Well "the middle of December", which was when I was told the license would be official....has come and gone and I am still waiting. I keep trying to tell myself that all this waiting is just God's way of making sure I connect with the right kiddo. The first time I got licensed it took an abnormally long time too. Then when the license was finally official my worker was on vacation for two weeks, it felt like FOREVER! However as soon as she got back she had received the call that my two boys and their newborn baby brother were coming back into care from a kinship placement, did the family that have them previously want them back. They couldn't take the kids at that time....and I had left her about a million messages, so she called me and I said ABSOLUTELY. I was only licensed for two kids and had wanted girls, not to mention I was a single first time foster parent. Placement would have never called me directly about the boys, and if I had been licensed earlier or later our pats never would have crossed. Ugh, I just have to keep waiting, my placement is out there :)
Ok so a social worker just dropped off a new placement...now what?! You don't know the kids they don't know you, the whole thing can be nerve wracking for all parties involved, regardless of if this is your first placement or hundreth. Here is what I do upon placement that first day:
I always start by asking the kids if they are hungry, even if they say no I ask them what they like to eat. Most of the kids that have come through my door have been used to eating a lot of fast food and junk, go with that for a few days. I tend to write down what they say and ensure them that we will make a trip to the store soon to get what they like. They have lost everything already so trying to change their diet or starting a food battle is not worth it at the beginning. I usually order a pizza or something they like if its dinner time or pull out a kid friendly snack if its late or in between meals. This also allows me to worry about them and not focus on having to make dinner. I give them a short tour of the house, pointing out important things like bathrooms, extra toilet paper, where we keep toys, a place they can keep special things where no one will touch, etc. I don't usually go over rules on the first day/night unless something comes up. We do however have them posted in several areas of the house. I show them where they will sleep and try and give them a special stuffed animal or blanket they can carry. If they came with stuff, I usually ask if they need anything out of it tonight and get that, otherwise I place it in a Rubbermaid container that seals. This way if there are any unwanted bugs, drug residue, or items you do not allow in your house they are contained until we can go through their things together and wash everything.
Speaking of bugs, you're going to want to check for lice in hair and any other critters in the clothes they have on. I hate the idea of having a child come in and me immediately stripping them down and getting them in the tub, it seems a little overwhelming both for me and them. On the other hand you do not want a critter situation taking over the household! You are going to have to use your best judgment here. I generally try and sneak as best a peek as I can as I'm giving them a tour to see if I see any lice. If you think they are able to do a bath/shower without feeling completely overwhelmed, do it! If you think they need a little time to adjust first, you want to try and limit their exposure to the whole house.
At bedtime I will go over getting up to use the bathroom in the night, where extra blankets are located, what to do if they get scared or wake up in the night, where my room is located, and what to expect in the morning. We focus a lot on safety in our house so depending on the situation I will show them that the doors are locked and ensure them that any other safety concerns they may have are met. Depending on the situation you may want to put a non-perishable snack and water bottle in the room. I ask them if they have any questions about the house, what happened at removal, their parents, etc. I ask them if they want to talk about any feelings they are having and if they want to say a prayer together. We usually read together and discuss whether the lights will be on or door closed.
One of my goals for 2014 is to get organized, I've been going room to room clearing things out and preparing to get this all under control over here. When my three boys first came I tried to prepare the best I could, but you don't really know what you don't know, LOL! One of the areas that I totally could have done better in is organizing the massive amounts of paperwork, records, notes, and observations you have when dealing with foster care/adoption or children with medical/educational/mental health issues. For the boys I have a HUGE Rubbermaid filled with papers, it is completely disorganized. Today I am going to show you what I have been working on to get it all organized so I have a binder of documentation as it relates to the boys many needs and to make it easier to keep track of things going forward.
Documentation is extremely important when you are dealing with children from trauma or children with mental health issues. There are so many providers and professionals in and out of our lives that it is hard to keep track. Every time we see someone new, I swear we leave with a new diagnosis or therapy to try or recommendation. It doesn't matter if I tell them we have already tried X, Y, or Z for some reason they think I must not have tried it right or for long enough. The unfortunate thing about mental illness is that it is not easily seen by a casual observer. If my child had a cast on his leg and was taking awhile to walk down the aisle in the supermarket, no one would question that, people would try and help him or empathize with his situation. When my child is screaming profanities and hitting me in the supermarket, the response in one of judgment, there is no help or empathy. In the couple of incidences when we have had to take Matthew to the Emergency Room it has been hard to explain to the initial responders and later the hospital staff that we are here as a last resort, that we have tried all of our tools and strategies. They see a cute little boy, but they don't see the years of trauma and abuse he has suffered. They don't take you at your word when you try to explain the behaviors exhibited just mere minutes before. We are not there because we are lazy parents who don't feel like dealing with our kid who is having a "tantrum". This child that I am coming to you with has real issues, that are not his fault and not my fault. He doesn't need coddled, I don't need a lecture, we need help. By having all of your documentation in order and showing a history and pattern of behaviors you will have a much easier time getting the help you need and getting insurance coverage for some very expensive services that may be needed now or down the road. Several parents I know have also had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with their local Child Protective Services or their children have been involved in the criminal system. It is vital that you are able to protect your family from any accusations. Having all of your documentation in one place certainly helps during these times and can help keep your responses and actions fact-based rather than emotion-based!
I decided a Binder for each child would be the best way to keep everything in one place and well organized.
I've included individual links to most of my covers/forms, etc. as google docs so that you can modify them to meet your needs. If you want just one file to download the entire binder, click here.
BINDER COVER: You can get a copy of my Binder Cover here. I choose to leave the child's name off of the front, that way if I need to bring the binder with me the name is not visible to anyone. If you had more than one Binder you may want to put Initials or design a different cover to distinguish each child.
BACK OF BINDER: I have a copy of this quote from Mother Teresa on the back outside cover of my binder.
Flash Drive: Any time I receive paperwork, notes, emails, cards, etc. I scan them into my computer and put a copy on the child's flash drive. By having your information in several places (Binder, Flash Drive and Computer file) you also prevent anything coming up "missing". This is also a great way to keep copies of school work and crafts, just scan them onto the drive and you don't have to feel guilty about throwing away the weekly spelling test! If you need to get the information to someone, you can always burn everything from the flash drive onto a CD that you can give them or email the specific documents they need. I keep the Flash Drive and a few pens and post-its in a zipper pouch in the front of the binder.
