One More….

One more rule.

One more standard.

One more “legislative mandate”.

One more background check.

Oh, and in the meantime, let’s try to let “kids be kids.” Really?!? How is that even possible when the State, at times, appears to operate with an “Us against Them” mentality trying to prove how bad each of us really are as foster parents? How do children feel like other children when we have to clear everyone off the trampoline so they can jump alone? Are we running a leper colony or a home? How do I allow them to just be children when every movement is critiqued and questioned even though I’m probably a better parent than 95% of the people making the rules?

One more pile of paperwork.

One more appointment.

One more daily log.

One more training.

Oh, and in the meantime, try to “parent them like you would your own children.” Really?!? Because last time I checked I never keep a daily log, clothing inventory, and doctor’s note on each of my own children. I never have to get clearance each time I take my children out of state to see their grandparents. I never have to ask permission on whether or not my own children can do ______________ (fill in the blank).

Family Reunification is always best.

Family Reunification will work out.

Family Reunification at all cost.

Oh, and in the meantime, what am I supposed to do when the biological parent completes their neat checklist, kids are returned, and EVERYONE knows this is not a safe home? Am I supposed to just sit there and think, “Well, that’s cute. At least they are with their real mom and dad”, especially when the newly hired state caseworker tells me I really don’t have a stake in this child’s permanency? Did you see the article about Florida the other day? 477 children died after being involved with the child welfare system and were allowed to go home and/or stay with their parents. How’s reunification working out for you now, Florida?

Look, I get it. I’m not naïve, and really I’m not some mad, disoriented foster parent. In fact, I’m a firm believer in things that matter like, not using physical discipline on children in care, making sure the home is clean and safe, limiting physical restraints, decreasing the over medication of children in foster care, running ‘appropriate’ background checks on individuals that need them and a few other key issues. I get it, I do.

So, who am I?

I am a foster parent who cares. I am a director within a child placing agency who cares about his foster families. I am a guy who is tired of the state and national organizations throwing around the phrase “best practice” like they’re handing out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Most of those state and national people have fancy degrees, BUT no real life, foster care experience. Frankly, they can keep their “best practice”, because I have a degree in “best dad” which kicks their butt any day. I’m an advocate for kids in care, I’m an advocate for foster parents, and when biological parents get it right, I’m even an advocate for them. But, I will never be an advocate of best-practice-mumbo-jumbo or individuals creating new laws/legislation/standards to protect their butts — while being willing to throw foster parents under the bus and/or tie their hands where they can’t “parent the way they would their own children” or “let kids be kids.”

Children in care deserve awesome moms and dads. Foster families deserve awesome case managers and agencies focused on them and not focused on maintaining a 300 page rulebook. You want to see “kids be kids”?? Loosen the reins, take a chill pill, come out of your office and stop going to “best practice” conferences. Allow those of us who rock to show you how it can be done. Then, let’s talk about how to make foster care better.

If none of that sounds very appealing to you state office employee, legislator, national certification guru, then maybe you should just resign, walk away, and stop wasting these children’s time. After all, they have a life ahead of them and they really don’t need you.

Keepin’ it real,

Concerned Foster Parent, Child Welfare Worker, and Advocate

Side note: The agency I foster with rocks, our case manager rocks, and our state caseworker rocks (we are lucky!). This blog takes a collective perspective I’ve been wrestling with over the past few months (years), regarding foster care, rules, restrictions, etc…thanks for reading.

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They Are Precious In His Sight

Every year we celebrate a man, Martin Luther King Jr., who courageously fought for equality for generations past, present and future.  We highlight his courage, his love, and his character.  We look around and high five each other, because ‘we’ve’ come a long way.  And yet, most days are but a poor reflection of what truly should be.  We seemingly gloss over the ugliness of reality with catchy quotations spread throughout the social media world, while overlooking the messy brokenness that still wrecks entire communities. 

