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