Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fostering: The "Three Days" Experience

 I just realized that one of the major reasons I stopped blogging was that I accepted placement of a teen foster child.  And until now, I have never blogged about the experience.  I truly believe that a piece of my heart and soul left when K left.  Similar to the overnight experience where I took two young children home from my office at 10:15p.m. because we couldn't find homes and the children were trashing our office and we all needed sleep, I thought I could help.  Temporarily.

Due to confidentiality, ailing memory and time passed, the memories and experiences with K are already diminishing.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of him and hope the best for him.  I hope that I impacted his life in a positive way and yet my greatest fear is that I caused more harm than good.

You see, I am a licensed foster parent who is only interested in providing short term, emergency or respite care.  I want to be able to aid other foster families in a time of need.  I want to be able to help workers when placements can't be secured immediately.  However, selfishly, I want to enjoy being a "part-time" parent.  I have joint custody of my son, which means that a little less than half the time, he is with his father.  Therefore, I am a single.  No longer just a "single parent".  During my childless days I often work late hours or spend time with MS.  I don't parent my child full-time and I clearly don't have the desire to parent someone else's child full-time.  I say this honestly and truthfully.  I know what my limitations are.  I also know that deep down, when push comes to shove, I will put my own needs, wants and desires to the side for others. 

And one day in early March, after facilitating a meeting, I decided that I could assist a youth for a couple of days until a foster home could be secured.  Returning home wasn't an option and he didn't need/deserve to stay where he was.  I thought...three days.  Three days.  I can do this.

Unfortunately the potential placements for K didn't work out.  I'm not really sure how in my decade and a half of children's services work I had convinced myself that finding a home for an African American, special needs teenage boy with pending charges would be easy and achieved in three days!  Naive.  As K attended school near my house, I thought that a few days was doable that he could go to school and all would be well.  After three days, there were still no local options for placement.   Due to K's needs, he would be bussed to the school anywhere in the county, but finding a home in the county was no longer obtainable.  A family stepped forward to accept placement of K, having known him from school.  The family was eager to become licensed to accept placement.  Three months.  Three months.  I can do this.

Meanwhile, I focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.  I tried to work diligently with the other family and wanted them to get to know K so the transition would go well.  The family didn't seem  too interested.  They had a few visits that had gone well.  I continued to have my moments with K.  Due to speech and language issues, K could be very loud.  This was extremely difficult for T and I asked for replacement.  I battled with doing so and finally had a talk with K about his behaviors and how screaming would not be allowed.  If he screamed, he would have to pay me .25 every time. Surprisingly, motivated by money, this worked most of the time.  That is until K would scream that I was "stealing his money", despite the fact that I only touched his money when he asked me to help count it, or to put it away.

 I always reiterated with K that my home was a temporary home.  Kids only come to stay for a very short while.  Never once did I imply to K that he could stay with me.  K also had visits with his family which were very inconsistent.  This caused me more issue than K with scheduling, transportation and my work.   K definitely seemed to be bonding to me.  In many ways he was like a young child struggling with separation from me.  He always wanted me to do things with him.  No one else could do it like me, even though others could do things better - like throw a football!  He no longer had interest in video games and constantly wanted my attention.  I was emotionally drained.  MS still lived an hour away at the time, so I was constantly on the "go" mode.  I didn't have my own downtime.  I was parenting full time.  We had mastered how to make counseling a little more effective with me being an active participant as the foster parent, interpreter and at times it felt like the therapist.  I can't honestly say that counseling was beneficial though. 

MS was as supportive as possible.  Having K had it's good moments too!  He definitely made us laugh.  From his constant, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?" to his anger outbursts and threats of "I'M GONNA THROW FIT!!!"  I knew what K was capable of, but I also knew that he would never hurt me.  He had never personally threatened me.  He had threatened to break things in the home or punch holes in the wall, but the concrete walls were too much of a match for him!  My house and my heart appeared a perfect match for him!

Finally the family was ready for K.  Unfortunately, K wasn't ready for them.  Ultimately, the placement failed.  Despite my attempts to be a support for the family and to aid in the transition, there was nothing that could be done to salvage the placement.  K needed an emergency placement.  K wanted to be in my home.  I felt the guilt.  I agreed to one night but knew that a subsequent home for K would not be likely.  His threats of harming police and professionals would not be welcome. School was drawing to an end.  I had not planned on K being with me for the summer.  What was I to do with an almost 14 year old special needs child while I worked full-time.  K wanted to stay home.  I told him that if he were going to stay at my house for any length of time, he would have to go to summer day camp while I worked.  He agreed.  For the two days before summer camp began.

I couldn't emotionally handle daily and nightly struggles with K about him dictating what he would or wouldn't do.  I asked for him to be moved.  It had already been determined that his being in my home was a bad thing.  Bad because as I was told, "Whatever you did.  However you did it.  You succeeded.  K bonded to you."  And therefore, any potential placement would be sabotaged by K so that he would return to my house.  Unfortunately, K will not graduate from high school.  He will need some care for the rest of his life.  I cannot commit to K.  I can commit to love him and be a support or a respite for him, but not his caregiver.  Not his parent.  Ultimately, the placement disrupted.  K then blew through several other possible placements within hours and ended up full circle back to where he started when I agreed to take him for three days.

They won't let me see him.  They won't let him call me.  I am following the rules.  Part of my heart is broken.  As I type this I have difficulty seeing through the tears.  I loved K.  I love K.  But I know that I can't be K's mom. As much as K wants this.  I battled back and forth.  If MS could help me out now living closer and our teen boys could help and...and then I realize that they didn't sign up for this.  I did.  And as much as I want the best for K, I know that K is not the best for me and T. 

I did receive a letter, a month after K wrote it.  I cried.  He apologized and wants to come back here to live. I have no doubt about that.  But I can't give K what he needs long term.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to have K in my life.  It has been 2.5 months since K left.  I still miss him, but every day is a little less.  There are constant reminders of him.  I feel the void.  I wonder if he is capable of feeling it too.

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