Support System

In my first post entitled, The Day I Decided To Become A Foster Parent,” I made the statement that I would be doing this alone. For clarification’s sake, by “alone” I mean, as a single parent. That is not to say, “without help.” I would like to take a moment to draw attention to the tremendous support system I have in place, assisting me in and through this process. A support system, I should add, who will be very much a part of the life of my son, well after the completion of the licensing and placement process.

My support system began with the tremendous example I was given in my parents, and primarily my mother, Cathy, who is, for me, the very definition of self-sacrifice and love. Let me tell you a little about my mother. As a very young woman, she chose to give birth to me knowing how difficult her life would become as a single mother, going against the advice of friends and family to get an abortion. My father, also young at the time, was in no position to raise a child, either financially or through example by which a young boy should live.  He split, and my mother chose not to pursue child support, so as not to share custody. A decision which, for personal reasons to him, was the best decision for me at the time, not necessarily for her.

She moved to California, away from friends and relatives, where she chopped kindling to start our wood burning stove and walked considerable distances through the snow to get me to where she babysat for the extra money to provide me with the things I needed. To this day, I can remember my mother working long hours to make certain that I woke up Christmas morning to presents under the tree. On birthdays, she spent hours designing a cake that represented whatever interests I held at that age. A practice that continued years later, for each one of my brothers and sisters. She let me be a boy, even doing things that scared her as a mother, knowing that I needed those challenges in order to one day become a dependable man. To this day, I cannot recall a single day where I was cold or hungry, or missing out on a single class trip because it was too expensive to send me. I was always well dressed — albeit, much of the time from second hand stores — and clean. I never went to bed hungry or celebrated a birthday where I wasn’t surrounded by her love and by friends we had made along the way. Today, she is attending foster classes with me and buying bedding for my kids crib. Saving pictures of nursery ideas to Pinterest to show me later, and making sure I have everything I need to care for a baby.

She is Grandma, through and through.

When she finally married my step father, Scott, I was seven years old. I have had a loving father in my life since that day. He is the owner of a tree service, and has taught each of us the value of education and instilled a work ethic in me and my siblings that has been a bedrock foundation of our adulthood. He has always been faithful to my mother and provided for our family. He is, and forever will be, my dad.

Soon after the addition of my father, came my brother James. A kid I teased mercilessly as a big brother with eight years between us and little else. He has always been my little buddy and someone I can barely remember a time in my life without. I could spend a whole lifetime trying to recall all the laughs we’ve shared together over the years. He is now 28 years old and a foreman for an oil pipe-lining company in Colorado. James is someone I can count on and someone I miss on a daily basis. He is the only one of us to have ventured out of the state (or our home community for that matter) and build a successful life. He is with a wonderful girl, who we look forward to seeing every time James comes home to visit.

Two years later, came my brother Stephen. I still remember his quiet, yet devious personality. Something he has carried into adult hood, and is a quality so unique to him that he seems almost larger than life at times. He is now married to a beautiful woman and they recently gave birth to their first child, a little boy named Thomas, who has become our family’s pride and joy. Last year he started his own landscaping business and is the first of us to own his own tractor (which I still haven’t gotten to drive). He is busier than he could have imagined, and with his work ethic and integrity, I imagine that is unlikely to change.

Two years after that, came my sister Ashley. She was the most beautiful baby girl and has grown into a beautiful woman, inside and out. From the first time I held her, I have been in constant awe of her. I wish everyone reading this could have the privilege of knowing her, because she has a personality that is magnetic and a laugh that is infectious. She manages responsibilities with grace and poise, always quick to wrap her arms around anyone having a bad day, and let them know how special they are. She now manages a retreat center and is attending College part time, yet still manages to find the time to go through the foster care licensing process alongside me, so she can help care for my child while I’m at work.

