Thursday, February 15, 2018

Who's To Blame?

There has been a lot of grief about the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Rightfully so. This is a horrific event that permanently changed everyone present and their families. Like Sandy Hook. Like Columbine. Like so many other places and times that it's almost commonplace.

I'm not writing this to rage about gun control. No matter which side of that argument you're on; I'm writing to you. I'm not writing this to say that a single person or multiple people failed. I'm writing to each of you. There is an issue here that is underlying so much of the dysfunction of our society, but we aren't addressing it anywhere I look.

As always, there is a lot of finger-pointing going on. Why didn't his parents get him help? Why didn't the school officials notice something wrong? Why do we have guns like these on our streets? Why didn't his friends (classmates/co-workers/etc) notice something off? All of these are responses to our overriding question in events like this: Who's to blame? Whose fault is it? Who can we put this on? 

Our society is to blame for our repeated tragedies of violence, for our increasing domestic violence incidents, for the increasing dysfunction of our families. We have systematically dismantled the mental health system in our nation, pushing the mentally ill into nursing homes, prisons, and onto their families.

I speak of this with personal experience and with knowledge that comes from many foster families and birth families that I know. Please do not apply any of these words to our current foster or adopted children; my examples are from real families, but not necessarily my family, and certainly not of our current foster children.

A woman posted this today in a foster care forum, "Can we talk about the shooting yesterday? Because I need to and I don't feel like I can say these things to people close to me who would persuade me to make different decisions based on my fears.

That young man reminds me a lot of my foster son (7 years old) I hope to adopt after TPR (termination of parental rights) is finalized. His eyes. His anger. His intense loss.  My heart is broken in a trillion pieces for that young man who killed so many yesterday. Why? Because I worry about the same thing for my son. I worry about another loss. I worry about the pain he holds inside. I worry about how much he hurts. I worry about dying. What if I died? What would happen to him? Would anyone love him like I love him? Would someone stand up to help him process his deep grief? Would someone fight tooth and nail like I have? And even more, is my passion for him and love enough to heal him? How can I give him enough?

That young man, he's our kids. Lost. Lonely. Hurting. Rejected. Angry. He's our babies. Keep fighting, mamas and daddies. They need us."

This hit home for many of the foster and adoptive parents I know. Even some birth families see themselves in this. I know families that have waited in the ER for weeks (yes, weeks!) to locate a bed in a psychiatric facility appropriate for their child. I know families that have traveled for hundreds of miles to transport their mentally ill child to the only open psychiatric bed in their entire state. In 1955, there were 339 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 people in the USA. In 2000, there were just 22. (Source: PBS Online’s “Timeline: Treatments for Mental Illness”.)

I am certainly an advocate for the "least restrictive environment" for the treatment of our special needs population. I would never advocate for limiting a mentally ill person's rights or freedom more than necessary for the treatment of their disease. However, when a teenager has to wait for months in a temporary mental health (?) facility (an ER, a hospital, a children's ward, etc) to finally receive the help he needs (IF it's received even then), there is something deeply wrong with our mental health services delivery. When the county or state social services refuse to locate appropriate services because of cost, there is a deep dysfunction affecting our families and our communities.

I know several families who are caring/have cared for their mentally ill children/teens... through death threats to the family... through suicide attempts... through attempted murder on their other children... while begging for help from every source. They are told things like, "There are no facilities that treat youth with such violent tendencies," (Hello?! You want my FAMILY to do that, then?) and "He doesn't fit the criteria for any of the available treatment programs" (So MAKE a program that can treat him!) or "There isn't funding for that intensive a program... If you can fund the treatment, he can go." (Seriously?! $12,000+ a month?!!)

These families love their troubled child. They advocate for her. They beg for help. They contact every social services organization, every possible doctor or therapist. They try every medication available. They accept intense physical abuse from their child. They receive condemnation from their neighbors, their extended families, their fellow churchgoers. "If only you would..." begins to trigger an internal scream that fills their heads.

These families often fear for their lives. They watch tragedies like the one in Florida and see their son's face on the killer. They don't dread the day a shooter comes into their child's school; they dread the day their child is the shooter. And they have nowhere to go for help. Access to high quality mental health care is essential, and they have nowhere to go.

Foster and adoptive families are particularly at risk for these parenting situations. The children they are raising have, by definition, come from trauma. Being separated from your parents is trauma, in and of itself. Many times, these same children deal with impairments from prenatal drug and/or alcohol exposure, making it even more difficult to deal with their issues. Often, there is a history of physical, emotional, verbal abuse. Even for those children who have "only" been neglected, there are lifelong ramifications.

