The Birth Family Letters

mailAs I think I’ve shared, Daffy has not seen her birth Mom since July and her birth brother, Donald, since December 2012. We have allowed letters to be exchanged during that time, but of course we open them and read them before giving them to Daffy to be sure nothing questionable is being said. We were instructed to do this by Daffy’s most recent therapist and we agreed it was a good idea. This also allows us a heads up that behaviors may occur as a result of being triggered. The most recent letter arrived last weekend. First, the envelope return address stated “XXXX Family” rather than the usual “Mommy XXXX” that is usually used as the name in the return address. When I read it, I immediately felt pangs for Daffy. I know she will view it as just one more reminder that Donald is back with their Birth Mom and she isn’t.

I opened the envelope to find 4 letters enclosed… one from Donald, one from Birth Mom, one from Birth Mom’s new husband and one from Birth Mom’s older biological daughter (who was taken by the state many years before Daffy was born). Apparently she is 18 now and is living back with her Birth Mom.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the issues in these letters, so let’s just take them one by one:

1. Birth Mom: Birth Mom wrote once again reminding Daffy that she still has her Christmas gifts and will give them to her when she gets to see her. (It was previously discussed by the post adoption unit working with Birth Mom’s family that she would give the gifts to staff to pass on to Daffy, but apparently Birth Mom decided that she would rather have a carrot to dangle in front of Daffy. Sigh. ) She then told Daffy all the things she had received for Valentine’s Day. She went on to say that she bought Donald a 7″ Tablet and a goodie bag for Valentine’s Day and she got coloring books and a goodie bag for her step-daughter. She then pointed out that she got a goodie bag for Daffy and it was with her Christmas things. REALLY???? I do not expect- or even WANT- Birth Mom to buy a tablet for Daffy, but to describe each gift in such detail clearly indicating to Daffy she doesn’t mean as much to her is just plain wrong. At the end, she closed with a PS telling Daffy that her oldest daughter is now living with her and asks if its okay that she wrote a letter. Ummmm, hello? Clearly it’s too late to be asking since you included the letter. She did not provide any further details, but it’s sure looking like a bizarre family reunion over there, one that Daffy is not a part of.

2. Donald: As surprising as it is, Donald’s letter was actually the least offensive of the 4 letters this time. He told her he heard a Hannah Montana song that made him think of her. He called her “sis” a lot (same as last letter when he wrote “I’ve been a bad boy, sis.“) and he drew her a picture of a tree with her name on it.

3. Birth Mom’s New Husband: I’ve never thought of this guy as a bad guy. He has custody of his young elementary school-aged daughter. (Side note: Daffy’s Birth Mom HATES his little girl and has no problem sharing that with anyone who will listen. She resents the fact that she could be allowed to raise this stepchild but not her own biological children, 4 in total, because the court terminated her rights). Anyway, the new husband seems to be fond of Daffy, despite only have met her once or twice in 2008 before Birth Mom’s rights were terminated. So, he wrote a fairly generic letter and then requested Daffy draw him the China Doll they talked about. He them went on to remind Daffy to include the butcher knife in the pictures. WAIT, WHAT? I had to read that part a few times over. Why on God’s green earth would this man ask Daffy to draw a picture of a China Doll with a butcher knife???? I’ve tried to see what I can found out about the Chinas Doll in the Great & Powerful Oz movie but so far not too much luck especially as it relates to a butcher knife. Regardless, I dont think Daffy needs ANY encouragement to draw ANYTHING featuring ANY knives after the incident at school in 2012 and the photos she drew of death last year.

4. Birth Mom’s Older Biological Daughter: Ok, so let me start by saying, when we first learned back in 2011 that Donald and Daffy had 2 older biological sisters that had been removed and ultimately adopted into a neighboring state, we spoke to the kids about them. Neither child had any clue what we were talking about. The workers from the agency we were with were made aware and also spoke to Daffy about the and Daffy still denied having any sisters. On the first visit Daffy had with Birth Mom in 11/2012, Birth Mom brought a photo of these “sisters” and Daffy did not recognize them and said she did not know who they were. Fast forward to receiving these letters. I was shocked to see this letter included. The letter didn’t say a lot other than the fact this 18 year old has now moved back with Birth Mom and is hoping to finish high school. She gave Daffy her phone number and said to call anytime. She said she misses Daffy.

