This post was inspired by a similar one on the Fosterhood tumblr, which I read to feel normal. Edit- Can we all agree that it's SO HARD to use affect and effect correctly?
Often, I hear the sentiment that although the girls are still in foster care, their day-to-day lives aren't really effected because they're already living at home with Alex and me. What a lovely idea, that children can move into their forever home and wait out foster care, shielded by the structure, love and permanency of their forever parents- the idea that sharing their parents' last name is the sole and final hurdle left.
This has not been our experience, so allow me to share the ways the foster system continues to infiltrate and disrupt daily life for Lulu and Flavia.
Permission slips must be returned unsigned if it says 'Parent' instead of 'Parent/Guardian'. This is especially worrisome for Lulu, who is still working hard to trust that grown-ups will take care of all the grown-up jobs. She remains anxious when forms/letters/notices are sent home from school until she knows that Mom or Dad took care of the grown-up job by signing and returning the paper.
Every two weeks, they have visits with birth mom. Disregarding the 3 hours round-trip of travel time it takes to get to the foster agency where the visits occur (after a full day at school), this always causes the biggest disruption to the girls' wellbeing. A few days on either side of the visit and the visit day itself is full of emotional, mental and physical manifestations of the many, many negative feelings they have about the visits. So we build in space to allow for them to process these heavy emotions, turning down invitations to more healthy activities and events. Additionally, during visits, the girls are often given food and caffeinated drinks that lead to upset stomachs and (even more) difficulty regulating their bodies.
Being sick on a visit day is a battle. Flavia wasn't feeling well one day when a visit was scheduled. She wasn't out-and-out sick, but taking her 3 hours on the train was a bad idea. Well, instead of allowing her to stay home and rest, which is what she needed, I still had to drag her out to get a doctor's note confirming her symptoms. Her doctor's office had no appointments; I was told to take her to the emergency room if I had to, but she had to have a note. The woman who schedules appointments for our primary doctor's office took mercy on me the second time I called, crying into the phone, blubbering on and on about the situation, feeling ridiculous for asking to be squeezed in to be seen when Flavia just has some tummy troubles, so we were able to obtain a doctor's note without going to the ER. But in addition to putting added pressure on a child who doesn't feel well, Lulu and Flavia are learning that their words (and mine) are not believable without professional people confirming what they say, see, think, feel.
Weekly Art & Play Therapy. This is one of the greatest tools for our girls' to continue processing the transitions and trauma the girls have gone through in their short lives, and all four of us ADORE their therapist. She's the only person who knows our girls' full histories, behaviors and feelings, and, like Alex and me, her only allegiance is to Lulu and Flavia. Her primary lens is their well-being, not policies or other parties. That being said, it is another requirement, for an hour every week (each- two hours total).
Doctor Visits/Dental Appointments are extra challenging. There are several factors that make visits to doctors, dentists and specialists fairly gruesome. First, for anything other than a routine check-up, consent must be given by a birth parent (until the TPR ends). Although I give the girls' foster agency as much lead time to make this happen as possible (between 3-8 weeks in advance of appointments), it is often difficult to obtain the required written consent. The agency can override and give consent if due diligence has been done to get parental consent first, but this always happens at the last minute. What this means for us is that we always have at least an hour additional wait time in waiting rooms while office staff works to get the paperwork in before Lulu or Flavia can be seen. Alex and Lulu actually waited five hours once.
Secondly, during doctor appointments, I'm often asked questions in front of the girls that I'm unable to answer. When did Lulu first begin walking? Was she a premie? How old was Flavia when she said her first word? Any family history of _____? --painful reminders to the girls that I do not know their history.
The questions that are toughest to navigate, though, are the ones by the busy young medical interns. Can you give me medical history for their real mom? Real dad? What do you mean, you don't know? How can you not know? Ohhh, so they're foster kids! And you're their foster parent. Why are they in foster care? How long have they been in foster care? Can I speak to you in the hall (you little asshole). First of all, stop referring to my kids as foster kids. Call them kids, if you must, or refer to them by name. And secondly, that's none of your damn business! Now, do you want to talk about why we're actually here?
