7/24/18

A Foster Mothers response to "Justice for Our Stolen Children" protest demands.



The issue of child welfare, fostercare, and adoption of indigenous children is a contentious subject for many. It has a way of touching nerves and rubbing salt in old wounds. When it comes to this subject the fires of division and fear are so easily stoked and rhetoric takes on a life of its own. That just seems to be the way it is, even though I don't think that's how it should or could be. It's a subject I want to approach honestly, humbly and thoughtfully because it is important and requires those things. 
Our kids deserve the best we have to give. 

Some background information on me for those who have just stumbled across this blog. I have been a foster parent here in SK for exactly 10 yrs.  In that time we have also adopted four children. Three of our children are indigenous. This is something we celebrate in our home and something that is a part of the fabric of our multi-racial family.  Each of our 7 kids learns to be proud of their various ancestry, their unique genetic traits and their cultural heritage as we blend it all into our own unique family culture. Above all we are family. We are living examples of the quote that Trudeau is so fond of saying "diversity is our strength". 


This is a list of demands that was posted online after the protesters/campers were awarded a meeting with various government ministers.  I want to address each of these from the perspective of a foster parent who has been neck deep in social services, case workers, home studies and adoption process for a decade. I am also a mother raising indigenous children with a vested interest in issues facing First Nations people and communities. Click here and here for some context and background on the protest. 




#1 Clear data on the number of Children in care and the duration of care.

This information is fairly easily accessible online both on government sights and the Child Advocacy report. For those who are unaware our province has a Child Advocate who acts on behalf of the wellbeing of children in our province. Our current child advocate is Corey O'Soup a Saulteax First Nations man. This organization keeps track of stats, makes recommendations and holds social services accountable.

Last year there were 5,248 children in care of the Ministry of Social Services, including those whose files have been transferred to First Nations agencies, and children in the care of a "PSI" (person of significant interest...typically a relative or someone within their community). Duration of care depends on individual situations.

 Many children only stay in fostercare for a short amount of time before they are reunified with a parent or begin living with extended family. Many indigenous children taken into care of social services have their files transferred to a First Nations agency where longterm homes are found by them, and kept under their own oversight.


#2 A review of all permenant wards

 "Permanent Ward" is a legal status that is obtained after all efforts to reunify the child with parents or extended family have been exhausted. That is the precise language used in court.

Priority one for social services is reunification with parents. The next step, if the first is not possible, is "family find".  The search for extended relatives begins. Most children end up being placed with relatives. This process can be completed quickly or it can take a very long time. If the child is First Nations a First Nations Agency will receive the child's file.  During that search process "Family" can also include anyone within the same First Nation that the child's parent is registered with. If a person is willing to take the child they are paid to do a homestudy and they receive financial assistance. Only once this process comes up dry is a court date set for permanency. Often those court dates are adjourned repeatedly because the process is meticulous and detailed.

 By the time a child "goes permanent" months or years worth of reunification effort has already taken place. During that time the child has been in fostercare, waiting in limbo, for adults to give them some stability. A permanency hearing is a sober time as biological parental rights are legally severed and the child becomes a "ward" of the state. The positive aspect of this status is that a permanency plan can then begin and the child is given an adoption worker who will begin processing the child for adoption. The reality is that many "permanent wards" in our province have never lived with a biological parent or even had a visit from them. This was true for some of my foster/adoptive children. Being given "perm ward" status is their chance to have the love and security of a family. To belong somewhere and to no longer be a "foster kid".

Permanent ward, inspite of it's name, is a temporary status. It is the stepping stone between a reunification focus and moving toward adoption planning. If this legal status can be undone at the demand of activists it essentially means nothing. If children cannot attain perm ward status they will be held in limbo indefinitely, and most likely age out of fostercare without a family.

The time and resources it would take to "review" all of these cases (to what end?) would take time and resources away from areas where it's desperately needed. These cases have been decided in court, a specific process was followed and it is all documented meticulously.  I'm not sure what benefit there would be to go backwards and re-hash the process that was already done.  It is certainly not in the best interest of the child at that point. Children need stability. They need to either be reunified with biological family in a timely manner or they need to move toward other options for a secure and loving family. Children cannot be put on ice while adults take years to get their acts together. That's not how human development and attachment works. When we pretend that kids can just wait in limbo for years we are creating a crisis. That crises includes devastating psychological disorders that will pay society back for decades to come.

#3 A review of all long term wards to see if any long term wards can go home based on updated information. 

This one confuses me. Fostercare is temporary and the first goal is reunification with family. There is no incentive to keep a child in fostercare indefinitely without moving towards either reunification or a permanency plan like adoption. There may be teens where this permanency planning becomes more complicated, which is why many teens end up in groups homes. Even then the child still has a caseworker who updates their information and is required to visit the child every 6 wks. Their information is never not being "reviewed". If they are not perm wards a biological family's rights to the child have not been terminated.

Foster parents can specify whether they prefer "emergency", "short term" or "long term" placements however all of these things are very fluid and are not a legal status. A "short term" placement can end up staying for years eventually be placed for adoption. A suspected "long term" placement can have a relative pop up and the child be moved the next day. Case plans are ALWAYS changing and they are hard to predict. The parent who is on track to be reunified with a child quickly can relapse into addictions, disappear, or land in prison. The absent, negligent, parent who showed no interest in reunification can suddenly have a change of heart and do what is required to have successful reunification.

#4. Demonstrate the use of in home supervision in lieu of apprehension. 

I honestly have no experience with this as a fosterparent. I do know there are many resources and supports available to families both before and after the apprehension of a child takes place. I actually wonder what "in home supervision" means.  I'd be interested to learn more about this practice, how it's done, what it costs, and what the outcome is. Providing some families with a wrap around support system, even in home, could be exactly what some parents need. It also seems like it could be difficult to implement.

