Today, I had every foster/adoptive parent’s nightmare – getting a visit from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, because I had been accused of child abuse. Someone called the child abuse hotline to say that there was a child in my home in handcuffs and shackles. What they didn’t explain to the child abuse hotline was that child was being escorted by two police officers to one of three waiting police cruisers. She was being escorted to a local psychiatric facility, because she was out of control. I’m not sure how the caller missed the two police officers on either side of my daughter, or the cruisers with their flashing lights, but he or she certainly didn’t provide that very valuable context to OKDHS. So, when the ladies arrived, I explained what had happened – that I’d just arrived home with my daughter. They are required by law to fully investigate complaints (for which I’m very thankful), so they proceeded with their questions. I explained my kids’ history, gave vital statistics, and showed them that my kids all had beds and that there was food in the refrigerator and pantry. Then, they interviewed my kids, which they’re required to do. I had already invited all three kids into the front room to laughingly explain what had happened, in hopes that it would transparently lighten the mood for them. Because what was truly terrifying me about the visit was not what would happen to me, but what it would do to my children on a day when they’d already been seriously traumatized. My kids were removed from their biological parent’s home a day or two after Christmas about seven years ago. They were eventually split up into different homes, spent time in shelters, and sometimes with abusive foster children and with abusive foster parents. So, the very last thing my kids needed was the threat of being removed from me and my home. The very last thing.
The ladies were incredibly compassionate and gentle in their questions. They reassured the kids they could see the kids were well cared for, and the interviews were something they just had to do. So, all three of the kids answered very basic questions about whether they were attending school, if they had enough food, and other mundane things that I’ve honestly forgotten. I offered them coffee, apologized for my messy house, and then they were gone.
We’ve obviously had a tough day today. I’ve written several times about my middle daughter’s issues, and today’s were no different. Violent fit; police called; handcuffs and shackles; waiting for the third cruiser with the cage to arrive so she doesn’t kick out the glass in the cruiser; as soon as I’m out of her sight she calms down; arrive at hospital. What was especially frustrating about today was that there were no beds in our entire county for my daughter. I had already called the three hospitals who provide psychiatric care for juveniles, and none of them had beds. I called COPES and learned that they’re not mobile on the weekends. Eventually, I was told what psychiatric hospital was doing the “rotation,” this weekend, which means they are responsible for figuring out what to do with my daughter, whether they have a bed available or not, and we went there. While there, my daughter calmed, and she and I had a come-to-Jesus meeting, where I explained she can’t ignore her coping skills and throw fits once a week, or she’s going back to the psychiatric facility. She’s twelve and African-American. I’m terrified that if I don’t help her manage her anger now, one day she’ll have a violent rage at school or on the job, and someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening will shoot her dead. I’m hoping that our talk today is enough to help her make good choices, because I wasn’t sending her to another county an hour and forty-five minutes away, which likely would have been my only option. I didn’t complete papers to have her evaluated, because once I did, she would have been in the system, and I wouldn’t have had any control over where she went. It may have been a very poor decision, or a very good one – my parenting life is a constant tightrope. Our life is a circus without a safety net.
The tightrope that I and every other foster/adoptive parent walk is maddening, and one of the reasons I write this blog. I have friends who have been told by psychiatrists that their adoptive children cannot come home from inpatient psychiatric care, because they will be a threat to the other children in the home. But if adoptive parents relinquish rights to their adoptive kids, even in dire circumstances like those I just described, they will owe a substantial amount of child support to the State of Oklahoma until the child turns 18. What kind of option is that for a family? Last year when my oldest daughter was living in our garage (yes, our garage), I was threatened by an intake worker at a psychiatric hospital with a call to OKDHS. That was while I was trying to get help for my daughter who had just created a blaze at our house that required a couple of fire trucks to extinguish. Parents of “normal” children are likely cringing as they read this but when your kid is communicating online with strange men about all the sex acts she’s going to perform on them, and she won’t give up the stolen cell phone she’s using to stay online, then guess what – the garage is a nice alternative to being kidnapped into sexual slavery. It’s warm, dry and safe. It’s just not terribly comfortable, and it’s a pretty serious clue that your mom is going to stubbornly keep you safe from yourself and your incredibly self-defeating behavior. And, it worked ultimately. These are the kinds of creative parenting techniques that parents like me have to come up with every day, and if your world is not quite as gray or complex as mine, then that might look like abuse. Unfortunately, once someone like me has made the decision to adopt, there are very few resources, and lots of living between a rock and a hard place. Our state has a massive effort currently to recruit more foster parents for the 11,000 that are currently in care, but there are no additional resources for those parents. You’re just on your own. And, I’m ridiculously stubborn and resourceful. Consider all the foster/adoptive parents who are not.
After the kind ladies from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services left, the kids and I went to one of our favorite little breakfast places, because we were all worn out and starving. My kids ordered for themselves, then me. Then the very sweet waitress stopped writing, looked right at me, and said, “You have the most polite kids. I could wait on them all day long.” I thanked her and let her know, without sharing details, that we’d had a really tough day and that her words meant more than she knew. And then, the world’s most badass children and I proceeded to make our very own very good day.