Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Job Hunt

As I mentioned Monday in my bullet point update, Danielle made a big deal Thankgiving weekend of how superior her birth family was to ours, and how she couldn't wait until she turned 18 so she could move out of the house.

I calmly reminded her that if she wanted to be successful at moving out on her 18th birthday, she'd better find a job, now, so that she has time to save up for all the things she will need to support herself in her own apartment.

We've been talking about Danielle getting a job for more than a year.  She's good at complaining that she doesn't have enough money, but she hasn't actually done anything to find work.  Even when offered temporary paying gigs, she's not particularly interested or motivated.

So I was somewhat surprised when we went out to get dessert one night and Danielle asked if the place we visited might be hiring.

"Go ask them for a job application," I told her.

She did, and was told they only accepted applications online.  The staff behind the counter handed her a business card that contained the URL.

We suggested that she take the card to school and have the staff there help her fill out the application.  The school is supposed to be setting up some sort of vocational program for Danielle, so we thought we'd let them handle it.

I have no idea if Danielle completed the application, since she didn't say either way, but she did come home excited.  She can't wait until she starts her new job.

She didn't much like it when I pointed out that there's no guarantee this one place will hire her.  "You need to put in quite a few applications before you will get hired," I explained, "especially in this economy."

But Danielle didn't want to hear what I had to say.  "There are no good jobs in [our hometown]," she complained, "so I don't want to work anywhere else."

She also didn't want to listen when FosterEema and I tried to explain that her first job probably isn't going to be all that great.  We both ended up with low-paying jobs in the fast food industry when we started out.

Danielle thinks she's too good to work at a job like that.

Our local economy is still very much struggling, and teen unemployment is at record highs.  I don't think she realizes that beggars can't really be choosers.  Because of her age, lack of education, and inexperience, she definitely is a beggar in our local job market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Unfairness of Parrots

As I've mentioned before, we have several parrots.  One of our birds is definitely special-needs, and due to past past abuse, is completely blind.  This particular bird, Moonie, can be extremely difficult to handle, especially when she is scared.

But as difficult as she can be, and as profoundly as she has been abused, she's still managed to keep her absolutely huge loving heart.

She loves me, and she loves my wife.

But best of all, she adores our pet sitter.

I'm happy that Moonie loves our sitter, because we do have to leave the birds from time to time.  Since Moonie is so challenged, I would feel really bad if we had to leave her with someone she didn't care about or trust.  She's been betrayed by humans in the worst way, robbed of her sight, and yet she still manages to find some love and trust for certain people.

Our pet sitter is also our friend.  When she comes to visit, Moonie cries for her to come pick her up.  When our friend obliges, Moonie responds by purring happily, preening, and giving gentle beak kisses.  It's quite adorable to watch, and I love seeing that Moonie will do that to someone besides me.

I know that if anything terrible were to happen to me and FosterEema, Moonie would have a safe and loving home.

Recently, our friend/sitter dropped by the house for a social visit.  Like always, Moonie was quickly on her shoulder expressing her undying affection as only she can do.

Danielle, upon witnessing Moonie's avian exuberance, complained, "That's not fair! She never does that to me!"

And it's true, Moonie never cuddles and kisses with Danielle in the same way that she does with me or our sitter.  Moonie's relationship with Danielle could be best described as "difficult," and it's clear the bird mostly just tolerates her attention on good days, and fears and despises her on bad ones.  Moonie is capable of delivering some pretty ugly bites when scared, and Danielle has received more than her fare share of pinches, nips and even a few bites, because of the way she approaches the bird.

Parrots, unlike dogs and cats, aren't really pre-programmed to automatically like people.  Each bird has its own personality, and when cultivating a relationship with a parrot, one has to remember that one has to make themselves likeable to the avian brain.

Jumping up and down, throwing temper tantrums, and screaming are not ways to make friends with a parrot.  A dog or a cat might quickly forget that a kid had a rage, but parrots are a lot like elephants because they have a very long memory.  Even Chicken, who is absolutely our most forgiving bird, has at best an uneasy relationship with Danielle because she is so unpredictable.

It was hard trying to explain to Danielle just why the birds don't respond to her in the way that they respond to other people.  For Danielle to understand why the birds don't like her, she would have to recognize and take responsibility for some of her undesirable behaviors.  She needs to understand that with parrots, she can't be hyper one minute and calm the next, and expect that the birds are going to trust her.  She can't scream at them one minute and then want to make kissy faces the next, and have them respond positively.

It makes me sad that my kid can't enjoy the kind of relationship we have with our birds.

But then again, it makes me sad that she can't have the kind of relationship we'd like to have with her.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bullet Point Update

I know it's been quite a while since my last post.  I celebrated my birthday recently, and opted to spend a few days visiting with family.  Then, the Thanksgiving weekend rolled by, and I just didn't manage to get to my blog.

