adoption, family

No End in Sight

Parenting, like marriage, is an odd thing in its cyclical nature. There isn’t an obvious beginning, middle, or end. Relationships have ups and downs and even times where things seem “perfect.” Perfection isn’t really a human quality, though. If we are waiting for a lasting time of happy stasis, we will wait forever.

Trauma is like this, too. There is usually a beginning, to be sure. The trauma of my back injury began with a loud “pop” at work. Two surgeries later and there is still no end in sight. In all likelihood this will stay with me forever. The goal is simply to manage the symptoms and live most days in semi-comfort.

With developmental trauma, the beginning is fuzzy. It often starts before explicit memories do, even before verbalization. I suppose the middle stretches on forever. It could be the middle of experiencing the actual trauma. It could be the middle of experiencing the trauma symptoms. Of course, there isn’t really an end.

Trauma symptoms can subside, or go dormant. However, in times of stress, they rise up again like stubborn zombies, devouring everything in their paths. Right now Carl’s trauma symptoms are on the upswing. It’s springtime, which is always difficult for him. He isn’t sleeping through the night. He’s yelling, slamming doors, and occasionally breaking things in his room. He avoids any mention of his sister Mary. He avoids participating in his once per week therapy session. We’ve decided to send him to intensive outpatient treatment after school. There, he can practice coping skills and participate in group therapy for a few weeks.

Marcus is struggling, too. He avoids talking about his adoption, largely avoids the family, and has mysteriously missed his last two therapy sessions.  He’s spent most of his time (and money) smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, and hiding in his nonfunctional car. He bought a cool-looking, electric-blue coupe about as old as I am. It doesn’t run for more than 5 minutes, but it has a satisfyingly (to him!) loud muffler. He religiously revs his engine until failure several times per day. Things he is NOT doing include daily chores, going to therapy or paying for gas when he drives my car. Imagine his surprise when his car privileges were revoked until he fills the car…

I like to think Mary is healing. She does get to stay at her amazing RTC school, and that’s fantastic. She’s just at the beginning of her therapeutic journey there. She is still aggressively violent, but not as much as at the last facility.  She’s also on the downslope of her mood cycling. The good part is that they know what to do when her cycle revs up again. We are all in good hands with them.

So where does this leave Luke and I? We are finding the in-between places. The times where we can be alone together and relish all the good parts of “us.” It leaves snuggles and kisses and whispers long into the night. It also leaves us stuck somewhere in thought. We are stuck thinking about the girl we left behind all those years ago. The first girl we ever wanted to adopt: J.

She pops up in conversation with my parents. She pops up in whispered conversations long after we should have been sleeping. She pops into thought as I’m watching a school production of “The Lion King,” because she would have been the star. We haven’t stopped thinking about her yet. And there is no end in sight…

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

All the Children We Left Behind

Sometimes I get caught up thinking about the children we left behind. The ones we did not take. The ones we didn’t have.

Almost nine years ago, I was a Kindergarten teacher. Luke and I always wanted to adopt, we just didn’t know which adoption path we’d choose. Our marriage was only about a year old and we were enjoying the kid-free time.

There was a girl in my class who was so very special to me. J had an incredible singing voice, a ridiculously large vocabulary, and a penitent for unexpected and unexplainable temper tantrums. At the time, I didn’t really know much about trauma. I just knew that J was a great kid going through something awful.

Due to a horrific home situation, which I won’t describe, my colleagues and I made multiple reports to child services. They were involved with the family but refused to acknowledge what was happening there. J and her siblings were finally taken into care in the spring, after months of significant abuse. At last, they were safe. Was it a happy ending? Far from it.

The rest of that school year, and the beginning of the next, were terrible for J. She was physically safe but emotionally bleeding out. She started in a group home setting. During her first grade year the teacher couldn’t handle her so she came back into my class as a “helper.” I had her for about another month until a spot in the specialized behavior program opened up.

Luke and I wanted to take her. We wanted to foster J until she could be returned to her family safely. In all reality, we wanted to adopt her. But we weren’t foster parents. We lived in an apartment. We didn’t know if we could help her…and so on.

She begged us to take her home. “We could just sit on the couch and watch a nice movie. I could sit in the middle and hold the popcorn,” she said.

Luke used to visit me at the school every week. He was an EMT for the city I was working in and we lived down the road from the school. He knew all of my students. We both knew how special J was.

We didn’t see her again after those two years. She did change our lives, though. Because of J, Luke and I decided to become foster parents. We’ve always talked about her through the years. Eventually we adopted our children through the system. I should say that we didn’t see J again…until now.

