Letters To The Team

Once the kids were placed with us, the social worker from our agency talked to Daffy about attending team meetings to speak up for herself. She said she didn’t feel comfortable doing that but was willing to write letters. Each month she writes a letter to the team asking questions and giving her opinions. Some of the things she shares are amusing (her wish for a cell phone) and others are quite serious (her fear that her brother will kill her hamster). Each letter always follows the same format and includes LOTS of PS’s and pictures to reinforce what she is writing about. She did recently agree to start attending team meetings in July, but still wanted to write one last letter for the June meeting.

The letter reads:

Dear Team,

I really dont want to get Donald mad still. But you guys have taught me that Donald has people helping him and I thank you for that. Can’t wait till I go to the meeting in July.

From,

Daffy

PS Tell my Mom to stop making me write letters to Donald. (Drawing of notes and herself with a speech bubble saying “Ugg”)

PPS 1. I want to be adopted. 2. I want it scheduled for Dec 2nd. Can you do that? (Drawing of the judge with a speech bubble saying “Yes”)

PPSS Can we show a video that my fairy godmother made me? (Drawing of a laptop playing “1000 Years”)

PPPSS Wait till you see the pink in my hair. (Drawing of hair with pink streaks)

PPPSSS Can I change my middle name to XXXX? (Drawing of middle name she prefers)

I am hopeful that the team, many who are people she rarely sees, will see into her words and answer her plea for permanency. I pray daily that they will stop putting her brother’s needs ahead of hers and finally provide her with a forever family who loves and adores her. Is that really so much to ask?

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First Respite Call

We got our first call to do respite for a teen girl. It totally caught me off guard because I wouldn’t have expected they would ask us to do respite with a child already in our care. I trust our social worker, though, so I said yes. In the hours that followed the call, I learned a brief synopsis of the teen’s sad life and also realized that I know her foster parents from our agency’s support group. When I spoke with the teen’s foster mom, she asked how our daughter, Tinkerbelle, felt about sharing her room. I told her that we hadnt asked but that it wouldnt be an issue. We began this process together and with the full consent of all our biological kids. The respite is only for 2 nights. We can handle ANYTHING for 2 nights, right? So I picked up Tink from school and told her we were asked to do respite. She asked how old the girl was and when I told her she exclaimed “Do it! Get her!” I was not expecting quite that joyous of a response, but honestly, I’ll take it! LOL

As we have gone though this process, there have been many times I have felt segregated from the foster parenting world because we are pre-adoptive parents rather than foster parents. I have sensed that foster parents look at pre-adoptive parents as if they are in this for selfish reasons because they plan to “keep” the child rather than work towards reunification. While we did purposely seek children to adopt, we in NO WAY interfered with our children reunifying with their biological parents. In fact, their parental rights were terminated years before we came into the picture. In any case, I feel like the call today turned us into “real” foster parents. We will do our part to support this girl, albeit for 2 nights, and then return her to her foster family. It’s unlikely that we will be able to do much beyond providing a safe and fun environment for this teen and giving respite to her foster family, but it still makes our choice to become a foster family seem more concrete.

Daffy Gets Fed Up

We FINALLY connected with Donald last night after 3 night’s of unreturned phone calls. When I asked him why he hadn’t been returning the calls, he stated “I have been very busy playing bay blades!” [begin sarcasm] Clearly, he is attached, right? [end sarcasm] Ugh. Anyway, I asked him if he wanted to talk to Daffy and he said “Sure”… we always chat with him on speaker phone. Daffy loves not holding the phone to her ear and I love knowing first hand what is said between them. She asked Donald about not calling back and again he said he was “too busy.” She asked if he received her letter and he said he had. She asked if he would write back and he said yes (although that is very unlikely). Then Donald told Daffy that he learned that the former foster parent, Jessie, would be coming to visit. He said “First she will visit me then she will visit you”… Daffy paused and then let him know that she had already seen Jessie. Donald was extremely unhappy and growled and muttered. Sensing his anger, Daffy immediately determined she needed to correct the situation so she told him “She said she misses you very much!” Ummmm, no she didn’t. I gave her a crazy look and she smirked knowing full well that she was simply trying to keep her brother from exploding. Sad.