Since my last post:
  • Danielle had what could be described as some sort of emotional breakdown.  She has been having nightmares about bad things happening to her biological half-siblings and, after a particularly bad dream, she spent about a half an hour curled up on the floor in the fetal position screaming, "Make them stop!  Why won't they stop? Am I going crazy?"  FosterEema nearly called the mental health crisis line, but since Danielle wasn't actively dangerous to anyone and wasn't threatening self-harm, we waited it out.  Eventually, Danielle calmed down and went back to bed.

  • Concerned about her outburst, we called the mental health professionals at her school, and they too are "very concerned" about this development.  They are trying to accelerate the process of getting her a referral for additional mental health services, but they can't give us a timeline as to when that will happen.

  • We weren't able to reach our family therapist, as she has been out of town on an extended holiday.

  • We got word that another one of Danielle's half-siblings has been incarcerated.  Like the first, we have few details, and don't know how long this individual will be locked up.

  • We managed to get through my birthday and the Thanksgiving holiday without major incidents, though Danielle did choose to use Thanksgiving weekend to start harping about how living with her birth family was much better than living with us, and how she can't wait until she turns 18 and moves out.

  • She didn't much like it when I reminded her that if she wants to move out when she's 18, she really ought to start looking for a job now, so she'll have money saved up for things like deposits, move-in costs, and furniture.

  • Danielle played motion-based video games to excess and gave herself a bad case of sore muscles.  I resisted the temptation to say, "I told you so," when she complained about how much her arm hurt.

  • I actually lost weight over Thanksgiving weekend, which is just unheard of in my world.  I completed Couch to 5K earlier this year, and I have been working on Bridge to 10K.  By the end of this week, I'll be up to jogging for an hour.  I guess all the extra exercise managed to burn off the damage the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and apple pie created.

How did your Thanksgiving holiday go?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Honor of the Recently-Passed Munchkin

If you read the news, you'll know that Karl Slover passed away last Tuesday

"Karl Slover?" you ask.

He was one of the last surviving munchkins from the film Wizard of Oz.

So in honor of Mr. Slover's passing, FosterEema was singing The Lollipop Guild to our parrots this morning.

FosterEema: (to Sir Spudly) We represent the Lollipop Guild...and in the name of the Lollipop Guild, we wish to welcome you to munchkin land!

Sir Spudly: Shut up!

FosterEeema: (to Chicken) We represent the Lullabye League...and in the name of the Lullaby League, we wish to welcome to you munchkin land!

Chicken: (brightly) Hi!

Goodbye Mr. Slover, you will be missed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yes, This Happens at Our House, Too

On Sunday Jen, over at Couldn't Make It Up If I Tried, blogged about a conversation she had with her daughter after an ugly explosion.  I have had this exact same conversation with our kid at least a million times. I'm going to quote a few lines because it so exactly matches what we see here at our house:
Mom: LT, we need to talk about what happened last night.

LT: Why? I'm over it. Why aren't you?

Mom: I'm not over it because your words hurt my feelings, your actions hurt our home, and I know you can't possibly feel good about what you did.

LT: That was yesterday. I moved on and you need to move on too. It's in the past. Now, I need my ipod. Did you charge it last night?

If you substitute me or my wife where the text reads "Mom," and "Danielle" where it reads "LT," you'll  have an exact duplicate of many of the discussions we've had after Danielle has had a meltdown.  The only difference is that Danielle would be asking for her MP3 player back (as we would have confiscated it) and not asking if we'd charged it for her.

It's conversations like these that make me want to beat my head on the edge of my desk.

I'm over it.  That was yesterday.  You need to move on.

Oh were it that easy to get over physical or emotional injuries.

I've lost count of the number of times that Danielle argued she should be off restriction for assaulting one or both of us while we still had visible injuries from her assault.

That was yesterday.  It never seemed to register with Danielle that, regardless of when the incident occurred, my wife and I were still suffering from the injuries she had inflicted.

Go read the entire text of Jen's conversation with her daughter.  If you are raising troubled kids, it will sound eerily familiar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on All It Takes is an Accusation

I was talking to a long-time buddy of mine who told me something that made me so angry, I wanted to punch someone.

She told me a tale that is so disturbing, upsetting, sad, and ironic I couldn't believe it.

Here's the story:

About four years ago, my friend was a relative caregiver for several children.  As kids often do when they don't get their way, they made a false abuse allegation against her.  The child welfare authorities came in, and even though there was no evidence of abuse, they took the kids.

Although the kids quickly recanted their allegations, it was too late.  My friend was labeled a child abuser, and was told that she would only be allowed supervised visitation with the children, because she was obviously so dangerous.  For a variety of reasons, which I won't go into here to keep my friend's privacy, she decided not to fight.  The children were taken into foster care, and there they stayed.