#5 Go do Red Pheasant as was originally arranged.

I have no idea what the goal or purpose of this is.

#6 Place a moratorium on adoptions and planned expansion of fostercare system.

This one really rubs me the wrong way. This puts in jeopardy the very children these activists claim to be seeking "justice" for.

On the same list that they are demanding social services use extra resources and work hours to satisfy various demands, to "review" things that are already regularly reviewed and produce "data" that already exists online, they are demanding that social services also be shackled and underfunded. The fostercare system is seeing a steady increase of children coming into care yet they want a "moratorium" on any planned expansion to meet that demand. The only outcome of that is lower standards, over-worked burnt-out caseworkers, and longer case processing times. All of that is bad for kids.

A moratorium on adoptions, if implemented, would be utterly devastating to the children in our province and our society as a whole. I really don't think these demands were thought through logically or with any sort of understanding about how the system actually works.

There are valid reasons that children come into care. These children are not simply rounded up by some sinister plot or because of their race. They come into care over serious issues like child abuse, dangerous neglect, devastating addictions, and crime. As a foster parent I have witnessed the heart-crushing harm done to children.

Gang and drug culture is filling our foster care system. Instead of addressing those issues honestly activists are insisting that these children are "stolen", that our province's foster families are the moral equivalence of residential schools, and that our adoption and fostercare systems should be racially segregated. All of that rhetoric is harmful. None of that brings justice to children.

If adoptions in our province ceased the fostercare system would be filled with masses of permanent wards or long term fosterkids doomed to spend their childhoods bounced around various group homes and foster homes. If you demand that adoptions cease while at the same time hamstringing the foster care system and stigmatizing fosterparents you have created a perfect storm. A humanitarian crises. It's like building a dam on a fast flowing river and expecting that to stop the flow of water from it's source.

It is already difficult to recruit and retain foster parents because, as much as we love the kids (they are the reason we do what we do),fostering is exhausting, heartwrenching and stressful. The more foster parents are vilified in the media, by myths and untruths, the fewer foster parents will be recruited and retained. When it is being made clear to potential adoptive parents (willing to adopt a child of any race) that they are not wanted or needed it makes sense that they will decide against it.

In countries where in-home, family based, care options (foster care/ adoption) do not exist for children what you get are orphanages and children living in the streets, eating from dumpsters and being used by traffickers of all sorts. If you shut down adoption the number of children remaining in fostercare will far exceed the capacity of 504 foster families in our province. If the public continues to vilify foster families, and social services throws them under the identity politics bus, that number will drop significantly. This will necessitate many new large "group homes" which will essentially be a reintroduction of institutionalized care of children.  This would be a disaster.

The process to adopt a child in our province is excruciatingly long, methodical and intensive. The process that moves a child from "protection" to "permanency planning" is lengthy, precise and meticulous. Everything has to be done exactly right in order for anything to proceed. If something is missed the process will be put on hold or be reversed. Our most recent adoptions took 2 1/2 yrs from the time the children (who were already in our home) became permanent wards to finalization. Doing a general adoption takes considerably longer.

7. Develop a full report on children in care including details on their cultural and developmental needs.  

Once again this would take considerable resources to accomplish, taking staff and resources away from the front lines where it's needed most. While at the same time being undercut with the "no expansion" demand.

Since this protest is focused in indigenous children one has to wonder why these demands aren't being made to the FN leadership and agencies that have files of children in their possession and who are in charge of placement, safety and oversight?

There is also the component of privacy. As a foster parent I cannot simply demand more information about case plan, extended family or the child's history and expect to be handed that information. I certainly cannot demand detailed information on other children in care. As a foster parent I am not even entitled to know which specific drugs the newborn, shaking and convulsing in my arms, is withdrawing from. I cannot demand to know whether the foster toddler I'm raising was exposed to alcohol prenatally. Those things are held in confidence until that child is placed with me for adoption and I am handed a heavily redacted white binder that contains those important details. After spending 10 yrs navigating those frustrating shrouds of privacy it baffles me that any group of protesters has the audacity to think they can simply demand information on children because they set up a campground on a government lawn.

No one is more personally invested in the well being, healthy development and needs of the child in fostercare than the person caring for, meeting the needs of and loving that child 24 hrs a day. And yet as fosterparents we have zero say in what happens to the child and are not entitled to demand a child's personal information.

As far as "cultural needs" go I don't know any foster or adoptive parents who ignore cultural identity or heritage.

8. Create a review practice for all foster homes in the province. 

The protesters should be thrilled to know that there is already a "review practice".  The homes that fall outside of these strict standards and constant scrutiny are on-reserve homes, kinship and PSI homes. I can assure you that foster homes under the watch of the Ministry of Social Services lack no oversight.

 Every 6 wksacase worker is in our homes. At that time they check on the child, update any changes in health and development over the previous 6 wks. They also take a look around the child's bedroom and inspect the bed (there are high standards set regarding where children can sleep).  Beyond that, every 6 months we have a resource worker come into our home for a bi-annual home inspection and mounds of paperwork. This visit takes hours. Every corner of our house and yard is carefully inspected and a long check list of rules and requirements is ticked off one by one. Then we sit down at the dining room table, read over and sign a mountain of policies and requirements covering everything from how to swaddle or not swaddle a baby (the rules are always changing) to discipline to cultural requirements. Every minor injury or illness must be recorded and reported to the case worker. In our 10 yrs of fostering these 6 month thorough inspections were never missed. At that time the resource workers also updates our Family Development Plan, a written report on every aspect of our family dynamics and how we care for children.


9. A cost analysis relative to how the Ministry is resourcing families so that they can stay together or efforts for reunification, relative to the costs that are paid to agencies such as Ranch Erhlo that house children in care. 

