Conversation with Bert

>> Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bert is our Social Worker, Yolanda Roberta. I sent her an email last week with some questions, and she called last night to discuss them. This is part of the whole process of her getting a feel for who we are as individuals and what we want as a family, so it's a pretty important thing! I thought it was pretty cool that she called instead of emailing, except for the fact that I now have nothing in writing. So I'm going to put it here so that I have it written down, also because I think they're good questions and may clarify some things for friends and family about how this system works. These are in no particular order, except that I tried to put first the ones that I'd already mentioned elsewhere in the blog.

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Question: Can we have a checklist from you of what kinds of child proofing we'll need to do for the inspection? I tried a google search and found everything from just outlet covers and keeping a close eye, to chaining down the toilet and padlocking the refrigerator and installing nearly every bit of furniture four feet up. There's just so wide a range, I'm not sure what detail they'll be looking for.

Answer: All we need to do for the inspection is to get locks on the cabinets and drawers and any closets that might have chemicals or medications in it. We have to put covers on the outlets, and move anything that's obviously a danger, like scissors or knives in the bill desk, that kind of thing. We will also need to get those hook things that you spool curtain strings around so the kids can't hang themselves. We also have to get the smoke detectors to have the installation date written on the outside, be sure the fire extinguisher is current, and put the step stool away when they come. Oh, we also have to make sure our hot water doesn't come out above 120 degrees and our fridge is cold enough to actually keep food safe to eat. Pretty basic stuff.

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Question: Inspections: Will we have warning or are these surprise inspections in order to capture regular living conditions?

Answer: They are done by an outside company, who will call and make an appointment.

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Question: When can we safely start looking at photolistings? Will you provide additional photos and information aside from what we can find online?

Answer: We can look any time we want, but we won't be able to do anything about it until the home study is completed, and there will be no guarantee that the same children will be available at that point. She recommends we wait.

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Question: You explained about how SC agencies aren't... licensed...? to do stuff past a certain point because the state saves money by doing it themselves. At what point do we stop working with you and start working directly with them? Will you go alongside us or will our "case" be turned over to someone else?

Answer: I actually had the terminology wrong here; Bethany is licensed, it's just that the SC office does not fulfill the same kinds of services in SC when adopting a child from SC. Basically, when a family is found for a SC child within SC, SC government does all the finalization themselves instead of paying an agency to do it. Make sense? SC state will work with Bethany Virginia, or Bethany NY, but wouldn't finalize with Bethany SC because it's cheaper for them to do it themselves within state.

If we decide we want to adopt a child from SC, here's what will happen: Bert will put together all of our records in a presentable book form, and go with us to a meeting with state people, including the Social Worker for the child, and present us as an interested family. We will all talk, we will have a book about us and our lives prepared that will go to the child, and we'll set up further appointments. We will also receive a binder with every possible thing there is to know about the child, from med records to school records to a history to notes from foster care. At that stage, Bert will no longer work with us, but she is available as a resource for questions or advice. Once we leave that meeting with our binder, we have a week to look over it and decide if we want to proceed. Next we'll meet the child in the foster home, somewhere on their own turf, just chat, get to know each other. Then we'll spend a day visit, a little later have a week-long visit, then they will be able to move in if everyone's cool with it.

If we decide to adopt a child from another state, Bert will be with us to the very end, as Bethany will be the organization doing the finalization instead of the state.

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Question: We have found in the past when making large decisions that ask us to delineate guidelines (such as house-hunting search criteria) that we have a tendency to get frustrated, and then wander out to search on our own, and what God points to (so far) has always been outside of the bounds set by the stated criteria. In other words, I'm afraid that the child He has for us may be outside of the terms set on our paperwork, simply because that kind of thing seems to often be the case for us. My concern is whether or not that will affect your opinions and review of us, if we have to stick to what's on the paper... or not. If we must stay within the bounds on the paper, we may think about broadening them slightly, but if we have flexibility I won't worry about it.

Background: Unfortunately, there's a great deal of the home study process that feels very similar to the process of buying a house. When we bought our house on Edgemont in NY, our realtor had taken us to see a lot of houses in the suburbs, as we were afraid of living in the city and had excluded it from our search criteria. However, while out on our own on a Sunday, we saw the Edgemont house and fell in love with it. We honestly didn't realize it was within city limits at the time, since it was in the cute little University area bordering a suburb. Our realtor was very indignant that she wasn't given the opportunity to find it for us because "We weren't looking there!" The last thing I want to do is torque off our Social Worker, which is ultimately why I asked this question.

Answer:
The entire process of the home study helps her clarify what we meant when we marked things on the paperwork, and what areas we would be flexible on. The paperwork is always able to be altered, addenda added, as we learn and process and think through things. We are required to take 14 hours of classes, and she says that sometimes people will learn something that will really alter their ideas and they'll call and write up a change to their search criteria. No big deal. We'll be doing this kind of thing anyway every six months; just a check in on the paperwork to see if anything's changed in our family needs or desires. We are not locked in to what's on that paper.

