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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thank you to Placement - Part Three - and the last one for this year!

Dear Rachel,

Well… I’m a couple of days late writing this email as Liam actually turned three on Saturday, but seeing as how he is the middle child and everything associated with him has been late I reckon I’m actually right on time. Come to think of it, since we didn’t have him placed with us at birth, technically, I’m writing this on the anniversary of him coming to us… yes… that’s my story and maybe I’ll stick with that for now. If you’re buying that line I may have some property to… yeah… I’m not buying it either. ;)

I’m writing this today after having realized that my work clothes are covered in banana slime right below my waist. It took me a few minutes to figure out what all this schmootz was on my shirt before I remembered that as I was dropping my monsters off at school today Liam decided he wanted one last hug. He joyfully ran to me with arms wide open and a half smooshed banana in one hand, a handful of sticky raspberry cereal bar in the other (we were running late – don’t judge me too harshly for the choice of breakfast foods today) and a mouth covered with a messy mixture of both before burying his face in my tummy and giving me the best hug ever. I didn’t realize that he covered me with sticky as he was covering me with his hugs – but these are the best badges of honor a mommy can wear!

My messy shirt got me thinking though. My relationship with Liam is characterized by chaos. I should have known that was how it was going to be based on the phone call you made to place him with me… I was bathing Tiffany and Warren when I got a text message from Sherri Dirmann telling me that I needed to answer the phone when it rang because placement would be calling with MY baby. I was kind of going through a blue spell because we had just found out that Tiffany would be leaving us to go to a different foster home in a different county, and I had gotten used to having two kiddos around. Sherri and I had just talked a day or two before about how awesome it would be if we had a boy placed with us since Evan tends to have an easier time relating to boys. You called her first, but they weren’t ready and she knew I was. And that’s how Liam came to be with our family – at the end of a chaotic day, in the middle of a chaotic placement, and with a full complement of chaos in his own case.

Liam was a tiny little thing when he came to us. Teensy tiny. Even the preemie clothes were huge on him. But he was full of energy and never slept. And while he was only with us for four days that first time, it was enough for him to take up permanent residence in my heart. When the judge reunified him with his birth mom I just about died inside. And I can freely admit to that even though it goes against all of my good training as a foster parent – because we are supposed to want our kids to go back to their family of origin – and I usually do. But with Liam, I knew in my heart that it was not going to be a permanent move back, that he was not going to be safe, that it was a legal process because the judge had to work within the confines of the law and at the time there simply was not enough evidence to justify keeping him sheltered, and that knowledge killed me. For four weeks I wondered about him, I kept my eyes open whenever I passed the places his parents usually were known to frequent, I dreamt of him, and I worried. We had several calls for placement during that time, but I knew in my heart that Liam would eventually come back to us, and even though I knew there were other children who needed me right then I also knew that Liam would need me forever. And so we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Until Erica finally called me one day and said that they had taken him back into custody and asked me would I come meet her to pick him up.

The life of a foster parent is such a strange life. Liam’s case reinforced that for me in so many ways because his case was the first case where we had significant involvement with the biological family – most of my other kids’ parents had either disappeared, were incarcerated or were so significantly mentally ill as to have been completely incapacitated. It’s hard to have great joy and triumph when your children experience their milestones when you know that their families are missing out on those experiences. I’d never had to think about that before, but with Liam I always had those thoughts in the back of my head. I also had a lot of fear because he had so many medical issues in the beginning.

Figuring out his feeding problems led to his breathing problems was scary. Being sent to a cardiologist because he kept turning blue was enough to almost stop my own heart. Sitting with him in the hospital for a week as they tested and poked and prodded and stuck him more times than I care to remember was torture – for him as well as for me. Being told that he was significantly delayed by multiple specialists and then having the FASD and autism labels thrown at us was daunting – but through all of that and through all of the ups and downs of his case, he was a fighter and a sweet boy and always so super smiley and wonderful. I wouldn’t have cared if they had told me he had three heads and was part alien – he had already stolen my heart.

Last night as I was getting him ready for bed I got a text message from one of his former teachers who had sent me a picture of him with her saying “Miss my little cutie pie.” She hasn’t been his teacher in a year, but she still misses him every day too. I’m telling you – there’s just something about this little boy that melts hearts! And he calls me mommy. That’s the best part!

