Tag Archives: neglect

My take on foster care

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida.

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

I had the pleasure of babysitting a tiny little bit the other night. The baby, who I will name Adorable, is adorable and in foster care. As I snuggled Adorable to death I was reminded of all of the emotions that come over you as a foster parent. This is Adorable’s foster parent’s first foster kid. Not only that, but they have a 7-month-old bio son themselves. They took in an addicted baby when they have their own child to raise.

We have all seen those blog posts about how hard it is to be a foster parent, and how it’s worth it, and all. This is my take on it…

 

 

As a foster and adoptive parent I get comments everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“God bless you for doing that.”

“I’ve always thought about doing that.”

“I could never give a kid up.”

“When the time is right I am going to foster.”

“I wish I could do that.”

“You’re such a great person for taking in abused kids.”

“There is a special place in heaven for you.”

“You must have a heart of gold.”

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour.  All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour. All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

While I always appreciate any encouragement I can get, I hear these same phrases so often that they have become blanket statements for people to say, when they want to express their admiration for someone but don’t know how. I smile, make a joke about how I just drink a lot of coffee and have a bunch of bad ideas and walk away before anyone can bother to ask more questions like, “Are any of them related?” (Please, do not ever ask an adoptive parent this question in front of their children – use your head people.) 

My feelings about foster care aren’t about how hard it is to give a kid up, though it can be very difficult. For me, what has been hard is looking the kids in their beautiful eyes and thinking about what has been, and what could be. Those incredibly long nights, when you are awake with your addicted baby who is screaming from withdrawal are hard, really hard. That time when you look in your child’s eyes and you see the resemblance to their bio mom and a moment of fear flashes through your mind of, “What if they turn out like that?” and you can do nothing but pray and hope. Those moments when your child is screaming to go back to the person who hurt them.

Those foster care classes where they give you the reality of foster care but then try and let you know how rewarding it can be, they cannot prepare you for it all. Sometimes it’s not rewarding. Sometimes a child will come into your home and you cannot help them. Your skills and love do not match their needs, and you have to find that child another home. Sometimes, or a lot of times, you lock yourself in a bathroom and cry because you are so overwhelmed by the kid’s behavior, or the thought of what happened to them, the thought of losing them or everything. Being a foster parent is overwhelming, and emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s not hard for me to love another person’s child; if you’re a kid in my home, you’re my child and I love you, though many times I may not like you. It’s hard to deal with bad behaviors and it’s hard to accept that people abuse children, but that’s what foster parents do, day in and day out. All while caseworkers, attorneys, and Guardian Ad Litem’s, come in and out of the home, make phone calls about you, and scrutinize if you have taken out your bathroom trash that week or not.

I don’t watch TV because it’s a great way for me to avoid the news and reality of the world around me. I don’t get newspapers, I don’t follow politics, and I don’t really care about much going on around me. But abuse, I’m not in the business of ignoring reality.  I copied this from www.adoptuskids.org.

“More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Most of these children are living with foster families, but some also live in group facilities. Each year more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care without being adopted. Today there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted ranging in age from less than a year old to 21.”

250,000 kids come into foster care each year, and you know where they end up? In the homes of tired people, emotionally exhausted people who just want to sleep through the night, people who have raised more kids than ‘The Duggars’. Those foster parents, when approached by strangers giving blanket statements, “I don’t know how you do it, I could never do that,” smile and give some generic answer, just like I do, smile again and move on. But in truth most of those people who say those seemingly nice statements have no clue how much we foster parents give, and love. They have no idea how much time and energy we invest into helping mold the most vulnerable members of society, who will one day grow up and have a choice to make about how they want to treat their children. We work, day and night, to ensure that our kids aren’t treated differently, that they get the special services they need, that they feel loved. We have to think about child abuse all day, not just when it pops up on the news for three minutes. It is our kids’ constant reality, and now ours. If you get upset when you hear something terrible on the news, truly stop, and think about how foster parents have to take that reality on 24/7 until the child, or children can adjust.

Today, go thank a foster parent. Don’t give out any more blanket, “Oh you’re such a great person” statement. Go DO something for them. Foster parents are helping to change the entire world of the children in their homes. That’s a big freaking deal. Take them a meal, send them a gift card, or write them a thank you note. What we do behind closed doors is epic, even if you can’t see it. But to us, it’s all worth it, knowing that even if that kid was with us for just a few days, we helped make their life a little better.

I love being a foster parent. I know foster parenting is not for everyone, but if you have honestly been considering it, here is a video that my husband Willy and I are in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwIA8y-YjY8

To Err is Human

Guest post by Judge James Seals.

SealsThe death of a child at the hands of a caregiver, someone a child trusts, is indeed one of our community’s most tragic events. It’s even more tragic when the child is under the watch of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), but it will continue to happen as long as humans have the capacity to make mistakes – which is always.

