$#!+ People Say To Foster Parents

Wow, I wish I’d made this. Terrifyingly accurate. Bravo!

 

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$#!+ People Say To Foster Parents

Removed Part Two

Several months ago I wrote about an incredible film, Removed, that obviously resonated with you like it did me, because more than two hundred thousand of you viewed it from this page, and now the creators of Removed have launched a Kickstarter campaign to craft Removed Part Two, and they need your help in creating what they believe will be an even better film than Removed.

I’m excited about this project, and have already made my donation. If just half of the two hundred thirty thousand people who viewed Removed from this blog gave a dollar, the film would already be fully funded and on its way to being made. Please visit their site, donate, and share so they can make another beautiful film. 

From the site:

The truth is, there are so many dimensions of this issue, and the underlying causes and situations are internationally relevant. Domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, abandonment, government custody, adoption, and identity issues that stem from these root cases — these transcend country borders and reach into all of our communities, impacting some of us more than others. Nonetheless it is something needing to be addressed and explored further, and we believe that exploring this further through art, and specifically through film, expands its impact and its reach.

Some of the current focuses within the foster care system are to decrease time spent in foster care, focus on permanency for the child, increase positive relationships between birth parents and foster parents, keep siblings together, and empower birth parents with the tools they need to improve their parenting.

After spending countless hours in research and talking to families from many different places (birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, foster alum, social workers, kinship adoptions, etc), we are eager to give the world another art experience that reveals important truths in a beautiful way.

Please view, donate & share! Thank you!

Removed Part Two

Don’t Mind The Man Behind The Curtain

Though it’s taken me years to learn, I’ve finally figured out that one of the the most vital parts of my kids’ history and their issues is shame. When I really sit and analyze why they have the unhealthy behaviors they have, it always come back to the shame they feel from their early lives. In fact, the turning point for two of my kids was when fabulous therapists helped them progress to the point that they felt comfortable sharing with me something of which they were deeply ashamed and then realizing I wasn’t going to run away and leave them. It turns out that no matter how many times I told them I loved them, no matter how many violent tantrums and running aways I endured, and no matter how many birthdays and Christmases we shared, they were convinced that if I knew the “real” them, I would abandon them on the spot. Six years into this journey, it’s pretty clear to me that little tidbit was the missing puzzle piece that made so much more make sense, and it changed completely how I parent.

So this morning, when I awakened to what is a new and improved social media policy from my state’s department of human services, I was excited. You may wonder what in the world social media has to do with shame, but they actually have quite a lot to do with each other, because one of the most well-intentioned but harmful policies I encountered when I was fostering was my state’s privacy rules for foster kids. To be clear, I suspect my state is like a lot of other states, and I’m guessing most of their policy has to do with federal mandates, so this isn’t a witch hunt. I hope it’s a bit of perspective building and impetus to change the whole system, because when I looked at the new and improved policy, it wasn’t as new and improved as I’d hoped.

In short, the privacy rules for foster parents involve not identifying your foster kids as “foster kids.” The new policy does allow you, finally, to post photos of them online (such as on Facebook), but you still can’t “out” them as foster kids. The intention is to protect the privacy of the kids and of their biological families, which I completely get and respect. However, in reality, this is the foster parent equivalent of Spanx. They seem like a good idea until you’re actually wearing them, and then you feel so ridiculously constricted as to be incapable of functioning in polite society. Here’s how the privacy rule played out for us in reality.

Imagine 30-something, never-married, no biological kids, Caucasian, “know half of Oklahoma City” Shelley and three African-American children are strolling through Target. The three-year-old is in the basket, and the six- and nine-year-old follow behind, chatting and throwing items into the cart. They run into friends Shelley has known five years or so:

Friends: “Hey! Good to see you. What’s up?”

Shelley: “Hey! We, I mean, I, am just shopping for a few things. How are you?”

Friends: “Good. Who are the kids?”

Shelley: “Kids? What kids? Oh, you mean the one here in my cart and the two girls who appear to be hovering near me? They’re, uh, friends of the family.”

Friends: “Friends of the family? Really? Your family? Because you’re single with no children? How are they friends of the family? What are they doing with you?”

Shelley: “Well, yes I am single with no children, and these children’s potential tie to my extended family appears to be ridiculously tenuous at best, but yes, they are friends of the family. I’m just caring for them for an undisclosed amount of time.”