To understand some of this, one must only look to the numbers presented within the foster care system.  Numbers, frequently quoted in relation to a term known as ‘disproportionality’. 

In 2011, more than half of the children entering foster care in the U.S. were children of color.

Black or African American children are disproportionately more likely than other children to be reported, investigated, substantiated, and placed in foster care.  – Children’s Rights (www.childrensrights.org)

Does that quote catch your attention?  Now, we can all start cranking out excuse after excuse about why this might be the case.  Some of which may be valid points, as such, a lot of deep issues are built into disproportionality.  But, let me tell you about what I often struggle with as an advocate and professional in the child welfare field.  I struggle with the reality that there are a significant number of foster and adoptive families, who simply do not want an African American child.  Here is a list of things I’ve heard over the past nine years,

  • We are open to other races, but not African American.  We are just not sure we could effectively meet their cultural needs.
  • We are open to other races, just not African American.  We do not feel we would know how to deal with their hair and skin care needs. 
  • We are open to other races, except African American.  We are worried our extended family may not accept them.
  • We would prefer not to be placed with an African American child, because we are not ready for the questions people might ask us when they see us out in public.
  • We would prefer a Caucasian child, so that they will look like us.
  • We really want to have a placement soon, but we are willing to wait until it is a Caucasian child. 
  • We are open to bi-racial children, as long as, one of the races is Caucasian and the other race is not African American. 

Yep, I didn’t make any of these statements up.  Can I tell you something else?  Most states struggle to place African American children in adoptive homes.  In the state that I live, work, and foster in, children of minority races above the age of 2 are classified as ‘special needs’ adoptions and subsidies are provided in hopes of encouraging families to adopt such children. 

But wait, take a moment to read this beautiful quote from Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,

“….one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….”

Let that sink in.  No really; pause, reflect, and let the beauty of that statement soak into the depths of your soul. Now ask yourself, why do we so often avoid the African American child in the foster care system?  Oh, we will take the Hispanic, Caucasian, or even Asian child, but “dadgum, we just don’t know how we’d parent that African American child.”  What the ___________?!? (you fill in the blank)

Now, to be fair, I could have written a completely separate blog (and, maybe I will) about all the beautiful stories I have seen of transracial fostering and adoption.  Families who love the children in their home, despite any differences in race.  Of moms and dads seeking out anyone and everyone they can find to give them information regarding what hair and skin products work best for ‘their child’.   Families celebrating differences and aspiring to immerse their child fully into their cultural heritage.  But, today, in the midst of all the quotes, posts, and reflections my heart stopped instead on the ‘why?’

We have come so far, but, ‘why’ are we still not there?  We can do better America.  Child after child in the foster care system needs us too. 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

***I realize this is a heavy conversation and all parts of the conversation cannot be worked out and stated in a simple blog post.  I also respect families being honest during the licensure process about their personal limitations.  Regardless, as an advocate for children in foster care, I feel this is a topic to highlight, address, and bring to light. 

If you want to learn more about ‘disproportionality’ in Foster Care ask Google, or click on one of the links provided below.

http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Disproportionality%20Rates%20for%20Children%20of%20Color%20in%20Foster%20Care%202013.pdf

http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/RacialDisproportionality_ES.pdf

http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/disproportionality-rates-children-color-foster-care-2013-technical

http://www.childrensrights.org/issues-resources/foster-care/facts-about-disparities-in-foster-care/

https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/cultural/disporp/

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport19.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Trust, Rescue, Redemption, Love and Sacrifice

Foster parents aren’t super heroes. We don’t wake up and put on capes and go save the world. In fact, if our lives were a movie, it would be full of messiness, doubt, failure, and a lot of heartache. And yet, even in the midst of all that, a hero does emerge and His fingerprints are visible all throughout foster care.