BASIC INFO SHEET:This sheet goes in the front of the binder and contains any pertinent information such as, Name, Birthdate, Age, Grade, Height/Weight, Allergies, Medical Diagnosis. I also put a current picture of the child on this sheet too. If for some reason your child ever ran away or went missing this sheet could easily be given to the police. I also have my child's fingerprint card and DNA samples on the back side of the plastic sleeve this sheet is in, you can get a free kit at http://www.pollyklaas.org/index.html.
CONTACT SHEET:This sheet includes the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and emails for anyone involved with the child. Behind this sheet is one of those plastic baseball card collector sheets to place business cards in from various professionals involved with the child. Always ask for a card or if they don't have one get their name and jot it down. You never know when you will need to recall someone who had an interaction with the child.
Siblings and Extended Family
Placements of siblings
Residential Treatment Facilities
In Patient Programs
Out Patient Programs
Partial Residential Treatment Facilities
CONTACT LOG: You can get a copy of my Contact Log here. Rather than tying to make all the information fit into columns, I've found it is easier for me to give myself as much space as needed to write notes or things I need to follow up on. I will also insert written communication such as emails, cards, etc. in plastic page protectors. I will still log these into the main Contact Log and then write "See Attached" in the notes section. That way I can keep track of everything in chronological order. Get a copy of the cover sheet for this section here.
IMPORTANT PAPERS: This section contains any important papers I need frequently, including copies of Adoption Decree, Birth Certificate, SS cards, Medical Cards. The other sheet I keep in here is a timeline of the child's life, including past placements and important events. This can be very helpful when you are talking to various therapists and doctors, I find that having a visual of all the dates is helpful in getting a full picture of the child. I can also add events to it as they come up or as new information is disclosed by those involved with the case. Get a copy of the cover sheet for this section here.
CALENDAR: I have a monthly planner that I picked up at the dollar store in this section. I find it is an easy way to keep track of appointments as well as jot down any behavior notes or incidents that I want to remember. It is very thin so doesn't take up much space and it is bound, so I can store it each year much easier than having a bunch of loose monthly calendar pages. I find it is helpful to develop some kind of rating system for the day (Red=Bad, Yellow= OK, Green =Good day OR a 1-5 scale), this way you can keep track of mood swings or patterns. I keep the calendar indefinitely, this way you can compare patterns yearly as well. For example, maybe you notice that every year around the date of the child's removal from birth parents things go downhill. Once you get an idea about the patterns you can better anticipate and head off issues.
MEDICAL SECTION: If you have a child with significant medical issues you may find it best to have a whole binder divided by type of Doctor/Specialist. For me, I keep a summary sheet in the front with doctor/dentist information, how often and when they are supposed to see them, when the last appointment was and when the next one will be. If the child has medical issues that require medications (not psych related) I keep a separate sheet listing current medications, dosage, directions, who prescribed them as well as a medication history sheet showing past medications and notes on any side effects or how well they worked. I have a medication log to document that I have given any medications. I then just keep all medical documents by date, if something is important and I will need to find it quickly or often I will put a post-it note on it that sticks out a little from the binder. In the back of this section I keep Incident Reports which I fill out if there are any bumps or bruises that I want to document. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
EDUCATION SECTION: I keep a sheet of important information up front, School contact info, teacher name, grade, room #, schedule including "specials" (for example 'Gym Day' so we bring sneakers), school calendar, IEP dates. Next is a copy of the current IEP and Evaluation in page protectors as well as a copy of the most current Procedural Safeguards for the state. Afterwards all important documents are hole punched and put in reverse chronological order, with the most recent up front. If a child receives early intervention I keep that paperwork in this section rather than medical section. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
PSYCHIATRIC SECTION: In this section I keep a summary sheet listing all current therapist/counselors with contact information as well as current medications. I keep a separate sheet listing current medications, dosage, directions, who prescribed them as well as a medication history sheet showing past medications and notes on any side effects or how well they worked. I keep the pamphlet that comes with the child's medication from the pharmacy and place a copy in the binder, it is a good summary of the possible side effects as well as useful for medical history when you are trying to find the right combination/dosage of medications. I use the back to write detailed notes and observations on the medication. I usually keep a few copies of their current medication sheet so I can hand it out when asked what medications the child is on ( I also include any Over the Counter medications or vitamins that are given regularly). I have a medication log to document that I have given the medications. I then just keep all medical documents by date, if something is important and I will need to find it quickly or often I will put a post-it note on it that sticks out a little from the binder. I then have a copy of any current treatment plan in a page protector with all past treatment plans or therapy information hole punched in reverse chronological order. This would include psychiatric evaluations, intake/progress/discharge records from psychiatric emergency room visits, inpatient/outpatient treatment centers, residential facilities as well.
SAFETY PLAN SECTION: In this section I keep a copy of our family's current safety plan in plastic page protector. Any past safety plans are hole punched and placed in reverse chronological order behind the current one as well as any notes as to why it needed changed. A safety plan is extremely important for a family to have BEFORE you are caught in the middle of a crisis. It is very hard to think clearly when all hell is breaking loose and you are trying to keep everyone safe. See my post on creating a family safety plan here. Click here to see my post on creating safety plans.
BEHAVIOR SECTION: This section will vary depending on what behaviors need to be addressed in each child. I keep a Monthly Calendar at the front of the binder where I can jot down things, but keep note pages where more detailed summaries can be placed here. Its often easier to make some quick notes on the calendar so I don't forget and then come back a the end of the week and put in some more detailed explanations here. If we are using a specific behavior sheet or reward program I will include those here. I have an incident report form that I use to document events that I feel are bigger or more serious than the minor daily issues. Get a copy of this sections cover sheet here.