Friends: “Really? Where is their family? How did they decide you would take care of them? Was there no one in their family better suited to care for three children? Because you don’t know how to raise children, having none of your own. The whole things seems a bit odd. Are you sure you didn’t kidnap them? Or, maybe you’ve just lost your mind, and we should have an intervention? Are you on drugs? We’ve not ever known you to be evasive or dishonest. Are you a spy? Are you undercover and these children are somehow involved in a national security concern?”

So, no, that didn’t actually happen. But the reason it didn’t happen is because I broke the rules. I always introduced my kids (no last names) to friends and family and was very proud that they were in my home. I wanted them to be proud that they were part of a system that was meant to care for them until their biological parents could care for them once more or until adoptive parents came along. I was proud to be a foster parent.

Sadly, what the privacy rule really does is a few really negative things:

  • Helps kids to feel more shame. What’s intended to protect them actually makes them feel that they’re part of a system of which no one is supposed to admit being a part. They also suspect that their biological parents must be terrible people if they did something that got the kids into a system about which no one is allowed to talk. And, what they feel about their biological parents translates to how they feel about themselves.
  • Helps kids to learn that lying is justified. When I told my kids what I was writing about today, each one of them said individually, “But that’s a big lie, and it would make me feel weird.”
  • Adds to the already plentiful pile of shameful secrets these kids have been asked to keep.

So, while I applaud the improvements in the privacy rules for foster care, I think we have a long way to go. By sharing my kids and their story (always in a way that did not endanger them or disclose who their biological parents were) with friends and family, I helped raise awareness for the needs of foster kids and the issues that contribute to kids going into the foster care system. I also gained a much-needed village of support that has come in remarkably handy over the last few years, because every foster parent needs a village. My kids felt welcomed and loved by a much larger group than just me, and they knew that they were part of something that was intended to care for and “foster” them onto the next stage – not something they should be ashamed of. They didn’t feel like second class citizens or less than.

Moving forward my hope is that we can move away from the “don’t mind the man behind the curtain” philosophy of foster care and just acknowledge that sometimes parents aren’t able to parent. Rather than demonizing those parents, we should acknowledge that they need supports. The whole process should be more transparent, far less medieval, more supportive, and more positive for everyone involved. I think we’re definitely moving in that direction, but not as fast as I, other parents, and I suspect a lot of professionals in the system might hope. Until we do, we’re part of the problem, not the solution, for a growing number of foster children in the US.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Mind The Man Behind The Curtain

To Look After Orphans

Several years ago I began hearing this over and over again – “I can’t believe you don’t know Michelle Kelley!” I heard it so many times, I finally said, “Would someone please introduce me to this Michelle Kelley person?” So, we met via Facebook, and we’ve been soul sisters ever since. At the time we both lived in Oklahoma City. (I’m in Tulsa, now.) We were both foster/adoptive moms. (She adopted two biological siblings, I have three.) We were both unmarried when we adopted. (She is still. I am again.) We’re both determined, professional women who are well-respected in the business community. We’re both outspoken when necessary. However, when it comes to politics and religion (the biggies!) we’re opposites sides of the same foster/adoptive parent coin. While I am a Buddhist-leaning Unitarian, Michelle is a Christian (as is most of the population of our home state of Oklahoma, by the way). And, while I’m a Democrat, Michelle is a Republican. In spite of this, we agree on an amazing array of ideas and goals, and when we disagree we do so respectfully. This arrangement makes as un excellent tag team on legislative issues regarding foster/adoption, and we’ve actually visited our state Capitol together for this reason.

This morning I awoke to a powerful Facebook post from Michelle that I’ve reposted here. If it resonates with you, and if you think Michelle is as fabulous as I believe her to be, please let her know in the comments below. It takes a village to do what she and I (and lots of other parents from lots of other political/religious/ethnic/sexual orientations do.) We need your support.

To those who call themselves Christian in my FB feed: I rarely get very preachy in my FB posts, but I can’t seem to help this. Tons of you have been sending me the short film “Removed,” because you are touched by the contents of the foster child’s perspective. The film, although an accurate reflection, does not hold a candle to holding your child while she describes being tied to a toilet or punched in the stomach. What I am most concerned about though, is not the film, but the lack of understanding by my sisters and brothers in Christ, of our responsibility, our calling to those who cannot help themselves.

In the last four years, our family has been met with disdain, my kids told to their face that they were not going to have a good life because they weren’t going to have a Dad. I was told that I was doing my children a disservice, because I couldn’t provide a father, nor could I be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been called a narcissist, because I refused to allow unhealthy emotional behaviors shatter the peace that we have created in our family. All in the name of Christ.

