This week has been a major blow to our family. Joan, the child we had living with us through a kinship arrangement, was sent to a group home at her court date on Wednesday.
We had an inkling this was coming. She has run away three times and thinks that we’re to blame for all of her problems. She has lashed out against us in totally understandable yet dangerous (to her) ways. Mostly, the courts found that with her constant absences and running away, the court can’t be sure that she’s safe. As that is our A#1 job as foster parents, and we weren’t able to do that one piece of it, they decided she needed to be in an environment where they can guarantee her physical safety.
The hard part is the conflicting emotions. On the one hand, we’re heartbroken that it’s come to this for her. She isn’t the kind of kid who will thrive in that environment. On the other hand, it’s a relief to not have to stress about her constantly, worrying if she’s o.k. or not. We’re praying that she gets the help she needs and the kind of therapy that can help her with her emotional issues.
It’s hard to know how to continue. Jill and Grace are, it seems, fine with having the stress out of their lives. They have enough on their plates, looking forward to their own very stressful court date in a couple of weeks.
Here’s where being a foster parent gets emotionally difficult. It’s hard to live with someone, especially a young person who is vulnerable and needs extra love, without getting emotionally invested. We keep repeating to ourselves something like “we’re not going to save them all, the choice is theirs to make”. But that’s hard to do when you see how difficult it is for them to process what’s going on. Of course they love their birth family. But they like us too, and enjoy what we can offer. And on some level that feels like a betrayal to them, which can quickly become the “fault” of the foster family.
When you’re dealing with older teens, you’re looking at the looming 18 year deadline. In most, if not all states foster kids “age-out” at 18. That means that the support that they’re getting and the stipend from the state stops. There are mechanisms in place to allow youth who haven’t finished high school to stay in the system as long as they are doing well, but those mechanisms usually have a lot of strings attached and sometimes aren’t offered to kids who have discipline problems or attendance issues.
So for the majority of foster teens who are still in the system when they turn 18, they have to spend the day after their 18th birthday down at the assistance office applying for Section 8, food stamps, cash assistance, medicaid and any other kinds of subsidies they might be eligible for. They may be spared this if there is a friend or extended family member willing to allow them to stay with them but they are usually expected to find a job or somehow help out financially with the running of the household. Given how difficult it is for any young person to find a job these days, and add to that the general issues with consistency, depression, anxiety, etc that foster youth have, and the outlook starts to be pretty bleak.
In PA there is an option for older youth called “PLC” for Permanent Legal Custody. This is halfway between adoption and foster care. The fostering parents become legal guardians, and the stipend continues to follow the child. The biological family retain parental rights. It’s considered a great way for families to continue working towards goals of self-sufficiency without the input from the state or the foster agencies.
In order for this to happen, the youth have to ask for it. It needs to be in place before their 18th birthday.
We have extended the offer to Jill and Grace. Since finding out, their mom has been bending over backwards to show them that she’s going to be a good and stable home for them. They are more conflicted and confused than ever, and we totally understand that. The next two weeks promise to be stressful, at least for them. We’re trying to internalize the attitude of “we can offer the permanency, and then it’s up to them”. If we can keep that in our minds and in our hearts, and not take anything they yell at us too personally, we should be able to get through the court date relatively emotionally intact. I’m trying to look at it this way: If this motivates their mom to get her act together, that’s ideal. Kids always do better with their birth families, as long as they are stable. If they decide to stay with us, that’s great for them too as we will definitely be able to be a stable place for them.
Either way, the outlook should be good for them. We hope.
Of course, there is the risk that they’ll go back to their mom’s and things won’t work out the way they hope they will. But we are absolutely not the people to make the decision for them. They are both old enough to work this out on their own.
We have talked about the different outcomes, Leonard and I. While we intend to always be a resource for the kids we foster, mentor or work with closely, we probably won’t try to be “regular” foster parents moving forward. We’ll either do respite, where we get the kid for a short period of time and can focus on having fun with them for a week or a weekend, or we’ll do adoption only. We’ll still focus on older kids, though older kids who come with younger siblings would be ideal.