Child protection system professionals, like physicians, airline pilots, builders, and police officers, to name some, make mistakes which can directly or indirectly cause the loss of human life. Their duties require them to gather information, process it, exercise judgment, reach conclusions and make decisions – all human functions – usually under some measure of situational stresses and the pressures of time. With risky endeavors, having insufficient information, or lack of time to consider all the information, or drawing an erroneous conclusion can lead to bad decisions which in turn can cause a death or other tragedy. Expecting zero deaths in professions where human judgment and high risk intersect every day is a fool’s wish.

Rather than pass judgment and sentence on DCF on the few bits of anecdotal evidence gleaned from the media – which covers less than 1% of all cases handled – the better response is to ask whether the child protection system is learning from mistakes made, and how. As a veteran of 15 years in the child protection system, my answer is yes, but I must quickly add that learning from mistakes will not guarantee that child mortality by abuse will always decrease over a given period of time. Every day the child protection system encounters new, different and increasingly bizarre ways that parents and caregivers manage to endanger their children. If child abuse and neglect were stationary targets, then systemic improvements would consistently reduce child abuse and neglect. Child endangerment, however, is and always will be a moving target pursued by humans who, no matter how competent, will always fall short of perfection. The best we can hope for is a steady downward trend over the long term.

The child protection system, which includes our legislature (policy), the courts (oversight and final decision-making), and the child welfare agencies (investigations and case management), is constantly searching for new and better evidence-based best policies and practices to prevent child maltreatment, to ensure child safety and to improve families’ capacities to safely and competently parent their children.For example, investigations now go far beyond just focusing on the alleged maltreatment to information gathering on surrounding circumstances, child functioning, adult functioning, general parenting practices and general discipline practices within the family under investigation. This enables system professionals and courts to make better safety-related decisions right from the start of the case; it improves the system’s capability to assess and control the dangers to vulnerable children through safety planning; and it helps caregivers through targeted case planning to improve family functioning by removing or reducing the threats to child safety.

Costly mistakes are most likely made out in the field where system workers come face to face with offending parents and victim children. Throughout Florida there are many well qualified, well trained, passionately motivated workers out in the field. However, the turnover rate of these key players in child safety and welfare is very high. The good ones get promoted out of the field or move on to better paying, or less stressful jobs in other careers. The ill-suited are either terminated or resign. High turnover in field personnel is the incubator of error. Even the best child protection system available, staffed at the higher echelons with the best leaders and experts, will always underperform without a stable, qualified, motivated cohort of investigators and case workers at their command.

Constant and diligent efforts at controlling risks and dangers will never eliminate the human capacity to err. Regrettably, airplanes will continue to crash, bridges will collapse, brakes will fail, parents will abuse children, and people will die. That’s life, pure and simple. I’m not suggesting we look upon child abuse with resignation or acceptance, nor am I suggesting we throw away accountability. I’m advocating for responsible, well-informed, constructive accountability which asks the right questions instead of making the same old ill-informed, ill-advised, illogical demands.

 We can begin by acknowledging that Florida’s child protection system is blessed with many great generals and colonels, but it is also plagued by high turnover and low morale among the troops. Not taking adequate care of the troops may well be the worst mistake of all. Why this is happening is one of those right questions to ask.

Restart

Guest post by Summer, daughter of foster parents Denise and Pierre. Summer will be entering her junior year of high school at the Academy of Arts & Minds in Coconut Grove, FL.  She majors in creative writing but also loves to draw.  She has chosen to stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer

Often times I find myself in a situation that seems all too familiar, yet somehow foreign. I find myself caught, so to say, between one world and the next. I don’t know which road to take or whether I’m doing something the right way or the wrong way. All I can do is follow my gut feeling and wing it (which is normally not the best thing to do).

I get told a lot that I don’t need to make all of these decisions on my own.  Or that it’s okay to screw up here and now. But what people fail to realize is that I often feel as if my previous track record is too much for yet another ‘’failure.’’ I feel like I can’t mess up, like it’s me against the world.

A therapist would say that those ‘’mistakes’’ weren’t your fault – actually most people would. And most of the time, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just brush off what people say. They can’t possibly know what they’re talking about right? Right.

Not a single person in this world will ever come close to facing the hardships you have faced as an individual. No one has lived the same life as you. No one has faced the same constant chastisement or neglect. So the next time someone tells you that ‘’it’s alright,” go ahead and tell them they’re wrong. But remember they are only wrong for falsely sympathizing.

Under most circumstances a youth should never be blamed for the outcome of his/her life. It’s not fair. You weren’t asked to be created and you sure as hell didn’t ask to be put through whatever it is you did go through. You didn’t ask to be beaten or molested. You didn’t ask to go to school every day in long sleeved shirts so that you could cover up the bruises from last night. You didn’t ask to be alone, or to be teased on every day for being the quiet, disassociated freak in the corner. You asked for none of it.

You didn’t ask to be abused or neglected no matter how little or how much it was. You didn’t ask not to be loved. You didn’t ask to be born to a pot-head and a prostitute. You didn’t ask. You asked for none of it, so why the hell does everyone around you keep dishing out such a big plate of hate? No one really knows why. You could search a thousand years and still never find the answer to that. And that’s because there is no answer to it.

