell v. Hodges case, the highly contentious fight surrounding HB 7111, the repeal of the language in the statute regarding the ban on gay families adopting, and just about every other issue dealing with same sex couples - many same sex couples feel attacked right now period. And while you and I may not feel that either of us are attacking them - and you may also feel that there are enough protections in policy to prevent that from occurring here - we're not living this on a daily basis. When you take all of the little things that happen in a case and add an extra dose of lack of communication to it and then fan the flames a little by adding in this highly charged environment - it's no wonder that the perception is that there may be a much larger problem. Had someone taken the time to substantively address the issues this family brought up along the way in a timely manner, this issue would likely have never landed on your desk. And if you would like me to provide the string of correspondence we attempted with all of the parties all along, you will see that since July of last year, there have been timing and communications issues with this case.

As I am beginning to get a tad long in the tooth here, I will cut this short and wrap up by saying that when I send something your way it is not to start a fight. I am not attempting to disparage people or the system. I am attempting to provide case work for the families in our association who are doing the daily work of trying to provide for our children and families in care. Many times when I am sending you something it is on behalf of the parent - and since I do not work in the system itself I do not have access to FSFN or a quality review process to see if the parties followed protocol or procedure. I am also not asking for you to respond directly back to me - but rather to the families who have requested additional help. This is one of the things a strong association should be able to provide for its members. And it's probably much better for it to come to you like this than for families to start abandoning the system because they feel unsupported. We're working with you to help retain families - to help recruit other families - to help maintain positive pressure on the system so that we can fix the barriers to doing right for our children. If it feels like I'm taking you to task for the conversation yesterday, I kind of am, because I would like for you to recognize that I am in a different role than you are and am living this experience colored by a different lens. That lens may focus on a different area of the picture than you do, but it is still an incredibly valuable part of the picture and should be honored - not just for me, but for the thousands of other families whose only view of the picture is the same part.

If you would like to discuss this in further detail, I'd be happy to set up a time to come chat.

I'm waiting to see how he responds...

Friday, May 1, 2015

The cost of fostering

We recently had a new foster kiddo join our family for a while throwing us back into the thick of the foster care rollercoaster. We’ve had an active license for the last six years, but when we finalized the adoption of our last munchkin in January of last year, we thought we were done with the exception of the odd here and there babysitting gigs for our friends who are still foster parents and need licensed caregivers in order to have respite care for their munchkins.

Imagine my husband’s surprise when he got a weird text message from our friends in New Mexico congratulating him on our new basketball team (the running joke between our two families has always been that we had enough kids to field our own sports teams). Apparently I sort of forgot to inform my husband that we had temporarily taken in a new kid (actually two of them) while he was out of town – okay, in my defense, it was only supposed to be overnight and he was out of town at the time. I probably should have known that when Tenille told me it was only overnight that it really wasn’t (we’ve had that happen every single time but once), but I have an almost pathological inability to say no when placement calls me. But I digress.

The story I’m writing about here is actually one of numbers. After having been out of the “real” foster game for a few years, I’d forgotten just how much work in involved in the first couple of weeks of a new child joining a family. But let me break some of it down for you here. Please understand that this post is not a complaint about the amount of time or money we spend on taking kids in – it’s simply to illustrate the realities behind why we have such a hard time recruiting and retaining good foster families.

Once the Department decides to shelter a child(ren), the Department has to have the case heard before a judge the next business morning in an emergency shelter hearing so that the Department can have the legal ability to shelter the child until the adjudication hearing. This requires that the child be transported as the courts have now decided that the children have a right to be heard in court (this includes infants – I guess the judges like hearing their cries?) though in the 15 times I’ve been present during the shelter hearing I’ve never once had the judge actually speak to any of my children – even our most recent addition who is four and a half and old enough to talk to the judge. In fact, this judge specifically asked me to take all of the children out of the court room into the play area because they were disrupting court – which served to irritate me because what was the use in making the child attend if you’re not going to pay any attention to them? Even when the hearing is the first one on the docket, you end up being in court for several hours – so if you’re a full time employee, be prepared to burn some annual leave.

When removed from their family of origin, foster kids are required to see a doctor within 72 hours as a way for the system to have a baseline of what their current health status is. However, in certain parts of Florida, the managed care entity responsible for ensuring that these kids have access to a doctor did a horrible job of rolling out its new plan, and thus there are simply no available doctors to see our kids. It took 11 days to get the very first available doctor’s appointment for my new child – officially 192 hours longer than mandated. Oops! Because I was not the person who made the appointment, I was unable to attend this visit due to a meeting at work I simply could not reschedule so my child had to be transported by yet another unfamiliar person to a doctor’s visit that required four shots from a doctor she had never seen before to be comforted by a person she had no relationship with whatsoever.

The results of that visit showed that she needed specialist appointments that simply could not be arranged locally – so I did something not many people have the ability to do – I added her to my private insurance to gain access to a whole slew of medical practitioners that were not available to her on the Sunshine plan. This will cost me money out of pocket, but I would rather do that and have access to good LOCAL doctors than have her suffer or have to be transported to Panama City or further for medical appointments. I was fortunate to be able to do this because she also has a slew of dental issues that need to be addressed and there are no local dentists who take the Sunshine plan either (okay, I may be exaggerating here – there is one dentist but that office can’t make appointments for months so I don’t count them). So to take her to her establishing appointment with both the primary care physician and the dentist both took about a half a day of my workday.