And in the worst cases, Reactive Attachment Disorder robs children/teens of their ability to empathize in the most rudimentary ways, giving rise to severely mentally ill people. One parent said today, "We [must] treat RAD as the dangerous and terrible disorder that it is. It's difficult because they (the children) didn't ask to be abused and neglected. It doesn't change the danger factor though. There is little help, if any, and even if parents had hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw at it, there are few success stories."

Most parents raising RAD kids don't have significant training in dealing with the mental illness. Most birth parents of children with mental illness don't have any training, either. But all parents should have access to quality mental health services when they need them for their child(ren). This is not the circumstance at this time in history! There is a dearth of high quality mental health services, and the programs that exist are beyond the financial reach of most private citizens.

So, what can you do? Here are a few things:

1. Advocate for the mentally ill and for services for them.
2. Support parents when they approach parenting differently than you. Many times, they are struggling with issues you cannot see, especially if they are foster or adoptive parents. Children with attachment issues must be parented differently. Love doesn't "fix it."
3. Don't make these public tragedies solely about gun control! Bring mental health care into the conversation. And do it again. And again. And. Again.
4. Educate yourself about Reactive Attachment Disorder, especially if you know foster/adoptive parents. Be prepared to offer words of encouragement instead of words of condemnation.
5. Pray with and for parents of challenging kids. Step up in your church and community to support foster parents and adoptive families. Ask them what they need.
6. Look into volunteering for NAMI or another mental illness support organization. They do some wonderful work! One family speaks of a "Crisis Support Team" (from NAMI) that came immediately when their teenager had a mental crisis. They walked the family through the immediate crisis and aided them in planning for the longer term.

Carry the conversation beyond gun control and into the realm of mental illness treatment. Thank you for your advocacy!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

No Time

This is a busy season of life for us. I'm teaching our 11-year-old at home, along with five Jicarilla kids, every day. We still have our two foster boys, ages 3 and 4, who attend Head Start. A day typically looks something like this:

Get up at 5:45 AM to walk. Take a shower. Get the boys up and dressed. Feed everyone breakfast. Take the boys to school, which starts at 8:00. Come home and get ready for the "big kids," who start coming at 8:45. Teach till 1:45. Students get picked up by 2:00, and then I leave to pick up the boys from Head Start. Come home, supervise play and make dinner. Play a bit, then give baths and read and pray. Rock the boys and sing songs. Come down to finish whatever chores need to be done, perhaps read a bit or play a game with our daughter. Read and pray with her, then tuck her in for the night. Relax for 20 minutes or so, then head upstairs ourselves for evening Bible study, prayer, and bed.

It's busy. There's no time for many things. From the arrival of the boys four months ago until about a week ago, I had no time for my daily walks.... Or should I say, I made no time for my daily walks.

See, the thing about being busy is that the time isn't gone, it's prioritized. Some things don't get done, but the essential things do get done. I almost always have time to eat, for example. And I usually get at least one round done on my "Words with Friends" games.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't been reading my Bible anymore. I was still reading with the boys at bedtime, with our 11 year old at her bedtime, and with my husband, but I wasn't doing any reading and study on my own. I know this is vital, essential, even. But it wasn't happening, so I started a new reading plan on my Bible app (I use You Version.) and made a decision to keep up with reading a chapter or two each day. Immediately, I began to notice my fatigue and attitude improve. I know this happens, but I still let myself get lazy every once-in-a-while and fall into bad habits.

I challenge you to look at your life right now. Are you making time for reading God's Word? Or are you making excuses (like I was) about how busy you are? Some seasons of life are busier than others, but no amount of "busy" should overtake our desire to seek God's will and read God's Word.

Now, I have my students here (on break right now) and the boys are here because Head Start is closed today. I probably need to get back to the busy life God has given me!

Have a blessed day!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

This is the Day

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned was Psalm 118:24: This is the day which the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. It is something I see every day, as we have a decorative sign with Psalm 118:24 at the foot of our stairs. And I try to live it, good day or bad.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! An echo of Philippians 4:4 also sings through my head when I think of rejoicing. Our God says to rejoice. Rejoice. In this day. Whatever is going on today. Whatever pain or heartache is passing through. Whatever inconvenience or obstacle is in our way. Whatever diagnosis or tragedy we're facing.

Rejoice. No matter what.

How can we rejoice when we're washing sheets in the middle of the night with a puking child in the wings? How can we rejoice when the van won't start and no other adult is home? How can we rejoice when our adult children call with more issues in their lives? How can we rejoice when the unthinkable happens: When news of our granddaughter's death or our grandson's cancer reaches us? When we are told that without a miracle, we won't live to see our children's graduations?