Anyway, this morning I was relaying the conversation to Goofy and Daffy jumped in and said “If he doesn’t start calling back, I am not talking to him anymore! I am tired of this!” She commented about how he had asked us to leave early last weekend, didn’t return phone calls this week and never writes her back. I encouraged her to write a letter to the team (for the next meeting) expressing her feelings about this.

Should I be forcing her to write/call/visit if she doesn’t want to? The team previously said no, but it feels wrong to me. Whether he comes back here in the end or not, she needs to have some kind of relationship with him and that isn’t going to happen if it’s left up to the kids to determine. They are CHILDREN for goodness sake, they need to be prodded and encouraged sometimes.

Hopefully our agency will recommend that evaluation to determine their bond soon. There is supposedly some specialist in the state and I would love to see where he thinks they stand. How can we make a plan to go forward if we dont know where we are?

Why I Hate Donald’s Clinician

I love our team, I really do. Everyone except for the Clinician/Case Manager at Donald’s Residential Treatment Center. Every time I receive an email from her, I am hopeful for a glimpse of reality, and every time I read said email, I find that my skin crawls and I bristle at how little she understands this situation.

How can someone working at a Residential Treatment Center not understand Reactive Attachment Disorder? I simply don’t understand.  Donald is not that crafty. He is not that manipulative. And yet, somehow, she believes that he is bonded and attached to us. After living with us for 13 days! Daffy’s therapist talks about how she is “attaching nicely” but would NEVER go so far as to say she is attached and she has been IN OUR HOME for more than 4 months! How can this woman believe that a child who couldn’t care less whether we live or die is actually “attached”???

She takes every opportunity to mention this to us, as if hearing it enough will make us believe it. We don’t. Nor so the social workers on our case. She is totally blind to Donald’s needs.

Below is an email, in part, that I sent to our caseworker regarding this clinician:

I just wanted to address some of CLINICIAN’s comments directly with you. I am confused by her comment about the TF-CBT work. At the last team meeting CLINICIAN stated that she did not know who at RTC did such work but said she would research that. She is now stating that she will be doing that work. Furthermore, she indicates that she does not know if he will get that work while at RTC. I was under the impression that is EXACTLY the work that needed to be done before DONALD would be ready to live safely in a family.

I am also shocked to read that DONALD said he is “not the same” as when he lived  with the former pre-adoptive family. After speaking with JESSIE, I felt like I was in a time warp and that he is EXACTLY the same as when he was with them, that he has literally made zero progress in 3 years. She indicates that DAFFY “used to” be afraid of him. I feel it needs to be clarified that she is CURRENTLY afraid of him. This has been indicated by DONALD’s own conversations with XXX during his most recent stay at GRPOUP HOME, by DAFFY’s therapist, and by DAFFY herself in the things she has written to the team and things she has indicated to our family.

While I am happy to hear CLINICIAN’s reports of DONALD remaining on level, I do not feel that his ability to function at RTC in ANY way indicates an ability to function within a family setting because of his Reactive Attachment Disorder and the trauma bond with his sister. I feel emails like the one below indicate a push to move him back into our family rather than take the time that DONALD needs to truly deal with his trauma and manage his mental illness. CLINICIAN’s statements give me the impression that RTC does not truly understand the dangerous situation we were in with DONALD in our home, that they are not aware of DONALD’s extensive history and that they do not understand the serious work that needs to be done with with him.

Clearly, our next treatment team meeting will be quite interesting.