He’s as stubborn as the day is long and can give you a glare that will cut you to the bone when he’s angry. He also will most definitely let you know when he’s not happy about a decision you’ve made. He finds more ways to make messes and get into trouble (though I think his brother probably has a little to do with some of it and just hasn’t gotten busted yet), but when he turns on that million megawatt charm he can turn any situation into a funny little moment. So while my poor little middle child definitely suffers from middlechildosis and has to deal with his bigger brother sucking up all the oxygen in the room and his little sister stealing all of his toys, he somehow manages to have the biggest smile and the sloppiest kisses and the heart of gold that makes me know he is somehow going to overcome anything life every throws at him.

Rachael, I am so glad you made that phone call three years ago. I find myself with sticky handprints on my clothes and with lots of little messes to clean up throughout the day most days, but I simply could not imagine my life without Liam in it. He’s given me so many little memories over the last three years and has challenged me every single day to be a better person and for that I am beyond grateful. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for my son!


Heather Rosenberg

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thank You Letter to Placement Part Deux

My Dear Tenille,

Two years ago tomorrow you called me. Do you remember it like I do? You may not have it etched in memory in quite the fine detail that I do, but every second of the conversation is still in my brain - recorded in high quality content for posterity (hopefully - ha ha). We had been working toward this phone call for several months - ever since we found out that Liam's mom was pregnant again - but even so my husband and I weren't ready when it came! We had so much on our plates already with two rambunctious boys - but Bethanie and Karen and Diana were slowly working on us, getting us ready for the ultimate time when we would have to make a decision that would change the face of our family in a profound way.

That time came two years ago tomorrow. You called me to let me know that Elie had made her arrival in this world and that if everything went well with the hospital and her tests we would be clear to take her home the next day. That was such an emotional day. That phone call. Making that decision. I was so scared that by saying yes I was going to ultimately ruin the dynamics of my family because we were already so stretched with all of Liam's medical appointments and our hectic and crazy work schedules. But in the back of my mind I knew it was the right decision. I knew Elie belonged with us and with her brother.

So the next day Warren and I went to pick her up from the hospital to take her home. What had been a chaotic few months during the pregnancy was raised to new levels at the hospital as it ended up requiring security and two nurses herding us out a back entrance to my car due to the commotion going on on the labor and delivery floor with the biological mother. Maybe it's because her arrival was so insane, or maybe it's because she's a girl and just a little more relaxed and easy going than the boys are, but she has been by far and away the easiest child we've ever parented!

She was such a little peanut when she came to us - a mere five pounds and an extra ten ounces. But she was perfect. She fit right in to the Rosenberg clan immediately - and my husband and both of our sons were just as smitten with her as I was! These last two years have been hectic, crazy, insanely crazy and have gone by so quickly! I cannot believe my baby turns two tomorrow!!! Two!!! When did that happen??? I have watched her grow from such a little peanut into such a well... she's still a little, petite peanut, but she's also such a big girl too!

She is kind and caring and loves to play with her baby dolls, her brother's trains, purses, and dinosaurs. She loves to wear hats and headbands, and really loves bows though she still doesn't have enough hair to pull them off yet (much to my chagrin). She's sassy and independent and totally rules the house with her little shenanigans, and I'm quite sure that she's stolen the heart of every single person who has ever met her. She loves music - all kinds - though I'm trying very hard to cultivate an appreciation of all things 80's related and U2 and Yo Yo Ma (not necessarily in that order though).

I love watching her move - she still has a funny little side-to-side gait as she runs and her short little legs are still a bit bowed - but it makes me smile every time I see her running towards me to jump into my arms to give me a hug and a kiss. She wiggles all the time whether she's dancing or just impatient to get to the next cool thing, and she has the absolute best laugh ever! And she gives the best hugs too! I cannot even begin to tell you how much I simply love this little girl to pieces!!!

She came to us unconventionally for sure, but she was meant to be part of my family and I cannot imagine my life without her.

So thank you, Tenille! Thank you for making that crazy, emotional phone call! Thank you for giving me my girl, my munchkin, my mini-me, my heart! She has made my life richer in so many ways!

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you!!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Thank you to Placement - a letter I get to write each year

This is a letter I write each year to thank the man who placed Warren with me. It's a little different each year, but I cannot even begin to say how grateful I am for that telephone call five years ago!!!

Hi Steve,

Can you believe it's been five years since you called me to tell me Warren had been born? Well... technically... I'm two days early writing this email this year, but given that it's munchkin's birthday this weekend and the Purim Carnival, I won't be near a computer, and I wouldn't let this anniversary go by without expressing my eternal gratitude to you.