The two kids that came to me that night had nothing with them but a ratty teddy bear, two books, a pair of panties two sizes too small, a pair of pants two sizes too small, a bag of cookies, a box of almond milk and six diapers. When we figured out one of the kids would be staying (likely for a very long time) it became necessary to try to get some clothes and supplies for her for everyday use. Since I’ve never had an older female child, I did not already have a stash of larger sized clothing. We’ve only ever taken in babies – I didn’t even have a bed that was big enough for her permanently (or even longer term). Fortunately, our local foster and adoptive parent association runs a small supply closet and I was able to get two outfits in her size and our licensing agency just happened to have an extra bed we could use for her – otherwise I would have had to run out to purchase those things (and I would have willingly). My fabulous coworkers even pitched in and got her three more outfits, some sock and undies. I ended up having to buy school supplies, a nap blanket and mat, a lunch sack and thermos, and enough outfits to get us through the rest of the week, a pair of shoes and some pajamas. The grand total for day one of her arrival was already sitting at $200 and change.

The week we got back from the trip I will tell you about in a minute (in the middle of the third week kidlet had become part of our family), the case manager finally got us the clothing and shoe voucher we had asked for so that we could supplement and fill in what we didn’t already have. A $50 voucher to Marshall’s for clothing and a $50 voucher to Beall’s Outlet for shoes are what the department provided. While better than nothing – for families who do not have the means that we do at their disposal – this wouldn’t have gone very far.

To recap so far, already we’re sitting at two full days off of work to get through necessary appointments and $200+ out of pocket for basic expenses and a late set of vouchers for an additional $100 at stores whose prices are rather inflated. An addition to our private insurance as the state provided insurance plan was inadequate to handle the needs of the child in my care. And I won’t disclose how much emotional chocolate I may or may not have consumed in this time period to handle the emotional rollercoaster I’m personally on over the course of this journey.

My family had already planned a Disney vacation for the week after munchkin joined us. It was obvious munchkin wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon because we’re out of foster homes locally – and quite frankly, unless a home came available that could take all four of them permanently (did I mention she’s part of a sibling group of four) I wouldn’t want her to move because each move is highly traumatic to kids. It wouldn’t have been right to exclude her from the trip we had already planned because she is part of our family now. We couldn’t back out of our trip or reschedule it because it was already paid for – so we simply bought her tickets to go with us – another $180 expense. She had a fabulous time and the whole family had a much more enjoyable trip for having her with us.

Here we are now at week three of munchkin joining our family. I can’t really remember a time when she wasn’t part of our family – and my kids have all embraced her as one of us. My husband adores her as does all of the extended family who have met her. Her daycare teachers love her. Our friends love her. She’s’ one of the best things to have happened to our family since Elie joined our family two years ago. But I haven’t even begun to touch on the emotional toil going on in our family in the last three weeks.

Initially, there was a lot of fear, chaos and even some anger as my husband was a little peeved with me when he first got the news I had taken a new child in. I was also a little off kilter as the placement phone call came at 1 AM and the kids arrived at 3 AM when I have to be up for work by 4 AM. Court is ALWAYS stressful – so add in a(n) (un)healthy dose of high stress from court and then the utter chaos of trying to get your house situated for a little life to join you when you were clearly not planning for it. My husband was returning from a weeklong trip to the D.C. area during a nasty weather system and my kids were all out of sorts from having a new little person joining our clan. Toss in a smattering of sobbing from our new kiddo as she started to figure out that she wasn’t going to be with her mommy again for a while, some missed visitations, and a nice little tummy bug to boot – let’s just say that fostering isn’t for the faint of heart.

Recently, I’ve had people discuss with me that they feel people foster simply for the money. They go on and on and on about how foster parents make so much money housing other people’s kids. I’ve always taken offense to those statements – but after we finalized the adoption of our last kiddo I started focusing more on my own family and less on the system of care (though trust me, I’ve not given up on changing the system). But after this last three weeks, when one of my very misguided friends tried to barb me by saying “at least we would be making some more money now” I actually went off the deep end on her a little. You see, the average board rate reimbursement for foster care in Florida is $439 a month, split up on a daily rate it’s $14.16 a day. On the very first day my new munchkin came to me I’d already spent over $200 just to meet her basic immediate needs. Setting up daycare there is a $75 registration fee and a $65 supply fee. The Early Learning Coalition referral only pays about $16-22 a day towards day care for kids in care and most day care centers cost between $25-50 a day. At one center we were paying over $600 a month out of pocket just for day care costs alone.

To put this in perspective – the per diem reimbursement the State of Florida pays a state employee when on travel is $36 a day for meals alone – that does not include the costs of hotels which is generally $85 a night or more. If it’s a travel day and you’re travelling during all four day parts, the reimbursement rate is $80. The state pays more for employees on travel status than it does for kids in care.