This is a bit difficult to understand but I'm interpreting this sentence to mean that they are requesting a cost comparison of how much money is being given to families vs. what it costs to fund youth in therapeutic residential care. That's a fair question and I can see why someone would be curious about that. As far as Rancho Ehrlo mentioned: this is their website.   Maybe they are referring to resources like in-home drug rehab, therapy, and mental health treatment. I'm not totally clear on that.




I strongly recomment that people who are concerned about child welfare in our province, who want to know more about whats being done, read over the last several years worth of Child Advocy reports.



I would also encourage anyone who is eager to jump on any bandwagon, that throws our child protection system and foster families under the bus, to get to know some actual foster families as well as some multi- racial familes. What you see might surprise you. Learn more about our system and whats already being done. Chat with child protection case workers, listen their stories and hear their passion for the children in care. The stories of foster parents and caseworkers are mostly unheard because we remain silent. We are not free to share them publicly. 

Unfortunately that leaves a very lopsided narrative being presented to the public.

I promise you we're not villains and we're not stealing kids. 

We love the kids that are placed in our care and we also care about their families of origin. Our hearts ache for the situations and brokenness that bring kids into fostercare. We are very aware of the over-representation of First Nations and Metis children and it would be wonderful if more prevention efforts were made. We support reunification and do what we can to encourage and support biological family who are making those efforts.  

Fostercare is a heart breaking reality with many complex root causes. However, pretending that children are not in care for valid reasons does nothing to address the real problems. I feel confident to speak on behalf of foster parents when I say....we would love nothing more than for every baby to be loved and cared for by the parents to made that child. We would love nothing more than for every child to be wanted, protected and safe in their first homes. 

As much as I utterly adore my adopted children, and love them just as much as any of the children that I carried in my womb, I wish that adoption was entirely unnecessary. It crushes me that they experienced trauma and separation from biological parents. My heart breaks for biological parents who have missed out on so much. I hope and pray that someday there will be healing and restoration of those relationships. Despite that loss, my children have known nothing but love and security since they first day they came into my home (or I started visiting them in the NICU). They are happy, healthy and thriving. I know that they will grow up to be confident and capable indigenous adults who will have a connection to their cultural heritage and a strong, diverse, support network. 


The kids in our province, particularly our First Nations and Metis children, deserve the best that we have to give them. They deserve and need to be put first. Above all other agendas, power struggles, biases, ambitions or priorities. The system is far from perfect, trust me I know, but it's also far from the child snatching caricature that is being painted by some activists. In order to find solutions to the flow of children, particularly indigenous children, into fostercare we need to be courageous enough to look at tough issues honestly. 

I believe that we all want to see more healthy families and more parents raising their own children. To this end we must come together to find solutions and ways to heal cycles of brokenness. 

We can't afford to have an us vs. them mentality when it comes to the well being of children. 

Meet a couple Saskatchewan foster families here in these videos: This is fostercare. 





6/28/18

Baja Trip 2018 - pt.1


In February we packed up our new van, our family of 9 and headed south. It has been four years since our last Mexico trip. Our longest time away from Baja since we started going there as a family back in 2005.

I was more than a little apprehensive about our ability to wrangle 7 kids including a toddler, maneuver a child with cerebral palsy, and maintain any sort of marital peace but we were excited to go. I had already spent months planning details, booking lodging, and packing what we would need for multiple climates and locations.

We took 4 days to get to South California. That part of the trip is always grueling and we decided to make some time for visiting friends and playing along the way. We rented a beautiful little house in the Garden Grove CA and happened to hit a wonderful winter heat wave. We soaked up the sun like it was breathing life into our winter weary souls.

We spent a few days recovering, did some sightseeing and did one day at Disney Land which in my view was kind of a flop. I hope the kids made some fun memories because all I know is that it was exhausting, busy, and someone peed their pants on Pirates of the Carribean ride...which brought the day to an early end. It too closely resemebled an episode of "The Middle". It seems that maybe our 2 parents to 7 kids ratio tipped the scales this time. What we really did enjoy the most in California was a day spent at Seal Beach, which was totally free. Live and learn. We all just finally got to relax and let go of some pent up travel tension. Spending that much time in a vehicle and hotel hopping with this many people tends to build up stress levels. It was so warm that day, probably the warmest day of our whole trip.









Once we left our rental house in Garden Grove CA.we drove down the Baja and realized instantly just how deeply we had missed it. The longer we were away from Mexico the less we were drawn to making that long trip back, but our memories and affections for this people and place were ignited as we felt like we were arriving home.


We missed the Machado family and it was wonderful to spend some time with these long time friends. These are some of my favorite people on the planet. You can find Amber's blog here
(Kayden and Silas have been buds since they were toddlers)
(These two first met as babies. These amigas were happy to spend time together)


This time we stayed at Welcome Home Outreach and lived in one of their dorms. We had enough space to spread out and we each had our own bed (an improvement from motels). We also had our own bathroom, that we didn't have to go outside for, which I don't take for granted at all. It was very adequate. We really loved our stay with this ministry. They were so very welcoming and open to us coming as a family. We aren't the usual demographic of a "mission trip" group and our capacity to be useful is somewhat hindered. We had a wonderful host named Michelle who coordinated work projects for us and gave us lots of freedom to visit some other ministries and old friends we had made over the years. She was great with our kids, as were all the staff. Everyone from youngest to oldest was included and made to feel useful and welcome. This is very unusual in our years of ministry experience. Children are too often viewed as a liability.

(the girls on one of our morning work projects. Painting a new section of wall)

We were able to eat breakfast and lunch every day in the cafeteria with the daycare kids. Our supper usually consisted of tacos bought in town. When we were in Baja 4  years ago we spent a lot of time at Welcome Home Outreach but we were living in our camping trailer several blocks away. It was much more enjoyable to just stay on site this time and any apprehension we had about having our kids there full time was soon eliminated. I certainly didn't miss staying in a cramped trailer.

