Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Can Foster/Adoptive Parents Ever be Fully Prepared?

In response to Guilty for not Loving a Troubled Child, see wrote:
I think the main problem is that you did not know what you were getting into when you adopted a child who went through all kinds of Trauma and abuse. The second problem is that you had no proper counselling [sic] by your side to help you bond with a traumatised child. And so the bonding did not happen.

I think the truth is, no foster or adoptive parent will know what he or she is getting into until they have already signed their name on the dotted line.  While I think that our county did an okay, but not stellar, job in offering training classes and teaching us what to expect, there's a big difference between knowing about something academically, and actually living it.

When I got my first parrot, I spent a lot of time reading about avian care.  I studied behavior, diet, and basic first aid.  I learned about blood feathers, the signs of illness, and how to properly keep a cage clean.  When I finally brought my bird home, I knew everything I could know from a book about the fundamentals of caring for my new friend.  However, there was nothing on paper that could describe what it was like to cuddle with a creature that looked like an alien life form, or the absolute fear one experiences when rushing a feathered companion to the vet.  You have to live it to understand it.

I think the same was true for our experience as foster and adoptive parents.  While they can teach you all sorts of things in training classes, they can't fully explain the emotional impact of what it is like to be investigated by Child Welfare Services because your kid levied false allegations against you.  They can't convey how hard it is to be up half the night (and then have to go to work the next morning) because your child was raging.  They can't describe what it is like to live with a child whose behavior makes you feel like you are being eaten alive by minnows.  While no one bite hurts all that much, it's the accumulation of them that wears you out, drags you down, and makes you despair.

Our one mistake, I think, was in not recognizing that the foster care system really is as bad as many people describe.  When FosterEema and I started our foster parenting journey, we read many blogs that had a lot of really negative and scary things to say.  FosterEema chalked it up to something she called "Internet Amplification Syndrome," or the fact that unhappy people tend to blog like crazy, while happy folks just shut up and live their lives.

We didn't fully understand that yes, the foster care system really is as bad as people say, and yes, some of the behaviors that foster and adoptive kids exhibit really are as crazy, dangerous, and maddening as people describe.  We couldn't believe that the system was so profoundly broken, but it turned out to be true.

See is correct in saying that we didn't receive the appropriate counseling along the way.  That is absolutely true.  We recognized, based on the reasons Danielle had been taken into foster care, that she needed counseling.  She did not receive qualified and experienced help.  Worse, we found out much later (from an inside source who later separated from the county) that the counseling Danielle did receive was more of a fishing expedition to find out whether we, the detestable queers, were doing anything inappropriate.

We later came to find out our friends Jack and Jill had their adoptions delayed because of their relationship with us.  Apparently, some sick people in the county assumed there must be something wrong with our friends because they were willing to build a friendship with people like us.

While I don't want to blame discriminatory practices for everything, I certainly think that played a role in our family not receiving the services we needed.

After the whole thing was said and done, we ran our story by a civil rights attorney.  She told us that we definitely had a case, and if we'd sued for discrimination, we'd likely win.  However, she warned, we'd probably spend the next ten years in court, and it would cost a lot of money.  We opted not to sue, because we couldn't imagine spending more time in another lengthy legal battle.  The year we spent fighting for Danielle was enough.

Still, I have to ask the question if better counseling services would have made much of a difference.  Danielle would still be Danielle.  I don't think a better professional in our lives would have stopped her from hitting us, from raging, or from making false allegations.  While it might have done more to help us feel better about the situation, I am sure it still would have sucked.

Would it have changed my feelings toward Danielle?  Probably not.  I can't imagine, under any circumstances having a warm and squishy heart for someone who calls me names, breaks my things, and punches me.  In any other world, those behaviors are unquestionably abusive; I am not the type of person to feel good about someone who mistreats me.

Does that mean I never cared about Danielle?  No.  I cared plenty.  I still care.  I also realize that she is over the age of 18 now, and she's going to do whatever it is she's going to do.  Am I happy that she quit school, hasn't finished, and doesn't have a job?  No.  Can I do anything about it?  Nope.

I rarely hear from Danielle, except for an occasional one-liner through social media.  FosterEema hears from her from time to time, but usually it comes in the form of requests for money or favors.  The latest is that one of her biological relatives has demanded FosterEema take off a whole day from work to get some paperwork from the juvenile court.  FosterEema has already completed this errand once before and provided said documenation, so this time she's leaving it up to Danielle to figure it out.

I frequently have to remind myself of the following phrase: not my circus, not my monkeys.

The question is, can foster/adoptive parents ever be fully prepared for the life that lies ahead?  I'm not sure that it is possible.  While you can attend trainings, read blogs, and hear stories directly from friends or family who are already in the trenches, it's not possible to know what it's like until you have been there.