Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Kids Timeline

I have had enough kids stay past the 1-month mark now to notice an order - no matter where the kids land in the long run.   I am sure I will get that one strange kid where nothing is predictable, but for now, it's nice to know what is coming next, especially when I am at the 2-month mark.  So, if I have new long term kids and you are wondering how I'm doing, refer back to this post and estimate where I might be at and act accordingly.

First Week:  Getting to know you.
The first week is exciting for the most part, everyone is a little on guard, but as a foster parent, I find myself asking and answering a lot of questions.  A lot of questions about the details of life in FC (what is happening with their Mom and Dad, what the rules are, all of the "what if" questions) and a lot of just plain old' getting to know you questions (siblings, extending family, friends, school, fav subject, fav foods, etc).  I have found asking questions and answering questions to be the best way to help a child feel at ease and you get to know them in the process.  Take a lot of notes (remembering what they like/don't like is just as important as asking the questions - maybe even more so).  Stay low key.  Stay home.  Play lots of games.

1 Month In:  Appointment Central.
This is the month of running and running some more.  At this point, it is likely the kids will be in foster care for a substantial amount of time, so everyone needs to get on the same page and start to settle in.  Visits from social workers, visits with parents, trips to the doctor, the dentist and all variety of therapists and ongoing workers for the specific child.  Clothes shopping for kids.  Talks with the school teachers, school social worker and sometimes even principles.  Every day is something else - a baseline is being established for where the child is physically and emotionally to see what logical steps are next to help the child heal.

2 Months In:  Honeymoon is OVER and Reality Sets In.
In my experience, its when the child (and birth family) realizes they are not going home anytime soon, things get hairy.  The majority of the time, kids want to be with their Mom and Dad and at two months in, that isn't you.  They are sad, mad and hurt.  Mad at their situation.  Mad at social workers who are now running their lives.  Just mad in general.  Most of the people are sad, mad and hurt by don't live in your house.  You do and they do.  Prepare to feel the wrath.  At this point, I need to remind myself why I signed up for this gig in the first place.  Why do I do this?  I read books on how to be a foster parent.  Everything that worked last month just seems dumb.  Progress feels snail slow.  The birth family is ticked.  No one has any answers on what the long-term plan is and this is when everyone most wants to know.

2 1/2 Months and All the In-between Months:  Bliss Sets In / "Normal Life."
At some unrecognized point, everyone just relaxes and it becomes the new normal.  The kids breath deeper understanding that they are staying put until a judge tells us differently.  This is life now.  This is my favorite part of the life of being a foster parent.  Where everything has routine, the kids know when they see their family, they know where they are going to school, they know what we do in the evening.  We can truly just be a family.  Live life, enjoy life and deal with issues as they come up.  Play dates and after-school activities.  This is also when I feel myself relaxing and beginning to pick up my own habits that have been shelved to see to the more urgent needs of the kids.  I start playing the piano again.  I start painting.  Working out.  Having phone calls and people over.   Crisis mode has passed for the most part.  These kids are worming their way into my heart and into my life and it is good.

1 Month Out:  Reminisce, Talk and Endure.
But then as some point, the kids will be moving.  At this point in my life I am straight foster care.  This means if the kids get to the place where they cannot go home and start looking for an adoptive family for them, it isn't automatically me.  Not to say that I couldn't step in and adopt, but it isn't assumed like it would be if you were a foster to adopt family (fostering with the intention of adopting).  So far, all my kids have moved on, not to say that they all will.  Anyway, at this point, I start talking with the kids a lot about our time together and the next step for them.  This is also when I start pulling photos and all the pieces of their Lifebook together to send with them when they go.  Negative behaviors also tend to rear their heads again as the kids know their life will be changing again soon.  Everyone starts to disengage as the move gets closer.  For younger kids, I may create and start working on a story for the kids.  For older kids, I'd think about having a Goodbye Party.

Last Week: Wrap It Up.
The last week is the logistics of moving a person, sorting through clothes - what fits what doesn't, organizing paperwork for the child's next place, contacting the school to let them know change of plans, talking with other kids in the home about moving, visits with a new home and the actual physical packing.  I have found that for me, once it gets this close, it gets easier emotionally until the kids actually walk out the door.  Everything is cut and dry, which is a rarity in foster care.  Hopefully, everyone knows the plan and can ask questions as they arise.  This is the final hurrah of all the hard emotional work of your time together.  Lots of processing.  Go back to laying low.  Lots of conversations.  Lots of questions.  Lots of games.

After the Kids Leave.
For a few days or a few months, it seems so strange in my house - so empty.  Something, someone is definitely missing.  Its too quiet. I miss "my" kids. I look at photos.  I journal.  I grieve.  Then I become a crazy cleaning, decorating, nesting person all over again.  Celebrating the lives of the children I have been blessed to Mother for a time and for those who will come next.