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Question: Being new at this whole adoption thing, I had been encouraged to seek out other people who have adopted as a kind of support group. I've been chatting online through two different adoption Yahoogroups, one of which I joined last week specifically regarding adopting older children. Unfortunately, what I'm hearing is overwhelmingly depressing! While a few have had good experiences, the loudest people are the ones who have been hurt, which makes sense. But the overall opinion even with happily finalized families is that social workers hide things about the needs of the children because their main purpose is to get children into a home and off the state support system, and that the purpose of agencies are to make money. What are your thoughts to this kind of a response? (Bert took this really well, actually, so that's good.)

Background:
This question was based on the area of behavior and development issues. Many older children will apparently be placed with a foster-adopt family who appears not to actually meet any of the requirements set forth by that family.

Answer:
There are many reasons why situations like this occur, and unfortunately there's sometimes not much to be done about it. There's only so far that delineating paperwork can take you. One problem is that many times Social Workers don't have all of the information. This happens sometimes because of the high turnover rate of Social Workers (some kids can have a new one every six months), sometimes because of poor documentation, sometimes because Foster Families are not of good quality or don't feel some behaviors are unusual enough to write down, and sometimes simply because in cases of abandonment there's just no one to tell them anything about the child. Another reason is one that comes up in child development with any child who's been through a tough situation, fostered or not. Every situation is new, and comes with new struggles. Many of these children will suddenly find themselves not knowing how to behave and fall back on unhealthy survival techniques. Sometimes behavior may escalate due to emotional triggers like smells or sounds that may have been present during abuse and never existed during foster care. And sometimes, there's just the bottom line fact that when a child doesn't trust anyone, they often just don't tell anyone what's happened to them. There have been many instances where a child will be adopted, and after a year or two of growing trust in the parents and finally starting to feel safe, will open up and talk about some horrendous abuses that no one had any idea had happened to them.

The bottom line is that there's no guarantee. We will be focusing on knowing as much as humanly possible about a child's history, collecting it from as many sources as possible, praying as hard as we can and being open to His leading, and going with our gut upon meeting the child.

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Question: I have an elderly friend from church whose grown children agreed to foster-to-adopt through the state. They have been "waiting" for many years now with a string of kids going through, because they are continually given children who end up going back to family or have needs beyond what they can handle. They were told that they would only be given children they would adopt in the end, but it seems as though the state is using them as a regular fostering family. I'm very concerned about that possibility; I understand the role of foster-to-adopt for states that don't legally release their children until a family is found, but what prevents our being taken advantage of because we checked 'yes' on the foster option? We don't feel we have the emotional ability at this stage to serve as regular full-time foster parents.

Background & Answer: There are three choices of how to participate with waiting children: foster care, foster-adopt, and adoption. When you are a foster family, children don't stay, they just come and go, but while they're with you, you have to be their 'parent' without becoming too attached. We've decided we don't have the emotional capacity for that right now. Adoption is just that; you go through the process, find a child, adopt them. Seems simple enough, but the problem is that many states never list their waiting children as legally available to adopt until a family has been identified for them. I have no idea why they do it that way. However, these children must remain with foster care until they are legally free... which could take a long time (years) depending on the situation. So we could feasibly find our child in one of these states, but not get to have them even visit until the legal stuff was complete. The middle option is kind of a go-between option: being foster parents long enough to find your child and adopt them.

What happened with this family from church is that they decided to foster-adopt through the state, without an agency. So the state is doing this, "Oh, here's a kid you might want to adopt..." and sending them a high-legal-risk foster kid, and then removing them right away to go back to the family, basically using them as traditional foster care. They've been foster-adopting for three+ years now, and have had about 8 kids go through their home. We do not want that to happen.

Right now, here's what we're doing: We have checked off willingness to foster-adopt if we locate the child we want to adopt and they come from a state wherein they will not be legally freed until after a family is found. Because of this, the child could come here immediately with us as their foster family until the paperwork for legal freedom is complete and the adoption paperwork goes through, without waiting. We don't intend to have multiple children come and go, and can dictate that by stating our willing level of legal risk (high-moderate-none) and under what circumstances. Again, like the behavior issues, we're dealing with people who are unpredictable, and the state really does want the families reunited if the birth parents prove willing to put out the required amount of effort, (not so common); there are no guarantees. However, we've been assured that if we choose carefully, look at every scrap of possible information on the child and the situation, and remain clear on what we want to have happen, we can have a pretty high expectations on the process. We are also protected by Bert and Bethany, as we're not dealing directly with the state ourselves unless we decide on a child from SC. But the bottom line is that we set the rules.

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OK! Is that enough information for you? Don't worry... if you're itching for more, I'm sure there'll be some soon enough! For me though, I know my brain is full and my typin' fingers are sore. Tune in again later.

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About This Blog

Life is about changes; transitions from one place to another, from one purpose to another, from one being to another. They say that the person you are today is a completely different person from who you were ten years ago and who you'll be ten years from now. So far, at the age of 33, I've had four major transitions in my life which redefined who I am. Two years into the results of the most recent transition I am again - still - exploring how God is shaping me. Over the next few months I hope to review my past and set goals for the future, and embrace the next adventure of rediscovering me.
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