COURT RECORDS: If your child is involved in any court actions you can keep a summary sheet of any court info you may have, court house address and contact information, judge assigned, attorney information, case number, important dates. The rest of the Court paperwork gets organized by date. I will also include a note page with a summary of what happened at a court date and include it accordingly. This section can also be used for any Police reports you may have, for example if Police had to be called to help get an unsafe child to the hospital. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
ARTICLES/DIAGNOSIS EXPLANATIONS: I keep a copy of important articles as well as summarized versions of the child's diagnosis in this section, along with a few extra copies. These are great to hand out to people who are not knowledgeable about the diagnosis or who genuinely show an interest in learning more. I also keep a copy of the side effect sheets for any medication they are on. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
Let me start with a caveat that each child, family, and situation is SO unique! I'm going to be painting my broad brush here based on my own personal experiences and people I know trying to balance this difficult aspect of foster care adoption. Ultimately you have to do what is right for your child, you may make mistakes along the way. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication between you and your child open. The older they get the more you will be able to discuss with them what they want/need or are comfortable with. There are NO right/wrong ways to handle this situation.
If you can avoid a written open adoption agreement with foster care adoptions I would. Some states these agreements are enforceable, others are not. My reasons for trying to avoid them are many, given the facts surrounding most foster care cases you are not dealing with a typical birth family dynamic. It is likely that things will drastically change, could be for the better or worse who knows. I think the written agreement often sets up all parties for failure. Birth parents often end up feeling like the adoptive parent has somehow swindled them when it is not honored, even if the adoptive family is doing this in the best interest of the child. Adoptive families often feel stressed about trying to honor an agreement that was made years ago with a child and birth family that may not be in the same position as they were then. I think an ideal situation (although maybe slightly utopian thinking on my part) would be both adoptive and birth parents working together to discuss each step along the way and deciding what works best for the child at that time.
If you are going to have a written open adoption agreement, these are the things I would think about including:
Consistency: I think consistency is one of the most important things to be clear about when we are talking about children who have often not had a stable early life. Whatever openness is agreed to the birthparents have to be consistent. Many open adoption agreements make it clear that if the parent does not show up as agreed to visits or calls, the agreement will end. Think about what consistency your child needs and what will happen if the birthparent is not consistent on their end.
Face to Face Visits/Phone calls: I would recommend that no visits or phone calls happen for 6months-1 year after the adoption. I think this gives the adoptive family a chance to bond and form the much needed attachment with each other without all of the hoopla of visits and caseworkers. I could certainly see situations where this wasn't necessary, but for me this would be important. My kids needed to know THIS was permanent, we were a family and nothing was changing that. After the initial "break" I would recommend starting slow, introducing cards to the child and seeing how they handle that and making sure the birthparent will be consistent with that level of contact and then moving up from there as the child is able. I think face to face visits for the younger age child needs to be centered around the kiddos likes and interests, allowing them something to "do" rather than a lot of pressure on the meeting itself. The zoo, chuck e cheese, kids museum would all be great options.
Drug/alcohol issues: Even if drug and alcohol issues are not a present concern I would include a caveat in the agreement that this was a deal breaker for direct contact.
Other parties: I think you need to lay out who else, if anyone, birthparents can bring along. Will visits include extended family, friends, current boyfriends/girlfriends, other children?
Internet/Photos: With the increase of facebook, photo sharing and other online mediums think carefully about establishing what boundaries will be set in place. Some families have a separate facebook account to share pictures information. Who will have access to that account, can photos be shared by the birthparent, etc.
Names: Lay out who and what everyone will be called right from the beginning. This will keep people from having feelings hurt or trying to explain different relationships at an already stressful time. There are so many options for names, you can surely find something everyone is comfortable with.
Whatever you decide to do, above all, I think the focus needs to be on the child. It can be difficult for adoptive parents and birth parents to put their own wants/needs aside and focus on the kid, but this isn't about us, it is about allowing the child to form a bridge from their past to their future and seeing that everyone supports and loves them.
WHAT OTHER THINGS DID YOU CONSIDER WHEN MAKING AN OPEN ADOPTION AGREEMENT?
I've heard a lot of talk this week about RAD kiddos and Christmas presents. Parents at the end of their ropes contemplating not giving any presents or leaving a note from Santa saying their behaviors don't warrant the presents they wanted, but here's some socks.
Do I get this? 100%, in fact I have stared at the Nintendo DS box wrapped up under the tree every morning and contemplated taking it away. My son has been particularly challenging and I have been particularly annoyed and irritated by his behavior. Does he "deserve" the Nintendo DS? Absolutely not!
I could go into a diatribe about how Christmas isn't about deserving presents and Gods love has covered us despite our sinful nature, so shouldn't we also put aside our kids "sins" and show them love this Christmas. I could, but I won't, this year I want you to stop and think about yourself on Christmas not your child.
As parents of special needs kids we've given up a lot of "normal". Our holidays are often stressful as we hyper-vigilantly plan out every minute. We don't get to sit around the adult table and converse with friends and family as our kids play nicely in the next room, we are stuck watching our child like a hawk trying to put out fires before they are started, all the while holding our breath waiting for the next crisis. If we do get a chance to talk with adults we end up listening to others critique our parenting or telling us that 'boys will be boys' or 'oh my kid does that, it's normal'. Worse yet we hear about all of the perfect kids the other adults have as our son waters the plants with pee.
We've already lost so much at the holidays, do we really want to lose presents too? The rest of the day may totally suck, the kids will be ungrateful and unappreciative. They may break the very thing you bought them and that they wanted so badly. BUT before all that there is a moment where they are excited and happy, truly happy. It may only be a second, but YOU did that. That happiness you see, the twinkle in their eye, it's not there often is it? That smile is what "normal" parents live for, and YOU have given that to them. This year on Christmas morning I want you to take that moment, however brief it is, and cherish it, because you brought joy to an often joyless child. YOU had a moment where you felt like a "good" parent, a "normal" parent enjoying their kids happiness on Christmas.
What will you get for YOU if you take away the presents? Your child will NOT learn a lesson, there is no logic or cause and effect thinking with attachment disorders. Your child will not remember this next time and say "Hmmm...last year I misbehaved and didn't get any presents, by golly this year I'm going to behave so I can have what I want." Not. going. to. happen. Likely the lack of presents or a note will only solidify what they feel inside, worthless, bad, un-loveable. They will take that feeling and run with it the rest of the day their years. You can guarantee a raging tantruming melt down will be had, ruining not only their day but certainly YOUR day, cause you will now spend your Christmas trying to contain a crisis and keep everyone safe.