I stumbled upon her accidentally. She’s listed on a site for older, adoptable children who are still in the foster care system. She’s not with her siblings. Shes not back with her mom. She’s not with an adoptive family. She’s a young teenager in the system. Alone.

To be sure, we are very happy being parents to the children we have. This has been a wild and crazy parenting journey but it’s our journey. It’s worth every difficult trauma-related parenting experience we’ve had.

Now that we are seasoned trauma parents I have a better understanding of J’s behaviors all those years ago. It’s helped us parent Mary, who is in RTC to get treatment. Our other kids are healing the best they can and we are truly parenting the best we can. It’s hard. Our house is crazy and loud and filled to the brim with people. It can be absolutely exhausting and impossible at times. It’s also amazing. We aren’t licensed as foster parents with the state anymore.

And all this time J has still been there. Waiting for her forever family.

I just can’t help thinking about the other kids. There was a baby we chose not to take. Our children have a younger sister who was born into the foster care system. She was able to be adopted by the family who fostered her from birth. At least, that’s what we think happened. It was best for the baby.

Sean moved on (and is presumably still moving around) to other foster homes. This was the best thing for everyone, although it was hard to see at the time.

We never did have that biological baby. Sometimes I still get a pang watching parents with an infant in public. But then I remember all the sleepless nights when the kids first came home. I think it’s for the best we didn’t go that route.

Looking at J on this website is different. Is it for the best that we didn’t take her? I can’t stop thinking about her. I just can’t.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption

Where Do All the Foster Teens Go?

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Sean, at 13, playing with Mary in a pile of packing popcorn.

The month of March leaves me thinking about our former foster son, Sean. He turned 16 a few days ago. We received a copy of the latest foster review for him and the youngest sibling of our children. I assume it was sent to us by mistake, as our 2 have already been adopted. In the review it mentioned all of the things we tried to tell DCF, although they wouldn’t listen. He ran away, was hospitalized for suicidal ideations. I still worry for him.

The worst part was that his reunification had failed. Now his goal is “independent living” rather than reunification. Apparently, Sean had disrupted from his biological father’s home with police called for the fight they had. I had been so hopeful that the reunification would work out for both of them.

I heard from the siblings’ former foster mom (our kids call her “Grandma”) that he contacted her and requested to move back in. She is still a huge part of all of our lives, and our kids visit her for weekends sometimes. She wasn’t able to take Sean back. She had other children in the home and he had already made an abuse allegation once about her (just like us) years ago. That was right before leaving to come to our home for adoption with his siblings

His worker told her they had nowhere to put him and he had been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) In the end, Grandma just couldn’t take the risk. This is all information I got through Grandma, I haven’t heard from him. I thought we might get a phone call, too, but we never did. We probably won’t because he and Marcus are estranged, and we maintain a relationship with Marcus.

So where is Sean now? Staying with a friend’s family who must have agreed to take the foster parent classes in order to have him there? I wish I knew for sure. He is so charming. It’s so easy to get drawn in. I wonder how they will feel about “saving him,” (as he so often said to me) in a year or so. The report stated that this is the first place he has lived that he didn’t feel like he was a “foster kid.” I can’t lie, that one stung.

But still, in all honesty, I just want him to be happy. I want him to be OK. And I really, really, want him to learn to love deeply. I think everyone in this world needs at least one person they can truly count on. The more people you can trust, the bigger your safety net is, should you ever fall. I hope he allows himself to be loved. I wonder often if he is still “shopping” for the best deal he can get with a family. How I wish he had let us adopt him.

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Luke, at 14, with Sean and Carl at our favorite Hibachi grill.

I thought about this as I called my own mother. She was taking me to my neurosurgeon’s appointment. I was scared about getting the results of some recent blood work. There is a fair possibility that my body may be rejecting the titanium implant in my spine. I was so nervous, I asked if my step dad could come too. It always makes me feel better when both of my parents are there. At 35, I still need a mom and dad. And I have them. I’m lucky.

What about the all the other teens in foster care? The ones who never got therapy? The ones with a failed reunification? The ones who just don’t know how to trust in love? Where do they all go? Do they ever stay?

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Sean being his funny, silly, self.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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Who Will Love Your Boogers? :Waiting For Permanency

“Will you still love me if I’m annoying? What about if I smelled bad?” This is from 8-year-old Mary. She is staring at me intently as we play the “Would you still love me” game. The point of the game is to show her that, yes, moms love their babies even “if”…

Some other questions that have come up with our chickens include;

“Why do we have a bedtime?”

“Why don’t you guys hit each other?”

“Why don’t you guys get drunk?”

“Why do you care if we get hurt?”

And the clincher, “Do you really love us or are you just lying?”