All in all, this situation promises to be one of those “that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” situations. I’m going to need to do a lot of deep breathing exercises over the next two weeks.
Tonight I finally got some time in the “Quiet Room”. The baby is asleep, the girls are doing their own thing, Leonard’s out with friends. I kept remembering things I needed like my glass of water, the computer cord, etc. I finally got in the room.
I put my water on the table, plugged the fan in, sat down on the recliner. No sooner had my back touched the chair than I heard Jill calling my name
“Kitty, look. I found more of my books.”
“That’s great. Are these library books or books you’re planning to read?”
“Ima read these when I’m done with the other two. But look, see?” She fanned them out for me to see. Yup, they’re books. Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird and Speak. An average High School reading list.
“That’s great, hon. I’m glad you found them. Now I’m going to have a little time in here, ok?”
“Ok Kitty. But you know that if the curtain is open even a little bit it’s o.k. to come in and talk to you, right?”
I didn’t know that. Good to know.
It’s been over a week since I’ve had time alone in our crowded little house. It’s a typical three bedroom row home, but downscaled to be around 1,000 square feet. When we decided to become foster parents, we envisioned some younger teens sharing the space in the back room, probably on a respite basis at first and then maybe working towards permanent placement. We imagined that we’d do respite for a while, and then take on the full time gig, and then work our way up to adoption.
That didn’t happen. There is some background at this page: youcaring.com/fosterfamilyinneed. It feels very strange trying to do a fundraising campaign for our family. We generally don’t ask for help, sometimes to a fault. But now that we have the girls to take care of, it’s clear that we need more help than we thought we would.
It really is different being a foster parent vs. being a biological parent, especially when you bring a kid into your family who’s essentially already a fully grown human. Jill is 17 and Grace is 15. They’ve lived in more homes than they can list, and each been to over 10 schools.
Schooling is what’s on my mind these days. The superintendent just announced that unless $50 million shows up by the end of the day tomorrow, they won’t be able to open Philadelphia schools on time. That’s crazy making. See, with our son we have the luxury to take some time in the decision making process. We can work on him with early literacy, make sure we’re reading to him, make sure he’s being talked to using big words all the time. We can take him to enriching museums and events, get him science kits if he’s interested in them or toy kitchens or whatever. We can encourage his brain to think and analyze. We can plan whether he’ll go to a charter school or a homeschool, or even a private school. We have that luxury.
With Jill and Grace we absolutely do not have that luxury. Every time a kid moves schools, they loose approximately 6 months of education. They are both functioning way below their age, and one of them is dragging around a woefully outdated IEP to boot. Neither one of them can handle adversity very well. The slightest bit of bad news can spark a days long thunderstorm of moodiness and anger. But now that the schools are slated to open late and understaffed, we have to make some decisions. Leonard will be taking two classes, and otherwise will be home with the baby. But he’s got his own schoolwork to manage, not to mention caring for the baby. Does he have time and tools to tutor and work with two kids who need extreme academic support? Probably not. I teach all day, and really would rather not come home to a second shift. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where they could go and be taught by people who are trained to do this, in rooms full of other kids who are also learning the same things? Oh, right.
I just saw this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324823804579014773649474290.html
So our broke as a joke city is going to divert the funding into the schools so they can open with a skeleton staff “on time”. I never thought of myself as the kind of person who would flee the city to the ‘burbs. But the Philadelphia schools have been under State control since 2001, since before these girls were going to school. And if I know PSD hasn’t been able to educate them thus far, how am I to trust that they can fix the mess they’ve made in the next few years? Nope. We gotta get to a better school district. One more thing to worry about.
The good news is that the grey hair is all coming in in one spot. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a nice Bride of Frankenstein look going on…