Saturday, June 23, 2007

On False Accusations

I am a foster dad in a treatment home which seems to have begun specializing in teen girls. Thus, the possibility of false accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior weighs on my mind quite heavily sometimes. I am unable to spend much time in a one-on-one situation with any of these girls as a real father might, and I have to be very, very careful and aware of my surroundings and the situation at all times.

That's sad, but it's the world as it is. Other people are starting to notice this state of affairs in other similar environments such as the Big Brother/Big Sister program, too:

Perhaps men are merely acting rationally. They’ve assessed the risk of volunteering to work with children, and want no part of it. If so, that’s why BB-BS rates of male participation are well below national averages, which include volunteering that doesn’t involve children. Men have been reading the newspapers for the last 30 years, and don’t want to end up like Gerald Amirault, who served 18 years in prison following a child abuse witch hunt in Massachusetts, or like Grant Snowden, the Miami police officer who served 12 years behind bars as Janet Reno’s stepping stone to national office. They’re aware of cases like that of teacher Mark Fronczak, who was arrested, tried and found innocent, but “Besides his career, Fronczak lost his house and life savings during the ordeal. He voluntarily gave up custody of his two teenage sons to his ex-wife after his arrest. … “My life as I know it has been ruined,” he said. Fronczak would have been imprisoned for life if convicted.”

Further, when an accusation happens, men may worry BB-BS will react the way Duke University’s president, Board of Governors and faculty did despite the extreme improbability of the allegations against the three student victims.

As I said, I'm well aware of the risks I'm taking to help these kids...but I'm a hard case, and I don't feel I have an option. I'm in this thing, no matter what. I can't not help these kids. If there's a false accusation, then there just is. Somebody has to help the ones that need help, and that would be us. It's who we are. All I can do is whatever I can do to limit my exposure.

But this article and the links there point to the reasons groups from BB-BS to the Boy and Girl Scouts to the YMCA to foster care are having difficulty getting volunteers. If you're not a nut about it like we and our fellow bloggers (see sidebar) are, you'll probably think two or three times before opening yourself up to frivolous charges that could reasonably be expected to wreck your life.

I've accepted the fact that in the current political climate I could be convicted of a felony and have my life ruined if we get the wrong girl in this house and she is able to convince certain people that I did something to her.

The sad part is, there doesn't seem to be any need for evidence of wrongdoing in cases like that...if the girl is cute and the opportunity existed, then I'm apparently guilty by default and will lose my house and do jail time unless I can somehow prove my innocence. Our SW has even told us quite forthrightly that if either of us is ever accused of anything, no matter what the circumstances or likelihood of accuracy, our organization will not stand by us, nor even talk to us about the issue until a full investigation has been completed. Of course, at that point it may be too late for us if the wrong person is running the investigation. We've heard horror stories at our trainings about this very issue.

Why do we continue then? Because we have to. It's who we are. If you love golf, how do you stop being a golfer? It's too late. You already can only be a golfer who no longer plays. If you love animals and have pets, how can you just stop? You'll still love animals. If you love God, how do you stop praying? You'll still love God.

If you're not a foster parent and are considering doing what we do, it would behoove you to consider how you would respond if you suddenly were sued for something you didn't do and the system that recruited you didn't back you up. It probably won't parents made it through nearly 30 years without any legal trouble. But it's a changing world, and the politicos, feminists, well-financed trial lawyers and others are doing everything they can to put men behind bars, sometimes regardless of whether they're really guilty or how good their previous record is. Witness the recent Duke Lacrosse case.

At that point, will you be sorry you ever got into fostering? I've considered it carefully, and I know I would not be sorry. Not at all. Because the work we're doing is way too important to let some lawyer or "political activists" prevent it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Sometimes life just ain't fair, you know? Here's a story for you. Let me know what you think.

As I think I've posted before, we have a 17-year-old girl I haven't given a blog-name yet who has been with us a few different weekends for respite. She's a pretty, rather shy girl, and she and I hit it off from the first night she was here and we sat up talking fairly late. She's got a fairly level head on her shoulders considering her shaky home life, and we've enjoyed having her around.