Our 2012 Summer To-Do List (A Post in Progress)

Our 2012 Summer To-Do List (a post in progress):

  • Go strawberry picking Completed 6/9
  • Go to the beach
  • Go to a water park- Tickets purchased from Living Social!
  • Mt Dew Experiment
  • Plant a garden (Mickey did it!)
  • Go to a lake
  • Play with sidewalk chalk
  • Go mini golfing
  • Visit a lighthouse
  • Blow bubbles
  • Go to Six Flags
  • See fireworks Completed 7/7
  • Play in the sprinkler
  • Go to the children’s museum
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Read books
  • Have a picnic
  • Fly a kite
  • Swim. A lot.- Well underway already!
  • Get a pedicure
  • Go bowling
  • Sleep in a tent
  • Go tubing on Nana and Grampy’s lake Completed 7/7
  • Do the Coke/Mentos Experiment Completed 6/3
  • Teach Daffy to cross stitch
If we get “bored”, I promise to find more ideas here, here or here!
Edited to add: And here!

Thanks for the inspiration for this post, The Blog Dare!

Expect The Unexpected (The post about the letter)

Today was the big day… the day Daffy received the long awaited letter back from her biological Mom… their first contact in 3 years. Daffy responded so emotionally to receiving a photo of her birth mom from her Fairy Godmother that I was sure that today would overwhelm her. I was wrong.

This morning we met with our social worker before Daffy’s therapy appointment. Daffy was her usual fidgety self, but nothing out of the ordinary. We arrived at therapy and I went in first so I could sum up the week and review the letter with her therapist. I could not ask for a more appropriate letter. Her birth Mom answered all her questions and provided many subtle clues that it was okay for Daffy to move on, including that she was happy Daffy was safe & in a new family and that she wants to meet us. She even signed the letter with her first name.

Daffy came into the office to join us. As she slowly read the letter, she smiled a few times. She commented that her birth mom said she no longer had the family cat from years ago. And then she folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and was ready to know what was next. Next she was given  3 cards that we recently found in the files at the state office. Her therapist explained that someone in the past made a poor decision by not passing on the cards at the time they were received and that the current team was correcting that by giving them to her now. She further explained that clearly her birth mother had thought of her over the past 3 years. The cards included birthday and holiday cards with notes written inside. Daffy read each one, again with little response, other than to note that her mother must have remembered her birth date. Her therapist asked her how she felt about finally hearing from her birth mom and she replied with short answers like “happy.” Oddly, she barely even commented on the fact that her birth mom had included a picture with the letter!

I know that she must have been feeling a thousand feelings on the inside, but one of Daffy’s issues is that she does NOT like to show emotion, particularly sadness or crying. As emotional things have come up, Daffy often asks if I cried or will cry about them. She is almost to the point of obsessed. Unfortunately for Daffy, I am much like her in that way. I *hate* crying. I feel like its a sign of my weakness when I cry, so I avoid it all costs and feel very embarrassed if others see me cry for any reason. This is something I am definitely going to have to work on so that I can help Daffy deal with her strong emotions.

This afternoon our case worker came for her monthly visit. She asked Daffy about her experience receiving the letter this morning. Daffy was happy to get the letter and show it to her, but again, quickly moved on to other subjects.

Had this happened in January, I would easily have attributed this to her diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder. At this point, though, her therapist disputes that diagnosis and seeing her in our home (& with our family) and how she recently reacted to reconnecting with her former foster (pre-adoptive) family, I don’t think that is the case. I think she is fully capable of attaching and I am wondering if she is simply not attached to her biological mother.

I am definitely ending this day in a much different place than I expected. I guess thats the name of the game in foster care.

Expect the unexpected.