Why do that to yourself on Christmas? Sure you may have a moment of satisfaction, a moment of "See what happens when you don't behave! See what happens when you treat me like crap, the one person who pours out their heart and soul to help you every single day!". But is it worth it? I for one would much rather have the fleeting moment of joy in my child's eyes then that moment of satisfaction. A moment that in reality continues to make me feel like crap, a crappy mom who cant even enjoy Christmas with her kids, a crappy mom who can't help this child, a crappy mom who will never be enough. This year I am going to be enough for me and enough for my kid. I'm going to watch him open that Nintendo DS and see the quick twinkle of his eye however brief it may be.....and Ill hold on to that twinkle and remember it when he breaks this Nintendo DS (just like he broke the last three**! LOL).
***To my oldest son's credit the third DS was dropped in the toilet by his younger brother (he also has attachment issues) who thought peeing and playing at the same time sounded like a GREAT idea ;)
ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR MOMMAS, DO IT FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE ENOUGH!
We are still trucking along with our Christmas Challenge. I did MUCH better at getting hugs in this week. Matthew still pretends to resist physical contact but it is clear he needs and enjoys getting hugs. I had a babysitter coming to the house on Friday night and no real plans on what to do, so I took Matthew out for a Mommy and Me date. We had a great time. We went to a movie and then over to Dave and Busters for dinner and games. He really is such a great kid! I am constantly amazed at how far he has come.
Have you ever been out with your brood and gotten questions or comments that you just didn't want to answer or now how to answer, especially with a bunch of kids staring up at you? I have, which is why I made these business cards that I can hand out when I hear things like, "Don't you know what causes that?" or "Are they all yours?".
The other night Matthew and I were watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on TV. As riveting as the movie is, I was scrolling through face book at the same time. I ran across a post from Matthew's birthmom that she was watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." Three years ago I would have just kept scrolling. Three years ago I wouldn't have wanted to deal with the fall out from mentioning his birthmom. I figured it would be best to just ignore it, he doesn't bring her up, so why push the issue.
What I have realized over the last three years is that even though he doesn't bring it up or talk about her, there is still a connection. It doesn't matter if that connection is rooted in trauma and hurt, it is there deep within his heart. That connection can grow in his heart towards resentment and confusion, anger and guilt if left alone to fester without guidance. If the fall out isn't dealt with now while he is young and can be guided, imagine how large that dark stain on his soul will grow. Trauma like that when not dealt with is not easily contained when we are adults.
So I shared with him that his birthmom was watching the same thing right now. He was giddy and excited that evening, it grew to a manic episode over the next few days. BUT it was manageable, contained. We discussed big feelings and holidays and missing birthfamilies. We discussed that it is okay to be mad and sad and happy and curious and all the things that come with adoption and trauma, but it is not okay to hurt others, to be defiant and disrespectful, to be unkind and unfun to be around. We discussed that he has all the tools he needs to handle his emotions, to sit with them and feel them, acknowledge them, and to be okay.
Three years ago I would have kept scrolling, today I relish the chance to practice everything we have learned, to look at how far we have come, to appreciate the fact that despite everything his birthmom will always be connected to him and love him even if she wasn't able to keep him safe.
Balancing openness in adoptions with kids who have suffered early childhood trauma is difficult, but worth it.
The boys had been going to 2x weekly visitation since they came to me in July. I had developed a fairly good relationship with mom, dad, and grandma who were at the visits each week, although mom was iffy as to whether she would show up at any given week. We would meet at the visitation center and have to wait in the waiting room together before and after the visits. We had our typical awkward situations, like when the boys called me mom or the baby couldn't be consoled by anyone but myself. I worked really hard at keeping them in the loop as to what the boys were doing and showing I respected their role as these children's family. I went into those visit days like I was merely a babysitter, I kept my distance when the baby cried, I redirected the boys back to their parents when they came over to me, I asked questions about what they boys liked and didn't like (even though I already knew and the answers I was given were wrong). It was difficult to put up those barriers and then after the visit go back to our own little world, our own little family.
When it was becoming apparent that my boys case was heading toward TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) and there would be no turning back things started to get REAL. Those weeks before the trial date were a roller coaster for sure. My feelings of wanting to claim the boys as my own grew and the fear that if TPR was lost they would be gone forever began to cripple me with fear. Keeping the emotions out of visits became harder and harder. I had a feeling that birth mom was in denial, there was no discussion of anything at visits, they were acting as if this was not happening, still telling the boys they were coming home. The caseworker was telling me that mom was not going to sign her rights away, that the trial was going forward.
One week before TPR, mom said to me after a visit "If you adopt the boys will you still let me see them?" My heart stopped, I had run through the possibilities endless times and yet I could not formulate any thoughts. I responded that we would need to sit down and discuss what that would look like, that she should talk to her attorney and see if we could discuss something. I went home and made pros and cons lists. I wanted some level of openness, but how much was I really comfortable with, and more importantly how much would my children want. You see, there was no real attachment or bond with mom and my children. They didn't ask about her, they were indifferent to visits, the signs of attachment disorder were there from the beginning that first day I met them and they asked to call me mom. They had suffered some severe trauma, abuse, neglect all while under the protection of their mother, the woman who was supposed to do anything to keep them safe. They were never put first, their needs always coming in last after whoever mom was dating at the time. Despite all of that, I actually kind of liked mom, I saw that she loved the boys the best she knew how. She was stuck in a cycle that had repeated itself for generations, this was normal for her, she was never shown another way. I also knew that despite the boys current attachment difficulties this person was a vital part of their story, they would have questions, they would want to know more. their life. At this point I was so concerned with losing them forever, I would have agreed to anything!
I sat down that evening with my "list of demands" if you will. Above all I wanted stability for my children, I wanted her in their lives, but that meant she had to BE there for them. This wasn't about me or her, they were the only thing that mattered in this decision. I never got to have that discussion with mom. The week passed and nobody called to set up a meeting. The day of the TPR I went to the courthouse expecting a trial. Five minutes before the trial mom and dad decided to sign away their rights if I agreed to adopt the boys. It was a confusing day with every emotion you could think of hitting me all at once. To be honest there was relief, not just at the fact that I knew the boys were staying with me forever, but relief that I could cut them out of our lives and not feel guilty about it since I hadn't agreed to anything. Looking back that relief grew out of insecurity and fear. Matthews therapist and I discussed with him what this meant, that he would be seeing mom one more time at a goodbye visit and then he would not see her anymore. Matthews therapist was adamant about him not seeing her again and so I agreed, she must know what is best right?!