The last weekend she stayed with us was also the first weekend we had "Celeste" and "Jill", as well as one of the first weekends we had "Tammy" full time for her extended stay. The place was kind of a madhouse, and this girl seemed uncomfortable. Then "Jill" opened her gigantic, cavernous, gaping yap and said something crude and mean to her, which made her cry.

I immediately stepped into the breach and smoothed the ruffled feathers on both sides as well as I could. I let the girl know that this was not the sort of thing we allow here (and you can bet "Jill" heard the same in much stronger terms) . I thought we had things sorted out...and I suppose we did. But it apparently had to go just one step further.

The Wife spoke with the girl's social worker today, and apparently she was not as impressed with our house this time. Enough so that she told the social worker she didn't think they should send any more kids to our house. Ouch. But the main reason she gave, at least that I heard, was one we really didn't have control over. Yes, it was busy and louder than she's used to and she apparently didn't like it, but I didn't hear a special problem with that.

No, what really got her was a little incident that happened that weekend which is one of the things I would have liked to write about but for lack of time and energy. You see, that was the weekend that "Jill" and "Celeste" thought it would be just a fabulous idea for "Jill" to pierce "Celeste's" nose. This probably isn't one to rate on a par with "Josie" deciding to pierce her own tongue, but it's close enough for government work.

So the kid says to her social worker that they shouldn't send more kids over here, because it's too loud and busy, and there's kids piercing each other and stuff.

Sigh. So much for the old reputation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hello Everybody

I just looked at my referrer logs for the first time in forever, and the diversity of visitors amazes me. Hello, British people! Hello, Germans and Australians! Canadians, French, Kenyans, Spanish, Mexicans and a bunch of others! A shout out to the folks in Minnesota, California, Ohio, Texas, and up and down the east coast! Yes, even Guthrie, Oklahoma. You know who you are. But I guess I don't...though I do know you're using Cox Communications as your ISP, you're running Windows XP and use Internet Explorer 7.0, your monitor is set to 1280x1024 with 32-bit color you're still running JavaScript 1.3 (get with it, d00d), you're running the .NET framework 1.1 (you should really install 2.0), and apparently Amanda's Random Thoughts brought you to my little corner of the internet. Did I mention I was a professional geek? Heh.

Man. Even just when I was a kid, it was unthinkable that I would be able to communicate my thoughts to such a broad spectrum of people, never mind that some of them would have an interest in reading my blatherings.

But then, I guess I have an interest in other people's musings about this stuff too pretty often. It's good that we have the opportunity to compare notes with each other like this, you know?

Home Alone Again

And tonight I got another reprieve from the kidz, as "Tammy" is on a home visit and the other two are with The Wife on a church youth trip to an amusement park or some such.

Tonight I'd finally like to focus a little on something more specific, and that something is "Celeste". I admit I wasn't much impressed with her at first. She struck me as a stuck-up little snot that would take some breaking before she could mend. I think I may have thought too fast.

This girl is, as Mom said so eloquently when I talked to her earlier this evening, deep. I think there's some really, really good stuff in her. Oh, she's got a defensive shield up 100% about 90% of the time, but that other 10% is really, really interesting to see. When she lets the mask slip, you can see a calm, kind, thoughtful and very, very smart person inside. Freaky smart, really. Combined with the fact that she has a more developed body than many 16- and even 18-year-olds, her intellect makes you naturally treat her as a lot older than the 12 that she is. She does still have a bit of a baby face, which keeps me from forgetting myself completely and asking if she wants a shot of gin, but she often does carry herself with a good deal of maturity.

That, I'm discovering, seems to be a very rare thing indeed in fostering. Lots of times these kids have been mistreated, or neglected, or simply exposed to too much adult activity/material/experience. Perhaps counterintuitively, that seems to arrest their development and maturation in many cases rather than make them wise beyond their years. The only way I've discovered these girls to be wise beyond their years is in knowing ALL the tricks of the trade in how to seduce boys, sneak out at night, get their way and so forth.