You can visit the attached link to check out this ministry and the important work they do. I've also written about it in the past, you can find that post here. We basically just helped out whereever we could, did some projects, washed dishes, mopped floors and just had the privilege of witnessing what God is doing through this place and the staff.  


These ladies are wonderful. They not only allowed kids into the kitchen but they so patiently gave these two a lesson in tortilla making. The girls loved it. 


The daycare cook Cande is as sweet as her name. 
This woman works hard all day making meals for a cafeteria full of kids. She always has a smile on her face. Her love for the Lord and these daycare kids is very evident. 


My kids were all on dish duty after each meal. From youngest to oldest they all got to practice serving. They had great attitudes about their jobs and were eager to pitch in. 


(Michelle introducing Annie to some of the daycare kids)

The Welcome Home daycare picks up kids early in the morning brings them here for breakfast and a day full of play, games and preschool education. The older ones are taken to Kindergarten in town for the morning and then brought back here for lunch. This ministry, and others like it, are so important in this area. There are so many single mother homes where the Moms work long hard days in the fields. The options for most are to either leave young children locked in the house alone or keep school aged siblings home to look after young siblings, which means they don't get an education. When day to day survival takes so much effort things like education get pushed to the side. Which is heartbreaking because it ensures a cycle of poverty continues to the next generation. A basic education, and literacy, here is worth so much as far as opportunity goes. It's a game changer. A daycare like this not only ensures the children have nutritious meals and a safe, stimulating place to spend their days but it's helping break cycles and preventing child abandonment into orphanages. The wonderful staff here also minister to the whole family, on a very personal level, in whatever way is needed. 

Annie and her new amiga. They played together all week since Leyla lives here at Welcome Home. Her parents are the daycare directors. One girl speaks English and the other Spanish but somehow they made it work. 


Our family above with Cande and our host Michelle. Michelle lives and works here at Welcome Home full time. She left her life as a teacher in California and moved down here to serve needy kids here in Baja. She works hard from morning until night doing whatever needs to be done. Anywhere there's hard physical and humble dirty work to be done she can be found there doing it. The rest of the teachers and staff are locals which I also really appreciate. This ministry also does house building for poor families. Our friend Jose is one of the builders. 





We were able to visit some other local ministries including a men's rehab "Casa de RestauraciĆ³n El Sembrador" . Just the guys went this time and I stayed home with the little ones. It was an eye-opening experience for my boys. This rehab ministry has some amazing success stories (some we know personally, such as the formerly deported gang member turned pastor of a thriving and growing church) but it is underfunded and the accommodations are not very weather tight. The need for this type of ministry is so great but it's too often overlooked. "Fund better facilities for recovering drug addicts" isn't quite as appealing as "come hug an orphan" when fundraising or planning mission trips. These guys are hard workers and are active in a local church. When the hearts and lives of men are transformed, all of society goes with it, yet men are so often undervalued when it comes to ministry focus. When men are equipped to be faithful husbands and nurturing fathers so many other societal problems and so much poverty is eliminated. 




(photos courtesy of FB page)

We were also excited to go and visit a new ministry that some old friends of ours began a few years ago.  Eternal Anchor is a school for children with disabilities in the morning as well as an adult life skills school in the afternoons.  I was SO impressed with this facility, its mandate and it's methods.  I can't even say enough good things about this place and how important their work is. They are not only providing therapies, equipment, life skills and education to kids who wouldn't otherwise have access to those things they are working with families and parents to help better equip them to care for their disabled children. They do a lot of middleman work with getting kids to surgeries and medical care. They also take kids to a therapy ranch to ride horses. As a mother of a child with cerebral palsy and intellectual disability, I know the importance of these sorts of life-changing interventions and opportunities. Even just learning how to do proper stretching of spastic limbs every day makes a big difference as a parent. If you have a heart for very underprivileged children with disabilities and also have a passion for abandonment prevention this is an excellent, and trustworthy ministry to support.




Another ministry we visited is one started by another old friend of ours who has a deep passion for helping women. This is a shelter for women and their children coming out of some of the darkest and most dangerous situations imaginable. They are in the process of building facilities on a new piece of land they acquired but they have minimal accommodations at this point. The women and their many children are still crammed into old donated camping trailers. The whole place is on a high hillside so it has required extensive dirt moving work. The view is stunning though. It's secluded just enough to give a sense of peace and serenity to women who so desperately need it.  Another very worth while cause that desperately needs funding. Every little bit helps. If you have a heart for vulnerable women and children trying to rebuild ther lives check out "New Beginnings". You will be glad you did.





Of course while we were in our little town in Baja we spent some time with the kids that call us "Tio" and "Tia"...the kids who we will always consider family. It was so great to see them, as well as their mother Italia. They've all grown up so much and a few new little ones have been added to the family in the last few years! Our dear Minerva (who we had met a decade ago while on staff at a local orphanage) now has 3 children, the newest born a month after we left this spring. She has the cutest little purple house that she keeps immaculate care of. It was built by a local charity last year and I'm so very happy for her. She is such a special young lady. One sad surprise was that some of the older kids were down in South Baja working in pea fields and wouldn't return until after we were scheduled to leave. We were very sad to miss each other. I have been in contact with Alvaro for a couple years now over FB messenger and we write back and forth fairly regularly. We were actually working for many months on bringing him up here for a few months last summer but matters of the heart and responsibility at home changed his mind. I'm so proud of his maturity, responsibility, and commitment to be a good husband and father.  He is the hardest working young man I've ever met. We met when he was just a little boy at an orphanage. His gentle nature and sweet smile stole my heart all those years ago. We also missed seeing Carmela and Ramiro. I miss them so very much. They have grown from small children into mature looking teens. They all do field work now to provide for the family. I wish we lived closer but we continue to love them and pray for them from a distance. Now that all of the older ones have Facebook it's easier to keep in touch.


