Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story": Jerri's Family

This post is part of our new guest blogger series, "Our Foster Adoption Financial Story." As new posts are added to this series you will be able to find links to them at the bottom of this post.


My name is Jerri, I am 45 yrs old and a stay at home mom. My husband and I have fostered numerous children, have had 3 failed adoptions, 2 successful adoptions and are in the middle of adopting a little boy with special needs from out of state.

My husband is 56 yrs old and is a Quality Assurance/Safety Manager of a small local business with an annual income of $40,000, I use to do interior design and make approximately $45,000 a year but since adopting our children I have been out of the work force for the past 10yrs. We are very fortunate that I have been able to do this but only because of our children's adoption subsidy.

Our children need 24/7 supervision, they will never be able to care for themselves financially and will always be dependent on someone else to care for them in life. My son is 17 yrs old has down syndrome and some minor health concerns, he receives a monthly SSI check that ranges from $321.00-$721.00 a month depending on what my husband makes in a week. My daughter is 7 yrs old and is Autistic and has fetal Alcohol syndrome, her monthly adoption subsidy ranges between $1700 and $1800 a month.

On average I spend 20+ hrs a week taking the children to music therapy, play therapy, occupational therapy, nutritionist and school meetings. That does not include at least 2 doctor appointments a month. This month alone my son was out of school for 2 weeks with asthma complications. If I had to have respite while I was at work it would have cost me $18 an hour. On top of that we would be struggling with severe behaviors because my son suffers from PTSD and the stress of his daily routine being different triggers his behaviors.

Over the years that we have been working with the system, there have been times that we have struggled financially. It is not always easy. Plus, when adopting a child in care that is not living with you all expenses are at your own risk. The little boy that we are in the middle of adopting at this point is still in a foster home in his state and so far in the past 6 months we have spent $3300 in travel expenses, extra food, diapers and clothing. If the adoption goes through we will be reimbursed $1200, if not we will have not only had our hearts broken once again but will be out quite a chunk from our annual income. 

Introducing the "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" Guest Blogger Series

I'm excited to begin a new series of blog posts today. The "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" series will be a set of guest posts by foster parents and adoptive parents discussing the financial impact of adoption, foster care and special needs parenting on their lives and how they've made it work (or haven't). It is my hope that these stories will help people considering foster care or adoption be better prepared for what the future may hold, and help those of us who are already fostering or adopting get support and ideas and maybe even inspiration.

There is so much stigma in our culture about talking openly about finances. This stigma around talking openly about money is even more intense for foster parents (who are routinely perceived socially as "doing it for the money" despite the fact that we often lose money and careers due to fostering). Adoptive parents also face stigma, such as the perception that privately adoptive families are wealthy or that people who do subsidized adoptions of children through the state do so only because they want the money or cannot afford private adoption.

People of all economic backgrounds become foster and adoptive parents, and for most of us who aren't wealthy it has impacted financial and career choices. Saving for adoption costs...  proving you make enough money to be approved as a foster family... discovering that your child's past trauma and attachment issues require services not covered by insurance... losing your ability to hold down a job because of the higher-than-anticipated needs of an adopted child with behavioral, emotional or medical issues... You are not alone if foster care and adoption have impacted your family financially in challenging ways, so let's talk about it! Tell us what has been difficult, what has been successful, how you've made things work. 

I am looking for more families to share their story of adoption or foster care from a financial/career perspective. If you are interested please e-mail me. Let me know what name you'd like to use (you can use your real name or a pseudonym) and if you'd like me to link to your blog, and be sure to include a brief bio or mention in your piece the ages of everyone in your family, your professional/educational background and what state or region you are from. Your piece can be an autobiography, a rant, an essay, a poem, a proposal for policy changes. Include a photograph or drawing that represents your family if you can.

Posts in the "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" series:
As posts are added, they will be listed above.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Free Therapy for Foster Children

Because we are lucky enough to live in an area where there are several decent mental health clinics who accept Medicaid and because one of us has extensive professional experience in navigating the local mental health system, we have not had too much trouble getting access to therapists for foster children. However, while we have experienced some wonderful clinicians, we have also experienced clinicians who were not at all skilled in helping children with the kind of issues ours face. We have also seen one child never have a consistent therapist but instead be bounced around from clinician to clinician.

Still, we have been lucky. I was shocked when I first heard about foster parents who had terrible trouble trying to get their foster kids into therapy. Barriers I've heard about include agencies that require all therapy be approved by the caseworker or foster care agency instead of allowing foster parents to make direct referrals, caseworkers with no mental health training who don't believe a child needs therapy, managed care organizations that limit a child's access to appropriate emotional and psychiatric care, and living in areas where few therapists or psychiatrists take Medicaid or those who do have little or no experience working with foster youth. Foster parents who are experienced at navigating the mental health and Medicaid systems sometimes struggle to access therapy for their kids  - Foster parents who are less educated or experienced in this area are up against even bigger barriers.

Foster children are all survivors of trauma, first the trauma of abuse and/or neglect and/or the death of parents... and then the trauma of the foster care system itself. Even amazing foster parents cannot fully insulate foster children from the way the system re-traumatizes them. I believe all foster children should have therapeutic services available to them if and when they need them. In addition, it is outrageous to me that foster children usually get the least skilled therapists. Because their medical and therapeutic needs are usually covered by medicaid, foster children typically get therapy through community mental health clinics that employ green, fresh-out-of-school therapists who not only have little experience with the complex trauma our children have lived through but also are unlikely to stay in their positions for very long since public mental health clinic jobs are underpaid and are understandably used as stepping stones to better jobs for many newly minted social workers. I have seen how disruptive and painful it can be to a foster child to have to switch therapists multiple times, but it seems unavoidable.

