Friday, August 06, 2010


I've learned a lot about "Marcus" over the last month or so since I've been home.  He has absolutely no words, nor seemingly any desire to start using any.  His only vocalizations come when he is "stimming" (self-stimulating, which in his case usually involves jumping up and down with his arms raised in mild cases, or loudly shouting "eh!" when he's really cranked up.)  He is usually a sweet kid, very affectionate toward both The Wife and me (especially me...his father was his primary caregiver at home), he loves to feel whiskers and has no compunction about feeling the face of any man he happens to meet, he loves spaghetti as I do, he's very gentle with Panda and she loves him.

Nights are not as good as days though, and sometimes they are downright bad...sometimes he seems evil at night to a tired parent who is ready to get some sleep.  As I type this, he is peacefully out, but last night we were not so lucky.  My first clue that something might not be right was that after listening to the shouted "eh!" for a couple of hours, things were suddenly VERY quiet.  TOO quiet.  Uh oh.  Walking back to his room, I hit a wall of what can only be described as shit-stink.  Crud.  I jumped over the safety gate that keeps him in his room, and sure enough, he had his hand down the back of his drawers.  He looked quickly around guiltily, and equally quickly he pulled his hand out and put it in his mouth.

Nearly retching, I grabbed his hands and kept them both away from his face and his drawers.  A look around assured me that there didn't seem to be any "stuff" around on the floor, the dresser, his bed, etc.  I carried him into the bathroom.  He's between 50 and 60 pounds and this is not a trivial thing, but I was...exercised.  Very motivated to try my best to make this a teachable moment if I at all could.  Plus I was revolted.

Much, much, MUCH scrubbing later plus a pull-up change, he was fit to try bed again.  After an hour or two more of "eh!" he finally fell asleep.  The Wife has been very grateful to have me home (she dealt with this stuff alone for a month or two before I lost my over-the-road job) and I don't blame her in the least.  I even took care of the kids this morning while she slept in a bit.  No, I'm not the Best Husband Ever...quite the opposite sometimes.  But I do have my points at times.

Anyway...the episode I describe was one of the milder ones.  Except for the eating part...that was a first.  But the cleanup wasn't as bad as several of the others.  But it had gotten better...and that's what's bothering me, and what has me thinking, and what has me drawing parallels with other kids we've had.

Foster kids generally come to our house, especially in the current climate of the social work pros, with the idea of eventual reunification with their biological family.  The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is best in almost all circumstances for the child to live with their biological parents.  While I can see the impulse in that direction, I disagree...but the other thing is that budgets are under even more than the chronic strain they are used to and let's face it, we are expensive.  It's not just the foster care "reimbursement"...there are all the appointments.  My Lord.  "Marcus" has appointments several days a week, and some of them are over a hundred miles away.  Mileage adds up, too.  And there are many people involved in his care.  Us, his guardian ad litem, the PATH worker, several people from his county, his geneticist, his regular doctor, his dentist, and so on.

All that, I guess, to say this:  he has recently begun the "final stretch" of home visits that, if they go well, will pave the way for this reunification.  Now let me be clear:  his parents clearly love him.  They have not abused him, and I'm pretty sure they would do anything they could for this little guy.  That's not a problem.  What IS a problem is that I really don't know if they are ever going to have what it takes to give this child the care he needs.  From what I've seen and heard, it's questionable whether they are the sharpest tools in the shed to begin with, and even a seasoned parent might have trouble with the issues we're faced with daily.

And we were making real headway with "Marcus" before these visits started.  He had settled in very gradually but pretty nicely.  He was learning new skills (eating by himself with a fork was a big one), going to sleep VERY nicely at the appropriate time, his "stimming" was gradually disappearing, and it was getting easy to love this little guy.  Immediately after the home visits started, all the progress we had seen reversed itself.  Not completely, but very noticeably so.

This isn't just "Marcus", either, and it's been a problem with nearly all the placements we've had where reunification was a realistic possibility.  Long-time readers will recall the issues we had with "Josie" (still one of my favorite foster kids of all time)...those got a LOT worse when the county started to push constant home visits.  Same with "Tammy".  And the rest.

When I was a kid and it was my folks doing the foster parenting, it was much more usual that there would be a visit every month or two, for a day or two.  Now for "Marcus" we (or a PCA) are expected to drive this child an hour one way, wait for 2+ hours and then drive home.  As a reward, we get to be kept up for an hour or two while a child yells "eh!" and watch him eat his own poop.

I've been contacted by people who are considering the possibility of being foster parents, asking me what it takes.  What it takes, is to read this post and still want to do it.  If you think you can handle this stuff, knock yourselves out.  We are.  But then...some people think we're crazy, and they're probably right.  People will think you're crazy too.  Be ready for that.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Great Smoke-Out

Last week, we had a fun incident.  "Elaine" decided it would be a great idea to smoke in the bathroom in our basement.  This is a bit of a surprise, because we didn't really know her to smoke.  Furthermore, we haven't had this problem because when kids insist on smoking, we tend not to make a big deal out of it.  We just provide a coffee can on the deck and tell them to keep it out of the house.  The Wife has made a specialty of complaining very vocally about how their clothes and hair smell, but we don't forbid it.

It was a little more disturbing in this case in that she pulled "Pixie" into her shenanigans, and 13-year-olds are pretty impressionable, especially when a 16-year-old brings them into their confidence.  We do NOT want "Pixie" learning to smoke on our watch.

Well, I've described in the archives many of the projects we have pursued on the way to completing the basement.  There are only three left.  We need to install a wood stove.  I need to put up some shelving in the storage room.  Oh my goodness that's right...I also need to finish venting the fan from the bathroom to the outside, instead of into the furnace room as it is now.

"Elaine" wasn't aware that the fan was not fully installed yet.  It was not difficult to tell that someone had recently been smoking in the basement, but she steadfastly maintained her innocence to The Wife.  Later I broke her by the expedient of warning her that if she had any other smokes she needed to turn them over, or I would be finding hard work for her to do if we found them later.

"Elaine" has pretty much given up on trying to make it work here, and is spending all her time trying to figure out ways she can spend as much of her remaining time as possible at her grandmother's, where it sounds like she can do mostly as she pleases.  Recently her grandmother let her go to a concert, where she decided she needed to be in the mosh pit.  She got head-butted in her eye, opening a large gash that bled all over her dress.  She showed her masterful decision-making ability by staying for the rest of the concert because she didn't want to miss the last band, presumably bleeding all over herself and everybody else for an extended period of time before going to the hospital and getting three stitches.

That one will boomerang out of her grandma's and back to either residential or foster care again...I just hope nobody gets hurt in the process....especially "Elaine" herself.  There's a lot of good stuff in that one...she just needs the structure that apparently the powers that be aren't willing to provide for her at this point.  Seems like kids need to be at least 90% wrecked before someone notices that maybe they're not in the best situation and gets around to helping them for real.