Five years ago this Sunday I was sitting on a conference call with my boss right beside me when I saw the placement phone number come up on my cell phone caller ID. It had been nearly four months since Evan and I had a child in our home. We had just returned from two weeks of back to back Jimmy Buffett concerts. But when that phone number flashed across my caller ID I knew it meant something important. I quickly dashed an email off to everyone in placement saying do not call another family... I'm calling right back as soon as I get off this conference call!

I remember every.single.moment. of that ten minute wait! I remember thinking how heart broken I would be if because I was stuck on a business call I couldn't answer the phone. But you waited for me. You waited for me! Do you know how different my life would be right now if you hadn't? I'm good at playing the "what if" game, but this is one time when I refuse to play it. My life is perfect. It is perfect because of this little boy who will turn five on Sunday.

Don't get me wrong. There are moments when I could pull my hair out. There are moments when I've had to call in reinforcements and put myself in a time out (ask my aunt... she'll confirm this). There are moments where at the end of the day I've put all the munchkins to bed and told my husband that I have to go out for an hour of quiet with no kids and no husband just to get over the crazy of that day.

But over all, things are perfect, because to me this perfectly crazy life is exactly what I am meant to have. I love when Warren comes into my room at 5 AM to snuggle up for the last few minutes before we have to get the day started (even if he does kind of have dragon breath first thing in the morning). I love that he peppers me with about five zillion questions in the 30 minutes it takes for us to get dressed, brush our teeth, get our shoes on and get to school (even if some of those questions are really hard to answer - I have no idea how this kid got to be so dadgum smart, but he really comes up with some humdingers). I love that he is hyper and fidgety and sometimes a little crazy during taekwondo (even though he does sometimes have to sit in timeout). And I love that he makes me read him "The Book With No Pictures" nine times a night (even though he has it memorized and can recite it himself). And I love singing Laila Tov to him right before bed (even though I can't carry a tune in a hand basket). I love that he smells like wet dog after he's been playing really hard. I love that his hair is crazy and looks slightly like Albert Einstein's hair. I love that his voice sounds like one of the Lollipop Guild Kids. I love that he has a "collection" of stuff under his pillow - like matchbox cars, books, snappy bracelets, and action figures. I love that he gets so excited when we get to go out for snooshis (sushi) because he gets to eat with chopsticks. But most of all, I love that he calls me mommy. When he puts his arms around my neck and whispers that I am the best mommy he has ever had, my whole world melts away and there is only him.

I know you guys love the work you do or you wouldn't do it. And I know you have some days where it gets really hard. But at the other end of the phone, you're changing the world. One kid at a time. One mom at a time. You made my life perfect. Just like Rachel did when she called me with Liam and Tenille did when she called me with Elie. So while this seems like so not enough, I will tell you thank you again! Thank you for my perfect little wild boy whom I love so much! I will tell you this every year until my dying day, because my life would be so meaningless without this little munchkin in it. ​ ​


Heather Rosenberg

Monday, February 2, 2015

A good weekend

I love weekends - but let's face it, most people do. They're the time I get to be away from my desk and with my family, and they're the time I get to use my creative brain to try new things out (like recipes, crafts, new techniques for getting my kids to listen to me?)... While I didn't do any significant crafting projects this weekend, I did try some new things out with the kiddos - notably practicing not repeating myself over and over again. I didn't have a ton of success, but I did have a lot less frustrations than on a "regular" weekend which means I am likely to try this experiment out a little longer to see if it's an anomaly or if it's truly working.
Let me back up a few frames though and talk about the day leading up to the weekend and why this is such a big step for me. If you know my family, you know that we've been working through some behavior issues with my oldest son. This child is incredibly smart, observant, crafty, and strong spirited. This combination will likely be a huge blessing for him when he gets older but for now is an incredibly difficult combination to parent. If you clearly establish the authority pattern with him from the onset and remain consistent with absolutely no chinks in the armor, he does much better. Unfortunately, I did not realize this as he was growing up and was much more of a laid back parent. I was not consistent in the application of the rules and was incredibly lenient in the application of corrective actions as well (a mistake I promise I am no longer making). The reasons behind my parenting folly are the subject of a future post, but for now we'll focus on the present.
Anyway - so we had some testing done with the school system because his preschool teacher had expressed some concerns also several months ago and we got all of the results back this past Thursday. I went to that appointment with a great deal of trepidation because I was quite certain the feedback was going to be all gloom and doom - especially given that the last few weeks have been quite challenging, behavior-wise. But we got in and as the psychology intern was going through all of the results, it quickly became apparent that we were likely not dealing with a major issue but rather one that with the consistent application of positive parenting techniques would likely disappear as our child grew and matured - that while his executive function was not fully matured as of now, that it likely would mature over the next few years and that he would gain more and more ability to exercise control over his temper and reactions to various stimuli. It was like a huge weight was being lifted from my shoulders!
I left that meeting on cloud nine. Seriously.
So I went to the grocery store to get the few items I still needed to finish up making lunches for the kids lunch boxes that day and went home and made a bazillion little heart shaped PB&J sandwiches. Yes. I was so excited I made PB&Js!