But there is more of that maturity in "Celeste" than the other two put together, I think, and they're both older than her. We just need to try to coax it out and provide the right kind of environment, opportunity and expectations. I think she'll be alright here. I really do.

A short note: on the flipside, "Tammy" is beginning to show a bit more immaturity than I had credited her with--but just a bit. I think most of it is that she is very, very, very much more a follower than a leader, and "Jill" is a born leader/rabble-rouser. We are providing foster care to the freakin' Pied Piper, and "Tammy" is just itching to follow her out of the village and down the road.

Note to self: pick up a set of chains for "Tammy" with the next paycheck.

All in all, this is what we envisioned when we started this mess. It's incredibly interesting, and nerve-wracking. One minute I feel like I'm on top of things, and the next minute I feel so completely out of my depth I want to either scream or go hide. But I can feel my abilities and horizons expanding, and it's fun to watch The Wife gradually get a handle on the situation and begin to assert herself with somebody. Somebody besides me.

Come to think of it, that was one of the draws in fostering for me when my parents did it: somebody else around to draw some of Mom's fire. And life goes full circle once again.

I love my life.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Furious Pace

The last few months I haven't posted much because there wasn't much to say. The last couple weeks I haven't posted much because I'm mostly exhausted at the end of each eventful day.

We now have "Tammy", "Jill" and "Celeste" ensconced in their semi-permanent rooms. We've dealt with internecine warfare between "Jill" and "Celeste", and also between "Jill" and a girl we take for respite once a month or so. Yes, "Jill" is, as advertised, the mother of all drama queens, and can be very abrasive when she decides she doesn't need to care how she's affecting other people. Sigh. We'll have to work on that.

Tonight I could tell The Wife was coming to the end of her rope, so I marshaled what pathetic forces we have available and forced them to attack the yard with us. I'd call it a moderate success, actually. The low point was when "Tammy" made an unusually disgusting wuss of herself by refusing to use the pooper scooper to pick up dog crap. Seriously, don't have to touch the stuff. You barely have to look at the stuff. You just have to use the scoop to pick it up and toss it in a bucket, after which you pitch it over the fence and into the woods. Voila. I would have loved to trade her that for mowing, but we can't have the Little Darlings hurting themselves, can we?

Yesterday we went to celebrate Fathers' Day with Dad, and besides the normal three, "Josie" tagged along. Apparently she had things to talk to Mom about. She claimed to hate Mom (same as she told me she hated me a time or two) but now she LOVES to go see my folks. They do have that effect on people. Up until the last few years, I guess I hated her and loved her, too. Sorry, Mom, but I did.

Anyway, our new charges seem to be settling in nicely and actually starting to get onto something of an even keel with us and with each other. It's fascinating to get to know kids with such widely varying personalities and backgrounds, and it's almost as fascinating to see them interact with each other and with the pets. No need to even have satellite TV, really, with this kind of entertainment in the kitchen and living room every night.

Hopefully the pace will slacken a little more as the routine normalizes and I'll be able to focus on smaller bits.

Oh, and just to document this: "Jill" is the most boy-crazy girl I've ever seen with the notable exception of "Josie".

Sunday, June 10, 2007

That Was Quick

Tonight I was handed a letter from "Tammy" and "Jill" (who have hit it off from the first day "Jill" came last week). I'm still picking my jaw up off the floor:

Dan & [The Wife],
I know things are hard right now but we have been talking and we would like you to adopt us. We see all these happy families and that's what we want with you guys. We want you to be our forever family. We really love you guys and you make us feel special. You said you wanted to adopt older children someday and so why can't that be us and now. If you say no we will be upset but we will understand. Saying yes would make us the happiest girls in the world. Dan, you are the best father ever and we would love to call you dad. [The Wife], you really treat us like...can't even describe how great you are and we want to call you mom. We want a family that we can call a family and say I [heart] you and mean it. So please consider adopting us, we would love to call you our parents.