We rejoice because of the Gospel. God's Good News. God Almighty's assurance that we are loved, despite our sin. That Jesus Christ died in our place, so that we can be adopted as sons and daughters, accepted by a holy God.

So, today, as I dig out from a week of sickness, disappointment, anger and frustration surrounding me, I rejoice. In this day, which the Lord has given me. It's easy to rejoice in the sunshine days, but I rejoice today, as well.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Harder Than I Ever Knew

Someone recently asked me what fostering was like. I immediately said, "Foster care is harder than I ever knew. And the blessings are bigger than I ever guessed!"

Even just writing those words, I am almost in tears.

I am friends with many foster care parents around the nation, and in order to protect the privacy of my personal fostering situation, I am going to share my thoughts and feelings while using illustrations from many families' circumstances. Please do not take any illustration from this post and apply it to my personal situation or the personal situation of my foster sons' family! However, each of these illustrations is genuine and recent, from a fostering family whom I personally know.

Fostering children is an emotionally excruciating experience.

On the one hand, in order to care well for the children, a person must care about them. Love them, even. Especially with young children, they can't wait for love. They can't wait for someone to treasure them. They've already been through trauma, or they wouldn't be in foster care. Healing from trauma begins when they start to trust someone again. It takes time. It's not an easy, straight, or simple path.

On the other hand, you can't get "too attached." I'm not sure how a foster parent would avoid getting attached to their foster children, but the reality is (and the hope is) that the child(ren) will be leaving the foster home to return to their parents. I know of many foster parents who walk the tightrope of loving their foster children with the hope of adopting them and praying that the child(ren)'s family is successful in reuniting their family. What a difficult situation!

Sometimes a foster parent will sit, rocking a baby to sleep, and wonder at the love that flows through him/her for this child. And sometimes that same foster parent will leave a courtroom, crying at the knowledge that the same child will never again sleep under his/her roof. It's a roller coaster that is controlled by everyone except you!

I have found that foster parents almost always love their foster children's parents. Foster parents root for birth parents! They cheer them on. They talk about them positively with their foster children. They want the biological parents to succeed in their case plan, in their sobriety, in their quest to reunite their family. Obviously, there are cases of abuse so heinous that the foster family cannot be positive about birth family, but even in those cases, I know foster families find positives to say to their child about their birth families. I know one adoptive family who speaks of an unknown birth father, saying that "If he hadn't stepped up to claim you, you wouldn't have been enrolled in the tribe. And if you hadn't been enrolled in the tribe, we never would've met you!"

And because foster parents cheer on birth parents, it is extremely painful for the foster parents when the birth parents fail to show up for visits, get arrested for their fourth or fifth DUI, say hurtful things to the child(ren) during a visit, or disappear for weeks (or months) on end. It's painful because they care about the parents, and it's painful because the foster families deal with the fallout from the parents' failures. The questions from small children, "Where is my mom?" (The answer: "I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't. I do know that I am here, and I will stay here, and I will take care of you."). The tougher questions from older children, "Why doesn't my dad care enough to call me?" (The answer: "I don't know. I wish I could control his choices, but I can't. I do know that we love you and will take care of you for as long as you are here.") And the toughest questions, "Why does my dad drink so much?" or "Why is meth more important than we are?" (The tougher answer: "Addiction stinks, Sweetheart. It's very hard to make good choices when a person is addicted. I'm sorry addiction has taken your mom/dad.")

Foster parents deal with the aftermath of a visit where the child is told that the foster parents "are not your real family! You don't have to do what they say!" Foster parents deal with the aftermath of a planned visit where a parent does not show up. Sometimes, this is the fault of the parent. Sometimes, this is the fault of the system, which should be protecting children from these situations. Foster children come home confused, angry, and scared. They throw temper tantrums, steal, smear feces on walls, run away, and refuse to comply.

Being a foster parent is emotionally excruciating.

But the blessings! Oh, the blessings!

The foster family sometimes gets to see the child(ren)'s family remake itself into a healthy whole. And even if that doesn't happen, the foster family sometimes gets to transition into an adoptive family. And sometimes the adoptive family gets to maintain relationships with the birth family... in fact, sometimes the adoptive family and the birth family become one big family, which is such a blessing to the child!

Not to mention the day-to-day blessings of rocking a baby to sleep, of soothing an aching toddler, of watching foster children experience their first real Christmas, their first trip to the ocean, their first entirely new outfit...

Foster parenting is one of the toughest things I've ever done.

Foster parenting is one of the best things I've ever done.

