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Picking up where I left off last time...

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

I was going to tell you about how this blog came to be last time. But because I'm a seriously wordy SOB, and because I can't do anything in a nutshell, that last post got unwieldy and long and I had to cut it off before it became a novella. So here we are, round two, and no closer to closure. Sorry. Let's try this again and pick up where we left off...

If you haven't read the previous post, you may want to do that, just to minimize confusion. Or whatever.

Anyway, I called the foster agency in the morning and told them I'd found them one family - us. And they laughed. And I felt like crying. Because I'd never been so scared in my life. Which is saying something, because I spent both of my pregnancies in a state of perpetual terror. And other people didn't help much with that.

"This smell terrible! Smell it!"

Have you ever noticed that? How as soon as people encounter something gross or distasteful or unpleasant, they feel immediately feel compelled to share it with everyone else. "Ewwww! That tastes like crap! Here, try some and see." Why do we do that? Why do we feel driven to share something awful, the moment we encounter it? As if it wasn't bad enough that we had to experience it personally, now we want others around us to experience the same misery. It was the same with fostering.

The moment people found out we were in the process of being licensed to foster, they were suddenly overcome with the urge to share whatever foster-related horror story they'd heard from their brother's cousin's girlfriend's dad. Usually, it was about some traumatized kid who set their foster family's house on fire at 3 am in the morning. Or a foster kid who lied and claimed that one of their foster family members sexually assaulted them (and while the family was finally able to prove their innocence in the end, it cost them uncountable thousands in lawyer's fees and destroyed their marriage.) Or the foster kid that physically assaulted the family's biological kids. Or the foster kid that stole thousands of dollars from the family and ran away. Stuff like that. The kind of things that keep you up at night and fill your head with worst-case scenarios. It was terrifying.

Needless to say, I spent most of the year we were involved in the licensing process actively working not to think about what lay ahead. Because the moment I thought about it, I opened the door in my brain to all of those 'what ifs'. And they were so incredibly scary it didn't bear thinking about. I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing, but in my head I was almost paralyzed by my own fears. (Did I mention I have anxiety? No? Well, now you know - I have anxiety.)

Question: "When is the state going to spring for some relevant training?"

Answer: "Never."

One of the many things required by the state of Michigan in order to give you a foster license is parenting classes (called PRIDE training). These are held monthly in an assortment of foster agencies, community centers, and church basements around the state so that people involved in the licensing process from all over Michigan have the opportunity to attend all of the mandatory classes in a reasonable amount of time.

The catch is, almost everything they cover in these classes has to do with domestic fostering, which is a completely different kettle of fish from refugee fostering. Here's a quick break down, just in case you aren't sure about the differences:

Domestic fostering is when CPS takes a kid (or kids) away from their family in your state because of suspected abuse or neglect and places them in a foster home until their parents either:

A) attend the court-ordered parenting classes, or substance abuse classes, or whatever other mandatory programs the Judge decides they need in order to get their kids back, plus whatever other requirements and modifications the agency recommends for their home and behaviors. Or,

B) they lose their parental rights (which are formally stripped by the court) severing any legal responsibility they have to that child, and the child is then put up for adoption.

In most cases, domestic foster families have revolving doors, and kids come and go in their homes, sometimes only staying for a few days, and sometimes staying for months at a time (and in a few cases - years, although that's less common.) In most cases, domestic foster families only have kids for a short while until they're returned to their parents, or until the state finds and licenses relatives to take over their care.

Refugee fostering is different. When a refugee kid (or unaccompanied minor) enters the country without a family, they're placed in a foster family, in a group home, or in an independent living facility. The latter two options tend to be for older kids who're almost legal adults, and who just need a little help finishing up school and getting on their feet (finding a job, getting an apartment, enrolling in college, etc...) for a year or two before they're out on their own. Which is the case for most of the refugee kids arriving in the US. But every now and then they come in as children. Too young to live in independent living facilities or group homes, these kids have many years ahead of them before they reach adulthood, and they need families.

It's worth noting that placing an unaccompanied minor with the family is ALWAYS the agency's preference, as those kids do better in the long run with a stable and loving support system in place to help launch them into adulthood. But there just aren't enough families stepping up to the plate. So those coveted spots are given to younger kids as a priority. And once a kid is placed with the family, if everything goes according to plan, the kid stays with that family as a permanent placement until they age out of the system. So it's a pretty permanent arrangement.

But in Michigan (as in most states), refugee fostering is less than 5% of the foster care program. Domestic fostering makes up the vast majority of the foster care system, so the state allocates far more time and resources to that aspect. This is why the entire parent training program is geared towards domestic fostering and not refugee fostering.

This means, as a refugee foster parent-to-be, you will be required to attend classes on the following subjects:

1. The importance of maintaining good relationships with the birth parents (not relevant, as all refugee foster kids are separated from their parents by international borders. In many cases, the parents are deceased.)

2. Court-ordered visitations with biological parents. (Also not relevant, as refugee kids don't have accessible parents, and you couldn't visit them even if you tried.)

3. The challenges you'll face after each court-ordered visitation with birth parents (nope. Not happening. There will be loads of challenges, but none of them will be as a result of court-mandated visits with the birth parents.)

4. Why it's important to honor the birth parent's wishes regarding hair styling and dress of their children while they're in foster care. (Like I said, you're probably never going to hear from the birth parents, so this isn't going to come up.)

5. Working with your foster team towards reunification with the birth parents (again, nope. There are scenarios where refugee kids are reunited with some of their bio family members, but it's very rare and usually happens as a result of the Red Cross locating a distant family member in another country, never as a result of court-ordered reunification plans.)

Clearly these things have nothing to do with fostering a refugee kid. And the stuff that would have been really helpful (like how to address cultural barriers, and how to talk about trauma with a child who doesn't speak the same language as you, and where to source items and recipes and information from that child's culture to make the transition into your home smoother) was never covered. So as a refugee foster parent here in Michigan, you go into your fostering experience pretty poorly trained (not through any fault of the agency, though!) but simply because the process you're about to embark on is such a tiny part of the foster care system as a whole, that the state doesn't think it's worth spending a penny on creating any kind of relevant training program for it.

When I asked my licensing worker when Michigan planned to create a training program geared specifically for refugee foster parents, she laughed and said, "As soon as you write it!" And she meant it as a joke. Obviously. I don't have the credentials or training to put anything like that together. But it got me thinking.

"What if there was a way to compile a whole bunch of information about refugee fostering - essentially all the stuff I wish we'd had access to before we started this process - so that other people who are in the trenches, or even just considering the process, can have access to it."

So short story long, that's how we got here

So here it is (finally!) The true purpose of this blog when I first came up with the idea was exactly that - to put together a database of sorts that documented our experiences as a refugee foster family, so that others could use it to help them figure out similar problems and address the unique challenges that foster families with refugee kids face.

However, there's no way to blog about one's experiences as a foster family, without also documenting how it affects the other members of the family, including the biological kids in the home. So in order to have it be a truly clear picture, I have to blog about my other kids as well, since they're part of this process, and their lives have been shaped by it as much as mine has (if not more so.)

Then there's my art, which is an integral part of my life, and it's been directly affected by both parenting in general, and by parenting a child with severe trauma. So there's that.

And there you have it. That's what this blog will be about - parenting a mixed family of two bio kids and one refugee foster kid while trying to make art, and the many ways they all impact each other. It's probably going to be a hodgepodge, and sometimes even a hot mess. But hopefully, some of this is helpful for you, because that was the whole point.

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