We cannot give photo consent for either girl. School, dance, soccer, church- we cannot give permission for anybody to use pictures of the girls for any public purpose. This helps ensure their safety and privacy, but anytime there is a photo taken, the girls must be out of the shot. Lulu's wonderful kindergarten teacher would turn this into a game for her; before classroom photos were taken to be posted online, she would make sure she was beside Lulu, turn her around and make a game of hugging her and making her giggle out of the camera's shot. But both girls are confused/hurt when they're asked to move aside so a photo can be taken of everyone else.
At least monthly home visits by agency workers- Frequently, these visits are scheduled, but either not attended or rescheduled last minute, after we've arranged our day to make sure we're home and I've prepared the girls to see an agency representative or somebody else who will ask invasive questions. On the contrary, Lulu and Flavia are not extended this same kind of grace and leniency when they are expected to have visits with birth mom at the agency. It would be scandalous for them to miss a visit because they overslept, forgot, or had something else come up, all common reasons for being stood up for home visits. Additionally, these all visits include questioning the girls in ways that dredge up difficult feelings and leave both girls reeling afterwards.
There are strict travel restrictions. We must stay in the state of New York. Even then we notify the agency beforehand, detailing our whereabouts. Birth mom's consent is required in order to leave the state; after the TPR, consent will come from the agency. Alex and I decided we will not fly anywhere with the girls, even after the TRP, until after the adoption is finalized. The inevitable questioning that would occur at every airport security point in front of the girls is not worth it.
Birth mom tells them a conflicting version of their future. I can't even think about this without my heart breaking.
School is an ongoing, uphill battle. I stand by how dramatic that sentence stands. More to come later about how difficult it continuously is to meet Lulu's hidden special needs in the classroom (although she is above grade level, academically). Last year, she was blessed with an AMAZING kindergarten teacher who provided the high level of structure Lulu needs in order to feel safe, but also was sensitive to her unique emotional needs. She's still floundering to find solid footing this year, but hopefully that comes soon.
And Flavia? I fought all spring and summer in order to have her spend her pre-k year in the school group I teach at home. This little group has been meeting for over a year now and Flavia is thriving. I've mentioned that I'm a teacher with a master's degree in education, right? But we only got permission from the agency the week before school started, so I could not confirm where she would be spending school every single time Lulu brought it up. There is a stipulation that she must be enrolled in weekly lessons or a class with an outside teacher (ie- not me, dance and soccer don't count), so she is taking cello lessons. It is adorable and she's so proud, but it's another requirement. Also, these required lessons are paid for out of pocket. I'm not complaining about that, just trying to give a full picture for how foster care works.
Supervisors and caregivers must be background checked and on file with the agency. Quick example of what this means on a day-to-day- Lulu had to refuse an invitation to join her best buddy from school at a NYCFC soccer game at Yankee Stadium because her friend's dad is not on file.
Bumps, scratches, tears and stains are a BIG DEAL.- Every tiny scratch is asked about and documented by agency workers. Once, we received a ride home from a visit with birth mom from our upstairs neighbor who works at the girls' foster agency (I know, right?! The girls will never accidentally forget that they are in foster care.). On the ride home, I lamented that on our way to the visit earlier in the day, Lulu had fallen, scraping her knee and tearing a hole in both sides of her pants in one fell swoop. Our sweet neighbor looked at me with pity and remarked, "Oh no! Today of all days!" My first response to Lulu's tumble (admittedly, not my finest heart-stance) was anger that we'd be showing up to the agency in ripped pants. No empathy for Lulu here, folks; my response showed my hand- that I was more concerned about how things will look to the many people judging us than I was for her well-being. That's pretty messed up on multiple levels.
Alex and I cannot fully exhale until the adoptions are finalized. We have full responsibility, but absolutely no rights. We're often required to do things that are not in our children's best interest, but not following the rules would mean our girls would no longer be ours. Try as we may to protect them from our fears of losing them and anger at the system, they're intuitive and I'm sure they sense that our hearts are on pins and needles.
The girls are so ready for their last name to be 'Cone'. We all are, but they feel it the most.