My friend refused to participate in supervised visitation because she hadn't done anything wrong.

One of the kids has since turned 18.  The others are still minors, but well into their teen years.

Fairly recently, the social worker involved in the case decided that supervised visitation wasn't really necessary.  My friend was finally allowed visits with the kids.  Pretty soon, the foster parents were wanting to use her as respite, and the children were being allowed to stay longer and longer.

And now, the most stunning news of all.

A few days ago, the children's social worker called my friend and asked if she would be willing to take the children back.

Yes, that's right folks.  After all these years of being labeled a child abuser, social services had suddenly changed their mind.  Now, instead of being a child abuser, she is a preferred caregiver.

It seems that the kids had been placed in separate foster homes, and the worker was eager to reunite them.  Since none of the foster families involved were willing to take on more children, and the preference is to place kids with relative caregivers when possible, my friend's home suddenly became the logical choice.  The worker even unofficially apologized and admitted that they had made a mistake those four long years ago.

Removing the children from my friend's  home hadn't been necessary after all.

When my friend told me the news, I was so angry I found myself trembling in rage.  Although I am delighted my friend was vindicated, because she truly was innocent of wrongdoing, I am enraged at the damage this has caused to her, the kids involved, and her extended family.

The system in this case was so eager to take children away from the "evil abuser" that they didn't bother to stop and really check out the allegations.  There was no physical evidence that the kids had been abused, and all it took was the words of a few angry teenagers to put things in motion that couldn't be stopped when the children later recanted their stories.

The terrible thing about this is that my friend had cared for these kids, without complaint, for most of their lives because of an earlier tragedy.  She was trying to do the right thing for her kin, and the child welfare system punished her for it.  The kids went to foster care, she was drug through the emotional wringer, and her good name spoiled by an ugly mark in a computer database somewhere.

And now, because it's convenient, expedient and less expensive, they want to give the kids back?

I am outraged.

But I also have to think about the kids here.  I think about how they have spent the past few years in foster homes, separated, and not allowed to visit with some of their relatives.  I know that the kids, especially the instigator, are struggling with guilt.  They know that their lies have done unalterable damage to their relative caregiver, their family and each other.

And all because the system is so eager to remove kids from their homes without bothering to really investigate.

My friend's case is not the only case like this.  Back in September, SocialWrker24/7 wrote about a case where she thought a mistake had been made:

I feel deep down in my gut that a horrible mistake has been made with this family. That perhaps the doctors were mistaken. That a decision was made too quickly. That what we initially classified as resistance and manipulation was more likely confusion and desperation. I'm neither doctor nor investigator and I was not present during the investigation to see all the evidence.

But, I am convinced that these children should never have been taken from their parents.

Happily, the children were returned to their parents. Still their case isn't over:

They will be continually monitored - in fact, way more frequently than usual. We are still trying to get to the root of their medical condition, but making strides forward I hope. I will still hold my breath and hope that the other shoe doesn't drop. If this job has taught me anything, its that nothing is always as it seems. I expect that this case will be open for quite a while, but I do hope this is the beginning of the end.

Keep them in your prayers, won't you?

Keep them in our prayers?

Although I'm glad that SocialWrker24/7 had the guts to admit that a mistake was made in this case, I am disgusted that she seems to support the continued monitoring of this family.

How about social services get the fuck out of these people's lives?

Now there is something unusual about both of these cases. It's rare that individual social workers are willing to admit to mistakes. In our case, we've been accused of wrongdoing, spent a year in court and have been investigated four times, and not once has anyone ever apologized for the emotional and financial destruction the system has brought upon our family.  Even though we have been cleared of any wrongdoing and charges were unfounded, which means the allegations couldn't possibly have happened, no one has ever admitted they were wrong or apologized for the damage they've done.

I know there are some who believe that "protecting the children" should be a priority, and that the innocent families who end up destroyed as a result of overzealous investigations are simply collateral damage.  I know that there are some folks who believe that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or even the one family that might be injured by this process.

But me, I believe that the child welfare system, in its current form, is simply evil.  It is in the business of destroying families, and reallocating resources and kids, all in the name of "the best interests" of the children involved.

Best interests?  My ass.

Going back to my friend's story, she has decided not to take the children back, at least for now.  Having been through the wringer once, having been falsely accused of wrongdoing and having no one listen to her, she quite reasonably believes that the same thing could happen again.  She was nearly destroyed the first time this happened, and she isn't prepared to go through this again, the next time she says no to one of the kids.

My friend quite wisely realizes that she can either be a parent or a loving relative to these kids, but not both.  For now, she wants to keep her role as the loving relative, and to be able to enjoy her time and visits with the kids.  She wants to be able to love and spoil them without having the daily responsibilities of parenting.

