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Posts Tagged ‘ACS’

And no parents, no kids lawyers yet. So I glad that I am not there.  I sent him the following email:

Is there an algebraic formula that we can use to figure out what time we are actually supposed to come like 9:00am / x (y+1) = z – 30/ n2

In other words, come 3 hours, 49 minutes and 34 seconds late.

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Apparently, Blitzen is meeting with both her therapist and her social worker today because there are ‘discrepancies’ when she talks to people about her desires for placement (stay with us or go home).  ‘Discrepancies’ about that and ‘other items’ – we were informed via email.

The funniest thing is when Andrew and I both lose it over different things in the same asinine email.  He hated ‘discrepancies’ and I am not fond of the vague ‘other items’.

First that email was stupidly cryptic.  Second this adversarial system makes every human interaction sound like something out of a crime drama on tv.  I can picture the room with the 2-way mirror and the metal table.  The cold cup of coffee and bad lighting. The institutional representative stands there, arms crossed.  ‘So, Blitzen, last week you told your therapist that you wanted to stay with Carrie and Andrew, this week you are claiming that you want to live with your mother – which is it, huh?  Make a decision – you’re 11, you’re traumatized, you’re confused because you love the people in your life and want to be with them, all of them.  Well, too bad, make a decision and be quick about it.  We don’t have time for emotional ambiguity.  I mean, we’ve told all the adults in your life to simultaneously plan for two possible outcomes and work their hardest to make sure that you are expressing your emotions about all possibilities but you know, come on, make a decision already.  Which set of grown ups do you love best? It is a simple question – just answer it and don’t change your mind, ever, especially not after a not fun family visit or having to clean your guinea pig cage  — you’re 11, you really should be way beyond that kind of wishy-washy waffling.  And what about these other items?  Do you care to clarify your feelings?’

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Permancy Hearing on Monday

We were informed at 4pm. Thanks for the advance notice.

A snippet from the email from our social worker.

I’m not certain what the judge is going to order us to do come Monday but I’d like to prepare you guys for what might be happening in regards to moving toward reunification. Not to be an alarmist or anything but I’ve cc’ed your homefinder on this email as an additional support for this conversation.

Glad your not being alarmist – this email is in no way alarming, thanks.

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I am pretty angry and stressed and really very sad because a year ago we were in one place and now we are in a totally different place in regards to reunification / TPR.  There is too much s@*t to even explain but Andrew summed it up beautifully, ‘It would be one thing if we were (and by we – I really mean the agency) engaged in concurrent planning.  But instead, we are simply not planning for anything at all – we are non-current planning!’  We are adrift.  The agency is not trying to meaningfully engage and support the biological parents but they also don’t seem to think that TPR is really feasible.  And they are suddenly paying attention to the rules – mom has to be at the IEP meeting, they say.  Yes, ok, I get it and I agree.  But you never gave a flying fig newton about that before and why did you wait until 48 hours before the meeting to invite her and then send us frantic and frankly snotty emails about how we are not allowed to set up meetings without bio mom.  We didn’t ‘set it up’ – this in NYC and the DOE has attitude.  They sent us a notice that said come to the IEP at this meeting date, time, place – they were not interested in our calendars.  And then we SHARED the notice with the agency.  And they sat on it for  10 days and then yesterday frantic, crazy, stupidness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it is my deepest fear that I will have to be a foster parent for next 8 years….I just can’t.  Of course I will, but it will leave me a broken, hollowed out shell of a person.  And I don’t think that kind bulls#%t non-permanency would be good for Blitzen either. Reunify or TPR – after 6+ years, simply no excuse for any other course of action.

GRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

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Permanency Hearing Report

Permanency hearings are convened by Family Court every six months.  They’re the time when judges make (or don’t make) decisions about permanency for kids in care.  Foster parents in New York have the legal right to attend permanency hearings and receive permanency reports for kids in their care.

Carrie and I hadn’t received permanency reports or invitations to permanency hearings since we moved in 2012.  (2012 is also approximately the last time I wrote anything on Fosterwee.  Perhaps my 2014 post will be about the difficulty of changing one’s address with ACS, the DOE or any of the alphabet soup bureaucracies we work with.  Despite the privilege of phone service, email access and flexible schedules and professional competence that serves us well in many settings, it’s darn nigh impossible to successfully change our address in any system.  We’re almost always told that Blitzen lives in Queens with a woman we’ve never heard of.  Blitzen’s address is frozen in 2007.)

After a few requests our Case Planner sent us copies of Blitzen’s last two permanency reports.  They’re no joke.  The most recent is 39 pages, filled with an intimidating array of legal and procedural details.  It lists the names of all 18 case workers involved and documents the number of times they made contact with kids and parents.  It outlines the service plans for all six children.  It details family visit attendance, therapy, doctors appointments and school records.  The main course is a section called Permanency Plan where the permanency goal for each child is unveiled.

I read all 39 pages carefully, then emailed Carrie with my reactions.  My first line was: “There are fewer errors in this report.”  Previous permanency hearings had been riddled with mistakes, including misspelling the kids’ names, missing their ages by many years and listing them at incorrect schools and foster homes.  This time the basic factual data seemed surprisingly accurate.