The emotional toll foster parents pay is also enormous. My current munchkin is very, very sad about not being with her mommy. We’ve deal with crying jags that have lasted over an hour at times where the only thing we could do is simply hold her, rock her, pat her head and remind her that she is loved and that we would do everything in our power to help ensure she could see her mom again soon – even though her mom doesn’t always show up for visitation. Dealing with a clinically depressed four year old is tough work – knowing that every little thing we say or do can either help or hinder her healing process is a huge emotional burden to carry – but we do it willingly because we know she needs us.

The changes in the relationships between me and my husband and me and my kids right now also carry a big price tag. Granted, these have been positive changes this go around – but they haven’t been with other kids we’ve fostered in the past. One of our foster babies was so high needs that she almost broke me from all the crying – that was one of the hardest three months I’ve ever endured and I come from a pretty rough childhood myself! My marriage was stressed. My other child was stressed. I was stressed. Every time we’ve taken a child in, it’s changed the dynamics of our family. I’m hopeful my kids learn from these fostering experiences that we should help our fellow humans out – but there’s also a good chance they grow up resentful of the time and energy we put into other children and families aside from our own.

The long and short of this all is that fostering is expensive – emotionally and literally. We need more families to make this investment though – because it’s an investment in the future of a child but also in the future of our society and civilization. We also need our legislators to realize that there are physical and emotional costs to these kids and to the families who care for them – so that they can adjust the supports available to the families and to the kids. And we need the system of care to become more flexible to allow for creative solutions to the needs of our kids and families. None of this will happen in a vacuum – we need more people like YOU to take the steps to help make the change too. Won’t you join me? There’s a child out there who would be grateful you made the world change for them!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why discrimination against our children and families is not a good thing - as if I actually needed to write that sentence

Yesterday I testified before the Florida Senate Rules Committee why CS for HB7111 was a bad bill and would ultimately harm the children of our state. It amazes me that we even have this kind of debate going on in today's world, but we do! Discrimination is discrimination - regardless of whether it's cloaked in the blanket of religion or morality - but some people don't understand that.

Here's the text of my testimony:

My name is Heather Rosenberg. I’m a foster mom, an adoptive mom and an advocate for the children in the foster care system. I am also a product of a family where the kids were removed, split up, placed in different families and ultimately aged out of care. I, myself did not age out of care – I was lucky enough to have had my dad’s side of the family to rescue me, but my three younger siblings did not and ultimately paid the price by leaving the foster care system at 18 with no permanent home.

I have had fifteen children come through my home in the last five and a half years as a foster parent. Two of those munchkins came to me last Friday night in what was supposed to be an emergency, overnight only placement. I still have one of them with me today – and it’s a good thing I do, because if not, she would have had to be shipped down to central Florida in order to have a place to sleep.

Why would that be a bad thing you ask – and how does that address the topic of this bill?

Well, my current child is one of a sibling group of four. At just over four years, she is the oldest – with her brothers right behind her at 3 years, 2 years and 6 months old. There are simply not enough homes available in this area to handle the needs of the kids who are being removed from their families of origin. My home was not technically an “active” foster home when I got the call to take her – we were licensed, but only as child specific and respite for if my niece were to come back into care – so when the phone rang at 1 AM and I saw it was placement I knew the straights were dire. I was right. This area is critically short of homes – in fact, in the panhandle alone, we need 1,100 more homes to meet the needs of kids CURRENTLY in care. Limiting the available pool of applicants is the wrong way to go to meet that need.

This bill is designed to limit the number of permanent homes available to the children in care which is exactly the opposite of what needs to be happening. Our children deserve a loving family to call their own forever. Davion Only knew that when he stood before a congregation at his church begging for someone to adopt him. The kids my husband and I adopted over the last three years knew that and have thrived with having a permanent, forever mommy and daddy. And while it’s too early to say how the case will go for my current munchkin, if it heads in the direction of termination and adoption in a couple of years she will know it too.

There is no substitution for a permanent, loving, family-style home. You guys have addressed that in other legislation this year when you’ve sought to limit the use of group homes – yet you’re considering limiting the pool of prospective families again – and I get it that you’ve probably never gotten the phone call in the middle of the night to take in a child who has been abused or neglected so it may not be high on your radar. But I have. And it is. I’ve lived it as a child. I’ve lived it as an adult. I’ve lost siblings to this system. I’ve seen kids age out of care, first hand. I see their pictures on the mugshots of the local sheriff’s website years after they’ve aged out because they didn’t have someone to help step in and guide them. That is not good enough for our kids. That’s not good enough for the families who are willing to step up and help our kids.

If an agency is in the business of licensing homes for adoption and is taking public money for that purpose, there should be no proviso to let them discriminate against a potential family. This law in any form is bad. This law in its current form is aimed at discriminating against gay and lesbian families, but it’s written so incredibly broadly that a religious organization could discriminate against single parents, military families, they could even discriminate against you if you have a glass of wine with your dinner. Let’s agree that this is a bad idea in any form, dismiss the bill and work on legislation that will help recruit more families to help take these kiddos in – not fewer.