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2017 Update

Quick update from NYC.

Blitzen, Carrie and I officially adopted each other in September 2016, more than nine years after Blitzen entered the foster care system.  Blitzen has grown into a brilliant, fashionable and fierce 14-year-old with remarkable talents.  To know her is to be smitten.

Blitzen’s oldest sister (Dancer, age 16) has been in our care since October 2016.  We’re not sure she’ll be here much longer, but we love having her.

Blitzen’s youngest sister (No Reindeer Name, age 3) lived with us for eight months in 2015-16. She now has permanency with her father, which is a great thing we advocated passionately for. We see her on weekends and miss her like crazy.

Three of Blitzen’s siblings have been in foster care for ten years with no permanency in site.

Carrie and I remain passionate about creating a child welfare system that works for kids, parents and communities.  We believe that public policy should support families.  We believe that undoing institutional racism would lead to better outcomes.   We believe that permanency is essential for the health of children.

We believe in #PermanencyforSandy. We love Rebecca, Sandy and Clementine and miss the Fosterhood blog, which was a huge inspiration for us.

Fosterhood’s sabbatical reflects the pressure to be silent that exists for those stuck in the child welfare net. That pressure has the impact of erasing voices of birth parents, foster parents, kids in care and former foster youth – the very folks whose experiences should be central to our child welfare discussion.

As a person with privilege and safety, I feel an obligation to speak out on behalf of just, accountable child welfare system. With that in mind, I revisited Fosterwee and made a handful of old posts public (about 30 out of 800).

Fosterwee’s special beauty was the potent combination of Blitzen’s inimitable spirit and Carrie’s daily ability to capture the messiness with honest, sparkling prose. We won’t have that moment again.  Blitzen’s story is for her to tell, and it’s likely to be found on Snapchat, Youtube or in concert. While Carrie and I consider new platforms, we’re delighted to connect with friends committed to a humane, equitable child welfare system.

Thank you for the generosity, love and support.

Gratefully,
Andrew

A neat and tidy ending

I guess I was kind of waiting for one, hoping that I could write that final post that pulled everything together, made it all just fine – the ending that made me (and maybe all of you) optimistic about the future.

But no.

A court date was scheduled for last week. And then cancelled because the judge called in sick after everyone else had arrived at the courthouse. It has been rescheduled for November with yet another judge. I think this is the 4th judge on the case but really only the 3rd because this judge was on the case previously or something.

Blitzen has been in care 2426 days (which can also be counted 58,244 hours if my math is right) and she is certainly no closer to permanency/ reunification /any kind of resolution than when we first met her.

What would you do with 2426 days or 58,244 hours?

You could complete college (if you went full-time and stayed on track) 1.65 times. You could get 2 or 3 master degrees, if you put your mind to it. Travel the world in 180 days 13+ times over.  You could drive coast to coast about 1,000 times – assuming that you didn’t stop to smell the roses.  I read somewhere it takes like 75 days to climb Mount Everest – so you could do that, a bunch.  Hike the Appalachian Trail (takes about 6 months so you could do that maybe 12 times – more if you jog part of the way). Took little more than 1 year and 1 month to build the empire state building or so google tells me.

In 2426 days, you could learn a new language, run a bunch of marathons, master a musical instrument, hell – if you are already super fit and spectacularly talented you could train and compete in the Olympics.  You could plant a tree and watch it grow. You could go to a lot of movies – you could make a lot of movies. You could read many books – and write a few too!

Or, you know, you could have a childhood with just the average amount of anxiety and uncertainty.

But no.

Have I ever mentioned that every time that I read a book to Blitzen, about half way through the second chapter, she asks me to read the end?  Every time.  It is just too tense, it is just too much, the not knowing.

I sure do wish that we could peak ahead to the last page now.

But no. So, gonna leave you without an ending. For all the fosterhood followers – we’ll keep Rebecca up to date, I’m sure that she’ll let you know if anything earth shattering like permanency ever happens.

 

P.S. In about a week, I’m taking the blog down.  We talked to Blitzen about blogging and writing and she, in her very Blitzen way, was completely baffled by the thought of folks sharing their ‘business’ with the whole wide world.  So it truly is time to put the blog to bed. I certainly will miss my internet friends, gotta say. This has been the best virtual support group a foster family ever had. Thanks – don’t think we would have made it the past 3 years without all of the peace, love and understanding.

ok, ya all

You made me cry a bit there – in a good way. My sis-in-law wrote to say that even she got a little teary from the comments and she is a total badass. (I am concerned about B’s privacy but not my in-laws, apparently!).