Foster Care Teaches Us to Trust God

“For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalm 33:21-22

Without fail the number one thing foster parents hear on a regular basis from friends, co-workers, family, strangers, and church members is this, “I could never do that. I could never love a child and then have to give them up.” You know what? Neither can we. But, it really isn’t about what ‘you’ or ‘we’ can do. It is about what God wants to do through us. For Him to be able to do that, we have to be willing to trust Him. Foster care teaches us that it is okay to not have full control of outcomes, because we were never asked to write the ending, we were just asked to play a role in the middle chapters. Do you know how crazy it can make someone if they don’t know how the story ends? Let me tell ya, crazy. So, we learn to trust. There are hundreds of thousands of children out there who need a family to love them for a season. They need mom’s and dad’s to say, “I got you, right now.” But, too often people sit on the sideline and say, “I can’t, I just can’t..” To open your life to foster care, you have to trust that God knows and cares about the ending even more than you do. You have to learn to trust Him, when agencies, individuals, friends and biological families let you down. Trust pushes individuals to believe God will see it through, despite the pain, messiness, and uncertainty they will experience in the process.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Rescue

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

When Adam and Eve took the bite, rescue was set in motion. God’s plan has always been to rescue His people. That has never changed. Foster care is clear evidence of the fact that He is still in the business of rescuing His kids from the worst situations. It is the visible, tangible process through which He calls His people to join Him in the process of providing rescue for children who most need it. It is easy to get jaded by the world, look up and see many horrific things happening and ask, “Where is God in all of this?” We’d challenge you to look for Him in foster care; a place where countless individuals give up their personal agenda’s to take on God’s agenda of rescue. You find Him in the sibling group taken from the drug house in the middle of the night, in the baby experiencing withdrawals from drugs in the NICU, and in the child taken from a home with no food, no water and no electricity. God swoops in and rescues His kids. Rescue is in each and every story. We are called to be His hands and feet, but if we do not show up, then who will?

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Redemption

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

God is most definitely in the business of redeeming individuals and families. Foster care displays that time and time again. Foster care is about second chances and the most difficult thing about seeing someone get a second chance is there will come a time when you don’t believe they deserve one. That is when God teaches you about your own redemption and He reminds you that you really didn’t deserve a second chance either. In foster care God acts to redeem His family, both in the physical and in the spiritual. Biological parents get a horrible rap, sometimes deserved, but in reality a lot of them are just people who have made a bunch of mistakes, like you and I, and they need redemption. They need a God to speak deeply into their souls beyond the poverty, the addictions, the habits, the failures, and the brokenness and say, ‘you are mine and you matter’. Foster care reveals God’s redemptive work, in His timing, and in His own way. Being a foster parent also teaches us that our redemption is constantly at work and that all of us are in need of a second chance.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Love and Sacrifice

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

Ultimately, foster care teaches us to love in ways we never ever thought was possible. It pushes us to love others, our children and ourselves in a whole new light. Foster care teaches us to turn to God for the strength to love on days we do not think we have any love left to give. Being a foster parent rewires our hearts to look past behaviors and directly at a child, understanding they are a precious creation of the creator and reminding us to love them as He loves them. It also teaches us what it is like to sacrifice our own life for that of another, a child. Foster care brings Christ’s words in Matthew 16:24-25 to life, Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” During this journey, our selfishness, our desires, and our agendas are held accountable in light of God’s love and sacrifice.

We do not know how our journey will end, we haven’t been given the pen to write the final chapter, but we know this, we are thankful we chose to say ‘yes’ to God, when it would have been much easier to say, “Get lost. Foster care is for someone else.”

Trust, rescue, redemption, love and sacrifice are each woven into the fabric of foster care. As foster parents, we will never get to wear a cape, but we have been able to watch the real hero of the world do His work and show us His beauty and that is more than we could have ever imagined.

Can I tell you something? I’m SCARED!