Love your girls, ["Jill"] & ["Tammy"]

Can I get a "holy crap" here? I halfway expected that this is how "Tammy" feels, especially since lately I've noticed her sort of disconnecting from her family lately. But "Jill" has been with us 4 days. I sense a need to curb impulsive behavior here. The social workers did warn us that she's a bit of a drama queen.

Still, the letter made my day, and if in a year she seems like the girl that she seems like now, I'd probably even consider it. I like her a lot, warts and all. to tactfully make them understand that neither of them is available for adoption even if we wanted to tomorrow?

I bet most people don't ever have to face this type of thing in their lives.

Character: "Celeste"

"Celeste" is a 12-year-old girl for whom I believe we are more of a "transition" home before she goes back to live with her dad. She had (it sounded like) been more or less living on the street with her mom but had had some success earlier living with her dad. She seems to dispute this account and I'm hopeless trying to keep all the stories straight lately, but The Wife seems to have a good handle on it.

Whatever the case, she seems to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She is now a 12-year-old living with two who are 15, so she also seems to feel she has something to prove. It may take a bit to chip through her act and see what's underneath, but The Wife has spent a bit of time with her alone (shopping for a few clothes with her clothing allowance) and claims to have seen an actual human inside her. I trust her judgement in such things, but I haven't seen it myself yet.

Character: "Jill"

"Jill" came to us last Wednesday, and I've had a few days to evaluate her. She's a really pretty 15-year-old girl who comes to us from out of town.

In some ways, "Jill" seems to come from the same mold as "Josie". She's pretty street-smart, her parents are chemically hopeless. She's boy-crazy and seems to rate places and activities as worth going to by how many good-looking boys will be there.

On the other hand, she went to church with us, and she showed a surprising interest in the Bible and in what the preacher was saying, asking pertinent questions afterward. Based on my initial impression, I like her a lot. That's good, because it sounds like she's our first really long-term placement, and she may be with us until she ages out.

The force is strong with this one. I see a chance to do good things here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Home Alone

Home alone tonight, as The Wife has "Tammy" with her at the cabin helping Mom clean. There's nothing quite like a completely empty make you remember why full houses are a good thing. Still, the quiet isn't weighing too heavily on me tonight and I have friends with me, if not human ones. There's something to be said for sitting on the deck in the night and appreciating the crickets' and frogs' hard musical work in the swamp out back. Plus, the fireflies are going to be expending all that light anyway, and in the interest of saving energy somebody should really be out there looking at it. Might as well be me, right?

Basically just sitting and wondering about our new prospects tonight. One is supposed to be coming Wednesday and the other Friday. We've been fooled before in this game so I'm not counting on it, but they've stuck to the same story for an unusually long time this time (maybe 4-5 days) so maybe they'll actually come through this time. Broken clock, twice a day, and all that.

This feels like I felt when we were going to be getting "Josie". The good part this time around is that we're a little wiser, a little more settled, and we know much better by now what we're letting ourselves in for. We didn't exactly fail with her (she shows up to church on her own, in part to see us) but we didn't get much of a chance to work on her real issues. She was too smart and threw up smoke screens that we weren't able to get through in a few months.

The bad part is that we've been burned a time or two now, and the hard part is to keep letting yourself open up and loving each kid equally when they walk in the door, knowing that so many things can go wrong. They can throw it back in your face, social services can pull the rug out from under you just when you think you're getting their trust (and they blame you, natch), or you can screw up and yell at them at the wrong time and irretrievably change the relationship for the worse.

But whattaya gonna do? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Also nothing thrown at you, nothing broken in your house and nobody gone in the middle of the night when they're supposed to be in bed...but we'll just focus on the gained part and deal with the rest as it comes up.

In fostering, if you think too much about what it is exactly that you're doing, you might just quit, so it's better to just sit on the deck and listen to the frogs and watch the fireflies. Maybe listen to a little Air Supply, or maybe Breathe.