It is a wild ride, with wide swings of emotion and expectation. I thank God for the opportunity to do this task, to fill this role, to be this foster mom. And I ask Him for the strength to hang on through the wild swings!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Both Sides Now

I have been involved in the adoption world for more than thirty years, having completed my first adoption in early 1987. All three of my adopted children came to me through the foster care system. Each state's system is different, as is the child welfare system here on the reservation. But I think my experiences would translate for most adoptions in most places.

There are two "kinds" of adoption: open and closed. And of course, there is a continuum between those two choices. One of my older children has had no information about and no contact with their birth family. That child is now an adult and knows almost nothing: no medical history, no information about the situation of their birth, nothing.

 My other older child came to me with little information, but it was enough to locate their birth mother when the child was eight years old. The child and I each wrote a letter to the birth mother, and she wrote back, sending precious newborn photos and copies of pages from a journal she kept while pregnant. She wasn't interested in meeting at that time, but we exchanged letters and photos from then on. When our child was about 14, the birth mother wanted to meet, but at that point the child wasn't interested so we continued to communicate via the mail.

At 19, our child and their birth mother were both ready. We met at a neutral place, with the birth mother's husband and two young children. Immediately, we were family. My child had little siblings, a stepdad, and most-importantly, another mother. At one point, we two moms turned to each other and said in unison, "She's so much like you!"

My now-grown child still has a wonderful relationship with both of these families: birth and adoptive. This grown child can turn to both families for support and advice. We do not compete or get jealous; we're just all family.

Our younger child came to us as our granddaughter. I have the blessing of having a picture of her in my arms the day she was born. We knew her before she came to us as a kinship foster child, and we knew her birth family, at least somewhat. Her birth family has become family to us. Think of it like a marriage: When we marry, we gain our spouse's family-of-origin as our family. The same happened when we adopted our granddaughter: We gained her family-of-origin as family! It's nine years later, and we all identify as family, as far as I can tell.

And oh, the joy of this completeness for our daughter! She knows who her nose comes from. She knows her siblings on both her birth mom's and her birth dad's sides. She knows her birth parents love her, and our daughter loves her birth parents. She sees her birth parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. as often as we return to the Midwest. It's just as important to all of us for her to see her birth family as it is for me to see my family or my husband to see his!

I heartily support open adoption like this, unless there is a grave safety concern for the child. I'm sure there are activities that our daughter's birth parents participate in that I would rather not have as influences for her, but they want the best for her, too, so they don't bring those influences into their visits with her. No one is perfect, and we all want what's best for this child.

There are certainly particular situations where contact with birth family is unsafe for a child, but in most situations I've seen/heard about/been involved with, healthy boundaries can be established and contact can be maintained at some level.

I have experienced adoption from the adoptive family side for over 30 years, and I have experienced much joy in this. In the past year, though, I have begun to experience adoption from the birth family perspective. The joy is much less here, and the conflict much greater. I've known this, theoretically, but lately I experienced it more personally. Two sets of our daughter's siblings, one on her birth mom's side and one on her birth dad's side, have entered the foster care system in the past year. In one case, we requested to have the children placed here with their sister and were denied; the children were placed in a non-family foster home. In the other case, a nearby family member took the children into their home.

In both of these cases, the system gave the birth parents a case plan and asked them to comply with certain expectations. In one case, the court has already found that the birth parents did not comply with the case plan and the parental rights were terminated. In the other case, the birth parents still have a certain amount of time to show significant compliance or the parental rights will be terminated.

From the perspective of the birth family, this time... We have watched as beloved siblings were taken away from known loved-ones and given to strangers. We have nervously asked if we could possibly maintain a relationship with our daughter's siblings/our grandchildren, aware that the adoptive family had the power to completely sever that relationship. We have anxiously awaited a court's determination of who these much-loved children would call family. We have visited our daughter's siblings in a new home, where they call a different woman "mother" and have tried to explain to our 10-year-old why they couldn't live with their previous mother, whom she loves. We have watched as our daughter processed the possibility that her siblings' names would change and how confusing that is for her.

And in the midst of all this, we were asked to take in our foster boys. To love them with the uncertainty of how long they will stay. To support their parents in their journey to reunite with their children. For our daughter to adjust to having siblings in the house, knowing that she will grieve their leaving, when that day comes.

Through all of this, I have come to believe deeply that children belong to themselves. When we act like only a portion of their story (that we like or that we are a part of) matters, we rob them of part of themselves. As either party in an adoption, we need to treasure the whole child, all of their story, even the parts that do not include us.

The joy of becoming a parent through adoption is accompanied by the grief of losing a child for the birth family, of losing a family for the child. Even in open adoption, that loss is genuine. Surely we want the child to share the joy, but it's also essential for the adoptive family to validate the loss for the birth family and for the child him/herself.