The second line in my email to Carrie was, “Blitzen’s permanency goal is ‘Placement for Adoption’.”  It sounds crazy, but we didn’t know Blitzen’s permanency plan.  We knew that a judge had declined to terminate parental rights but hadn’t heard how that might translate into planning and action.   The permanency report made that clear: “The goal for Blitzen is Placement for Adoption.  She is in a pre-adoptive home.”

Both of my email assertions were wrong.   Our Case Planner informed us that the judge at the permanency hearing changed Blitzen’s goal to “Return to Parent.”  The 39 page legal document has it wrong in multiple places.  Due to a “systems error,” family court was/is unable to change the goal on the legal permanency hearing report, which continues to show the opposite goal.

Brains

The way we discovered the new permanency goal feels representative of our experiences with foster care.  Words written and spoken are powerful and regularly reflect the opposite of what is real.  It’s hard to know who or what sources of information to trust.  You wait in line for an hour with your electric bill to change your address and find out that the person who can do that no longer works there.  You wait for months to learn a permanency plan, which is neither permanent nor a plan.

Our interactions with child welfare have impacted my ability to function within this system. Two-plus years ago I was eager to trust and build authentic relationships with our social workers;  now after cycling through staff I’m not interested in listening, trusting or making friends with the new workers.  I used to believe things I heard or read about our case; now I’m skeptical.  I used to have confidence in my senses and intuitions; now I doubt my experiences and perceptions.  After two years of intermittent reinforcement and little connection between cause and effect, I lack confidence in my predictions.  After two years of not being in control of my parenting narrative, I feel more dependent and less able to coherently organize my thoughts and memories.  After two years in a constantly adversarial system, I’m ready to do battle at the drop of an allegation.

To recap: I’m a straight, cis white man with money, family, love, no history of trauma and a fully developed adult brain.  I dipped my toe into the child welfare system from a position of power and privilege with the ability to step away from it any time I choose.  My limited exposure to these systems, have made me less trusting, less attached, less confident and less able to plan for the future, not to mention flustered, frustrated and furious.

Blitzen has spent her life in this world.  Like most 10 year-olds, she’s powerless to make important decisions about her life.  Unlike most 10 year-olds, whose universes are lovingly crafted by parents, Blitzen knows she’ll never meet the people who control her life.  Blitzen watches her powerless mom jump through never-ending Sisyphean hoops hoping to reunite with her children.  She observes her foster parents asking permission to do things that every other family just does.  She listens to 18 social workers ask her what she wants and knows that they can’t make any of it happen.  She wonders why the judge is taking so long and nobody will tell her.

Meanwhile, the foster parents and social workers she attaches to inevitably leave her.  Meanwhile, she is often at our agency around people yelling or crying, triggering trauma.  Meanwhile, the people she loves most tell her completely different things about who she is, where she’ll live next year, what she’ll do, who she’ll be.

How do you grow up like that?  I guess you play hide-and-seek under the covers, sing “Let it Go” at the top of your lungs, drink homemade potions and hope you wake up as a mermaid, beautiful and powerful on land and at sea.

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Freeze time, step out of it, go spend like 5 years studying trauma and child brain development, become an expert in managing the behaviors of children with trauma, spend a lot of time with smart people that advocate for mental health care reform and awareness, and come right back to this moment.  I spend a lot of time worrying that I am screwing up a bit in my on the job training here and by the time I figure it all out, Blitzen will be ________ (insert horrible scenario of your wildest and most morbid imaginings here). 

I’d also like to meditate an hour a day, do yoga an hour a day and watch tv.   It is probably not healthy that my heart rate goes through the roof the moment that I walk in the door every night.  Make that 2 hours a day of meditation.  So, somebody just freeze time and I’ll be right back!

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Blitzen’s behaviorist and social worker came over this week.  Here is what we decided with Blitzen:

Blitzen will email her social worker the morning of visits, before she leaves for school, with her decision about attending.  This way, we can make plans and prepare, either way.  If she wants to attend family visit, great – business as usual.  If she feels that she doesn’t want to go, she is free to skip it.  It is entirely her decision.

And, as I predicted, we had the following dialogue last night.

Blitzen. “I don’t want to go to family visit.”

A and C, “Ok.” “Great, we can help you email SW.”

Blitzen, “Yeah, I am going to make a play date with my best friend instead.”

C, reacts like an over-tired human/parental unit, “Yeah, you know Blitzen, when SW talked to you about this, I am pretty sure she didn’t mean that you don’t have to go to family when you’d rather play with a friend.”

Blitzen, “See, you always control me.  I don’t have to do whatever you want. It is my decision. You think you are the boss because you are the lady of the house.” ***

C, “Yup, you are right, it is not my decision – it is completely up to you. Please work with Andrew to email SW and explain that you are not going to family visit.”

***  Seriously, people, where DOES she get this stuff?!? Try keeping a straight face when somebody calls you the lady of house in anger.  I wish I got to be the boss just because I was the lady of house!!