And I don't blame her one bit.

Now I realize that I've kept the details of my friend's story a bit vague.  I have her permission to share her story, anonymously, because what has happened here needs to be brought to the light of day.  My friend has decided not to go public herself, because some of the kids involved are still underage, and she wants to protect their privacy.  I understand and respect that.

But it's stories like these that need to be brought forward.  Unless and until the public becomes truly aware of the abuses that the child welfare system inflicts on innocent and undeserving families, the system will be allowed to run roughshod over anyone who has, or cares about, children.

Friday, November 4, 2011

All It Takes is an Accusation

Yesterday, Danielle accused me of abusing her while we were having a discussion with someone who is a mandated reporter.

The exchange was brief.  She made her accusation, I denied it, and then she called me a liar.  Her point was off-topic to the conversation, as she was in the hot seat at that particular moment.  It was clear she was trying to redirect everyone's attention away from the situation at hand.

So I'm not sure that her accusation, this time, will go anywhere.  This particular mandated reporter is well aware of Danielle's past history of making false allegations, and I believe has the wisdom to recognize that the allegation was simply an attempt at misdirection.

We'll see what happens, I guess. If a report is filed, the authorities have 30 days to investigate.

I'm finding myself frustrated that all it takes is an accusation to trigger an investigation that can disrupt a family for days, weeks, or even months.  It doesn't matter if the accuser is an angry teen who wants to get back at her parents, a ticked-off neighbor who doesn't like where you park your car, or even some random person you have never met from the Internet.  There doesn't even have to be any preliminary evidence that there's a problem.  All someone has to do is make an accusation, and that's enough to send child welfare authorities hurtling into your child's school and your home.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Internet Stalkers and Child Welfare Investigations

Long time readers will remember that I shut my first blog down twice.  I made it private while we were involved in the year-long battle to keep Danielle, and I shut it down for good the summer before last, because Internet stalkers banded together and made a false child welfare report against my wife and me.

And now, I read about a similar thing happening to someone else.

For quite some time, I've been following Michael Schofield over at Jani's Journey.  On his blog, he writes about his daughter Jani, who suffers from severe mental illness.

I was absolutely floored when I read his post from yesterday where he wrote the following:

Since our story became public over two years ago, DCFS has received two claims about us…. from people who have never met any of us. There only knowledge of us comes from what they have seen on TV and/or what they have read on my blog.

Nonetheless, DCFS is obligated under law to investigate any claim, regardless of whether the claimant actually has met the family or children.

In this case, as soon as we heard the claim, we knew exactly who it was. We know because the language of the claim came directly from a conversation with one of our regular critics on Facebook, a woman by the name of Jen B (I will refrain from using her full name because then I would be no better than her). Jen B is the same person who uses the handle “WarriorMom” on the Amazon discussion page about my book, who has posted somewhere in the vicinity of 400 posts accusing me of abusing Jani, doing everything from taking my blog posts out of context to outright lies.

He went on to say more:

DCFS is concerned because Jen WarriorMom is not your average critic. She is a full on internet stalker. She invaded my private Facebook page under a false identity (causing me to shut it down). But what really scares the shit out me is this woman is hell bent on destroying my family. That’s not hyperbole. She wants Jani and Bodhi removed from our care and placed in foster care. She even has a website set up to this effect, arranging a network to “follow” Jani and Bodhi once they are removed from our care (apparently forgetting that privacy laws would prevent her from doing so). This woman is so convinced that I am evil that she wants my kids taken away from me.

This woman hates me more than my ex-girlfriends.

I am...shocked.

What Michael describes in his post is eerily similar to what happened to us during the summer of 2010.  We learned that a private online community had been created for the express purpose of discussing us, our family, and any details people could scrape off the Internet about us.  The group elected a single representative to make contact with our local child welfare authorities for the express purpose of making a report.

Interestingly enough, not a single person from that community had ever met us.  They decided, based on what I'd written in my blog, that we were emotionally, physically and sexually abusing our child.

The solution to the problem suggested by our social worker is the same as what has been suggested to Michael Schofield.  We were told to stop writing about our family and our child on the Internet.  Of course the abuse allegations were ruled to be unfounded, as we weren't abusing our kid, but the whole experience was pretty scary.  I went on hiatus for several months, and came back with this blog, though I share a lot less than what I did on my original.

Now I should probably point out that I don't personally know Michael Schofield.  I have never met the man, nor do I have any kind of online relationship with him.  I just find it rather creepy that someone I don't know has had nearly the same experience that we did.

It disgusts me to realize that there are people out there in the world who think it is their job to make false reports to DCFS against people they don't even know.

What a sick, sick world we live in.