And, last but certainly not least, two years after that, came my equally beautiful sister, Caitlyn. I honestly lack the words to express how much that girl has meant to me. Her energy brightens up even the darkest room, and nothing is quite as memorable if she isn’t a part of it. Being the baby of the family, she was blessed with four dads and two moms. A default that I’ve been slow to transition out of, even as she, herself, reached adulthood. I remember holding her as an infant, feeding her from a bottle, and it honestly feels like yesterday. She turns the heads of men everywhere she goes, and that is a constant annoyance to her overly protective big brothers. She now works at a prestigious vineyard, and graduated from cosmetology at the top of her class. She is one of the most genuine and sincere people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

The four of them made growing up such a rich experience and I hope that I have lived my life in a manner they can respect and emulate. They are so much better than me in so many ways, and I don’t deserve even one of them, much less all four. As adults, they are four of my best friends. I love the people they have become and could not be prouder of any one of them.

The loving parents who raised the five of us are going to be the grandparents of my child, and neither he nor I could be more fortunate. My brothers and sisters, his Uncles and Aunts.

In addition to my wonderful family, I have some amazing friends, all of whom have both encouraged and supported this decision, and have offered to help in any way I need. A couple of my best friends, Daniel and Ryan, are also doing foster care with their absolutely amazing wives and natural children. I will be leaning heavily on their experience. My good friend and boss, Patrick, took time away from his busy schedule to help me rebuild a flight of rotting stairs so my child could be safely moved up and down them without risk of injury to him or anyone carrying him. I have so many irreplaceable friendships that would never consider a request for help an inconvenience; or my kid, anything other than a tiny extension of me. He will be surrounded by family no matter who is around him.

I would like to end this segment by saying that, at 19 years of age, I finally met my biological father. He told me that missing out on my life was his single biggest regret, and through mutually shared tears, he and I began to get to know each other. We now speak reasonably often and share a love for the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. We have grown to love and appreciate each other and we now have a great relationship. He has a wife named Peggy, and has introduced me to another brother, Andrew, and two more sisters, Crystal and Kelly. Andrew is a great guy, and I’ve recently been fortunate enough to spend some time getting to know him. Crystal is teaching English in China, and Kelly is the mother of three beautiful children. I very much hope to meet my nephew and nieces someday soon.

As a final mention, I am becoming fast friends with my Social Worker, Emily. She has truly been a Godsend from the beginning, and I look forward to getting to know her closely as we work together to make this whole thing happen. In fact, everyone I’ve met with Social Services and CWS have been incredibly helpful and supportive, and I can’t say enough about the people who have chosen to be a part of the process of matching children in need to loving families. Much of their job can be difficult but is absolutely crucial for the safety of so many children who experience abuse or neglect. My hat is off to you.

Overall, I am blessed beyond measure and — thanks to this amazing support system — I am in a great position to raise a child. He will be surrounded by friends and family, all anxious to be a part of his life and watch him grow up. So, when I said I would be doing this alone, I did not mean, by myself. This kid will never be out of the view of people who love and care about him, all rooting for his success and adoption into the world’s greatest family.

Continue this journey

A Few Thoughts On Foster Care: The need, The Children, and The System.

I feel I should level with you. I think dishonesty comes easily for most people, and not because they are liars, either. It’s because most people generalize their feelings as they relate to their actions and, therefore, fail to honestly evaluate the cause behind the effect. My truth is this: When I started this process, I did so as a last resort to satisfy my deep need to be a father. I did so because I wasn’t going to let my failed past relationships decide whether or not I would experience fatherhood. I did so, in short, out of selfish ambition. And, unlike other aspects of my life where I have proactively made choices with a predetermined outcome in mind, I have little to no control over the outcome of this process. The only thing I control is the ability to put myself in a position where I can legally obtain a child from the State and adequately care for the child in a safe and loving environment.

And maybe that’s enough.

Social Service (CWS or Child Welfare Services), foster families, and foster children get a bad rap, each for different reasons. My limited experience with Social Services has dispelled many of the unfounded concerns I had going into this process. My Social Worker has been both easy to work with and encouraging, and has been from my very first inquiry. Gaining a better understanding of the circumstances required to be met in order to remove a child from a home and the requirements for placement into a new home, went a long way in helping me recognize the need for CWS (F.K.A. CPS or Child Protective Services), as well as the difficult legal landscape they traverse on a daily basis.

