Monthly Archives: June 2013

18 and Alone

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Denise and Summer

Denise and Summer

Summer, our 17-year-old daughter, had an independent Living planning meeting a month ago. At 17 1/2 years old, we are nearing the six-month mark until she ages out of foster care. So we met with her Independent Living Coordinator to discuss what her plans and options are when she turns 18.

The meeting started out well. Summer is a smart young lady. She will end the school year with mostly A’s and a few B’s. She loves to write and draw, and is majoring in creative writing at the charter arts school that she attends. She is artsy, laid back and fun, with a little bit of quirky thrown in to make her all the more interesting!

During the meeting, we discussed Summer’s strengths and the qualities that she has to be successful. We also discussed her weaknesses and where she was in relation to improving. We discussed her short and long term goals, which are to graduate from high school and then from college. I think both Summer and I felt the meeting was positive, and it was so encouraging for me to hear her discuss and plan for her future.

But then her independent living counselor asked what her plans were in regards to living arrangements after she turns 18. The first answer went off without a hitch, “I am going to stay with Denise and Pierre,” but the coordinator wanted her to come up with a plan B, and even a plan C, “just in case things change.” Both Summer and I insisted that she would continue to live with us. I reiterated the fact that Summer wasn’t going to graduate from high school until she was 19 1/2 and that my husband and I wanted her to stay with us until then, and even through her first years of college. But the IL worker remained adamant that she should come up with some other options.

What made this part of the conversation so difficult was not that the case manager was out of line. She remained positive and encouraging while she stayed resolute that we discuss other living arrangements. Summer answered that she could find an apartment. I answered back that with the money she was going to receive, it was more realistic that she could rent an efficiency. But Summer and I both had difficulty in coming up with an option C. The independent living coordinator informed us of a house in which former foster children each had their own room, but shared bathrooms, kitchens, etc. So that became our option C.

As we discussed these other options, I felt my heart fall down to my feet. It was just sobering and scary for me to think of her going anywhere right after she turns 18 in November. We’ve only had two years to model healthy living, encourage expression of emotions and teaching life lessons. As a mom, I feel that we’ve only had two years to encourage, love and care for her. When Summer and I discussed it afterwards, she said that she felt the same fear.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer’s beautiful smile!

Summer came to live with us a little over two years ago. Being the oldest of five siblings, in many ways Summer is mature beyond her years. Before coming into foster care, she had too much responsibility piled on her shoulders in caring for her siblings. She is a loving, caring, respectful and compassionate young lady, whose trials in life have fine tuned her into a sensitive soul. She has integrity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and a desire to help others.

But in other areas, she is behind in regards to developing the work ethic and emotional maturity to ensure her success. She has made tremendous strides in learning new coping skills when under stress. But she still has times when she falls back into old habits and needs someone to help her see it and transition out.

In regards to her consistency in her schoolwork, she’ll do well for several weeks, only to suddenly misstep . She has needed someone to help her regroup and get back at it. We now receive a weekly progress report from her school, informing us of her grades, whether or not there are any missed assignments, and comments from her teachers. This tool has helped us to work on both her consistency of work effort and also her attention to detail in regards to her school work.

Summer has made tremendous strides. I admire the way she has embraced this new phase of her life. She is relentless in wanting to leave behind all the dysfunction that was her prior life, and is resolute in her dreams for her future. She amazes me. But we are all works in progress. She just needs more time to ensure her success. She still needs us in her life.

It is unnerving and literally earth shattering for us to think of her leaving our home when she turns 18. From our standpoint, it is just not a viable option in regards to ensuring not only a successful future, but also a healed and whole heart. In regards to Summer, we are resolute in our commitment to her for the rest of our lives. I dream of her future, and can’t imagine my future without her in it!

But what about so many foster children that don’t have a family to stay with when they age out at 18? On Jan. 1, 2014, Florida foster youth will have the choice to stay in foster care until they are 21.  It will also provide a safety net for the youth, a place to go back to when they need it as they enter adulthood. For those children who are still in high school or those with plans to go off to college, it will raise the likelihood of their success. I am so thankful to Gov. Scott for recently signing the bill into law. I am also thankful Summer will be able to participate in the program. It was the right thing to do.

