Friday, August 2, 2013

On being a foster parent: when accusations come

I wrote this article on June 26,2010, I thought I would reprint it on my blog today:

Being a foster parent is a fulfilling job, but there are risks involved. Separating a parent and child is a serious thing, and most parents react violently to having their child removed. Once the shock wears off, the parents will sometimes come to the realization that they are going to have to work with the state to fix what ever caused the removal, although it's still a volatile thing and parents can be quick to accuse the state of anything they can think of.
As a foster parent, I am usually able to have a good relationship with the parents of the children I care for. They soon realize I had nothing to do with their child being removed; I am just the lady hired to care for the child while they are going through this hard time. I do what I can to give the parents peace of mind. If they seem stable enough, I will usually give them my cell phone number so they can call me and check up on the child, or just talk. I enjoy the mentoring part of my job.
But once in a while there will be parents who are just angry. Usually those are the ones whose anger problem is why they are in this situation. Maybe they abused the child, or maybe they tore their family apart because they abused themselves and each other. Whatever the case may be, these parents are out to get everyone, including the foster parent.
I took care of a lovable little girl for twenty months who had parents like this. We called her MiMi. I loved MiMi immensely, but her father gave me trouble the whole time she was in my care. In fact, I was finally investigated myself because of accusations he made.
It began at court. I always attend the court hearings for my foster children. It gives me the opportunity to talk to the child's caseworkers, CASA workers and attorney. They hand me copies of their reports. I can listen to what is said to the judge by everyone involved. By the time I leave, I know where everything stands in my foster child's case, and what still needs to be done in order for the parents to have their child returned to them.
One hearing, while we waited for the judge, I could see MiMi's father talking angrily to his attorney and hand him a paper. The attorney glanced at me, looked embarrassed, and walked over to the CASA worker, showing her paper. The CASA worker soon came over to me. "Has MiMi had a bad diaper rash recently? Or a yeast infection?" She asked.
"Yes, she has. I showed it to the doctor at our last check up. I suspect it's because she has been taken off formula and put on whole milk, and also, she had some pineapple juice that she hadn't had before." I answered.
"Oh, you've had her at the doctor recently?" She asked.
"Oh, yes, just this month." I replied.
The CASA worker visibly relaxed.
I soon discovered what was up. MiMi's father had a letter from her mother, who was in jail. He had told her about MiMi's bad rash, and she wrote a letter to the court accusing me of abuse. She even had a letter from a "doctor" who had never seen MiMi, who said that the only way a child would develop a yeast infection was if they had been abused. I was horrified that anyone would think I had hurt this precious little girl.
The CASA worker stood up for me, telling the judge I was a good, experienced foster mother. The state's attorney showed the father that I had had MiMi at the doctor just within a day or so of his accusation. The father began to back track and try to change the dates. The judge finally ordered that I take MiMi to the doctor, along with the mother's letter, within the next 48 hours and have her examined.
I called my pediatrician when I got home, and made an appointment for the next day.
Although MiMi had not been abused before, I felt like she was by the time she had been examined. Although the doctor's examine was gentle and careful, I hated that she had to be put through that. The doctor confirmed she had not been abused, and agreed it was probably the milk causing her rash. He said yeast infections were so common in babies; they actually had a medicine for it. He gave me a prescription for the rash and also for the eczema and croup MiMi was prone too. The medicine and advice worked wonders, I was especially careful, and we didn't have problems after that.
But the embarrassment of being accused of such a serious charge made me overly cautious around MiMi's father, and caused me to make a mistake a few months later.
One morning, the day before MiMi had a visit with her father, I noticed a bruise that almost encircled her tiny forearm, and looked just like a grab mark. I knew I had not grabbed MiMi, and because she was always with me, I knew no one else had, either. She did, however, have a terrible sensory disorder, and often threw herself around while having tantrums.