Friday, June 01, 2007

New Doings and Life Evaluation

Well, if history is any guide, I'll be feeling the need to blog more soon. For the last few months, we haven't really had a lot new going on. We've sort of been left "fallow", and have mostly been doing respite for various kids that we've had in the past, and (blessedly) it's been pretty fun but uneventful.

The new stuff: first off, "Tammy" has come to live with us for a few weeks. Apparently her family situation had improved and we have been doing respite for her once a month, but now apparently some very weird-and-not-to-be-gone-into-here stuff has gone on and she felt she had to bail out. We welcome her with open arms...she's probably the easiest and nicest kid we've experienced so far. Further...she has always had a terrible relationship with her dad and while not declaring it, seems now to have totally disowned him. She was talking to The Wife recently and mentioned to her that she had never really had a "dad", which was why she was glad she had us now because she had me as a dad. Whew. I gotta be doing SOMETHING right, I guess.

Next, we have a new demon-child coming to visit woe and destruction on our household. Pretty much all I know at this point is that she's a she, she's going to be showing up this week, she's 14 and she's (FINALLY!) an almost definite long-term placement. She's from farther upstate, so no local ties. More on that soon, I'm sure.

In addition, we have ANOTHER demon-child arriving imminently as well. This one is also a she, she's 12, and comes to us from far out of state. Apparently we're garnering a positive reputation in neighboring counties' family services, because this one was referred to us because we were specifically requested by name. Apparently she was living with her mom, basically on the street, and spent all her time socializing with the street people her mom hung out with. Lovely. I don't even know if she has people in this part of the world, but she also sounds long-term. Can't say I mind.

So...I'm preparing to live once again in a sort of estrogen soup, spiced with that certain touch of teen angst but tempered with the patience, calm and beauty of The Wife.

There have been several near-misses on the adoption front lately as well, but generally we seem to be getting more inquiries, which is good. All that would make our insanity complete is to have to go pick up a newborn while caring for three teen/preteen troubled girls.

As I type this, I am sitting at my good friend's computer in a secure, undisclosed location (Dick Cheney is right across the room having a latte). I'm on a 3-day weekend in the Twin Cities, and having a hard time believing it's been almost two years since I left this madness for the pastoral splendor of outstate Minnesota. It was a great move for me. My friend is pretty successful and just bought himself a 2007 Corvette (very sweet). He has a 50-inch HDTV and lots of other expensive toys, and he lives in a 'burb where he and every single visible neighbor impose military order on their lawns and shrubbery. I stepped outside on the street in my socks last night, and they got less dirty than they get when walking across our kitchen at home. I was duly asked with some concern if my car (sitting on the driveway) dripped any fluids (it doesn't yet to my knowledge).

I've known this man since he was a boy, and pretty much consider him the best friend I ever had outside The Wife. This life is exactly the kind of life I always figured would make him as happy as he is able to be. Yes, we were roommates for years. I nearly drove this guy out of his clean-obsessed mind, but it's good to live with someone whose tolerance for non-vacuumed carpets is lower than your own. I don't think I touched a vacuum for several years there.

I too (after much stupidity and trying everything else first) have discovered the kind of life that makes me as happy as I know how to be. It involves not mowing the lawn until it starts looking shaggy, maintaining a small menagerie that doesn't ever allow for a completely clean house, a yard surrounded by underbrush that vaguely segues into our lawn, and lots of kids around with messy problems to help with. I have several active household projects in various stages of completion--but to be fair to myself I proudly state that contrary to my earlier practices, project HAVE actually been getting completely done...eventually.

I don't have nearly the income I could have in my field, and while I have my share of toys I don't have anything like what many with my skills and experience have. But I do have my sobriety, my serenity, The Wife, a WONDERFUL, supportive family, an off-again-on-again supply of kids to love, a house in the country with lots of woods around, lakes to fish in and a complete acceptance and contentment with my lot in life.

Who's luckier than me?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go train myself on my friend's remote controls. He showed me last night but I've forgotten, and I very much need to watch his DVD of "Talladega Nights". Or maybe season 1 of "24". Sigh. So many wastes of time, so little...uh...time. Heh.