Foster families are probably deserving of some criticism, but it is unfair to evenly distribute that criticism. There are families who take in children and love them as their own, and others who do it for the money. Of the latter, the children are not always cared for in a loving manner or made to feel apart of a family. Without passing judgement, I would hope that this is the extreme exception, but I’d doubt that is the case, unfortunately. I will say that as long as those children are in a safe home, fed and cared for, that is still likely an improvement over the situation they were removed from, but it’s far from ideal.

The foster children are too often stigmatized unfairly as troubled youth. I have heard every precaution from “They can be dangerous” to “They’re often difficult to reason with and manage”, and there are probably a lot who are. But before you rush to judgment, let’s look at a few statistics. According to a census taken in 2010 (I will look for more recent stats and update these numbers accordingly), there are 402,378 children who are currently in the foster care system and, of those children, 101,840 of them are up for adoption. I believe that number is now closer to 114,000.

53% have a case goal of reunification with their birth parent(s). 52% male/53% female. That means 1 in 184 children in the US are in foster care for an average length of 20 months. The average wait time for adoption is 34 months.

The median age of children in foster care is 8.2 years of age. 25% of children entering the foster care system are infants. 30,000 kids will “age out” of the system without being adopted.

The age in which the majority of kids enter the foster care system is 2 years old.

20% of children in foster care wait 5 years to be adopted.

184,000 households in the US are home to at least 1 foster child.

A male in the foster care System is 4x more likely to commit a crime or become incarcerated.

A Female in the foster care System is 10x more likely to commit a crime or become incarcerated.

Children in foster care are 5x as likely to develop some level of PTSD.

In 2012, only 48% of the adults leaving foster care were employed.

Former foster youth are 7x as likely to develop a dependency on drugs and 2x as likely to develop a dependency on alcohol.

Only 25% of foster youth graduate from college. As opposed to 41% of the general population.

Of men, 33% of former foster youth depend on Government services for their basic living needs.

Of women, 75% of former foster youth depend on Government services for their basic living needs.

1 in 3 Americans talk about adopting. Only 2% actually adopt.

Below are the reasons why I believe these children often act out against a foster family.

18.8% have suffered from some sort of physical abuse.

7.99% have suffered from some sort of emotional abuse.

6.2% have suffered from some sort of sexual abuse.

3.2% were taken into the system due to caretaker inability.

63.9% for varying other reasons.

Doesn’t it make sense that if you abuse a child, starve and/or force them to cope with substandard living conditions, or neglect a child, the likelihood that that child will have difficulty making connections with people would be fairly high? That they might struggle with grades, experience adverse health conditions, and ultimately become dependent on the system or end up incarcerated? I guess what I’m saying is that maybe we need to cut these children a little slack and be apart of the solution.

This isn’t a guilt trip, but you can certainly see why my focus is slowly beginning to shift from satisfying my need to be a dad, to desperately wanting to reach out and protect a child from becoming one of these statistics.

Here’s a little more honesty: I used to see guys with their pants hanging off their ass, hat backwards, wearing a tank-top, and judge them harshly on their appearance. And on that note, it may be wrong to judge anyone on their appearance alone, but appearances do give people an initial impression. In truth, I was more frustrated by the fact that they had a child and I did not. But, since this is my blog and there’s no one to stop me, I’m still going to say this: If you want to be treated like an adult, dress like one. Unless you’re a 16 year old skateboarder, you should probably lose the sticker on your flat-billed hat.

And then lose the flat-billed hat.

Pull your pants up. You’re a grown man, and it might be time to tell your wardrobe. The world needs more men who can behave as men so the next generation can be kids without having to worry about ending up in foster care themselves. The world does not need another 35 year old man-child who dresses like a poorly funded Justin Bieber clone. But I do owe this demographic an apology. I have more recently come to appreciate the fact that, while you may not always “look” the part, at least you are with your kid, being a dad. So, I apologize for judging you on your appearance and not acknowledging sooner that you are taking your responsibility to your family seriously. I’m learning a lot about those who don’t and the damage that can cause a child, so my hat is off to you. Wear whatever you’d like.

Just remember that you have little eyes watching everything you do, looking for an example to follow.

Be an example worth following.

And if those statistics above bother you, let’s work together to help change them.

