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Posts Tagged ‘ACS’

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.

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Andrew and I have both experienced, in the last 36 hours, that look.  That look from ‘professionals’ associated with Blitzen’s case.

That look that says ‘you are troublesome foster parents, you are making my life difficult by demanding that we do all that we should which is way more than we feel that we can.’

That look that says, ‘Oh, we’ve written your child off (not that we in anyway consider her to be your child) and you should too.’

 

That ‘When this was all headed for adoption, you were committed, passionate, model foster parents that we begged to speak on panels, rally new recruits, participate in city-wide ad campaigns. But now, you are a pain in the ass and we’re tempted to just accept false allegations against you so we can make you go away quicker’ look.

We’ve both experienced that moment when it has become crystal clear that this child is going back into a social system of grinding poverty, family dysfunction, racial and domestic violence, a broken and battered educational system that is really just a pipeline to prison/welfare dependency/homelessness/teen pregnancy/addiction, where she will be lost. And sadly, the look in their eyes says ‘we simply don’t care.’

I am sure you all are familiar with that look.

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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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If an anthropologist from the future were to study the United States in 2011, she’d likely conclude that our child welfare system was designed to remove children from families of color.

The numbers are stark.  In New York, 82% of kids in foster care are children of color.  Studies show that black families are 10 times more likely than white families to be reported to Child Protective Services, and 15 times more likely to have a child removed from their home.  (This isn’t a footnote/bibliography kind of blog, but US stats can be found here.)

Dorothy Roberts, who wrote  Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (terrific executive summary here — okay, no more footnotes) says:

If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor families of color.

The child welfare system is designed to privilege white people like Carrie and me.  Doors have flown open; we were  certified in record time.  We can be confident that everyone we meet will assume we aren’t drug users, won’t neglect our foster children and aren’t in it for the money.

What’s more, because we’re not poor, it’s unlikely that our child will be perceived as suffering from “neglect,” the cause of 75% of all child welfare cases.  Neglect — poor health care, poor nutrition, lack of shelter — looks looks an awful lot like poverty.

Carrie and I can’t wait to love, nurture, support and celebrate a child in our home.  But our job  just begins there.  The real work in front of all of us is to organize for institutional change that will address the disproportionalities of our system.

Luckily, we’re not alone.  A bunch of groups are organizing the community around these disparities, including the Child Welfare Organizing Project and the Anti-Racist Alliance.  We invite our friends to join us not just in caring for Blitzen, but in creating a just, equitable world for her to live in.

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