Thankfully, Jesus reveals himself to me and my kids. We are incredibly grateful for the scores and scores of Christians and non-Christians who support us. Every foster child needs scores and scores of people to play different roles to help them be who God intended them to be – not just foster parents, but therapists, counselors, teachers, daycare workers, doctors, lobbyists, social workers, legislators VOTERS, etc. There is NO excuse not to be involved in some way. If you’re waiting to be called, then check your bible. James 1:27 reads “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I’m not a theologian, but it seems pretty straightforward to me.

My point is, as a whole, we are getting it wrong. If you are confused on what should outrage you and get your back up about your spiritual beliefs, this “A Handy Guide to Christian Outrage” article is a good start.

Sermon over.

To Look After Orphans

New Facebook page

So many of you have kindly followed this blog and reached out to me on Facebook, that I created a new Facebook page just for those who are interested in becoming foster/adoptive parents or are interested in advocating for foster/adoption and mental health care.  I’ll share shorter and more frequent posts there about our daily lives and about advocacy efforts. Please click here to go to the new Facebook page and tell me what you’d like me to post about. Thank you!

New Facebook page

ReMoved

UPDATE: The makers of this lovely film are making Removed Part Two and need your help in getting it funded. Please view, donate & share!

I woke up this morning to this lovely short film in my inbox. A sweet friend, who has devoted her professional life to therapeutic foster care issues, sent it along with the words, “Shelley: for those days you wonder ‘why’.”

I’m unsure of how the makers of this film so completely understand the path of a foster child, but I suspect at least one of them has shared the path of this little girl. This film is especially poignant for me, because my children came to me one at a time, which will resonate once you’ve seen the film. Please view and share. My heart is full of tears and love for these artists.

ReMoved

Merry, Merry!

This time last year, my now 11-year-old was in the midst of a meltdown that would land her a few days later in the Reactive Attachment Disorder unit at our local psychiatric hospital, where she would stay until August. So, this year, thanks to remarkable therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, family, friends and people we don’t even know who have supported us through caring posts, we have made it to Christmas Eve with barely a hitch. I’m so proud of my kids. They’ve worked so hard to be emotionally healthy this year. They’ve joined in our December family morning mantra without complaining, “I am worthy. I am loved. Christmas is what I make it,” and have shown remarkable empathy and patience for each other. Though they will manage the heartache that comes with Christmas for the entirety of their lives, they are not letting it define them. My 11-year-old is currently sashaying around the house to the festive sounds of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and soon she’ll join me in the kitchen for even more holiday baking.

This year, in honor of all the hard work everyone had done to be emotionally healthy, we decided to do something a little different with our Christmas card. The kids and I decided they should pose like sad, little rich children out of a Wes Anderson film just to show our friends and family how seriously we take ourselves. The card was such a bit hit, I thought we’d share the photos here. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog and helps to keep me sane throughout the year. Merry Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) to you and yours!

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Merry, Merry!

As Good As It Gets

Usually when I write, I try to come up with some kind of lesson, something I’m supposed to learn, some bigger picture reason for why things happen the way they happen. Today, though, I’m just amazingly angry.

I just left T, my 10-year-old, at inpatient psychiatric care for the second time since November. It’s her third stay – the first one was a little over a year ago. She arrived at psychiatric care via a police patrol car. The same incredibly kind police officer who showed up at our house last Tuesday (five days ago) called me after she heard our address on her radio today and said “I’m on my way. I heard dispatch give your address, and I said “I know that kid.” I’m coming over.” By the time she arrived, I was drenched in sweat, shaking, afraid I might be having a heart attack, and pushing with all the strength I had left in my legs to keep our attic door closed as T threw her weight against it from the other side, as she screamed and yelled to be let out and kicked holes in it. She hurled her tiny little 10-year-old body like a weapon against the years of abuse and neglect that she suffered and can’t escape, though she’s been safe, loved and cared for for almost four years.

That’s where I find myself more and more lately. Sweating, exhausted, terrified and praying to God that my daughter doesn’t get out of wherever I’ve been lucky enough to trap her and accidentally break her neck or throw herself into the covered pool and drown. For years she would at least stay in her room while she was raging, which provided some level of safety. But over the last few months, she leaves her room, roams the house, the yard and our neighborhood if I don’t physically restrain her, which is getting harder and harder. Last Tuesday, with both my husband and I home, she managed to throw her closet door down the stairs, nearly falling down with it, then get out the back door, narrowly miss falling into the covered pool, out the gate, and run down the street wailing hysterically and tearing off her clothes. My husband and I stood in the driveway, knowing if we chased after her it would only get worse. So, we stood, feeling hopeless, doing nothing, hoping the police arrived soon.