It was done, it was all over, we could go on with our life as if none of this awfulness ever happened. We could pretend that we were a happy family, not a family scarred by early childhood trauma and attachment issues. At least that is what my delusional self told me. As the next week unfolded and the emotions settled in it just didn't feel right. It didn't seem to be in the realm of possibilities or even fair for me to make the decision to cut her out of their lives. So as the Goodbye Visit approached I prepared a photo of the boys with a PO Box and email address written on the back. The boys had their visit, things happened that were inappropriate and damaging. But I figured we wouldn't have to see them anymore. Maybe we would communicate with the token pictures and yearly updates and that would be enough.
Two days later, mom, dad, grandmom, and 3 aunts showed up to Matthew's baseball game. Imagine my surprise, horror, and overwhelming gripping fear when I walked up to the stands and saw them running our way. There were no caseworkers or police officers present like there was at the visitation center, it was just us and I was sorely outnumbered. Then a surprising thing happened, we all just sat around and watched the game. As if nothing had happened, we sat together like we were friends or family and just watched Matthew play. Don't get me wrong I felt slightly awkward, but they welcomed me with open arms, they were grateful and loving. I was dumbfounded and confused and kind of having a good time. Maybe this could all work out, maybe we would be the poster family for open adoptions in foster care.
My son didn't handle the surprise visit well, in fact shortly afterwards he was admitted for inpatient psychiatric care for a week due to his threats of self-harm. I realized then that the decision to see her was not about me and what I wanted or wanted for him. The decision wasn't about what mom wanted or needed. This decision had to solely be about what was best for my children, what they wanted and what they needed in order to be at peace with their history. My responsibility was to my children.
For the first year after the adoption I didn't hear from anyone, other than one birthday present sent to one of the three kids. I found mom on facebook and added her the Christmas following the adoption. I have kept in contact with mom, we message each other often, although her communication is sporadic and coincides with her relationship status. I will occasionally mention something to Matthew about being in contact with his birthmom, he still has difficulty handling that information appropriately. Mom has asked to see them, and although I would love to have that happen, I don't think we are at a place of healing yet to make that healthy. Mom responded in an understanding and selfless manner, characteristics that I didn't see during the time the boys were in foster care. I hope that one day we can expand our openness to visits, for now we both continue to share in the joys of OUR children through face book.
Our Mobile Therapist was over yesterday, he told me to go relax for awhile and he would run the therapy session. He didn't have to ask me twice, I ran as fast as I could! After enjoying some soup (and by soup I mean Shrimp Ramen Noodles---they are just SO good) for dinner in peace and quiet, I began to get started on my monthly lunch prep. As I was working in the kitchen, the Mobile Therapist came out to chat and he was amazed at my system. I started thinking of all the little things us Mom's do to make our life easier and thought it would be a great idea for some blog posts! My goal for 2014 is to get systems in place for everything, so it all runs smoothly!
Today I'm going to talk about how I do school lunches in our house. Right now I only have one school age child who needs a lunch every day (but I always try and set my house up as if I have more since you never know who will be here the next day in the world of foster care. My younger ones also have "lunch bunch" three days a week at preschool, this is where they can stay for an extra hour after school and eat lunch/play. On the other two days a week we are often out running around doing errands or appointments. I found I ended up grabbing food while we were out and wasting money and not eating healthy. So now I try and have all of us pack a lunch Monday through Friday, if we don't end up being out we can always eat it at home!
Our LUNCH fridge, Excuse the awful unfinished basement :)
In our basement I have a "mini" fridge, although its bigger than a dorm sized fridge. You could easily find a full sized fridge on craigslist to use for this or maybe a shelf in your regular fridge. This little fridge I found on sale at home depot and it is the perfect size to keep lunch stuff in without having anything else in there to distract little hands. I keep a basket in the top where the lunch bags stay. In the morning the boys go down stairs, get their lunch bags and make their lunch. They take one item from each bin/basket and they are on their way!
Drinks- We have these water bottles that are reusable and are easy to fill up at the beginning of the week. Matthew takes one a day and puts it in his lunch box, at the end of the day he puts it in the dishwasher. Matthew isn't a big water fan so I sometimes put lemonade powder in or a juice/water mix. Lunch bunch doesn't allow drinks, they give them water. I keep some water bottles in the car if we are out and about for lunch.
Water- Free, Lemonade Powder $.05
Sandwiches- My kids LOVE Peanut Butter and Jelly they will eat it every meal if I let them. My school age child is allowed to have PB at school but the preschool does not. To make it easy I just use 'sun butter' on the sandwiches, so as not to upset the preschool or cause any allergic reactions :) You can buy it in bulk on Amazon. I also mark on their sandwiches that it is Sunbutter- Allergen Free, PB Alternative.....otherwise the preschool gets all crazy at lunch bunch! Now despite the fact my kids love PB&J I LOATHE making them, all that sticky gooey mess, ugh. So instead of making sandwiches every day I make them once a month...that's right once a month I make at least 60 PB & J sandwiches (and about 30 Ham and Cheese). I will usually buy 3 loaves of bread and a bulk size of tortilla shells or if I see any rolls/bread/tortilla on the day old shelf for a good price I will buy them all! I spread out the bread and shells and go down the line factory style spreading the sun butter/pb and jelly. I roll up the tortillas, cut everything in half put them in the cheap sandwich baggies from the dollar store. Then I put the sandwich bags back in the bag the bread or tortillas came in and stick the whole thing in the freezer. In the morning the kids pull out a sandwich and stick it in their lunch bag, the sandwich will keep everything cold till lunch and be defrosted and ready to eat when lunch time comes around.
PB- $10/month Bread-$10/month Jelly- $10/month 90 sandwiches breaks down to about $0.33 per sandwich which can be even cheaper if you buy the items when they go on sale. I average about $0.15 per sandwich, we stock up on PB/Sunbutter and Jelly when it goes on sale and this is a great way to buy bread that is on the day old shelf and use it up before it gets stale!
Fruit- Our fruit bin contains fresh fruit like apples, bananas, or grapes in ziplock baggies. I also will put applesauce, dried fruit, fruit snacks, fruit cups or fruit "chips" in the bin occasionally if something is on sale. I also have little containers with caramel or sunbutter or our greek yogurt and honey dip in the bin. The boys pick one item from the fruit bin (and a dip if they want) and place it in their bag.