A Reunion

This weekend Daffy reunited with Woody, Jessie & Buzz (a former pre-adoptive family)! Things could not have gone more perfectly! When we arrived, Jessie was outside and greeted Daffy with a warm hug! Jessie had tears in her eyes but held it together very well. Next, Woody & Buzz came out to greet Daffy with more hugs, commenting how much she had grown in the past 3 years. We shared introductions (as Mickey and Tink had not met any of them before) and then went inside. Daffy was eager to explore her old stomping ground, checking out what used to be her room and then Buzz’s room (which was the room Donald shared during the few days that he lived there). Daffy was thrilled to see their cats and get reacquainted with them. Mickey and Woody hit it off immediately and carried on their own conversation for most of the 4 hours we stayed. Jessie shared details about what life was like for them when the kids lived with them and things she knew of the past. She promised to hunt down paperwork that she knew she had somewhere and pass it on to me. Throughout the entire visit, she was completely respectful of my role as “Mom” and was very careful of boundaries. We all left smiling with promises to set up another visit soon!

Tomorrow is the “big day”. Daffy will receive a reply to the letter she wrote to her birth mom. Our sw was planning to take her, but Daffy asked that I attend, so I will be taking her. Our sw says thats a great thing that Daffy trusts me enough to allow me to support her. I asked Daffy tonight during our chat if she wanted to take a note card so she could reply right away or if she wanted to take some time to think before she responds. She chose to take some time to think. I know the letter will be “appropriate” or it would not have been approved by the state to hand on, but I am still nervous about how Daffy might react. This is sure to evoke strong emotions in her. How could it not?

Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing

Having a 4th grade daughter, brings me back to my own 4th grade year. Overall, I do not have fond memories of my youth. Sure, I do have some good memories and those are usually the ones I choose to focus on, but if you ask me to think back to a specific year in my life, my first recalled memories are usually negative.

Things I recall from the 4th grade:

  • Two of my friends and I liked the same boy whose name was “Joey”. My friends had a sleepover together one night and wrote Joey notes telling him my boobs were small and that he should not like me. I was crushed that my so-called friends who do that to me. (Side note: My breasts ended up being so large that later in life I had major breast reduction surgery!)
  • Later in the year I like a boy name Kevin. I decided to tell him on his Valentine card. Once I had written and sealed the tiny card, I changed my mind about confessing my undying love so I scribbled on the envelope hoping it also scribbled out the words on the card. It didnt and it was terribly embarrassing.
  • I did NOT like studying our state history. I refused to do a packet of work. I did not care what the result, I simply refused. The teacher gave me a detention- my very first ever! I was mortified and terrified of what would happen when my parents mother & stepfather found out. I stayed after school and the teacher worked by my side. She would read the question and then read the passage that contained the answer and I would guess wrong answers just to spite her. She stayed patient with me and eventually we got through enough of the packet that I earned a C (probably only my 2nd in my entire 4 year elementary school career). She ended up having to drive me home and spoke casually along the way as if nothing happened. I couldn’t understand how she was able to separate her feelings like that.
Now that Daffy is in our lives and I look back at my worst 4th grade memories, I am embarrassed. How could that possibly compare to the list of things Daffy will remember from her 4th grade year?
Things Daffy will probably recall from the 4th grade:
  • Living in a group home with people that stole her things
  • Meeting yet another “Forever Family” that she was sure would break her heart
  • Transitioning to a new school over an hour’s drive away from everything she knew
  • Being assaulted by her biological brother numerous times including being strangled by him
  • Her brother going to a psychiatric facility
  • Her brother going back to residential care
  • Her brother getting expelled from school and moving to another residential treatment center
Things I hope Daffy will recall from the 4th grade:
  • Meeting the family that will truly be her Forever Family
  • Meeting her new pets and falling in love
  • Making a new best friend
  • Starting with her new therapist and beginning the hard work to deal with her losses
  • Chats with me every night
  • Mickey & I advocating for contact with her former foster families and her biological mother
  • The many “firsts” she will experience in our family (Christmas, Valentines Day, St Patricks Day, Easter, Mothers Day…)
Only time will tell what Daffy will choose to remember of her 4th grade year, but I am hopeful that in the end she will reflect on this as being the beginning of her “happily ever after“!
Thanks for the writing prompt that inspired this post, Mama Kat’s Losin It!