Every Life converges to some center, expressed or still, and exists in every human nature a goal.

Life is indeed insipid for those who have no great goal in hand.

I don’t claim that I have already arrived or that I am as yet fully mature, but I keep struggling.

                     (Based on the words of Emily Dickinson and Horace Bushnell)

The “F” Word

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

In our home, we absolutely, positively don’t use the “F” word. We don’t like it. We try never to refer to our children, especially in their presence, as a “foster” child.

My daughters and I were at a mother’s day tea party and someone asked me if Summer, our 17 year old was mine. Although Summer is still not, and probably won’t be, up for adoption before she ages out of the system, she still is my daughter. I wholeheartedly answered “Yes, I got her when she was 15.” And that was the end of the discussion.

I applaud the concept of the term “foster child,” in which children are cared for in homes other than their own.  Although my husband and I salute the concept of fostering and the history of the word, to us, on an interpersonal level, it signifies that a child is different from our other children.  The word “foster” implies emotionally that they don’t quite belong.  Although it is an accurate legal description, it doesn’t work for our family.

From a legal standpoint, it is important that they are not identified as a foster child, but I say that from an emotional standpoint, it is just as important. Children need to attach and to belong!

Whether a child will be with us for a few weeks, years or permanently, they all become equal members in standing.  They all receive the same love, concern and care. They are all my kids! Even if they are planning and yearning to return to their moms and dads, they are still a member of our family, albeit temporarily. I tell them they just have a second family.

Denise and husband Pierre

Denise and husband Pierre

Aime’s Story

Post by DCF Secretary David Wilkins

Yesterday and over the past few weeks, we have been holding events in honor of World Refugee Day. More refugees flee to Florida than any other state, and DCF is charged with administering federal funding to refugees to help them acclimate to American culture and society.

This unique population encounters many challenges—from learning English to becoming familiar with modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing and electricity. Despite these obstacles, we know many refugees who are living in Florida are not only getting by, they are thriving.

Aime Kalangwa

Aime Kalangwa

Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Aime Kalangwa a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aime and his brother came to Florida in 2011 as the only survivors in their family of their country’s ongoing civil war. They were adopted by a supportive, loving family just as he was beginning his senior year of high school.

With the help of his adoptive parents, Aime tackled cultural and language barriers head-on. He dedicated himself to his studies by working with tutors daily to pass his classes and learn English. Learning American history was particularly challenging because all the material was new. He had never heard of George Washington, the Bill of Rights or the Civil Rights Movement—it was all new to him. But he didn’t just get by; he excelled. His dedication to learning the history of his new country was recognized when he received the award for Outstanding Achievement in American History at his senior awards night.

Today, he continues to pursue his education at Broward College studying Criminal Justice. He is an activist, spokesperson and mentor for other young refugees and is looking forward to becoming an American citizen when he graduates.

Aime’s is just one of the many stories of refugees who flee from war and oppression, build a new life and thrive. Their stories truly inspire and show us that the American dream is alive and well here in Florida.

I was like a tornado

Guest post by Quintina Chukes, peer specialist at the Apalachee Center in Tallahassee.

QuintinaActing out, rapid cycling, and extreme highs and lows are what I experienced every day. There were times that I thought I couldn’t achieve anything, go anywhere or even dream big dreams. I hit rock bottom after my mother passed away. I was like a tornado – I wanted to destroy everything in my path.

I checked myself into a safe place at the Apalachee Center. I was afraid and scared. The psychiatrist, mental health professionals and my caseworker made me feel better and helped shaped my road to recovery when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I Disorder.

After my mental break I decided I wanted more out of life.  I wanted to live, so I taught myself out of the GED book. Months later, after taking it only once, I passed the GED test and went off to college. I received an Associate’s degree from Tallahassee Community College then transferred to Florida State University. I finished my Political Science degree at FSU in one year and then went on to major in International Affairs with a minor in Public Administration, which I also finished in one year.

Now I’m a peer specialist at the Apalachee Center. I am where I want to be and I am helping people who are like me. When times get rough, seek help and just remember there are people in this world who suffer with some of the same mental illness as me. They have achieved their goals, gone many places and are still dreaming big dreams.

