Our Imperfect Lives


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Information, Glorious Information

We went into this knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be a normal placement. A normal pre-adoptive placement would have included a disclosure (a sit down with social workers who would reveal every scrap of information the department knew about the children) and more preparation time. We had neither. As a result we’ve been a bit lacking on the information front.

Now, please don’t think that we’re second guessing our decision, because that line of reasoning couldn’t be more off the mark. We absolutely adore these kids, even when Sport is throwing a tantrum or Sunshine won’t let us sleep.

Unfortunately, the adoption social worker assigned to Sport and Sunshine is the lone adoption worker in her office and she has a pretty hefty work load. That work load includes a list of disclosures that she needs to conduct and we’re a few down the line, so we wait. And wait.

Until recently, most of the information we had about Sport and Sunshine’s biological parents, aka bio parents, came from clues we found in the children’s medical records, early intervention reports, and even the newspaper. It’s not that the adoption worker was withholding information, she just didn’t know much. She was relatively new to the case when we were selected as the pre-adoptive placement for the kids and she didn’t have the information to conduct a disclosure. She’s been slowly pulling together information on the case and the kids. On occasion she’s actually asked us for information such as the medical paperwork from Sunshine’s birth.

The ongoing case worker who organized and supervised the visits with the bio parents had more information about them and the circumstances that lead to the kids being in state custody. And while we have heard that many ongoing workers tend to share as much as they can with pre-adoptive families without breaking privacy rules, this ongoing worker was extremely cautious about not breaking, or even bending, privacy rules and shared next to nothing with us.

On the one hand we know that DCF workers are overworked and under a lot criticism due to some very upsetting and highly publicized cases, so we try to be sympathetic. However, on the other hand we have this nagging feeling, based in part on our lack of information, that this case has been mishandled along the way. The original social worker assigned to the case seems to be no longer employed by the department and some of the paperwork from when Sport was first brought into care appears to be incomplete or just missing. We’re hoping it turns up.

Thankfully the social workers are not the only individuals with information about the case. After having the kids in our care for over four months, we finally met their attorney. She was a fountain of information! Her role in court is to express what she thinks the kids would say they want – if they were able to communicate it themselves. She told us right away that she thinks the kids would say they want to stay with us.

She has been with the case since it began – making her the longest tenured person with the case that we’re in communication with. She was able to give us information about Sport’s many placements in his short life as well as some additional details about why the kids were so quickly moved from their previous foster home into ours. She also shared information about what’s to come.

We knew that there were court dates scheduled for March 5 and 6 but we were a bit cloudy on the details. We were under the impression that the proceedings on those days were to have Sport’s goal officially changed to adoption in the courts and for the state to get permanent custody of Sunshine. However, the cases were recently combined and the department is suggesting that the biological parents’ rights be terminated.

This means that later this week could be a big milestone in our adoption process. The judge could rule to terminate parental rights. Terminating the parental rights (or TPR) is a critical step in our adoption process, because without it there is no legal adoption. Of course the judge could decide not to terminate their rights, or even to give them a bit more time to get their act together. We’re trying to stay as optimistic as possible while preparing ourselves for the long road ahead, because even if the judge rules to terminate the parental rights they can still appeal.

Their attorney did give us the impression that she’s somewhat confident that the judge will rule to terminate rights. She’s familiar with the judge and informed us that the judge also presided over the case involving Sport and Sunshine’s half brothers. We’re also told that this judge has a reputation for not wanting to drag a case out.

Since this is a family court case, it’s a closed court room, which means we can’t attend. Both the attorney and the adoption worker have graciously offered to keep us updated through text messaging. It will be important for them to be in touch with us during the court dates not just to try and ease our nervous minds, but because we’ve informed them we’d be amenable to an open adoption agreement.

While there will be added stress involved if we agree to make the kids available a couple of times a year for supervised visits with the bio family, there are also several advantages. The most obvious is that it could move things along more quickly. The bio parents might sign the open adoption agreement rather than going to trial – or they might sign it after the trial rather than filing an appeal. If that happens their parental rights would be terminated and we’d be free to adopt Sport and Sunshine.

We also need to remember that adoption is not just a celebration for a child, but also a great loss. The child may be permanently separated from their biological family members. For better or for worse, Sport and Sunshine’s bio family will always be a part of them – in their genes, their ancestry, and obviously their appearance. While the parents have not always made the best choices, it is obvious that they do care about the children. Supervised visits would allow the parents to see that the children are cared for and also allow the children to see how their bio parents are doing.

We would keep our lives private and separate from the bio parents – nothing about our private lives would be revealed, not even the city we live in. In fact, we would have to select a proxy who would be a contact point for the bio parents if we were ever to fail to comply with the adoption agreement. To protect the children, the agreement will have what’s called a sunset clause. This clause would allow for the visits to be terminated if the bio parents didn’t comply with specific requirements or if the visits prove to be detrimental to the children.

With whatever happens on Thursday and Friday, we’re going to continue to do everything we can for Sport and Sunshine. The legal aspect of their futures is completely out of our hands. We’ll just think positively and do our best to be prepared for whatever is to come.