It is about to get real!  I mean really, really real.  You see, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to worry, and if I can put it off until tomorrow I will.  So, when people have said to me, “I could never foster, because it would hurt too much when the kids went home”, to be honest, I just didn’t think about it, because that ‘going home’ bit was a distant reality.  It wasn’t something I cared to worry about at that moment.  But, I can’t put it off any longer, that ‘day’ is just around the corner and if I’m blatantly honest, then I’d tell you I’m SCARED!! 

I’m scared about a lot of things.  Will our kids be tucked in every night?  Will they get three meals and good snacks every day?  Will they get lots of hugs?  Will they be told how special they are?  Will they get the care they deserve and need?  Will they have someone there to help them with their homework or do a craft with them?  Will someone be there to throw the football around with our little guy?  Will someone give them the special character band aids when they fall down and scrape their knee?  Will someone protect them from the things they have seen and experienced in their past?  So many random fears are running through my mind right now.  But, you know what?  I’ve decided this isn’t so much about me being scared or my own fears, instead it is really about my ability to trust.  Can I trust God with these children?  Do I trust God enough that I believe He can keep these kiddos safe even when I am no longer in the picture?  Even when I am no longer their mom??

I love that God has been able to use me, a simple mom, in His greater purpose.  I love that He has been able to use our whole family (immediate and extended) to write a love story on these children’s hearts and vice versa He has used these kiddos to write a love story on our hearts!  And, even though, this next month might bring A LOT of  heartache, I can honestly say I’m glad God picked me to love these kiddos.   

The day is fast approaching when I will not be able to put off the hurt and heartache of saying goodbye to these four amazing kiddos and I pray that when that time comes I will be able to put ALL my trust and faith in God.  I pray I will be able to rejoice in seeing a family reunited and take heart that we were able to be a small part of this beautiful and messy redemption story.  I pray that God will take my hurt, fear, and lack of trust and exchange it for His peace. 

As my husband and I have said time and time again, it is not about us, but about God and these beautiful children and if I’m honest, I just need to trust Him with writing this final chapter, because it is about to get real….

 

 

 

 

Chosen

Adoption can be messy. Adoption can be hard. Adoption can be difficult.

During the journey of adoption, especially the adoption of older children, I believe there are times when families wrestle and struggle with several questions.

Questions such as;

What if this child never calls me mom or dad?

What if this child never accepts being adopted by us?

What if this child never chooses me?

We like to be chosen and affirmed, right? We enjoy walking in relationships where the feelings are reciprocated. As parents we are not immune from these feelings. So, when we take in a child who brings with them vivid memories of their family and their past with hopes to return home, it is easy to get sideswiped with such questions and fears.

As current foster parents our personal story is not at a place or point of adoption, but looking forward we have found ourselves asking these same questions outwardly and inwardly. Our human side wonders about the ‘what if’s’ of the future, uncertain how our story will play out. Our selfishness is concerned that children in our home may never choose or accept us as their mom and dad. In our vulnerability we wonder will we ever be enough to heal all the heartache, pain, and trauma caused not only by the temporary separation, but by the long term termination of the parental rights, if in fact that were ever to occur.

As I wrestled with these questions this past weekend God whispered these truths deep into my soul, “I chose you, with no guarantee you would ever choose me back. I loved you, with no guarantee you would ever love me back. I pursued you, with no guarantee you would ever pursue me back. I gave my life for you, with no guarantee you would ever give your life for me.” And, then it made sense again. This journey is not about us, but about God and the children that have been placed in our home. This journey is not about whether or not a child chooses us, but it is about our decision to choose them. This journey is not about whether a child calls us mom and dad or Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci, but about our decision to call that child our own.

Sometimes we need to be reminded again and again that we have been chosen before we ever start believing it. Scripture reminds us of God’s choice, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16.

God has chosen my wife and me to love these children in our home. He has called us to go and bear fruit that will last. We are able to choose the children placed in our home, because we have been chosen by our God.