Fresh Fruit- $0.10- $.25 a piece
Vegetables- The vegetable basket has fresh carrots, celery, and peas in ziploc along with ranch and sunbutter dips in small containers. I also have veggie chips and dried veggies available if I see them on sale. Again the boys pick one and put it in the bag.
Fresh Veggies and dip- Avg $.25 a serving
Snacks- Ah, now we are getting to the fun stuff! Snacks! I typically look for snack foods on sale and will fill this basket up accordingly; goldfish, chips, teddy grahams,, yogurt, etc. You can buy a larger size for cheaper and then break it down to portion size in baggies.
Snacks- The most I will spend on snacks is $.25 a serving, I prefer it to be around $.10.
Desserts- We are still working our way through Halloween candy over here! We are so close to finishing that up! In addition to the candy, I have things like pudding, cookies, brownies, etc in this basket. Most of the desert items are homemade. Ill make a double batch of cookies or brownies so we have some for after dinner and the rest for lunch. If I have a coupon and something is on sale I'll grab them for the basket.
Desserts- Most of the desserts are homemade and a serving would cost me less than $.10 to make.
TOTAL COSTS: So we are looking at about an average of $1.25 or so per lunch. In reality by buying things on sale and stocking up it probably costs us closer to $.75 per lunch. This is way cheaper than buying everyone fast food meals and a whole lot healthier. Not to mention the effort on my end is minimal as I just check the refrigerator at the beginning of the week and replenish what is running low!
What about you do you have any great time/money/sanity saving tips? Id love to hear them in the comments or if you would like to write a guest post contact me through the form on the right.
Next week I'll be posting on easy lunches for us busy MOM's! :)
I was reminded on facebook today about "special needs" business cards a dear friend of mine had made years ago. When I saw these cards I just had to make my own, so that is what I did. About a year ago I made these business cards to keep with me when we are out and about. They have come in handy not only when my children are having some issues, but also to spread the word about early childhood trauma, mental health, and attachment issues. You can easily make these to fit your unique family situation or answer questions and comments that you frequently here.
December 1st- I got in my hugs with Joel and James, but not with Matthew! Ill have to work harder on his hugs tomorrow :) We read "The 12 days of Christmas" and did a craft together followed by a family dinner. It may have all taken place around the coffee table BUT we did it! After I got everyone to bed Matthew and I played Speed and I didn't even cop out after a couple rounds, I played all the way through,
December 2nd- seriously it's the second day and I'm already failing miserably at this hug thing, ugh, it's just not something that comes naturally to me and I don't think about doing it! I did eat together and read the book. We did some drawing together as a family. BUT I'm most proud about the fact that despite Matthew pushing my buttons I still played the game with him. I SO wanted to just leave him in his room, but I called him down and played for awhile! Now hugs tomorrow.....I can do this!
December 3rd- I did pretty good on hugs today! Got in 5 with each of the boys! Did our book and ate together, we didn't have time for a craft since it is the mobile therapist night.
December 4th-We read our book and ate our dinner together. I played a game with Matthew, he didn't like loosing and began yelling that I was a cheater....things went downhill from there. BUT I did eventually get him to his room so we could both calm down. He came down a little later and apologized, we had a good talk so I guess it was a win!
December 5th- Got in some hugs today, played several games. Of course Matthew had yet another blow out for not winning the game which resulted in him breaking the security/video camera upstairs....he is still up there dysregulated, but not breaking anything so Im taking a minute! We had dinner together and illustrated a story we made.
December 6th- It was a busy day today and we had a rough morning, but we got everything in!
December 7th- I may or may not have just hugged my kids 20 times in a row to get in my hugs this week, LOL. I am going to do better next week, I have to do better! Everything else went pretty smoothly this week, despite Matthew really working on sabotaging the games. 2 more weeks to go :)
Having a safety plan in place is vitally important when you are dealing with a child who struggles with mental illness, whether it is a threat of suicide, manic or aggressive/threatening behavior, knowing what to do when in the midst of crisis needs to be second nature to ensure everyone's safety.
When developing the safety plan it is important to have input not only from any family members or caregivers who it may effect, but also additional third parties such as counselors, therapists, first responders, etc. It is important to know what your options are and what supports are available to you before a crisis occurs. Having input from other trained professionals can help you find other available supports you may not know about as well as determining the best course of action for your particular child. Involving others also protects you in the future and helps you to explain to first responders/hospitals/treatment centers the actions you took before contacting them and how the family has gotten to this point in the safety plan. Most importantly don't forget to include your child in this process. Keeping the discussion open may help them recognize their own warning signs for crisis and respond better. asking your child about what would help them in crisis is a great place to start.
Having a written safety plan is only helpful if everyone in the family knows their role and what to do in an emergency. It is extremely important that all family members participate in "practice" runs much like a fire drill. In our house we have a code word we use to indicate that they are to go to the play room, lock the door, and pick a TV show to watch. I use the code word every once in awhile when they least expect it and give out treats for good listeners. By making it fun and non threatening I think it reduces any stress or fear when an actual need arises.
Our safety plan includes a page (front and back) of basic/background/summary information including:
Common Behaviors including known triggers/antecedents, things that can escalate/calm the behavior, strategies that may work.
The second page includes the actual plan "If child is doing X, then you do Y." This will be very child-specific, but here is a copy of ours so you can get an idea.
So now that you have your safety plan, you can just stick it on a shelf and forget about it right? NO, the safety plan will have to constantly be amended and changed based on your families current needs and support systems. It is also important to reflect on the safety plan and any changes that need to be made following a crisis. You may want to ask What situations or triggers led to the crisis? What worked and didn't work? What can we do differently to keep everyone safe and calm?
I like to make notes right on my safety plan and then develop a revised version based on my notes for the next crisis.
If any of you have ever sat in a psychiatric emergency room for hours on end, you know how boring, stressful and unproductive you can feel. Creating a bag that can be left in the car or near the door is a great idea to prepare for a crisis. Things are happening so fast when you reach the point of transporting or having your child transported to a hospital or emergency unit. The last time we were in crisis the first responders wouldn't even give me the time to find my youngest kids shoes!!
This bag should include your crisis plan, documentation binder and some snacks, games, music or books for both yourself, the child in crisis, and any others who may be waiting for long periods of time.