So, here’s where I have to ask, how in the hell is this as good as it gets for mentally ill children in this country? I read with both horror and relief  “Thinking the Unthinkable” by the Anarchist Soccer Mom where she writes “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” and I thought, “yeah, that’s me. Is my kid the next one on the national news?”And I know a lot of other parents who are thinking the same thing.

My husband and I both have advanced degrees, we make what is an upper income for the state in which we live, we’re resourceful, and I’m assertive to the point that I’m sure I’ve been called a b*tch more than once. I’ve got a great supportive network, including a wonderful extended family, and I’ve read every book I can find on Reactive Attachment Disorder (her diagnosis). She has therapy weekly, takes medication, sees a good psychiatrist, and is on the waiting list for the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) unit in our community. Though the RAD unit has a good reputation, there aren’t very many beds, and the stay there is a minimum of 6 months, so the beds don’t open up often.

There’s not much written about her diagnosis – in fact if you read attachment texts it’s generally not covered. My kids’ therapist has asked to write his doctoral thesis on our family, because both of my girls have RAD diagnoses, and in his words “are not burning down our house nor stabbing us to death in our sleep,” so we must be doing something right. So, basically, I’m the Mrs. Cleaver of the RAD set. I’m the Mrs. Cleaver, and I still can’t help my kid. I’m doing every damn thing I can think of, and I still can not help my kid.

In ten days, the psychiatric hospital will likely send T home, because she will no longer be “acute,” – no longer a danger to herself nor others. T can do 10 days in a psych ward like it’s Six Flags. She won’t show any of her defiance. She’ll be a super sweet kiddo, because she’s smart and she knows how the system works, and she wants to be in control. In foster/adoptive circles, we call this the honeymoon. If she didn’t have a RAD diagnosis, she’d be stepped down into residential care once she was no longer acute. But, because she has a RAD diagnosis, the hospital will send her home, because they know they can’t help her in the 90 days or so they could keep her and actually get paid. They know she needs the RAD unit (6 months to 2 years). So, they’ll send her home, and she’ll continue to have rages that require police intervention once a week, with no end in site, and it will traumatize my two other already traumatized children and stress my marriage and slowly but surely destroy our family. And, the best I can hope for is that she doesn’t hurt anyone else. And, this is as good as it gets.

As Good As It Gets

Shadow Mountain

For all you very kind people who have been asking about my middle kiddo, T, here’s an update:

Eight days ago, T, my 10-year-old who I have fostered, then adopted, for the last 3 1/2 years, was taken by several Tulsa Police Department officers to Shadow Mountain for inpatient psychiatric care. Many of you may wonder, “How can a sweet girl who is making As and got elected to Student Council have to be strapped to a gurney in a psychotic state and taken to a psych hospital?” The answer is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which both of my girls have been diagnosed with.  Basically, it occurs when a child doesn’t form healthy attachments as an infant. Combine that with all that results from years of neglect and abuse (even in foster care), and you also get PSTD. She’s also been diagnosed with ADHD (potentially caused by in utero exposure to cocaine) as well.

So, last weekend, we had a really good weekend. My mom came to visit, and we talked about Christmas lists and generally just hung out. Good weekends make my kiddos nervous, because they begin to feel close to me (attached), and their fight or flight kicks in, because they consider that attachment a threat. In addition, I accidentally uncovered a stash of food T had been hoarding (another symptom), which embarrassed her (it’s a little like being seen naked), and that combined with the good weekend triggered her into a rage. Often, she can calm herself, but on this day she took it to a new level and after throwing most of her room down the stairs , bashing her head into the wall repeatedly, and trying to make a run for it down the street while tearing off her clothes I called our local police department and my husband for help, because I couldn’t transport her alone. So, she’s been there for eight days, and I was hoping she would be transferred to the RAD unit, which is one of the few that exists, but they have no available beds. And, since she’s RAD, they know they won’t be able to help her in the short time she’d be allowed to stay in residential care (three months or so), Consequently, they’ll boot her so they can accept other kids who can actually be helped in residential care. So, she’s likely coming home this week, and then we just have to wait for a bed to open up on the RAD unit.When she goes into the RAD unit, she’ll be there for a minimum of three months, but likely more like 6 to 12 months. I’m hoping losing my kiddo for 6 to 12 months will result in her never having to be institutionalized again, but it’s not a guarantee. So, because you’re all kind and wonderful, you’ll ask what can you do. Here’s what you can do – Pay attention to who you elect and hold them accountable for funding programs that help the mentally ill, help people get job skills, and provide a functioning foster care system. If you think of these things as handouts or entitlements, consider the economic impact of my kiddo’s bio mother – only one Oklahoman who was affected by mental illness (including drug & alcohol addiction), teen pregnancy, generational poverty, and lack of job skills. She has cost the State of Oklahoma hundreds of thousands of dollars if not a million or more just in the amount of money she has been paid in social services benefits, that has been paid for her to be incarcerated, that has been paid to me and other foster/adoptive parents for caring for her kids, and for my children’s weekly therapy visits, psychiatric visits, medication, and inpatient psychiatric stays (which taxpayers pay for).