It should never be about whether or not a child chooses us as their parents. After all, God has always chosen us, without any guarantee of whether or not we would reciprocate that choice.

If we get to a place of adoption in our journey, will the children in our home at that time choose us? Who knows? But, what we do know is that we will choose them, like God has chosen us and with that we can move forward and love freely, even if we remain Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci for the rest of our lives.

Capturing the Past…

As a child, I moved around A LOT. My dad was in the Army and for the first fifteen years of my life we were at the mercy of wherever the military decided we needed to go. Every time we moved, a moving company would come in and pack up all of our possessions and take them to the next destination. It was always a cool day when the moving truck arrived at our new place and we were able to unload all of our stuff. My childhood was filled with He-Man action figures, GI Joe’s, race cars, Ninja Turtles, Lego’s and Micro Machines! At least, those were the go to items I enjoyed playing with the most. It was like Christmas morning each move-in day!

Today, I can still drive to my parents’ house in Yukon, OK, walk into their garage, climb up the rickety latter leading into the attic and pull out box after dusty box while unpacking my childhood. It’s still there, I still have the opportunity to relive my past and bring it into the present. In fact, recently my parents brought a couple of boxes to Amarillo for me to go through. We found every note Staci wrote me in high school tucked away in those boxes. I’m sure one day our children will love reading through those!

Such great memories. But, what if I couldn’t touch, feel, and connect with my past in tangible ways? What if the moving truck never showed up at our new place and I had to start all over, again? What if I couldn’t go look through all the yearbooks from my childhood that still line the bottom row of my book shelf? What if my childhood was just a fragment of memories without any real item to connect the past to the present?

Unfortunately, that is the reality for thousands of foster children every single day. In our home, one of our foster kiddos neatly tucks away new gifts and special items into her suitcase my parents gave her this past Christmas, hoping to hold onto each item. Another of our foster kiddos takes his yearbook from last year, everywhere! At this point, I know his elementary school staff probably better than any other parent, because he constantly quizzes my wife and I on names and faces as he carefully looks through the yearbook over and over and over again. Our other foster kiddo tucks all of her prized possessions away in her special drawer, so that they don’t get lost or damaged. In fact, our three older foster children all have ‘special drawers’ in their rooms. They want to keep everything and I mean everything! But, it makes sense right? What would you do if you were 6, 8, or 10 and the only items you had from your childhood were the items you had gathered since entering foster care? Wouldn’t you want to protect them, hoard them, and keep them safe? Wouldn’t you want to make sure you didn’t lose anything? Now, I’m not saying every item they own goes unfazed. They have lost and broken items in the past twelve months. But, understanding where they are at and where they come from definitely comes to light when you see your ten year old take his yearbook to bed with him. They just want to be kids and remember their childhood. They came into care with just the clothes on their backs. They’ve had a long line of moves in their short lives, but unlike myself, no moving truck showed up to pack up their stuff and then meet them at their next destination with everything they owned. They moved and left stuff behind.

As foster parents it is part of our role to help them rebuild their childhood, not just emotionally, but also through material items and memories. Here are a few ideas that we believe provide meaningful ways children in foster care can ‘capture’ a glimpse of their childhood.

Lifebook’s. These books are intended to be created to capture memories. Such as, report cards, school pictures, birthday pictures, letters, achievements, artwork, and so many more items. We have a close friend who makes 2 picture books for every child in her home. The books are a photo record of their time in her home, complete with cute sayings, milestones and tidbits about what was going on in each picture. She sends one book with the child and keeps one on her coffee table. In fact, if you were to show up at her house today, you would be able to flip through the pages of all the adorable kiddos she has had come through her home in the past few years.

Special Drawer. Encourage the child to have a special place in their room for all their ‘really special’ items, such as, letters from parents, special toys, or clothes. Give them ownership over their space and their room.