I went nuts, I know. Then I was on cloud nine for the rest of the weekend because all of the suddent, it appeared that if we made some minor course corrections to our own parenting techniques we'd be looking at a much different picture. So I wrote down a few things I'd gotten from our meeting and implemented them. What do you know, they worked!

So the weekend was actually much smoother than many I've had in the past. I give you photo evidence below:

We spend a good amount of the day at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Saturday for Children's Day. Thats' where we met Olaf and got our face painted. We did a little archaeology, got to lay down in a dug out canoe, got chased by an American Mastodon, and even got to learn how to hulahoop!

All in all, it was a fun weekend... we'll definitely try this a little longer to see if we continue to get awesome behavior!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A little more fun with photos

Aside from the fact that someone really needs to teach me how to use this stupid computer, I really enjoy trying to figure out HTML. Now if only I could figure out an easier way to get my photos to line up prettier...
After looking at these photos, you're going to think I only ever dress my children in red, but I don't! Honest!

This is Warren chasing me with his remote control helicopter. I managed to pluck it right out of the sky with my bare hands before he plowed it into my face! He thought that was pretty cool!
This is Liam at Momo's pizza last weekend. Momo's serves pizza slices as big as your head. He ate the whole dadgum thing! I swaer, if he had better balance and coordination I'd be convinced he was going to be a linebacker. But alas, he's a little uncorrdinated thing!
This is Liam doing some sensory play on day that was way too cold to be outside playing on the playset. He's doing so much better with sensory play and is really starting to blossom with his oral motor stuff too. I love the progress he's making!
This one is him playing with some playdoh while I was getting dinner ready. I don't think he was exactly happy with the texture and consistency of this one though.
This is another shot of Warren at Dorothy B Oven park a couple of weeks ago. We had fun that day - and I thought he looked super cute in this photo!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fair warning - my husband got me a computer two years ago for my birthday and I still haven't learned how to use it. So these might not look great, but I thought you might like to see some photos of the munchkins as a break from all my ranting... I thought it would be nice for you to be able to appreciate the cuties I have to wrangle every day...

This is Elie. She is working on sensory play here since it was way too cold outside to go outside to do physical therapy.

Warren decided that snuggling in bed with me is way more fun than getting up to go to school. Who can refuse such a cutie?

This is a broccoli we grew in our backyard garden. It was delish! This is definitely one way to get your kids to eat their veggies!

Elie and I had an appointment at the doctor this day. She picked out her totally purple outfit to match her totally purple lunchbox, shoes and jacket. I promise, I don't do this. She does.

Mr. Adams took Warren under his wing before class to start teaching him how to sweep the floor! Yeah! I knew we loved Mr. Adams, but I didn't realize just how much I'd love him for teaching my child basic cleaning skills too! Warren usually doesn't get a pre-made yogurt. Normally I make them from the big tubs of plain greek yogurt I buy... today was a rare treat.
Okay - I confess. I am one of those moms who secretly loves the idea of her daughter wearing big bows and cute pigtails. So far those, my little munchkin has been lacking in the hair department. BUT!!! We finally got enough hair for a pony tail. It isn't much, but I'll take it!
These next few photos are of Liam and Elie playing at our friend Danny's house for Niegal's birthday party. They both LOVED the phony pony and Elie was booking it on teh tricycle! Go Elie Bean!
I had to bring Warren in to town for an appointment, so we stopped for a burger at Sonny's. He scarfed it down like no one's business - we also played a little at Dorothy B. Oven Park. He had a thing for trying to eat the candy canes and the snow flakes. Weird kid. I love him, but he's weird! :)