As if the birth family stuff wasn’t already wreaking  havoc in Daffy’s life with the Birth Mom she wants to see, Donald whom she doesn’t want to see, her Birth Mom’s new husband and his daughter of whom she hardly knows, she now has a Birth Sister that she doesn’t remember who wants to be a part of her life. WTF. I really wish Birth Mom would work with me for her to see Daffy without adding this barrage of other people into the mix. Daffy can not handle it right now. She is struggling with daily life. Things like this could easily put her over the edge.

So, my gut said maybe these were letters we should save in a special place until Daffy is older and can deal with everything. Mickey disagreed. He feels like Daffy needs to see the reality (and insanity!) of what is going on at Birth Mom’s house. I relented and he gave her the letters tonight, coincidentally the second night of his two days off.  I’m sure I’ll get to enjoy a spike in behaviors the next few days and into the weekend. Lucky me.

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End of the Road

This is the letter I sent to Donald’s team on Monday:

Dear Team,

With the team meeting coming up Wednesday, I wanted to get some of my thoughts out to you all ahead of time. I understand that my opinion carries very little weight but I can’t in good conscience say nothing. I care very much about what happens to Donald. I want permanency for him just like you all do but after reviewing Donald’s most recently monthly report and all the recent critical incident reports (which have clearly increased since the fall), I am extremely concerned with the current plan moving forward.

Last summer when the team discussed the idea of reintroducing BirthMom into the kid’s lives, there were several comments made that BirthMom would need counseling for months if not years before being ready for face to face visits (rather than just letters or phone calls). Its been less than year and no one has been able to secure counseling for BirthMom. You have asked an extraordinary amount of her with nothing but the HOPE that one day Donald will live with her. You have offered her NO training on how to deal with a foster child and the unique needs of a PSTD/RAD child. You have not assisted her to get the counseling she needs to accept responsibility for her actions leading to the kids coming into care to begin with. Yet you have watched as she moved her grandmother into a home that the division believed was unsafe. You have encouraged her to move away from the only support network she has. You have her jumping through all kinds of hoops yet are giving her NO tools to deal with the very real situation of Donald being transitioned into her life and that of her family.

During the team meeting in July, the team agreed that Donald should not live in a home with pets or any children. The team decided that Donald needed two parents in that home. These were not only for the safety of a potential family but also to avoid Donald being triggered. How has that changed? How will BirthMoms pets be safe? How will stepsister be safe? How will BirthMom be safe when new husband is away at training for 2 months this year?? If you look at Donald’s monthly reports, you will see a severe spike in the number of physical assaults over the past few months (up from 3 per week in July to 24 per week in January). What indicators do you have that his physical assaults will decrease after transition? History tells you that Donald will blow through the glass ceiling upon being placed in a family. His behaviors are confirming that right now. BirthMom does not have a padded room. BirthMom does not have a team of staff with which to “change face”. BirthMom has not been trained in safety holds. How could you possibly expect that she will be able to keep her family OR Donald safe without these tools?

Furthermore, can you be sure that Donald will not harm stepsister? That he will not project his feelings for Daffy onto stepsister? I beg you to read through the reports of the harm that Donald has done to Daffy over the years. I implore you to talk to all previous foster families about the level of rage he had towards his sister. From Daffy’s “accidental overdose of medication” in June 2006 where Donald gave her the medication to kill her, to the Oct 2006 ER visit with the foster family indicating Donald choked and punched his sister, to the day that he tried to drown her in the lake (as reported by Daffy) and the attacks he raged against Daffy while living with the former pre-adoptive family in 2009 and here in 2012. Not to mention the potential sexual abuse issues. Donald’s anger runs very deep and he is dangerous. Do you have measures in place to protect stepsister from this abuse?