This is complicated stuff, and you can’t look at it in a simplistic way. Not funding social programs results in more money paid by all of us, and tremendous trauma for kiddos like mine. And, there are thousands of kiddos like mine in the state of Oklahoma. So, think of the impact you, your family, your place of worship, or your civic group could do by standing up for Oklahoma’s kids and ensuring that Oklahoma funds its social programs adequately. I can’t think of a better return on investment. Unless you’d like to build even more prisons to put the next few generations in, because that’s where they’re headed. End o’ diatribe.

Shadow Mountain

Library Books

Tonight, as I was tucking in my kiddos, my 8-year-old proudly showed me her “libary” books.  I said your “what” books?  She giggled and said “library books,” smiling broadly.  I joked with her that if she left the “r” out often enough, the “r” might get its feeling hurt, go away and never come back.  Then “rivers” would be “ivers” and “roses” would be “oses,” and it would be all her fault!  She added “rainbows” would be “ainbows” and then randomly, but thoughtfully, moved on to all the words that would be different if “p” got its feelings hurt and ran off.

It was a fun game, but fun wasn’t the point.  The point was to use humor and creative fun to get us past the sticky situation we face every day, which is that my kids struggle to speak “properly.”

When my oldest adoptive daughter came to me as a then 9-year-old African-American foster child, I remember correcting her pronunciation of “library” the first time. Being a white, educated, 40-year-old woman, correcting her pronunciation was an obvious thing to do, and I didn’t give it a second thought.

For her, it was an affront.  She snapped her head around and said, “it’s libary, not library.”  I explained that it was indeed “library” with an “r” and breezily assured her that it was okay that she was learning the correct pronunciation because everyone had to at one point or another.   She glared at me with a look that only she has and said “that’s how my mom says it.  And, that’s how my auntie says it. It’s libary.

Consequently what was a simple correction of pronunciation for me became an insult to her family and to her culture, and that’s not easy to come back from, especially when you’ve not yet built trust with a child.  I let it go, having no clue how to proceed, and we continued to run our errands

Within about ten minutes a fellow shopper caught my eye.  She was 10 years older than me and African-American.  As she was walking past us, I said “Excuse me, ma’am.  Could you explain to my daughter how you pronounce the place where one checks out books?”  She stared at me for a split second before she understood what I was asking and then calmly looked at my then foster daughter and said. “Yes.  It’s the library.”  My daughter proceeded to argue with her that it was in fact the “libary” sans the “r.”  And this total stranger calmly explained to her, “No, honey.  It’s “library” with an “r.”  That’s how you say it.  “Library.”  I thanked her as she walked away.  Thank God for total strangers.

That was the beginning of what has been a nearly three year struggle for my kiddos, and one that will likely last their lifetimes.   It may seem small, but for them it’s about far more than a few dropped letters or slang words.  At times they’ve yelled “I don’t want to talk white!” or “I want to talk like my mama!” Eventually, with help from their biological great-aunt, they began to relent and relax a bit.  She graciously explained that people judged her for the way she spoke, and she wanted something better for them.  She helped them understand they weren’t abandoning their biological family by changing their speech, and her words reassured them and gave them permission to grow, learn and change. And, now their speech is greatly improved, although they still struggle with some problem words like “library.”

However, every time I correct their speech, I’m reminded of the dual worlds my children will always balance between, and a small part of me thinks I’m chipping away at them a bit, oppressing some part of their soul that’s tied to a world I can never give them and that may never again be fully within their grasp.  And, my world becomes grayer and grayer.  It’s a world where “proper” doesn’t ring quite as true as it once did.

Library Books