Ryann Blackshere from Fostering Media Connections discusses one amazing organization that is addressing these problems in a new article for the Huffington Post. In her piece, Free Therapy for Foster Youth: An Organization You Need To Know This Foster Care Month, she shares one family's story:

At school [Kayla, age 6] had been acting out on her anger and frustration over her life's instability. She bounced around family members' homes before being adopted.
Her adoptive mother, Donna Stapleton, who had cared for Kayla, her twin sister and younger brother while they were in foster care, was worried. After receiving many reports from the school about her daughter hitting other children and stealing items from the classroom, Stapleton thought the best assistance for her daughter would be therapy. She just didn't know exactly where to look for resources within the child welfare system, and how to pay for not only Kayla, but her other two children, to begin to work through much of the trauma they had experienced growing up.
"There is no list for anything," said Stapleton "You have to be proactive and find things out. The system isn't set up to help you find resources."
A social worker assigned to her children's school told her about A Home Within, a non-profit organization that matches any child who has been in foster care with a volunteer therapist, for as long as the child needs, at no cost.

A Home Within is a network of therapists who volunteer to take on at least one foster (or emancipated) child as a client and to remain as their therapist for as long as they need. That's right - They get no pay for this and they make a commitment no therapist at a community mental health agency has yet been able to make to our children, that barring any moves or unforeseen turn of circumstances, they will remain a consistent presence in the child's life for as long as the child needs their services. This promise of consistency is revolutionary in the world of foster care. In addition, based on a quick glance at some of the therapists listed, many of them are experienced, veteran therapists with their own private practices. They have therapists in 25 states and are continuing to grow.

Blackshere writes about the impact of this program:

Pamela Braswell, a therapist who has volunteered with A Home Within since 1998, has heard from youth she has worked with how that consistent relationship makes a difference. One of her clients, a child with whom she had worked since he was nine years old, expressed to her when he was 21 how their relationship made her different from every other adult in his life.
"Not until later could he say, 'Wow, you really know my history. No one else does,'" Braswell recalls.

If you're a therapist who would like to volunteer to be part of this network of providers, click here for more information. To find a therapist for your foster child, click on this page.

In honor of Foster Care Month, a grateful shout-out to all the therapists out there who are helping our children learn to heal. Yes, especially those "green" therapists I expressed my frustration about above, who are recently out of school and are thrown into underpaid and often-frustrating jobs doing really important work: Helping kids with tons of trauma and inherently unstable lives learn how to feel safe and cope constructively with their fear and pain. Thank you for caring.

Limited Time Deal: Crawl-Through Caterpillar Tunnel with Carry Case

Both my preteen and my toddler love crawl-through tunnels, play tents, and the like. They are great for a sense of containment for my kid who has sensory integration issues (as so many foster children do), and for my toddler as well. They are a quiet escape when they need to reduce their sensory input, but also help in developing gross motor skills and can be used as part of active sensory-stimulating play. Best of all, they're just plain fun! This one is just $19.99 (marked down from $50.00) on Zulily right now. There are equally inexpensive play tents, such as a pirate-themed one, that also look fun. Deals on this site are temporary, so grab them before they're gone if you are interested. If you're not already a member, Zulily is free to join and is a daily deal site for high quality childrens' toys and clothing as well as household items and women's clothing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More on Savings Funds for Foster Kids

I am a longtime fan of the foster-adoption blog Rancho Chico, written by "Dia por Dia," so I was tickled when she left a comment on my post "College Savings and Other Savings Funds for Foster Kids?" I wanted to make sure everyone sees her comment, because it has some good ideas that might help someone out there who's struggling with the question of how/if to save for children who may not be with you forever.

I know I am a little late on this one but here's what I did. I no longer foster since I have adopted 3 of my former foster children. When I fostered "older" kids, I had a system for how I used their monthly stipend which in our state came in 2 installments. The first installment I used for their essentials (clothing, shoes, supplies, etc.) that I didn't automatically cover with my own income (and created a system for anticipating upcoming expenses--field trips, school tshirt, soccer cleats, summer swimsuits, etc.) The second installment would sometimes need to be used for some of these too depending on time of year but whatever was left over I put into a bank account for them. Sometimes it was $10 other times close to $100. When they [left?] I kept the account as long as I could keep track of them and eventually got the money to them as they got older. In one case it covered a child's senior class trip (she was in care with a relative). In another case, there was enough to cover one of my foster daughter's first year expenses at college. I think it is hard to do this for younger children because some expenses are higher (diapers, formula, etc.) so I haven't "squirreled" away as much for those children.
 Thanks for sharing your experience, Dia por Dia! Right now we have started ING kids' savings accounts for our boys but have not yet started putting much in them. I would like to start scheduling automatic transfers of at least $15 a month into each of them, and then hopefully increasing as our financial stability increases. I know that's such a tiny amount but it's important to me that we get out of debt before we start putting a lot of money into savings. I am confident within a few years we'll be able to significantly increase our savings for them, and we'll also by then have hopefully adopted. Since our older foster son has special needs that make it not crystal clear that he will be college-bound, I want to make sure however I save the money for him it can be used for college or for vocational education or to cover living expenses while he does an apprenticeship or something like that. So I'm going to look into what options exist that allow the money to be available even if he ends up not choosing college.