You may also want to pack an emergency bag that includes a change of clothes and basic hygiene supplies in case it is determined the child in crisis will be admitted or transferred to another unit.
Ok did you read it, on a scale of 1-10 how offended are you? I'm not sure if I am more offended because I am single, adoptive parent, or a Christian!!
If he would have stopped about halfway through the article, I would have agreed with him. I strongly believe that abortion should NEVER be an option. Where he totally lost me was this:
"Keeping the baby is almost never preferable to allowing a baby to be adopted into a solid, faithful Christian home. A single mother who keeps her baby is quite often denying that baby the father that God wants for that baby, and every baby, to have. Furthermore, in most circumstances, keeping the baby circumscribes and forecloses both the mother's and the baby's economic futures in tragic and unfortunate ways. If the mother is doing what is best for her baby (one of the defining marks of maternal love), she will part with her baby so that it will have the future God intended for him or her to have. The Old Testament story of the two harlots who both had babies and one died in the night comes to mind (1Kings 3). Both women claimed the surviving baby was their child and wanted the king to give the baby to them. King Solomon decided to have the baby divided in two and each be given half. Immediately, the real mother told the king to give the baby to the other woman in order to save the child's life. In other words, she was thinking of the child's best interest, not her own."
Where do I even begin with that?? Let's break it down:
"Keeping the baby is almost never preferable to allowing a baby to be adopted into a solid, faithful Christian home." WHAT?! Keeping a baby is almost ALWAYS preferable to adoption, unless the child would be unsafe, abused, or neglected. The removal of a child from their birth mother is a TRAUMATIC event for both the mother and the child, some are able to recover, some live with lifelong issues because of that trauma. Furthermore, why is it assumed that the Single Mother's household is not a solid, faithful Christian home? And just because a child is placed in a Christian home doesn't mean that the child will in turn be a Christian or even embrace the parents moral values. Just as there are many people who grew up in non-Christian homes who have found the Lord. And where exactly does one find all these solid, faithful Christian two parent homes? They aren't exactly stepping up to the plate around where I live, unless of course we are talking about a perfectly healthy Caucasian baby from a healthy drug/alcohol free college educated birth mother.
"A single mother who keeps her baby is quite often denying that baby the father that God wants for that baby, and every baby, to have." So what happens when a woman from this solid, faithful Christian home is widowed, is she to give up her children then? Are we to assume that there are no divorces in the Christian church? No cheating or abusive husbands that a woman may leave? Isn't God our real true father anyway? I adopted my children as a single mother, there weren't any married Christian couples lining up to adopt three special needs boys. Would it have been preferable to let them sit in foster care till they turned 18? Furthermore, even if a "father" would have stepped up to take in the boys, it would not have been a preferable placement. The abuse that my children suffered at the hand of a male figure would have made that bond extremely difficult to form at that time in their lives, trust would have been far fetched to come by further harming their emotional development.
"Furthermore, in most circumstances, keeping the baby circumscribes and forecloses both the mother's and the baby's economic futures in tragic and unfortunate ways." WOW, what a stereotype we have here, the poor single mother. First every single mother I know is financially comfortable, I cant say the same for many married couples I am in contact with. I would also assume that for most single mothers who are "poor" whether or not they keep the baby they will still be "poor". Just because someone is poor does not mean they cant be a good parent and provide for their child. Splitting up a mother and child merely because the finances aren't ideal is astronomically wrong and un-Christian in my view. Can you imagine Jesus saying to a hungry mother and child, here let me help you by taking your child and giving it to this couple over here? NO, he would feed and clothe them, shower them with unconditional love, invite them into his family. There are MANY solid, faithful Christian homes whose finances are in dire straights, going into debt to have the nicest car on the block or traveling to Disney world when they can't afford it. There are also those who have managed their finances well but been hit with an unexpected job loss or medical issues putting their financial future in jeopardy. Economic futures should not be anywhere near this conversation!
"If the mother is doing what is best for her baby (one of the defining marks of maternal love), she will part with her baby so that it will have the future God intended for him or her to have." Who are you to tell God what future he has planned?? Doesn't God use people from all walks of life, all socio-economic classes for his good? I for one can tell you that the marks of God working in my boys lives leading them to be with me, a single mother, are ALL over our story. I have no doubt this is the future God intended for them to have. If God wanted a husband/father in these single mothers lives, or wants the child raised in a solid faithful Christian home, couldn't he easily make that happen right where the child is at? Couldn't the struggles a single mother family have be exactly what that child needed in order to learn/develop/experience what God needed them to so he could use them in the way he needed them?? Someone should let Jackie Robinson, Whoopi Goldberg, President Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, and Tom Cruise know this wasn't the future God had planned for them, being raised by single moms and all.
"The Old Testament story of the two harlots who both had babies and one died in the night comes to mind (1Kings 3). Both women claimed the surviving baby was their child and wanted the king to give the baby to them. King Solomon decided to have the baby divided in two and each be given half. Immediately, the real mother told the king to give the baby to the other woman in order to save the child's life. In other words, she was thinking of the child's best interest, not her own." Ah yes, lets talk about the King Solomon story, I seem to recall that in the end of that story King Solomon gave the child to the "real" mom, a prostitute nevertheless! Furthermore, King Solomon gave the women a choice and that is what Adoption is all about. A loving mother making a choice for her baby. As Christians I believe it is our calling to support a birth mother in that choice, whatever it may be, to show her love and compassion in a difficult time. Let's all get behind that Dr. Land. If we as Christians all did that, love and support without judgment, wouldn't that be a testament to each of those people of God's love?
Another poster on facebook had a brilliant idea:
"SINGLE MOMS- Do everyone a huge favor and bless Dr. Richard Land this Christmas with a photo card of your family. Because we can't peel the podium away from this misguided soul, tell him to stick a stocking in it, or take away his megaphone, we'll just have to counter his foolish and uninformed talk with proof. READ the article, PICK UP your jaw off the floor, put a STAMP on your Christmas card, and MAIL it here:
Dr. Richard Land 3000 Tilley Morris Road Matthews, NC 28105
Feel free to include a sweet note or yummy cookies. Or not. But at least send the photo card of your SINGLE MOM FAMILY! Now! Get on it!"