Oh, how I dreaded the next day. If her father would accuse me of abuse over the toddlers diaper rash, what was he going to say about this bruise? My stomach clenched as their visit grew closer. As I dressed her the next day, I decided to cover some mosquito bites with little band aids, and put one over the bruise, too. I couldn't stand the thought of the confrontation he and I would have if he saw the bruise.
As I lifted her from the car at the CPS office, I considered taking the band aids off. I had not hurt MiMi, why did I feel like I had to hide anything? I struggled with indecision, and then decided to leave the band aids where they were. I took her into the office, handed her to her father under the supervisor's watchful eye, and as they went back to the visit room, I asked to see her caseworker. When she came out, I told her about the bruise and the band aids. I was glad I did.
Two hours later, I returned to pick her up and was ushered back to the visit room. Her father was throwing a fit. I saw right away he had taken off the band aids. He threw them at my feet as he screamed at me about covering up the bruise. I told him I was scared of him because of what he had done in court. I said I didn't expect him to be reasonable, and certainly he was not being reasonable. The caseworker nodded her agreement. My own worker quickly took the children into another room. I found out later she had quizzed my ten year old daughter while they were alone.
MiMi's father calmed down some after I talked to him, but he was not happy. After he left, I went to the room where the children were. MiMi ran into my arms, settling her head comfortably on my shoulder with her arms around my neck. I took another child's hand and we started out the door, with a caseworker on each side, studying MiMi's reaction to me. It was one of complete love and trust.
That night I received a call from my worker. She had decided to open an investigation. I could expect a visit very soon.
I was horrified. I had opened my home to these children and now "I" was being investigated? Was I in danger of losing my own children because I was a foster parent? How could the state do this to me? Weren't we supposed to be working together?
I considered telling them to come get the children and close my home. But when I calmed down, I knew I wasn't going to do that. I was committed to seeing these children through this awful time. In fact, the parental rights of our other foster daughter had been terminated, and we were planning on adopting her.
I knew, too, that sending the children away and closing our home wouldn't stop the investigation. Feeling helpless, I would just carry on and wait for the investigator.
The next two days were hard for me. I was so stressed it was hard for me to function. Being on the other end of Child Protective Services was a scary thing.
I settled into prayer, and asked God for peace every time I felt overwhelmed. And suddenly, it came. I had not hurt MiMi and I knew God would be faithful to keep us all safe. I calmed down enough that I began to almost forget what was coming.
It must have been a low priority, because was six days before the investigator came out.
But finally, there was a knock on my door, and I could see the shadow of a woman with a clipboard in her hand. She was nice and friendly and put me right at ease. She opened her notebook and began to ask me questions. She looked MiMi over. We talked.
Then, MiMi got mad. She wanted the rocking chair my son was in. When he wouldn't get up, she went into a full blown melt down. She screamed and thrashed and wouldn't be comforted. The investigator watched as I tried to talk to MiMi, who wasn't responding.
"Does she do this often?" The investigator asked.
"Well, she has a sensory disorder." I replied.
"Yes, that's in her records." The investigator said, looking at her notes.
"But she's really a sweet child when she's calm." I said, defending her. "She is a wonderful little girl and she doesn't always do this."
The investigator smiled at me. "I'm trying to establish another way she may have gotten the bruise." She said
."Yes," I said, feeling foolish. "She is prone to tantrums just like this."
The investigator soon closed her notebook, thanked me for my time, and got up to leave. Nervously, I asked her, "Did you find anything that concerns you?"
"No," She replied. "This case is closed. You will be getting a letter in a week or so. I am satisfied that everything is alright."
I closed the door, feeling a bit weak. God had been faithful and gotten us through this. I was so glad I hadn't done anything rash when my emotions were running so high.
We had MiMi for another five months after the investigation. Her parents lost their rights, and another relative did a homestudy and got custody of her. I miss her so much. I learned a lot from my experience with her family, and I hope I did them some good.
And I still love being a foster mother.

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