(Minerva with younger sibling and her daughter)




Louisa, her niece Luz and two little sisters Carla and Gabriella.  Luz (holding the pony) was just a newborn last time we were down so it was so fun to get to know her this trip. She has such a fun little personality. Carla and Gabriella remember us visting 4 yrs ago (they are older than their size suggests). I love these girls and I hope another 4 yrs doesn't go by before we can visit again. 


Walking from Italia's house to Minervas new home across many empty lots being sold for homes. The actual price of the lots would shock you. Its a wonder anyone can afford a plot. Not that long ago this was a field. You can see one of the former campos in the distance where migrant workers were housed until they were shut down. They were pretty horrible places to live. Now most of the indigenous field workers have their own homes and are less transient. I lot has changed in this valley since I first came here 20 yrs ago. 





Spunky Gabriella is around the same age as our Cece (8) although closer in size to Annie (4)


(Minerva's adorable new house. I'm so happy for her)



(Italia, the matriarch of the family, making tortillas. I was relieved to see how well they all are doing.)


(Out for a stroll with Italia carrying her youngest child, Minerva with her two and my oldest Aili) 



(Italia watering Minerva's little garden)


It was so hard to leave the little town we have grown to love after only 10 days. Usually, we settle in and stay in one place for at least a month but we had to keep moving this time. This family trip was special in that it will likely be Aili's final road trip with the family (she'll be graduating next year). Her first trip to Baja was back in 2005 when she was only 4 yrs old. We lived at an orphanage in our camping trailer for 6 months. We returned many times after that, once again for 6 months, and the rest for 1 or 2 months at a time. She has a strong sentimental connection to Mexican culture, food, and a particular little town in Baja. I'm glad we were able to go down for the first, and probably last time, as a family of nine. From now on she'll be off on her own adventures.  Maybe she'll let me tag along on occasion.




(Icecream at the park. A tradition since 2005. This little town really feels like a second home.)


(How we eat out while in Mexico. Taco stands)


(to be continued) 




















5/14/18

Best Interest of the Child

I have recently been pondering some things as I chat with foster Mama friends and hear out their often repeated frustrations.  Bear with me as I try to make sense out of these rattling thoughts.

"Best interest of the child" is a statement that gets tossed around child welfare circles a lot. Whether it is actually considered or not is debatable in any given situation. Words and actions are two entirely different things.

I have recently realized that I dislike this statement quite a lot. This is odd to acknowledge because everything in me cries out for justice and well being for these vulnerable little ones. I live and breath "best interest of the child" in my home on a daily basis. I have dedicated years of my life to this cause.
The problem with this stated policy is that it's entirely subjective. I've noticed over the years that everyone and their dog has a different idea of what this is. "Best interest" is filtered through various political agendas, worldviews/ideologies, social engineering ideas, individual professional aspirations, public relations (whats socially trendy) and is very hard to peg down. "Best interest of the child" is plastered on policies that swing wildly between harmful extremes always cloaked in a sort of high browed idealism that ignores so much reality on the ground.

While everyone agrees that the best interest of the child should be paramount when making decisions affecting children, no one seems to be able to agree on what that is.

Maybe we need to possess better, more specific, language to nail down some priorities within our child welfare and foster systems.

We foster parented for 10 yrs and in that time I saw and experienced a lot. Although not as much as some.  Each fostering journey is unique and comes with its own stories and heartaches. One thing all foster parents have in common is their compulsion to silence. The very real threat of children you love being taken from your home, or the doors of your home being shut for saying the wrong thing or crossing the wrong people is enough for us to keep our heads down.

Sure there are some fostering blogs out there but they weren't common a few years ago and even now they are fairly rare. They are often anonymous and usually very careful. Where foster parent voices and perspectives aren't usually found is in social services offices planning policy, case plan meetings, or being amplified with media attention. With hushed voices we share our burdens behind closed doors with selectively few people.

Foster parents are on the front lines, along with caseworkers, but they have the vantage point of being parents. They parent. That's what they do. They aren't babysitters. They are caregivers who parent children, some for short amounts of time and some for a lifetime. Foster parents are waking for midnight feedings, bandaging skinned knees, calming nightmares, comforting grieving and traumatized children, combing (and delousing) hair, going to school plays and taking children to their dance lessons. They take children to visitation and then come home to put into practice all they know about therapeutic parenting to try to calm the rage ignited in a devastated and confused child. They love, nurture, tend and train the children in their home.

They know stuff. They may be left in the dark about many things surrounding the history and case plan, but they know these kids. They may have known the child in their care since birth as was the case with most of my foster babes. They likely know the kids better than anyone else involved with the case.

Here's what "best interest of a child" means to a foster parent.

* In any given situation what will cause the LEAST amount of trauma to this child *

That's pretty much it. That's what we care about the most. Most foster parents have become well versed in issues of trauma, attachment and the basics of child psychology. We have to be to be any good at what we do. A huge frustration is that too often the people sitting in offices, the managers, supervisors, and directors seem to be light years behind in that area.

"They won't remember it anyway"

"A child gets used to being moved"

Statements like these make me rage internally. Often people directing priorities and policy don't see the damage that ill-conceived ideas and bad decisions create. They aren't the ones parenting children with Reactive Attachment disorders caused by frequent moves in the first years of a child's life. They aren't the ones dealing with the terror that comes with PTSD, anxiety disorders or intense fear of abandonment caused by a loss of caregivers. They don't have to put on a game face and gently reassure a terrified child that going to live with strangers will be ok, when you have very real fears of your own that they will not be ok. The hardest thing about fosterparenting is witnessing or knowing a child will go through grief and experience trauma. No parents wants their child to suffer. Foster parents feel no differently.

