Being a foster parent

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, my first wife and I adopted Colin and Ryan from foster care. The journey we took to become foster parents, and the roller coaster ride we took before we were done fostering, was a life defining experience for me. To tell the story properly, I have to go back to 1998; when I first met Wendy.

We met through a then relatively new and novel way: a dating web site: Match.com. Very soon after we met, Wendy told me that she was diabetic, and that she was also having some health issues related to fibroid cysts that included pain and bleeding. Her doctor had recommended she have a complete hysterectomy. So, about 6 weeks after we met, she went in for surgery, and our hope of ever having biological children together vanished.

At the time we met, Wendy was a nanny, and had been so for about 3 or 4 years. She loved children, and the only thing she ever really wanted to be in life was to be a mother. We knew right away that we would look into adoption after we got married.

Two years after we met, we were married. We had already begun looking at options for adoption and/or surrogates. We even had one of Wendy’s cousins offer to be a surrogate, but that turned out to be an empty promise. So, after looking at overseas adoption, and domestic adoption, and every other option you could think of, we decided we would be foster-to-adopt parents. We decided it would be a great way to help at-risk children in our own community while also being a way to possibly adopt kids that really needed the love we had to give.

We were “all-in” immediately. We asked to be placed on the “emergency foster” list, which meant we could (and often did) get phone calls looking to place children with us at 1 or 2 in the morning. We got children that were literally taken directly from their abusive home and placed in our home. We had children placed with us directly from the hospital a day or two after being born. We took any and all children Child Protective Services was willing to place with us. The only restriction we had was that we wanted children under the age of 5 since we knew that our ultimate goal was adoption.

Our first placement came less than 48 hours after being licensed. We went through the training classes in the spring of 2001. We had to move from a one bedroom to a two bedroom apartment before being licensed, so we did that in May of that year. CPS, moving with the glacier like speed they are known for, finally sent our case worker to do our home study at the beginning of September of that year. About a week after the case worker came out, 9/11 happened. That set us back even further. We should have known then how frustrating CPS could be, but we soldiered on.

The Friday before the week of Thanksgiving, we were out-of-town visiting relatives. That afternoon, we got a voice mail message from our case worker that our license had been approved! We were so excited, we cut our trip short, and rushed home. We knew things could happen quickly once we were licensed, and we weren’t disappointed.

We received a call for an emergency placement the next day; Saturday afternoon. The case worker told us that she had a child that was about to be removed from a home because of physical abuse, and she wanted to line up a home to place him in before she removed him. We gladly accepted, thinking our first placement would be in our home soon. Well, after about 16 hours, and after several phone calls all promising he would be there “soon”, Nicholas was brought to our home, complete with several bruises on his cheek and forehead, and a black eye. He wasn’t a happy camper, but the kid was tough (we soon came to realize that was a common trait among foster children), and he quickly was a very happy and healthy 6 month old baby boy.

We were sure we were going to adopt Nicholas. How could CPS send him back to live with that family? How could they think they were a better fit for him than us? Well, about a month after celebrating his first birthday, CPS sent him to live with his grandmother (who, by the way, tried to help her daughter escape from the police when they came to remove Nicholas from her custody).

That is when we discovered some things about CPS. They have certain belief systems that they hold dear, one of which, is that “blood relatives” always take priority over foster families.  That policy probably works for about 90-95% of families (MAYBE), but we felt in this case it was ridiculous. We also found out that most caseworkers are VERY over worked and under paid. This causes them sometimes to worry more about getting the case off their desk, instead of worrying more about what is in the best interest of the child.

Don’t get me wrong, I think CPS workers, by a LARGE majority, are wonderful people, who do a job that I don’t think I could do. But, some are just burnt out, and in over their heads. It’s a real shame when you run into those workers.

But, despite wanting to quit several times, we carried on. In just over 5 years, Wendy and I fostered 23 children ranging in ages newborn to 4 years old. We fostered Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic children, with almost an equal number of boys and girls. We had children in our home that had been born addicted to heroin, alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc.