I truly believe that BirthMom being a part of Donald’s life is an asset to him. Its obvious that she is willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of his (and Daffy’s) life. She clearly loves him. My concern is that she is being set up to fail and that someone will be seriously hurt as the end result. This is a process that can NOT be rushed simply because Donald reports that is what he wants to have happen. I’m obviously not a social worker so I can’t make any recommendations about how to balance Donald’s needs and the safety of BirthMom and her family, but these safety needs can not be ignored.

If I sound frustrated right now, I am. I have made several of the above points numerous times along the way (and have emails to document). The divisions involvement with this family began in 2002. Its been ELEVEN YEARS with almost no progress for Donald. This is unacceptable. Putting your heads in the sand about the seriousness of this situation will not make it go away.

At this point, I feel I have nothing left to offer the team. I have provided my history with Donald. I have expressed my grave concerns for BirthMom and her family. There is nothing more I can do. As for Daffy’s relationship with Donald, I am working under therapist’s guidance for what is best for Daffy, which happens to align with what was recommended during the conference call last summer. I am letting Daffy guide their relationship. (Donald is also making his own choices in the relationship as well.) I am not forcing Daffy to call or write, although I do suggest it weekly. I am no longer forcing her to have visits. Daffy has a right to work through the anger she has about the abuse she endured at the hand of her brother. I can not place his needs above hers any longer. He has you all to worry about his needs. My focus has to be on Daffy.

Minnie Mouse

Only one member of the team responded (and I swear she is on crack). I am considering whether or not to share that here . I feel comfortable sharing letters *I* have written, but a little more nervous to share something someone else has written due to the sensitive nature of the case and privacy issues.

The team meeting is today. I’m not going. It will mark the first meeting I have missed since we began this journey in October 2011. While I do have quite a bit of guilt about pulling back, there truly is nothing else I can do to advocate for Donald. I did what I could and its cost me a lot. It’s time for the professionals to do what they can for him. The blood will not be on my hands.

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Overwhelmed

It’s been 5 days since Daffy’s birth mom was told about her adoption. It’s been a whirlwind of letters from the birth Mom, emails among the team members and phone calls with the case worker. I am overwhelmed.

When we first considered this concept of open adoption at the beginning of May,  my intentions were to allow letters with twice yearly visits. In the nearly 3 months since this concept was first introduced, it has evolved into something much more. Daffy’s birth Mom has seen Donald twice with another visit scheduled for this week- and while no definitive schedule is set, its looking like weekly visits may become the norm for them. The team has been unable to secure any sort of counseling for the  birth Mom, so to date, she is dealing with this completely on her on. This is a recipe for disaster. This is a woman who has lost 4 kids to the state over the course of her life. This is a woman who has had multiple psych hospitalizations for her own mental illness stabilization. This is a woman who, when evaluated last fall, was classified as someone stuck in the exact moment she last visited her children in 2009, unable to move forward in any way. She has had ZERO help to deal with her own issues, still takes no responsibility for why her children were removed in the first place and yet is expected to rejoin this team as an outsider (with no rights) and be appropriate in all she says and does? Its an impossible task.

One of the things that she wrote to me this week was that while she is happy for this opportunity, she wonders how long it will last. I think that’s a very fair question. This team has severed ties with many connections in the past in very abrupt ways. This team is doing nothing to help or guide her in how to help the kids or how to process all of this herself. One wrong move on her part and they could easily pull the plug again. And that’s just with Donald. Daffy will be adopted in October and the state will no longer have any control over her. Birth Mom doesn’t know us from a hole in the wall and is expected to “trust” our intentions.

This, and the fact the team is considering inviting her to upcoming team meetings, is what prompted me to request a face to face visit with her. I told the team that I feel the birth Mom and I need to establish a relationship before Daffy’s adoption and that I certainly dont want to meet her for the first time at a team meeting. I requested that our case worker and the adoption specialist both attend the meeting to help alleviate the pressure we are both feeling about this first meeting and also be there in case uncomfortable questions come up. They agreed and immediately got to work scheduling the visit. It’s scheduled for August 1st- 4 days away! Aaaaaack!