One final statistic: If just 1 family from 1 out of every 3 churches in America adopted, there would be no more orphans in the US. If there’s room in your home and in your heart, you are very needed. But this is not intended to put guilt on anyone or even an attempt to recruit foster parents. These are just some of the things this journey has taught me, and I’m sharing them with you as they have been part of my learning process.

My future posts will be far less about this issue and more specific to my own experience. Not driven by statistics. I promise.

‘Til next time…

Continue this journey

 

 

 

The day I decided to become a foster parent.

There are few decisions in one’s life that cause more emotional turbulence than the decision to become a parent. Turbulence which intensifies when the route chosen is anything other than traditional. As far back as I can remember, I have looked forward to holding my son in my arms, stroking those pudgy cheeks with my thumb as I kiss his forehead. The proudest joy-filled tears clouding my vision as I breathe in his newborn smell for the first time. Knowing my life would forever change in the moment his tiny voice broke through the barrier of nervous expectation in an infants cry, announcing to the world that he had arrived.

Just like most perspective fathers, the idea of sharing that experience with a wife I adore — the porch light welcoming us home from across a plush, mowed lawn, wrapped in white-picket fence. Inside, a freshly painted nursery sitting in perfect stillness, awaiting the arrival of its new and tiny occupant — was truly the creative genius my mother assured me I had in spades as a schoolboy passing the time in a distant and pleasant daydream.

But, unlike most prospective fathers, I am doing this alone, and without the pleasure of the love-making that created this new life. It’s not that I didn’t try to paint that picture on the blank canvas of my imagined future. God knows I loved the woman I had once been engaged to marry. Even after several break-ups and reconciliations, our love for one another somehow survived, despite the advice of friends and casual observers on both sides of the metaphorical isle. But reality, as is often the case, has a way of taking up residency in the places where hopes and dreams once flourished.

My reality came knocking, eviction notice in hand, after an unplanned pregnancy “scare,” in which one of us was terrified and the other, hopeful. Which was which is unimportant and I will never tell you. I won’t even hint at it. All you need to know is that the “terrified” insisted on the morning after pill and the “hopeful” regretfully paid for it. It was at that moment that the “hopeful” made the decision to adopt. A decision which ultimately led to the mutual termination of the imperfect and stubborn love that had occupied much of the decade of my life, leading me to this decision. I think I always knew deep down that I would eventually have to choose between the two.

I chose this child and never looked back. Truth be told, in that moment, I have never experienced a time where I’ve felt happier and more at peace in this life. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss her, but I’m trading up for the long haul.

So adoption, right? Well, adoption is a great option. One I would have dived into head first, had I the mere sum of between 30 – 50k with the picture perfect life a parent putting their child up for adoption would choose. “Our Suburban paradise will never be complete without the addition of your precious angel and future CEO/Harvard Business School Graduate to leave our vast fortune in African diamond mines to…Our Yacht’s nursery was just completed…Something about country clubs…You get the picture” But that is not my reality, either. I work a Graveyard shift as a (recently single) man. Not quite the Ivy League pedigree most people leap at the chance to pass their baby off to, for any amount of money. That reality is what led me down the path of becoming a foster parent, and in August of 2017, I submitted my application and began the process of becoming licensed with Social Services.

The following entries will comprise the journey of my experience: the challenges I’ll soon face; the joys I will soon experience. It is my hope that, one day, my baby, whom I fully plan to adopt as my own,

(Hence the “My”)

will read this and discover how much I loved him, even before I’d met him, and how no obstacle could have ever kept me from one day holding him in my arms. That he may have been dealt a lousy hand from birth, but that he was always wanted and loved, and not a minute of his life passed where his tiny fingerprints were not permanently printed on my heart. Everything in my life has led me to this decision and, for that reason, I would not change a thing from my past.

Having a son is a uniquely special experience for a man that can only be rivaled by the experience of having a daughter… but I have to choose, so I’m choosing a boy between 0-3 years of age, with a high probability for adoption. My hope is to receive a baby, and hours old would be ideal because I don’t want to miss a single second of my son’s life. But this is where patience and faith become thy constant companion, keeping me steadfast in the knowledge that the perfect child is or will soon be matched to me, and that perfection can take any form, in any color, and at any age…But from the moment of his first cry, he was perfect.

Let the journey begin…

Continue this journey