Our First {Foster} Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approached, I was really nervous about how Daffy would do. This is not the first Mother’s Day without her biological mother, but the first in our family and I feared this might bring up feelings of loss. I worried for nothing… Daffy was a peach! She snuck in early in the morning and left a home made card by my pillow where I was sleeping, or pretending to anyway. Then, she made me toast with jelly for breakfast (Mickey was making breakfast pizza so the toast was an appetizer of sorts). She even put a cherry on top for a garnish!

For the past 11 years (minus one rain filled flooded day) we have celebrated Mother’s Day by going to a local amusement park. The kids always have a blast and I love it because Moms get in FREE! (Obviously with 5+ kids, its important to be frugal!) Daffy was really excited about our tradition, even sharing at school with her teacher beforehand. Some friends joined us and we piled into 2 cars and headed to the park! The day was PERFECT! The sun was shining brightly enough that we could actually enjoy the water rides. Daffy did her very first upside down roller coaster. And Tink, Goofy & I showed Daffy the magic of “leaning in” on the Tilt-A-Whirl to reach super fast speeds! I honestly couldnt have asked for more.

I love crossing these “firsts” with Daffy… building her history with us… sharing the best parts of our traditions with her… and embracing her into our lives.

Everyone wants these kids…

Our caseworker put us in touch with a former pre-adoptive family [further to be known as Woody, Jessie & Buzz] that Donald and Daffy were placed with 3 years ago. I called Jessie today and we ended up meeting for lunch. What a surreal experience. The more I learn about this case, the more I am convinced that the majority of the trauma and loss that these kids experienced is a direct result of the actions of the state. This turned out to be the SECOND  foster family that wanted to adopt. They never had any closure. The foster parents and children fully expected to continue visits and did not learn they wouldn’t until after they had seen each other for the last time. This was the STATE’S decision, but no one ever explained that to Donald or Daffy. They were left to believe that another family had abandoned them. This disturbs me deeply, but even more so to learn that this family has not moved on. They have maintained their foster care license over the past 3 years simply for the hope that Donald & Daffy would one day be returned them. It was not until yesterday that they learned the children had been placed with us and  they were finally able to begin their grieving process.

Jessie was understandably emotional as she shared her family’s story today. Their story is so similar to ours, they might as well be the same. They started the process in much the same way, went through a long transition, and then watched as Donald became increasingly dangerous to both Daffy and their son, Buzz. In less than a week, they had the police at their home twice as every member of their family was physically attacked. Donald was admitted to a psychiatric facility (the same he went to when he left our home) and then moved to residential care (the same he moved to when he left the hospital in February). The only stark difference is that we were able to keep Daffy in our care this time around.

Hearing their story reminded me how fragile our relationship with the children is. The state can pull the plug at anytime for any reason or no reason at all. As we continued talking, I silently prayed that our “happily ever after” will not follow their path, a path which clearly led to sadness and despair.

We decided to set up a visit for both of our families next week at their house. I am nervous. Daffy seemed cautiously happy that I scheduled this reunion. I am hopeful that rekindling a relationship that was so special to her will be beneficial and not something that triggers her sense of loss and rejection. I wish I had a crystal ball, some way of knowing if this is the right choice, but since I don’t, I am left to trust my heart. My heart tells me that if I were in Jessie’s shoes, I would want to continue a relationship with these beautiful children and that these children deserve all the love they can get after the raw deal they have been dealt.

In unrelated news, we received the results of Daffy’s special education testing today. I was quite pleased to see that she was average, above average or even superior in some areas! This means she will not qualify for an IEP, but if she gets an ADHD diagnosis from her doctor, she may qualify for 504 accommodations. The team did a great job discussing her learning style and some accommodations that would benefit her. I left feeling very please with the outcome. Next, I need to drop off copies to the the doctor’s office for review and then wait for an appointment.