If people in offices experienced these things they might view "best interest of the child" differently. Perhaps if they better understood the devastating, long term, effects of trauma it would have greater consideration in decision making.

Of course we don't work in ideals and there is no trauma free fostercare. The very need for it arises out of suffering, brokenness, abuse, death, violence, addictions, and illness....all of the worst things in this world are the foundation. A preborn baby being fed a steady diet of drugs and alcohol is trauma. A preborn child being immersed in constant stress hormones of its mother who is a victim of domestic violence is trauma. Being separated from a birth parent is trauma, even if the child is too young to consciously remember.  It's there. A newborn withdrawing from drugs is trauma. Some of those things are unavoidable but once a child has been placed in care great consideration should be given to not perpetuating trauma, creating more chaos, or causing more damage.

Broken children, who become broken adults, are no small problem and will pay society back in full for it's failure to protect them.

There are many other worthwhile considerations when making case plans and deciding what is best for a child, however, this is at the top for me. I'm convinced that this is the priority that every other factor should be filtered through and weighed against.

If we truly believed in "best interest of the child" we would be far more focused on the long lasting effects of trauma and issues surrounding attachment. I think we would save children and society a whole a world of hurt.









5/7/18

Why I care about Fostercare


It has come to my attention that May has been designated by someone, somewhere, as "National Fostercare Awareness Month". This seems like as good a reason as any to dust off this old platform and try to string together some coherent thoughts.

You might be thinking something like  "Why should I care about kids in fostercare?  They aren't my kids. I'm looking after my own kids. They're not my problem."

On one level that would be correct. Kids in the system aren't my kids. I didn't conceive or give birth to them. I'm not legally responsible for their well being or obligated to care for them. Here are a few reasons why I chose to ignore those facts.

1.  Love compels me, Jesus commands me. 

"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Galatians 5:14

"Love your neighbor as yourself" is also found in Matthew 5:43, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22: 39, Mark 12:3, Romans 13:9, Luke 10:27, Leviticus 19:18, and James 2:8.

I'm assuming this is really important since it is repeated so often. We are called to love and care for those within our reach. Kids in fostercare are part of our communities, they live in our cities. They are our neighbors. Not only that, they are the vulnerable, the marginalized, the outcast, the fatherless, and the "orphan" that the Bible regularly exhorts us to seek justice for.

I have been loved extravagantly and sacrificially by a God who willingly plunged himself into the muck and the mess of this sin mangled world. I have been neighbored by Jesus. He doesn't ask us to do anything that he has not already done first.

2. When vulnerable children are not cared for our whole society suffers. 

According to every statistic I've ever read kids aging out of foster care, or who have been bounced around the system for years, are at a phenomenally higher risk of every social ill we can think of.  Criminality, incarceration, homelessness, dependency, addictions, violence, mental illness, being victimized, and sex trafficking. This is not because something is inherently wrong with the children but rather because they have been denied the things they needed to become fully functional, healthy adults.

I'll share with you one tangible, close to home, example of the high social cost of failing children. A child who was born into a broken family filled with abuse and alcoholism spent the remainder of his childhood in about 25 different foster homes. He was failed by everyone. His most basic needs for attachment, nurture, security, safety, and love weren't met. Unsurprisingly he eventually turned to gangs, crime and violence. While out on probation he took the life of another man; someone's father, son, and brother. An entire family was rocked and grief-stricken. The pain was multiplied.

A terrible childhood is not an excuse for murder, however, it is a cautionary tale about the cost of wrecking kids. We all pick up the tab in one way or another.


Only 44% of children in foster care graduate from high school compared to 81% of their peers. 

Patterns of brokenness are repeated unless there are people and resources ready to step in and throw a wrench in those spinning cycles. It's messy, it's hard, and nothing is guaranteed but the cost of doing nothing and ignoring the crises happening around us is even higher.  We are the village that these kids need.

3.  It's worth it.  

We recently hung up our foster parent hats after 10 yrs of being a fosterhome.  We are now shifting our energy into raising the houseful that the Lord has blessed us with and finding new ways we can act as a support role to active foster families. I'm not going to lie, being a foster family has not been easy. The system is a mess and so are the situations that bring kids into care but in the middle of all that mess are some really beautiful, amazing, precious kids. Kids that deserve to be loved fiercely. Kids that need stability and safety. After a decade of navigating the child welfare system I can tell you it's been worth it. None of the love was wasted. None of the sleepless nights or daytime tears were futile. The deep joy that lives alongside deep sorrow is something spectacular to experience. These kids are worth loving. So are their first families. They are both our neighbors.

So what do I do now? 

I gave you three reasons why one would care fostercare, it only seems fair to give you some ideas on how you can put that concern into action.

-Become a Foster Parent. 

I don't really like having to add the "not everyone can be a foster or adoptive parent" caveat because that just seems obvious. However, I do believe that more could and should.

Really.

You don't have to be super human, or a saint or some sort of parenting expert. You just need to care and make yourself available. Everything else you'll learn as you go. If my family can do it, with all our quirks and imperfection, anyone can.

 If you are not in a position to open your home to a child in need, there are other ways that you can help. Now that I'm not a foster parent I feel more free to list these ideas without sounding like I'm begging for help myself.

- Be a source of emotional and spiritual encouragement.

Foster families tyically face a barrage of nay sayers and doomsday warnings from various concerned family, friends, and even perfect strangers. Be someone who will get excited along with them as they wait for a new arrival and be a shoulder they can cry on when that child leaves. Avoid "you chose this" admonitions or "this is too hard for you" sort of sympathy. Understand that they did choose this life and its hard. They need support not criticism. Discouragement can hit hard, especially when you're exhausted. Remind them that what they're doing matters. Sometimes a kind word is all you need to keep going.