Family Pictures. Try to get a picture of the biological family, possibly at a weekly visit. Buy the child a frame or photo board for their room and help them hang up pictures of their biological family. Not only do you validate that child, but you also validate that their biological family is important to you too!

Menu planning. Allow them to help you plan the menu with things they loved eating with their biological family. Too often foster children have to ‘change’ to fit in to the foster home. That is stupid. We should change to fit into their lives as well. Create a ‘recipe book’ of the things they have liked at your house. For example, one of our foster daughters LOVES guacamole! Her brother has already told her she won’t get it at home, because their parents do not know how to make it. So, why not create a ‘recipe book’ for them to take all the recipes of the foods they loved back home?

Clothes shopping. Allow them to help you pick out their new clothes. Believe me, I HATE shopping, but don’t you remember how it felt when your parents took you shopping and let you buy new clothes. I felt like a million bucks in my new Nike’s back in the day!

What other ideas have you tried? What other ways have you helped a child in your home ‘capture’ the memories of their childhood while they were with you?

Patience is a virtue, pssssh!

Dear God,

So, my patience level may have been exacerbated today! They say patience is a virtue, but when that virtue gets overran by an army of six small children, two dogs, and a one messy house–all bets are off! Let’s see, I did okay when the puppy had an accident on the floor and by accident I mean #2, say it with me, POOP, blah!! I felt like I was a rock star when the bathroom sink overflowed, flooding the bathroom, the cabinet and the hallway for good measure. Plumber?!? Pssssh, I’m a mom, who needs a plumber? Besides, it was just water and could be soaked up with a couple of towels, what’s another load of laundry in our home, right? Nevermind, that my husband later found a full basket of SOAKED wash clothes still neatly stacked in the cabinet below. Oops, did I miss that? Next, one of my kiddos came home from their parental visit dejected because their parent wasn’t overly kind and didn’t really want to help them with their homework, I stayed pretty positive. Well, I started to explain maybe dad didn’t know how to do it, but that is when my husband caught my eye. You know the eye, the ‘not another word’ eye. What?!? I’m just being honest with our kiddos! God, aren’t you the one that wants me to be honest allllll the time?? Even if I didn’t get my say, we were able to go over the homework and our kiddo was able to feel huge success after learning how to do the work and blowing right through it. How’s patience as a virtue so far, right God??

Then it happened. I heard hysterical screaming coming from one of the back bedrooms. I went into the room to find one of our children throwing a HUGE tantrum because they did not get what they wanted. What did they want, you ask? The child wanted to use the kid’s bathroom. Really? So, instead of processing, ‘hey, there are two bathrooms, if I really need to pee then I ought to head to the second one”, the child stood right there in front of me and pee’d through their clothes all over the floor. In light of honesty and transparency, my first thought? Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. ME?? Second thought, walk away. So, I did. I left my husband to deal with it.

I know, I know….this child has been through a lot of trauma in their brief life. I know this child has not had consistency and sustained love. I know problem solving is hard for this child and that in times of conflict they regress back to a younger stage in their life, but when that child looked at me and pee’d all over themself, I got to be honest God, I sucked at being your ‘hands and feet’. I couldn’t do it, so I walked.

Did I pass the patience test today? Nope. But, there is always tomorrow right? You see every day I struggle with the questions like, will I be there for them when they need me? Will I love them like no one ever has before? Will I have the patience for the questions, the homework, and the mistakes? So many tests. So many factors out of my control. But, here is the crazy thing God. These kids, just like you, are so loving and kind. These kids, just like you, are so forgiving when I mess up and make a mistake. These kids, just like you, love me when I lose my patience!!

On the worst of the worst days I get unconditional love, grace and forgiveness. Who knew being a mom of six kids, two dogs, and living in a messy house could get you so much in life? They say patience is a virtue. I say patience needs to be quiet and take a backseat, because there are 6 kids, 2 dogs and a messy house calling my name right now!

Catch ya later God,

Your kid