Alone, sick and confused

Guest post by Dawn Shumaker Smith, DCF Circuit 1 Adult Protective Investigator Supervisor in Northwest Florida. This post is in recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.

DCF responded to more than 64,000 reports of abuse of seniors and adults with disabilities last year. Many of the reports involve self-neglect, when vulnerable adults are no longer able to provide for their own health and safety. DCF helps them get the help they need and deserve.

bread

“… Food items in the pantry and refrigerator were moldy, old and spoiled …”

The Report: ­­

Escambia Adult Investigations received a report regarding a 62-year-old vulnerable lady with organic brain syndrome related to brain cancer. Chemotherapy further damaged her brain and caused severe short-term memory loss. She wanders away from home, gets lost, forgets to eat for days and gives shady people blank checks for unnecessary things. She walks away from the stove, forgetting she is cooking. She does not know where she is or where her children are. There are concerns for her safety and susceptibility for financial exploitation.

DCF investigates:

This remarkable lady’s history is stunning. She was a decorated naval officer, an activist and lover of her cats. She was an actress, even starring in a movie with Tom Cruise. She built an amazing career and never got married. She saved her money, invested well and became a millionaire. She adopted two children. But all was not well. She was living in California when she learned she had brain cancer. When her father became extremely ill, she packed up her kids for a quick trip to Pensacola visit with him.

It was not long after her arrival that her father, her only living blood relative, passed away. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and before long, child protective services was knocking on her door about the children not being in school and missing appointments. She could not manage to get her thoughts to tell people she needed to make her way home to California. The missed appointments and other issues compounded, and the children were no longer able to safely remain in her care and were placed in a foster home. Her world was literally falling apart and she could not understand why. Her failing memory meant she could not comprehend her own limitations and what was happening around her.

DCF action:

Our Adult Protective Investigators reached out to her. It was apparent she was not eating, taking medication or paying bills. Valuable items were disappearing from the home, taken from her by people who were allegedly taking them to a charitable agency. Food items in the pantry and refrigerator were moldy, old and spoiled. Her clothes were falling off her.

Investigators decided that she needed to be removed from the home for her own safety but she had no family to care for her needs. The people that she had given blank checks to were the people she wanted to stay with. This wasn’t an option because it would have only further exposed her to financial exploitation. She didn’t have easy access to her bank accounts in California to pay sitters to help her remain safely at home but her accounts remained active. She was paying $1,000 a week for someone to care for her cats in California. She had paid $50,000 to replace a perfectly good kitchen floor in her father’s home simply because someone came to the door and offered to do it. We knew this woman needed medical attention and brought her to the hospital, where she was admitted for a few days.

In the meantime, our agency petitioned the courts for emergency protective services. We arranged for her admission to a local assisted living facility upon discharge from the hospital. We were happy to arrange supervised visitation with her children. Lutheran Services of Florida became her guardian and worked toward corralling her assets and ridding her of the seedy characters in her life. Under our protective supervision, she got better and became more accepting of her guardian. Our collective goal was to get her safely back into the community.

Her guardian made arrangements for 24-hour sitters, housekeepers and lawn care and turned the utilities back on at her father’s house. The home was filled with healthy and fresh food for her and the visiting children. It was time for her to return home, but not to California. She was, however, safely and securely back into a regular home environment. She could see her children once again regularly and was reunited with her pets to aid in her recovery.

Today, she remains at home with the help of 24-hour attendants and the support of Lutheran Services and her neighbors. Her medical needs are being met and slowing the progression of the disease. She can now hold her head high with pride for the remarkable progress she has made and the life she has lived.

This story is true, albeit unusual because this vulnerable adult had the financial resources and medical insurance to help pull her out. In many Adult Protective Services situations, that is not the case. Many vulnerable adults must choose between food and medication each month. Their choices sometimes have an immediate impact on their health. Frequently, family members are the alleged perpetrators, taking the liquid resources available. Often, DCF intervenes when adult children would rather have momma or grandpa home so they can use their Social Security checks instead of using their resources to meet their everyday needs. DCF’s Adult Protective Services ensures that obstacles encountered by the vulnerable adult are not permanent.

A vulnerable adult’s safety is so critically important. You can help. Take a stand in the fight against elder abuse.