- Help foster families in practical ways.

*Take a meal over to an overwhelmed foster mom.  Be warned that she might cry when you drop it off because she hasn't had a decent nights sleep in years and is exhausted beyond what she ever thought possible.  If she's going through a tough time or recently said a heartbreaking "goodbye" take over a gift bag full of comfort snacks, a favorite beverage, some chocolate, some bath or body product if she likes that sort of thing. Something that says "I know this is hard, it's ok to cry into a tub of ice cream while sipping wine".

*Find out what you need to do to become a social services approved respite caregiver or babysitter.  This is a HUGE need since we can't drop off our foster children with anyone or call the neighborhood teen to babysit like we can with our bio kids. It's essential that we have people we can call in case of emergency or when we desperately need a date with our neglected spouse. This might be the number one way you can help a foster family in your community. Be willing to jump through the hoops, get a background check, or whatever is required in your area and make yourself available.  They need you. They really do. You might have to remind them a time or two that you are ready and willing.

*Drop off a baby gift or a box of diapers. It's practical and it shows that you notice the new child in their home and see that this child has value. You see them. They aren't just "another foster kid".  Gestures like that mean the world to foster parents. Maybe even throw a "shower" for new foster parents. That would be pretty incredible.

*Spend some time with foster siblings. These are the unsung heroes of foster families. The permanent or bio kids of foster parents share in both the heartaches and joys that come with foster care. They also share their parents, their rooms, their toys and their time. Sometimes their portion of a parents time and energy is meager because the needs of the little ones who come through the door are immense and all-consuming. These kids would probably love to come over and do some crafts, go to an event, or go out for lunch and have someone's uninterrupted time and attention. A luxury not found at home. We love it when trusted adults invest in our kids. There are many gaps to fill and we need all the help we can get. As foster parents, we feel guilty and inadequate so much of the time. We second guess how our choices affect our own kids everytime we see them go without something or witness their hearts breaking when a beloved foster baby leaves. What a relief it would be for someone to take one of our older kids to their basketball game and stay to cheer them on when we're cooped up at home with toddlers and fussy babies. Invite them over, take them out, let them know that what they're doing as foster siblings matters too. Sometimes messages coming from a different voice has more impact.

*Shovel the walk, mow the lawn, pick up some groceries. These are all easy ways to help support families who are in the trenches and doing the hard work of fostercare.

- Be a mentor.  There are many ways to invest in the life of vulnerable kids outside of the nitty gritty stuff of parenting them. Volunteer at a group home or program for at risk youth.Volunteer some time at a crises nursery. Be involved in church ministries aimed at children and youth. Chances are there will be some kids there that need some extra attention. Coaches, teachers, Youth Pastors, Big brothers and Sisters. You are all important. Keep in mind that kids that need love the most may be the hardest ones to like. The more people a kid has on their team the better. They need to know that someone sees potential in them, that someone knows they can succeed, and that someone sees their worth and reminds them of that. You might be the only person giving them that message.

These kids, and foster families, need community.  They need a village.

You are part of that village.









3/16/18

Hi friends...come on over to my Instagram

Hello out there friends. I haven't wandered onto my old blog much in the past couple years. I'm hoping to do some updates and more writing in the near future, and also try to fix some glitches and format of my blog (although I may need to recruit someone who knows what they're doing). Until then you can follow me and our crew over at Instagram. I've been posting "stories" most every day and photos occasionally. It seems that if I can't do it with my phone, and can't post something within a few seconds, it just doesn't get done. Blogging takes brain cells, time and some effort...which have been in short supply in recent years. The fog is starting to clear though and ideas are once again rattling in my brain.

If you just clicked a link and found my blog...welcome!  It's nothing fancy as you can see but I have poured my heart out into words over the past 10 yrs. I started this page a decade ago when blogging was new, my internet was dial up, I had a flip phone and I had zero social media accounts. A lot has changed, not the least my family. I hope you linger a while and find some tidbit that inspires, encourages or makes you laugh.

Here is a link to Instagram (since my side bar thingy no longer works and I haven't figured out how to get it back)  *update: I think I got it working again*





11/18/17

Reno Recap

This is a home renovation post that I've been meaning to do for a long time. I've been thoroughly enjoying my upsized living space for the past year. 

When we bought our house 15 years ago in a rural Saskatchewan hamlet it seemed huge to us. We had been living in a very small house at the time and only had one child, with one on the way. I couldn't imagine how we would ever outgrow our "new" 3 bedroom home.  It was an old farm house that had been moved into town by a previous owner and we paid $24,500 for it. No joke. That's what houses in rural SK were worth back then. At the time we were so broke that it was a huge leap of faith for us.  One I'm VERY glad we made considering how the cost of housing unexpectedly increased. It needed some fixing up but it was very livable. The fixing up could come later. 

Turns out it came much later but little by little we've made improvements on the house. In the past few years we've made the most drastic improvements beginning with the kitchen in the winter of 2014.  The original was kind of a tragic mix of old home made farm kitchen (that made sawdust in all the drawers)  combined with cheap particle board add ons.  


My husband did a bang up job at a kitchen reno. Being married to a Journeyman cabinet maker finally paid off. 





It got much worse before it got better! 



Bottom cabinets and countertop coming together.  Old upper cupboards stay put but get new doors. 


The magic happening behind the scenes out in the garage.


Ta-da! 
Is may husband a rockstar or what? 



After the renovation (minus the backsplash which took a few years do to because of other pending renovations).  

Fast forward a year and we took an even deeper plunge into a major reno. The kind that requires taking on a whole new mortgage to complete.  