The most heart breaking experience we had was one little girl who came to us at 6 months old, and she had over 20 different fractures. Her jaw was broken in two places, and she was in so much pain, we had to feed her with an NG Tube for over a week. Her wrist was so badly broken, that she didn’t crawl until she was 10 months old. She was also given back to her grandmother (who was letting the girl and her parents live with her during the time of the abuse).

We saw so many things that almost made us give up. It almost ruined my faith in humanity, as a matter of fact. But, we carried on. In June of 2004, a 5 week old little boy came to live with us named Jessie. A year and 4 months later, we adopted him, and changed his name to Colin. A little over a year after that, we adopted Ryan, and our family was complete. So was our journey of being foster parents.

I can say, without a doubt, the experience changed me forever. I like to think it changed me for the better.

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A “special” child

It’s hard to know where to start with something like this. I want to tell my and my family’s story, plus I want to make it interesting for someone who comes across this page, but I also don’t believe I need to tell EVERYTHING about my life up to this point (it would take too long anyway. I’m 41 years old, for goodness sakes).

Since I want to kind of focus on a lot of the challenges my wife and I face with raising our three diverse children, I’ll start with the child that is our focus for oh, around 80-90% of our day: Colin.

Colin’s life started in a very rough way. True to his form, though, he proved himself to be a real fighter. He was born to a biological mother who was a prostitute, and I believe, hooked on drugs. Colin was put into the foster care system after a CPS worker found him, at five weeks old, in an apartment with no electricity (it was June, in Dallas, TX). His bio-mom rarely changed his diaper despite neighbors giving the young woman free diapers, and when he would cry because he was hungry, she would stuff peanut butter in his mouth to make him stop. This was despite the fact that the same neighbors who gave her diapers, also gave her formula. She just refused to take care of him, and left him in a car seat with no cover or padding.

So, at five weeks old, a severely malnourished, but seemingly happy, Colin (then known as Jessie-father unknown, by the way), was delivered to me and my first wife, Wendy. Soon after, Colin’s bio-mom was never seen, or heard from, again.

We noticed fairly early on that Colin was having some developmental delays. He did not sit up unassisted until he was almost a year old. He would not, or could not, sit up to drink a bottle. In fact, feeding issues dogged Colin for the first few years of his life because as a newborn, he learned that if something solid was in his mouth (like the peanut butter his bio-mom stuffed in his mouth), then he better not swallow it because he could choke to death. He was smart (and a survivor) even then.

So, with the help some wonderful therapists from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), and another group called Therapy 2000, Colin was hitting most of his developmental goals by the age of 2. Even then, he showed a great talent for memorization by mastering matching games and putting together puzzles that were designed for older kids. I remember asking his therapists and doctors (mainly because of his receptive speech delays) if they thought he could be autistic, but they answered they didn’t think so because a) he was pretty verbal (in fact, he rarely stopped talking), and b) he did not do the stimming so many people associate with autism.

To her credit, one of my good friends, Amy (a school psychologist) said she thought he might be autistic and tried to push me to get him tested. By that time, though, I was dealing with the death of my first wife (more on that later), and I decided that I would listen to Colin’s doctors and therapists. Besides, who wants to hear their child is autistic, especially while in the grips of depression and grief?

Not long after I met Sara, she really started pushing me to get Colin more testing (he had already been diagnosed with pretty severe ADHD). We ended up taking him to a Developmental Pediatrician who confirmed the autism diagnosis in August of 2010. It was a pretty big blow at the time. All of a sudden I started picturing all of my hopes and dreams for Colin (baseball star, academic excellence, grand children) going down the drain. It really hit me like a ton of bricks, despite it being something I already knew in the back of my mind anyway.

The truth of the matter is that none of those things were lost, and the diagnosis of autism did not change who Colin is as a child. He is still the lovable, goofy, smart, sensitive, frustrating, kid he has always been (and always will be).