I am still a thinking — about Blitzen, self-preservation, a creative outlet, the support hat I really do get from the wonderful vibes anonymous people send my way and the ability to process this incredibly complex way of life that writing has created for me.

I am still a thinking — about what has shifted for me in the last few months that has made things so difficult in a new way.

I am going to take a little break for a week or two and try to figure out if there is a good way to move forward, perhaps with fewer public posts about Blitzen (although as several people have said — there are so many of the wonderful things about this kid that I have captured here, I hope to keep writing all that down for both me and for her whether or not I make those items public). Maybe it is time turn my attention more to some of the social justice issues that being a foster parent has brought into focus for me in a new  and very very real way.

I also just have to say that this past week, the entire world feels wrong which is likely contributing to this feeling that I am having. Everything that is happening in Missouri and the often disheartening discussions that I’ve had with other white people about it, the ridiculous and skewed press coverage, have just weighed me down.  I am deeply saddened, really struggling with how to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful way, how to help Blitzen cope with this tremendous injustice but also prepare for a world that doesn’t see her or respect her.  Even the air feels heavy and full of darkness.

Time to breathe and try to find some brightness.  I’ll likely be back, one way or another, soon.

Seashells

Blitzen, upon gathering a gallon ziplock full shells, was told by Andrew that perhaps she didn’t want to carry them all home and maybe she should consider discarding the broken ones.

Blitzen, in true Blitzen style, said, ‘sometimes broken shells heal themselves. And the broken ones always have a story.’

Indeed.

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.

Endings and beginnings

We went for a stroll in Central Park to visit Dennis and Stan’s tree.  What, you may wonder, is a Stan and Dennis tree? Well, it is the tree in Central Park where we scattered the ashes of my wonderful father – shhh, don’t tell anyone, I am quite sure that it is illegal – and then later also scattered the ashes of our dear dog Stan.  Since the Marley book, we’ve been talking a lot about endings.

Now, this is an amazing tree and the perfect place for one human and one dog that acted like a human to rest in peace – especially since they were the best of friends.  Blitzen really seemed to take in the occasion and grasp the significance that the place held for Andrew and me.  She did a lot of processing along the way and asked questions like – What were the ashes like? Were we feeling sad? How did we pick the tree? We talked about heaven and reincarnation and that lots of different people believe lots of different things but that the people that we love are always with us in our memories and our hearts.

After strolling around the tree and agreeing that it is a very very fine tree, Blitzen said, “So now I guess your dad and Stan are living in the tree.  The ashes probably went into the ground and up into the tree.” Yes, I think that is probably right.

Dennis and Stan Tree

All books end

Warning: spoiler alerts ahead.

Our family loves to read Elephant and Piggie.   I dryly read the part of Gerald the Elephant while Blitzen reads Piggie the Piggie with exuberant expression.

Our most-read title is “We Are In a Book.”  Our heroes romp playfully together until Piggie mentions that the book will end on Page 57.

“ENDS!?!” screams Elephant.  “The book ends?!”

“Yes,” says Piggie.  “All books end.”

We read those pages again and again, Piggie/Blitzen wisely helping her friend Elephant confront his existential dread.

 

Our latest read has been the story of Marley, a rambunctious, joyful 100-pound dog who lived life in a big way.  Before we started, Carrie and I sat down and talked to Blitzen about how the story would end.  After a few days of reading, we reminded her of the sad ending ahead and asked if she wanted to keep reading.  She responded “Yes!   I can’t stop now.  I have to keep reading about Marley!”

We read about the time Marley’s owner rode a toboggan down the snowy hill behind his house. Naturally, Marley jumped on and the two sped down, hanging onto each other, out of control, screaming, laughing and trying to steer clear of trees before landing in the river.   Blitzen loved every page of Marley’s misadventures.

We finished the book last night and the three of us sobbed together in bed, talking about endings.  We talked about our dog Stan and scattering his ashes under a tree in Central Park.

Blitzen drifted to sleep, then woke up.  “Marley was as wild as the wind,” she announced.  “I hope my dog is wild as the wind too.”

 

There will be many more Blitzen-tagged posts on Carrie’s brilliant blog.  We’re still inventing our family, still learning from one another, still in the middle of our story.   But all books end.   Foster families, like Blitzen’s beach sculptures, are monuments to uncertainty and impermanence.

Carrie and I have made a choice to live and parent like page 57 is a long way away.   When you speed downhill with someone wild as the wind you hang to each other and savor the ride.