First we started with replacing all the main floor windows in the Spring of 2015. Many were original old wooden frames and some that had been replaced by previous owner had broken and weren't functional



This is how many of our windows looked during the winter.  They had to go. 

Once again it got worse before it got better. Much worse. For a very long time. 



Yes, there was a giant hole in my house. 


My husband also added insulation to everything.  Here he is pulling out the old original horse hair insulation.  I kid you not. 



Some of the old windows.

An unused entry way that was poorly built, uninsulated and very cold. 


It was the tiny room on the other side of these glass doors. 


That unused porch area was transformed into a toy closet and the outside door was removed. We have also added a new foundation to the room and insulated it properly 



We pulled off all the siding on the outside of the house and discovered a lot of mould damage. That validated our decision to take on some extra debt (and work) in order to fix this house up.  If we had ignored it for much longer it would have been an unfixable problem. 


After removing and patching up completely rotted wood in many places my husband added outside insulation to the entire house.  As it was, our home was only insulated with saw dust which made for a cold drafty house during Saskatchewan winters. 


The biggest part of the reno was the decision to add on to the existing house. 



The guys digging a trench so SaskEnergy could come and relocate the gas lines.  Don't be alarmed, they weren't digging where the gas lines were located they were digging where they would be moved.  SaskEnergy said it would cost us less if we did the grunt work. They painted a path on the grass and we got to work. 


Always time to play. 


The addition would be a new dining room on the main floor and a new basement bedroom (and a renovation of the existing basement bedroom)



It was a whole family project with my Dad helping as well as my nephew. 










Starting to take shape after harvest.  It was a race against the weather which was holding out beautifully. 

Roman was able to help with the entire project. He learned a lot. 





We also reroofed and resided the entire house that summer. 


Making Mom nervous. 


Everyone was looking forward to a bigger eating space.  The weird looking wall behind the kids was a makeshift, temporary wall to keep out some of the cold and draft since by then it was October. Behind that wall is the unfinished addition.  My hubby placed an old window in it so Annie and the other kids would watch the work being done on the other side. 





The snow came before we were finished the exterior but thankfully it melted and gave us a little more time before full on winter hit.



It was exciting to see it look like an actual part of our house. 


Our first look at our new room from the inside. 


Annie checking out the new basement room.  My brother in law came out to do all the HVAC work. 



By this time I was growing weary of parenting in a construction zone.  Toddlers and construction zones do not mix. 


We hired professionals to do the dry wall work so we could get it done properly and quickly.  

At this point in the renos I moved out with the kids until the drywall was done.  Between drywall dust everywhere, the noise of power tools, a dry wall crew walking around, the usual sorts of marital tensions brought on by extra logistical struggles and stress, and parenting exhaustion...I was very ready to be done with this whole ordeal. It had been an exhausting several months. Mostly for my husband. He had accomplished so much that year already considering spring, summer, and fall are also our busiest seasons on the farm. 

We were all rapidly reaching burn out levels. 


This machine chopped and blew the insulation through a hose with my husband held up in the attic. Once again Roman proved himself an asset. This boy can work! 


 We completed the indoor walls, insulation and paint just before Christmas 2015. We paused the renos, put away the tools and used the new room even though it didn't have flooring yet. We put a Christmas tree in the basement that year an decorations were minimal.  We clawed for some sort of household normalcy over Christmas.




The first time enjoying our new space.  Even though it was unfinished and our table was a sheet of MDF with a picnic table cloth on it.  It was so much fun to finally use the space we had been working so hard to create. 


Aili's huge, beautiful new bedroom in the basement.  I'm still at little jealous. 


Silas finally had a bedroom  (his own ) after a year of being a transient middle child and sleeping on a mat on the floor in whatever room he chose to toss it down.  Sometimes you do what you have to do in a big family.  Annie required her own bedroom for her first two years because she was such a horrible sleeper. 

If you look closely you'll see that Roman, who is sitting on the bed, is holding a newborn.  Right after Christmas, as we were in the throws of holiday chaos and entirely overwhelmed by life in general (renovations have a way of making you question all your life's choices) we got a phone call asking if we would take a baby boy. Annie's (20 months) biological half brother.  Considering we were only approved for one, and were no longer on the call list (and were "at capacity" officially and otherwise) it was quite a shock. The call came just as my husband was finishing up the paint and new flooring in the basement bedrooms. I actually walked into the basement, and interrupted his work, to tell him about the phone call.  We made new space and God filled it. 


Later in the winter, once we found our footing, we put down wood flooring.  By "we" I mean my husband and son Roman.  I moved to my parents house with the younger kids for a few days until it was done. 


The finished product is beautiful!  

I love it. It just turned out perfect for us. 

Especially considering most every decor choice revolved around price and practicality.


Every day I enjoy the simple loveliness of it. 

 My carpenter husband build it to perfection.  Which is amazing considering it began as a whole in the ground. The new floor and the old lined up perfectly. Exact enough to run flooring from old house into new. Everything perfectly square and level. He's a perfectionist when he works but the end result is genius.  


We found a gorgeous large wood table on a good sale and then bought some black chairs from IKEA. 

I was able to move in my Grandmothers china cabinet and fill it with various old pretty dishes that hold so many memories for me as well as a set of china dishes we inherited from my mother-in-law after she died.  I get more sentimental the older I get. Maybe because the older you get the more goodbyes you have to say. 


In the new dining room we have 2nd outside door leading to a backyard deck. 


This summer 2017 we finally got backsplash in the kitchen. We went for cheap and simple...simple to install mostly. Not that it wasn't time consuming. 

With that we were finished. 

Now for the rest of the house....
One thing at a time. 






I like to imagine this room being used to host many future Holiday dinners.

A home where we raise all 7 of our children.  A home that they come back to with their own families.