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I don’t think I was expressing myself clearly yesterday nor did I take the time to fully explain the story.  The blessing of forcing myself to write every day is that I write every day, the curse is that sometimes it is abbreviated and overly concise therefore incomplete and incorrect.  Sometimes it is just a moment of irritation, misplaced frustration, or an ill advised thought that I foolishly release onto the internet.

Andrew and I are aware that Blitzen has PTSD and we’ve been working hard to  support her, to love and guide her, to parent accordingly.  It hasn’t been easy.  We’ve taught ourselves as we’ve gone along – we’ve read A LOT, we’ve consulted people who know a lot about child development, about the brain, about trauma, about humans, about being good parents. We’ve done a lot of things not that well but we’ve called upon some inner resources that we didn’t even know that we had, we worked together and through some whacky combination of our individual strengths and the strength of our partnership, we have done a pretty good job.

It is not by accident that there are very few surprises in our home.  They used less scaffolding when they built the empire state building than we use when introducing a new experience or trying to manage an old and scary one with Blitzen.

I know that unexpected stimuli, new situations, old situations, encounters with parents (mine, Blitzen’s, other children’s), uncomfortable feelings, happy feelings, or a  man walking down the street in a jacket smoking a cigarette, can touch off a deep well of fear and anxiety, a fight or flight response completely beyond Blitzen’s control. This is why you might see me shuffling down the street with 2 hands on Blitzen’s shoulders while she walks in front of me.  Not because I am marching my child down the street, controlling her every move, forcing her to go where she doesn’t want to go, oblivious to the fact that somewhere deep inside she is reliving a very terrifying moment.  No, it is because she has said to me in a tone that I recognize only all too well, that she needs to walk in front of me, directly in front of me.  What she is asking, every time, is if I will stand with her, will I step between her and perceived danger?  And the answer is yes, in small and large ways, Andrew and I gently put our hands on Blitzen’s shoulders each and every day.

There is a lot more to the story of the pre-visit meltdown – it was an afternoon with a few unexpected moments, new things and transitions at the end of a long and tiring week — all of which are exceptionally difficult for our child with PTSD.  I can only assume that is why my husband was huddled in the only quiet space he could find in the Friday after school chaos – a stairwell – encouraging our girl to come back to herself, relax her body and mind, keep herself and him safe, and why he remained there with Blitzen for the better part of an hour.

Did I mention that I hate visits?  They are a complicated, emotional landmine-filled field for Blitzen.

Visits are hard – sometimes they go so great, sometimes they do not.  Are they re-traumatizing?  Some days, they may be.  Some days Blitzen gets to connect with her family in a deep and meaningful way – she has made it happen through her own generosity and kindness.  And she has felt loved and embraced.  And in my mind, this is the most important part of her healing process.

Some days Blitzen is excited about going to family visit, some days she wants to stay in the park with her friends, some days she will think that her ipod has been stolen and that Andrew is to blame and they will need to spend an hour in the stairwell, and some days she is anxious, angry and afraid.  It is not always clear which kind of day we’re having.

Some days Andrew and I respond perfectly, nurturingly, calmly – some days we don’t. Some days I will be frustrated by  a social worker’s too easy response – Blitzen doesn’t have to come to visits.  Really?  Doesn’t have to come today, tomorrow, forever? Get specific because kids with trauma don’t do ambiguous well.  The family visits are a responsibility and maybe Blitzen shouldn’t go if she chooses not to go but that is a major decision and I want to know the parameters, the guidelines, where is the scaffolding? We don’t react – we consider, we plan, we support, we assist Blitzen and hopefully help make the right decision or come to grips with the decision that must be made.

I also know this post sounds defensive – I’ve been feeling defensive lately.  I don’t think the world is doing enough for Blitzen, I worry that I am not doing enough. I worry and I am sad because I know that no matter what happens next and no matter what I do,  Blitzen will likely continue to be disappointed and hurt because there is no magical, happy outcome here.  So I will remind myself not to react – I should consider and plan and support and keep hoping that what we are doing is for the best.

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Blitzen has been thinking about our family anniversary which is happening in about a month.  She suggested to Andrew that we all get rings.  Andrew said, “I am not much of a bling guy, B.” Then she made the same suggestion to me.  I asked, “What would it mean to you, if we all had rings?”  She replied, “You know how you and Andrew have your marriage rings and you always wear them? Well, we could get like family married and we’d have our rings – the 3 of us.”

Has there ever been a kid who wanted to belong and have a permanent place more than this one?

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That is what I said to the chaplain at my work yesterday when we were chatting about Blitzen.  I also said that I was well aware that the right thing and the best thing are not always the same thing but that we could only do the best we can do in this moment.  That sentiment probably reveals most of all the anxiety that I feel about the slow movement in any direction for Blitzen and her siblings.

I am not saying what is right, I am not saying what is best, I am not saying that I am the answer or know the answer but I am saying limbo is stupid. These kids need permanency and someone needs to own it and make it happen.

To that the Chaplain said ‘Amen!’

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