I will be sending my card out this month, that is if I can afford cards since my economic future is tragic and unfortunate :)
Found this old post that I never published from 2010 a week after the boys got here ;). I'm so looking forward to a new placement!
VERY!! Everyone is sound asleep.....that is everyone but ME!
The boys are all here and cute as can be :) Baby R is sound asleep next to me in the pack and play. There was a brief attempt to move him to the crib, followed by the quick lesson of the day- Do not move the sleeping baby! If baby falls asleep downstairs you leave baby asleep downstairs and set up shop on the couch for the night :)
Boys bedtime at the relative placement 10:00, Boys bedtime at my house 7:30 for Little W, 8:30 for Big E. Seemed to go well and no one noticed the change. Baby R fell asleep at 6 and has woken up twice so far for about 10 minutes each time- not too bad for an 8 week old.
Our Therapy 101 series helps introduce various therapies, interventions, and treatments relevant to foster care and adoption issues.
Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up Intervention (ABC)
I can't remember how I initially came across this intervention, but I am SO excited about it's possibilities in the foster/adopt world. Even better the studies and training are based out of University of Delaware which is not too far from me. Ill be keeping my eyes out to see if there is ever an opportunity for me to go and learn more!
"The Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) intervention was developed by Dr. Mary Dozier to help caregivers provide nurturing care and engage in synchronous interactions with their infants. Young children who have experienced early maltreatment and/or disruptions in care can often behave in ways that push caregivers away. ABC helps caregivers re-interpret children's behavioral signals so that they provide nurturance even when it is not elicited. Nurturance does not come naturally to many caregivers, but children who have experienced early adversity especially need nurturing care. Additionally, many children who have experienced early adversity are dysregulated behaviorally and biologically. ABC helps caregivers provide a responsive, predictable environment that enhances young children's behavioral and regulatory capabilities. Parent coaches encourage caregivers to follow their children’s lead with delight.
Sessions are implemented by parent coaches who provide parenting training in the parent’s home for weekly one-hour sessions over a period of 10 weeks. Caregivers and the identified child (between ages 6 months and 2 years) must be at all sessions. Other family members, partners, and children are welcome to attend. Although session content is guided by a manual, the parent coach’s primary role is to provide ‘‘in the moment’’ feed back about the parent’s interactions with his or her child. Throughout all sessions, the parent coach observes the parent’s behavior and makes comments on behaviors that relate to the intervention targets. This frequent “in the moment” feedback focuses attention on the target behaviors, which is expected to enhance the parent’s understanding of the content and support the parent in practicing the target behaviors. Along with “in the moment” comments, parent coaches provide video feedback to highlight parents’ strengths, challenge weaknesses, and celebrate changes in behaviors."
Here's the picture I found this morning on our coffee table:
This was MY interpretation:
In the top left corner is a boy scribbled over in black, he has an arrow next to his feet pointing to a heart and breathing fire onto the house. I interpreted this to be Matthew burning the house down and not having a heart. At the bottom of the house is a boy smiling holding a bloody knife, which I interpreted as Matthew. There are three ghosts with stabbed hearts in the house which appear to be throwing up blood, I interpreted this to be myself and Matthews two brothers.
I started freaking out......I contacted some of my other Moms who get "it" and they calmed me down. They told me to take a breath and just ask him to tell me about the picture when he gets home. Don't react, thank him for sharing his feelings with me and keep the conversation open.
So tonight after Matthew and I played a few rounds of Speed, I pulled out the picture and asked him to tell me what was happening in the story.
Here is the explanation:
There was a Halloween drawing contest at school. He drew this picture of a black crow shooting lava at a house. The good guy is going into the house to kill the evil vampire ghosts. The ghost have broken hearts because they asked a girl out and she said no. He didn't win the contest, another kid who had a picture of evil zombies won. He was pretty mad he didn't win.
I totally overreacted, MY PTSD took over, LOL.
Let this be a lesson for you, don't freak out till you get all the facts :)
As Thanksgiving comes to a close and we enter the Christmas season, I am finding my "therapeuticness" is being tested more and I'm failing miserabley! When my boys are excited their behavior goes downhill fast, when you throw in the excitement if the hilidays with all the trauma history holidays bring up it is a disaster. When my stress level is up u loose my temper quickly, my patience is minimal and I ten to blow small behavioral incidents into massive ones. Something has to change this holiday season and its gonna have to start with me!
Here's my goals for this holiday season, will you join me in one or all of them?
25 books to read this month: For the last few Christmases I have tried to wrap up 25 Christmas books and read one each night. Any time I find a Christmas Book at Goodwill I grab it and put it in my stash. I have yet to actually make it through all 25 days! Inevitably an evening starts going downhill, I get frustrated and send everyone to bed without the story. This year I am going to do it!! There is nothing they can do to loose the story, I am going to remain calm and patient and read that story as if my life depended on it :)
25 games played this month: Matthew loves card games of any kind, he usually waits till the end of the night when I am drop dead tired and then starts begging me to play. I end up denying him way to much cause I'm tired and worn out from the days activities. This month I am going to play a game every day. Ill try and play earlier in the day so I'm not too tired to do it and I will try to ask him to play instead of the other way around :)
25 crafts this month: As you probably already know from my Art Therapy Thursday posts, my kids LOVE crafts. My goal is to get at least 25 crafts done this month with them! I'm sure Ill be sharing them on Art Therapy Thursdays!
25 meals eaten together this month: I love the idea of eating together, but in all honesty what happens is I get everybody everything and by the time I sit down to eat they are all done. Nobody is getting up from the dinner table till we are ALL done.
25 hugs per week: James is anxiously attached he has a constant desire for hugs. I usually require him to ask first because of boundary issues and personal space issues he has. I am not a touchy feely person, I generally don't like hugs all that much! BUT this month I am making myself initiate hugs at least 25 times per week! This morning I came down and asked everyone for a morning hug. Afterwards, James says, "We should do this every morning Mommy, have a morning hug right when you come down!" He was so excited. How can you say No to a cute face like that!
25 minutes of family time a night: This could be reading the book, making the craft or playing the game, but it has to be ALL of us spending time without electronic distractions!
Any takers? Ill keep you updated on how it goes for me! Follow me on Facebook and let me know what you will be doing this holiday season to connect with your difficult kiddos! (Click the facebook badge on the right to follow me on FB).