As we Christians move toward foster care and adoption as a way to care for "the least of these," (Matthew 25:40), we must be deliberate in our acceptance of the child's whole story. We must include as many of the players in our children's previous lives as is safe. We must not act like these children belong to us. They are God's, and He has orchestrated each day of their lives, including those days which do not include us. Their birth story is just as much theirs as their adoption story is.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

His Rest

I need my sleep. Ask anyone in my family. My mother will tell you of the toddler who would fall asleep in her soup. My brother will tell you stories about how crabby I got if I didn't get enough sleep. I remember going home at night in high school, long before the cool kids gave up. My older children would tell you of nights that they told me to go to bed because I was losing my cool. I just seem to need a lot of sleep to function well.

And, as you might guess, sleep has been a scarce commodity here at the Kautz House in the past couple of months! Having three children, teaching full-time in our home, leading AWANA, and teaching Sunday School makes for one busy mama! I find myself getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 AM to catch some quiet time for a bath and Bible-reading, or to prepare for my students.  Instead of taking a quick nap in the afternoon, I am supervising trampoline time or reading dinosaur books. I have more laundry, more sweeping, more cooking, and more care-taking of children with the wee boys in our home.

Sometimes, at bedtime, I'm cleaning one more toilet, scrubbing one more floor, or folding one more load of laundry. And I'm tired.

Really tired.

But, in the middle of reading Hebrews 4 one morning, I found these words: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10).  And the words "God's rest" resonated in my soul. God's Rest sounded so peaceful and renewing. I needed that!

So I began to pray for God's rest. I prayed that I would have the energy to take on the next task, through God's rest. That God's rest would flood my soul and body and mind. That instead of getting whiny and crabby when tired, I would seek His rest. 

It works! 

Truly! I have found reserves of peace and energy that I've never had before. I have been able to manage my exhaustion and have reserves to continue on. Not that I'm not tired, I am. But I'm not overwhelmed by it. Praise God!

He will provide whatever it is that we need to do His work. You can trust that. So can I.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Teaching Prayer

One regret I have (among many) in raising my older children is that I never taught them to pray. My own life was far from faith during the time they were little, and teaching them to pray was not on my agenda.

It was a totally different story almost 9 years ago when our now-10-year-old came to live with us. My husband was in seminary, and my faith life was active and growing. On our very first date, my husband had said, "Could we pray together before we go?" Our prayer life was/is essential to our marriage; we have been very blessed!

So our daughter was taught from Day One to pray. We talked to her about prayer being "talking to God," and a person could pray anytime. God would listen. God cared. And she has developed a faith that is deep and real; it shows in her life. We pray with her each night, and I listen as she prays for her birth parents, her siblings, her friends, the child we sponsor through Compassion International, and for herself. It is good.

When we were asked to foster the two boys, we asked about faith instruction. It was fine, the social worker said. Because they are foster children, we haven't sat down to instruct them about our faith and prayer, but because they are living in our family, they have heard a lot of prayer. They go to church and to Sunday School with us. We do not disrespect their culture (they are Native) or their parents, but simply by living as part of our family, they are experiencing our faith and prayer life.

And oh! Is it sweet! The preschooler began to ask to say the prayer before meals or at bedtime after only a couple of weeks. He prays, "Thank you, God," and then he lists everything he is thankful for. Like this: "Thank you, God: potatoes, Mom, books, school, brothers' visit, Sister (their name for our daughter), bed." It gives us such insight into what he values! And I know God is listening to him with love and grace.

The toddler has recently begun chime in with a list of things he likes: "Doweeya (dinosaurs). Brother's name. Doweeya. Doweeya. Sister." But his favorite prayer word is "Amen." He will say "Amen" through the entire prayer! I've noticed he says "Amen!" with special enthusiasm if the prayer is going longer than he would like. And especially at mealtime (He likes to eat).

The long-haired dude in the middle is my husband... lol!
Today, the toddler stayed in church with me while the other two went to Sunday School. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon, he started saying, "Amen. Amen. Amen!" He finally said, fairly loudly, "Amen, Papa!" There were a few chuckles, and then he settled in for the rest of the sermon, eating blueberries as slowly as I could provide them peacefully.

God is blessing us so greatly through this fostering experience. One of the sweetest blessings is the growth of faith in each of us. It is precious to see our daughter including the foster boys in her idea of family. It is amazing how God provides for us, as parents: insight, patience, love, acceptance, energy, and everything we need. The support we've received from our congregation and from our friends is delightful. And of course, seeing God at work to grow faith in the little guys is a blessing. Pray on!