The only possible solution is to keep on living; to overcome. To put your best foot forward and forget everyone who set aside their lives to make your own miserable: to restart. Trust me there is a restart button in life, but you’re only going to find it if you really want it.

For a good portion of my life I wallowed around in self-pity, always afraid of what would happen if I stepped outside of my box. I wanted change but I wasn’t willing to take the steps necessary to do so. I couldn’t take them because I was locked in a perpetual chaos. I was stuck floating in some sort of survival mode, and I was afraid.

Christmas photo with my new family.

Christmas photo with my foster family.

That part of me changed shortly after arriving in foster care. I felt safe, and most importantly, I knew I was safe. I knew there were new people in my life that were more than willing to do whatever it took to make sure I would never go through what I did before.

It’s been more than two years since my placement in foster care. I no longer need to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to live, rather I find myself thinking about how I will live.

A wise man once said, ‘’The circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.’’ Often times I find myself reflecting upon those words in moments of weakness, because I know that they are true.

One of my baby sisters in my new family.

One of my baby sisters in my foster family.

Learning what true love is

Guest post by Merrilu Bennett, Communications and Media Coordinator at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in Central Florida, one of DCF’s community-based care organizations. The Children’s Home has been in existence for more than 100 years and provides residential, therapeutic, emergency shelter and foster care to hundreds of abused, neglected and troubled children from across the state each and every year.

Allen’s mother was a drug addict who had abandoned him numerous times during his young life. She would leave him with friends or relatives for months at a time. The last time she left him, she didn’t return.

When she was finally tracked down and contacted by authorities, she said she didn’t want him back and then she disappeared.  Authorities could find no friends or family members willing to take care of him. His father, who Allen has never met, was in prison.

Florida United Methodist Children’s Home

Florida United Methodist Children’s Home

So at the age of 7, Allen was placed at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in our residential care program in the hopes it would provide him with much-needed structure and stability. “Stable” and “structured,” however, are the last two words that could be used to describe Allen’s initial behavior. During fits of anger he would shove rocking chairs, benches and even a bicycle off the front porch of his cottage.

One morning, one of our staff members sat with Allen when he refused to attend school.  She explained to him that she wanted him to go to school because she cared about him and his future.  Between sobs, he exclaimed, “My momma cared about me, and she never made me go to school!”

Living with a drug-addicted mother who didn’t care if he went to school was all this fragile little boy had known as love. And he also knew that “love” had been taken away from him.  He didn’t know his mother’s behavior and his childhood weren’t normal.  It was all he had ever known. Our job here at the Children’s Home was to teach Allen what “normal” really was.

The transformation did not take place overnight, but over weeks and months noticeable differences in his attitude began to take shape.  He began to attend school without argument and also began to participate in on-campus activities like sports.

Today, two years later, Allen plays football with a league in the community.  He not only enjoys school, but also helps other young residents understand the material.  In January he was recognized as our “Resident of the Week” because of how helpful he is.

Allen is just one of the hundreds of children we serve who just need to know they are loved. It takes time and it takes patience.  It also takes an unwavering belief that we can make a difference. But seeing the children grow emotionally – and learn what true love is – is more powerful than any bumps in the road along the way.

If you are interested in mentoring a child, donating time or items, or becoming a foster parent, please contact me at Merrilu.Bennett@fumch.org. It is an honor and privilege to work with these children and to share their stories. We welcome all volunteers who want to make a difference in their young lives.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in mentoring or fostering in other areas of Florida, please visit www.fosteringflorida.com to find a local fostering agency. 

A Year of Faces and Places


As the year comes to an end, we wanted to thank you for visiting our blog and show appreciation for our guest bloggers. We hope the blog posts have introduced you to thoughtful real-life stories and useful information.

 Here’s a compilation our top five blog posts this year. They’re good reading if you have some down time this week:

1.       Miles of Smiles Brought to the State Fairgrounds

Wade Shows carnivals and the Florida State Fair Authority hosted about 13,000 foster, adopted, and disadvantaged youth at the fairgrounds. This amazing blog post comes from the daughter of  Wade Show’s owner.

2.       A Child Born from the Heart

An adoptive father tells the story of his adopted son, including his son saying, “My sister Sami came from mommy’s belly, and I came from mommy’s heart.”

3.       Who is Your Emily?

One of our staff tells a story about a young girl, Emily, in an effort to inspire and help other DCF  staff cope with working with abused, neglected children. This one puts everything in perspective.

4.       They’ve Found Forever Families

This blog is a brief, first-person account actual adoption ceremonies for several families during November’s National Adoption Month. Highlights include remembering an adoptive grandmother exclaiming, “I’m about to be a new grandma!”

5.       Two Teens. Two Worlds Apart

A young lady talks about meeting a refugee and learning about his life before he came to the    U.S. – making her very thankful for the comforts of her own childhood. “His uncle from Germany would send his family money so they could eat. Mine sent me money for holidays and    birthdays that I saved for my prom dress.”

We hope you have enjoyed our blog this year and look forward to bringing you even more posts in 2013. If you are interested in being a guest blogger about a topic related to DCF’s services, please email dcfsocial@dcf.state.fl.us.