To help with our positive thoughts here are some fun photos that bring a smile to our faces, and hopefully yours too. We took Sport on his first snowshoeing adventure:

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In the Home Stretch

We can see the end of the tunnel – the completion of the process of becoming eligible foster parents is in our sights. Our first two home visits (well really three as we ended up having to split our one-on-one interviews with the social worker into two separate visits) are as they say “in the books!” Next up is our final visit, which we will hopefully set soon for the next week or two, and then just paperwork on DCF’s side.

Our last two visits with the social worker were different because she met with us individually, so we’ll each give you a brief, and I’m sure riveting, account of our experiences. First up, since she had the first one-on-one meeting, is Meg:

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This is my first attempt at blogging (I usually act as the editor) so bear with me. The purpose of our individual meetings with our social worker was to shed some light on our individual experiences, perspectives, concerns, and so on. What I have found surprising about this process is how detailed some of the questions were.

When asked about my fondest childhood memory I had to say summer camp. Not that the rest was unpleasant, but camp was my favorite place. I have always enjoyed being independent, so living on an island and choosing my own schedule of activities (usually sailing, archery, crafts, swimming, and outdoor education) was the best. There was something simpler about camp friendships – maybe due to the lack of phones, hair dryers, make up, boys…? In fact, I still dream about being at camp pretty often – even though I last attended as a counselor in 1998. I hope we can (afford to) give our kids a similar opportunity.

When it comes to parenting I imagine our kids will have more “baggage” than we did and will therefore be more challenging to parent. We didn’t really have rules or punishments that I can recall growing up – but we didn’t push the limits too far either. (Did we?) I think one of the most important values that I learned about parenting from my parents was the importance of spending time together, and I feel very lucky to have so many great memories – whether at home, museums, camping, or spending time with our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We were lucky to have so many people that cared about us. We are lucky now to have so many friends and family supporting us as we become parents.

Last, but of course by no means least, is Marcy:

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Well my one-on-one was short, sweet, and pretty dull. I generally don’t have much to say, particularly to people I’m not close with, but I also have a tough time looking back at my life and picking out singular moments as being the happiest of my childhood or the toughest. Thankfully my sad attempts at self reflection shouldn’t have any effect on our abilities to become foster parents.

I had a happy childhood. Like everyone I had fights with my siblings, I skinned my knees, and I had bouts of getting teased at school – but nothing that I can look back on and say, “Oh, that was a very difficult time to overcome.”  The mythical idea that high school was a torturous experience wasn’t true for me, I rather enjoyed high school. I loved being a high school athlete and I had a small but great group of friends – many of whom I’m proud to still consider good friends.

I also struggled to answer questions about my parents’ parenting methods and how my methods might differ. This again comes down to my recollection of my childhood being pretty great – I don’t have many, if any complaints. I think I turned out pretty well rounded and the same pretty much goes for my siblings.

It is interesting to note that our social worker observed something Meg and I have recognized for a long time, which is that we balance each other out. Meg is the “ying to my yang.” Things that I struggle with are often her strengths, and vice versa. We’re a perfect match in so many ways.

 


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One Down Two to Go

Last Thursday we had our long awaited first home study visit.  It was more or less what we expected. We were asked to answer a lot of personal questions about our relationship, how we interact, how we deal with conflict as well as questions about what we foresee our parenting style to be and more.  Many of the questions were difficult to put our answers into words, but we trudged through the hypotheticals and self-examinations.

While we discussed our perspective on our relationship the social worker probably came to many of the same conclusions on her own by simply observing how we answered the questions and interacted – Meg answered most of the questions and I filled in anything that I thought was left out or simply confirmed what she said. It was likely pretty clear that Meg is more of the talker in the relationship while Marcy tends to listen more; Meg is more of a type A take control person while Marcy is more laid back and willing to follow if she doesn’t disagree with the situation.

We discussed that we envision our parenting styles to reflect how our parents raised the two of us. We both had mothers who were the disciplinarians and developed more of a structured life while our fathers were more laid back. Marcy tends to reflect our fathers’ attitudes while Meg’s personality is more indicative of how our mothers acted.  We were both fortunate enough to have two parents who cared for us and were involved in our lives and we absolutely intend to be the same way with our children.

In addition to answering a number of very personal questions we were given a bit of homework to do – a Family Preference Checklist. The check list is essentially a list of potential physical and behavioral problems a child might face and our task was to go through the five page list and try to decide if each of the items were something we’d consider accepting in a child or not. The list included everything from a heart murmur, to a paraplegic, to down syndrome or a child that lies from time to time.

We checked off the majority off the items as “willing to discuss” but left off the more serious items as “least acceptable.” We don’t want to get in over our heads with a child/children’s needs but we also want to keep our options open. We don’t want a social worker to not consider us for a child/children simply because we didn’t check off a certain box on a sheet.

We’re making a lot of progress in this process towards becoming eligible foster parents. Tomorrow we have our second visit of the home study which will include each of us having a one on one meeting with the social worker. Then we’re really in the home stretch.

We’re also making progress in our process of preparing our house for a new addition to the family. We’ve started putting down our new floors. Right now it’s like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle as we’re laying out all of the pieces. Hopefully tomorrow after our home study appointment we’ll be able to start nailing down the floors in the first room we’re tackling.

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We’re moving ahead at full speed now!