It’s simply too much time in the system. Too much time in the in-between places. Too much time without a family. Mary and Carl are learning about what a family means. They are learning about how a healthy family functions, and how to be a part of that. For Carl, it can be more difficult. He has had more placements. He has experienced moving homes due to his own behaviors being unsafe for other children in the home.

The clincher question is always Carl’s question. he really wants to know if we are lying about loving him. Despite my reassurances that I love him, he doubts this concept.”I even love your boogers! I love your stinky farts!” I proclaim. He collapses in giggles, but still, that doubt remains.

The little chickens are learning. They are beginning to trust in the concept of a “forever home.” Even Carl and his boogers. His many, many boogers that all end up in the shower for some reason! He has had rages in our home. He has been unsafe. But he is still here. Sometimes it’s a bit of a trial by fire because he will try and do this to sabotage his own placement or sabotage our love for him. It never works. We love him still.

The teen boys were not so lucky. The Littles are home with us. Forever. The teens are still in the system. Marcus came into care at age 13. He is now 18 years old. He has gone through 6 placements, including a stint in Juvenile Hall. He has learned to rotate in and out of peoples lives. He has learned to survive in “the system.” He has not learned enough about being in a family unit. He ultimately did not want to be in our family unit. Sometimes foster care only teaches teens about how to be in foster care. We still have contact with him, but it’s sporadic. My hope is that he always knows he has a place to go, people to turn to, if he needs us.

Sean, at 14, is not functioning so well. He too, did not wish to remain with our family. He’s now “in the wind,” after running away from his current placement. The department hasn’t done much for him. In all honesty, a government agency is not equipped to raise a child. Sean has been plagued with medical concerns as well as mental health concerns. When he chose to leave our family, and take his chances in foster care, he left behind his only advocates. Even if he were so inclined to complain about a complete lack of medical care for his asthma, it’s unlikely his concerns would be heard. He hasn’t had any therapy since leaving our home.

Since going into his current foster home, he has exhibited the same “behavioral problems” he had with us (a term used by the department.) The thing is, he is a 14-year-old boy. These aren’t his “behaviors” so much as they are his survival skills. He refuses to leave his bedroom and go to school. He refuses to shower. He doesn’t sleep at night. Probably, no one is loving his boogers.

In my opinion, he’s scared.  In my opinion, he’s only a boy.  In the opinion of the department, he is obstinate and “non-compliant.” All of the siblings have been scared of the shower, scared to go to school, and scared of the nighttime. He needs understanding and unconditional love. Unfortunately for Sean, unconditional love was the one thing he didn’t understand, the one thing he couldn’t get used to.

When he left our home, he was requesting to live with his biological father. After 4 years, bio-dad’s rights had not been terminated. The Department of Children and Families had something called “permanent guardianship” of Sean. When Sean became adamant about going to his biological father, we supported it. Although there is a long history of concerns with this man, none of them appeared to pose a direct threat to Sean. Also, Sean was 14 and this was his biological parent! If reunification was possible, if that’s what Sean wanted, we should absolutely support it. Right? At the very least, we shouldn’t stand in his way.

The lengths that Sean went to in order to sever ties with our family still astound me. We would’ve always supported his choices. He just didn’t know how to tell us what he wanted. The only skills he has learned in his 4 (now 5) years in foster care amount to manipulating the system in order to meet his needs. Who could blame him? He is surviving.He is the product of the “system.”

Now, his biological father has done something unknown to get into trouble, again. All we know is that the visits were stopped and the reunification process halted. The social worker didn’t even tell Sean. Being part of this system means never having access to the details that affect your life. His new foster mother was put in the position of telling him that the process had been stopped, visits were over, and she had no idea why. As far as plans for permanency for Sean? Now the department has none.

It isn’t OK that he tantrumed at his foster mom for a week. I’m not excusing the fights he had with Marcus in her home. It isn’t OK that he ran away and has been missing for 2 weeks, only communicating with his older biological sisters. It isn’t OK, but it isn’t surprising, either.

4 years? 5 years for the teens? It’s too long. I’m not sure what the answer is. In an ideal world, biological parents would get services and support. They would reunify quickly. In an ideal world, if this wasn’t possible, kinship placements would be found quickly. In an ideal world, even is this wasn’t possible, an adoptive home would be found quickly. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where 5 years go by and no decisions about permanency are made. We live in a world where childhoods are too often lost to a large bureaucracy. We live in a world where teenagers are too often lost to repeat this cycle of trauma and broken families.

All I can do is hold the little ones tight and count my blessings. All I can do is hope that Sean’s biological father can overcome whatever he is facing and parent this child. Because Sean needs a parent. Every child needs a parent. A government agency cannot be a parent. After all, what government agency would ever love a child’s boogers?

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

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