I have 4 days to prepare to meet the woman who gave birth to Donald and Daffy. That doesn’t feel like much time. In many ways it reminds me of my feelings while preparing to meet Donald and Daffy that first time. What should I wear that will make me look motherly? I don’t want to look “old” but its not a time to be edgy. A little nagging voice is saying I shouldn’t have gotten that drastic hair cut in June. Will she think my short hair is too “hard”? That I couldn’t possibly be loving?  Should I hug her when we first meet? What if I cry? What will she think of me? Will she like me? Will she like Mickey? What if she says something that ticks me off? What if I like her? What if I am not good at being able to establish boundaries from the get go? Have I mentioned lately that I am feeling overwhelmed? lol

Despite my nervousness, I feel that meeting her is definitely in everyone’s best interest. I want to be able to have visits with her and Donald. I want Donald to see us (and the rest of the team) as unified in his best interest and not people that he needs to divide his loyalties between. I know that I need to form a relationship with her to be able to sustain communication between her & Daffy. My fear, though, is that she wants more than Daffy does and that she will be hurt as we go forward.

When she emailed a letter for Daffy (through the caseworker) on Tuesday, the case worker and I questioned a couple of the things she had said, but I made the choice to pass the letter on to Daffy without edits saying that if there were tough discussions to be had, we might as well have them with Daffy now. We have a very open relationship with her in that we talk about everything in a very honest way. I want to continue to foster that openness. Anyway, Daffy checked her email, read the letter and then proceeded to check the rest of her email. She wrote back to Jessie (former foster mom), a friend of mine that emailed her and sent several emails to me. I reminded her that her time on the computer was nearing an end and if she wanted to reply to any other emails to get it done. Nothing. She was not interested in any way in replying to her birth mom.

The next day on the way home from dance camp, she told Mickey “I need to check my email when we get home so I can reply to Mom“… Mickey asked for clarification saying “Mommy or Mom?” and she clarified that she meant ME- Mom. She never did check her email that day, but it was clear that her birth mom was not on her mind.

On Thursday, Daffy and I received another round of emails from her birth mom. I felt, well, overwhelmed by this. The birth mom shared in her email that she checks her email several times per day to see if we have replied. I tried to remind myself that this is all new to her, but I couldn’t help but think she has a different set of expectations about what her role will be than we do. Anyway, I sent her email on to Daffy and then encouraged Daffy to check her email. Daffy did check and replied to all other emails first, but this time decided to write her birth mom back. Her birth mom had mentioned hoping to see her so Daffy and I had a discussion about when she would like to have a visit. At first, she said December, but then she decided Thanksgiving would be better. Daffy, thinking aloud, commented that since we had Thanksgiving here last year (she wasn’t even HERE for it since off site visits hadn’t started yet) that it would be at Mickey’s cousin’s house this year. I confirmed this and she replied “Then I would like to see her the day before Thanksgiving!” She asked me to find the date and wrote in her email response the specific date that she wanted to see her. (I had to laugh because her decision about her adoption date was a similar mental process determining a VERY specific date. Thankfully that all worked out!)

I will be very eager to hear her birth Mom’s reply to this. I think she will be upset that Daffy is not wanting to see her for nearly another four months and I also think she will believe we are behind this very specific date (although clearly we are not). Her feelings are something that I struggle with. By nature, I feel responsible to console her, to say things to reassure her that Daffy thinks of her and loves her. While these things are true, our agency social worker reminded me yesterday, this is not my job. My job is to protect Daffy, to advocate for HER needs and wants. Daffy shows us often through her actions that she is simply not that interested in seeing her birth Mom right now. She is nine years old. She wants to be a kid. She wants to play. She wants to spend time enmeshing herself in her new family and establishing her role as the (adorable) youngest. She wants to test limits… and she wants to grow. She does not want to be saddled by her past on a daily basis. I believe she very much wants a relationship with her birth Mom, but they can not simply pick up where they left off. This needs to be a NEW relationship. This needs to be a SAFE relationship, one that is respectful and one where Daffy has power. She has spent her entire life being powerless and it’s time for HER to have control.

Above all, this is why I will continue to advocate for the team to find some resolution to the therapy issue with the birth mom. She needs support during this process and it simply can not be me. I am eager to meet her Wednesday and start the next part of this journey with her, but my loyalties are and will always remain with Daffy. That may be tough for her to accept but I hope its a decision she will respect in the end.