Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Why did I get this RAD!?!?"

This morning, Corazon was having a tough time doing what she needed to do--slow motion chores, bossiness to her little brother, doing the opposite of what I asked her to do, etc. I didn't say anything to her about it because I was busy getting her brothers ready for school. All of a sudden she stopped in the middle of the kitchen and screamed "Why did I have to get this RAD?!?!" I stopped what I was doing and went over to her and asked her if she was OK. She said she didn't like having RAD and wanted it to go away. So we talked about the work it is going to take for us to get rid of it but I reminded her she has made much progress. It is only recently that we have been able to talk about her having RAD.

Corazon is a very bright little girl and she intellectually understands a great deal. We have talked openly with her about her birth family and why her mother cannot care for her. We have talked about the challenges her older brother and sister continue to encounter and the negative choices they have made that continue to complicate their lives. We have discussed the reasons she lived in so many different homes before coming to us.we have discussed some of her problem behaviors and tried to explain what might be behind them. She understood much of this but the problem we have always had we her is that she is so smart that she learned how to "feed" us whatever she thought we wanted to hear. So it became pretty challenging for us to give her an explanation without hearing her "use" it to get herself out of trouble. Anyway, over the past few months or so I have more actively tried to call attention to behaviors she no longer exhibits and suggested that she is getting "better" and is making progress. More recently, on the advice of a fellow RAD mom, I decided to explain the attachment cycle for normal infant and toddler development and what happens when that process doesn't happen. We sat and discussed it and she really got interested in it. Over the next several days I saw her trying to apply her new knowledge to behaviors she saw in her little sister especially with regard to needs and wants and trust. So I took the next step and had her look over an abbreviated list of causes of RAD and behaviors kids with RAD exhibit. She quickly identified most of the behaviors she used to have and the ones that she no longer has and the ones she still has. Except for not remembering a couple of her long-gone behaviors she was really on target in identifying those behaviors.

So over the past couple of days we have been having some interesting moments. Two days ago, after a good deal of controlling behavior on her part, she got very frustrated and came over to me in tears and said "Mom, I don't WANT to be in control. I want you to be in control. Why can't I let you do that?" We talked about it a bit and she was able to catch herself and STOP some of her controlling behaviors. Then she read a number of entries from J.'s blog from the beginning and she was very excited to call attention to things she used to do like J. and things she still did and even things she never did before (hopefully she didn't get any new ideas.....). She seemed very happy to know that besides her and her older brother (she decided he was RAD too) there were other kids like her. Since then she has asked some good questions and when she starts to act out I have been able to ask her "Which do you want to be right now, RAD kid or normal kid?" She will pout and say, "normal kid!" and change up whatever she is doing. It has been great to see and I can see her working hard to change. When I see something that is difficult for her to keep in check, like an opportunity to be bossy, I have been able to ask her ahead of time "what would a RAD kid do right now?" and she can tell me AND she stops herself. I am not sure how long this will work but right now she seems to be trying to work with it and she is doing great. I am so proud of her.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ups and Downs and Ups and Downs and...

We are maintaining around here. Some small ups and downs and some big swings upward and swing downwards so it feels like a typical RAD rollercoaster ride. Corazon did something she hadn't done in a long time about a week ago. She got two large candy bars from an older classmate with the promise that she would pay her for them the next day. After 4 days of trying to "find" the money at home (i.e. my purse, piggy banks, car, etc.) she resorted to telling C. at dropoff that her teacher needed money from every student. Being the mistrustful discerning parents that we are it was clear there was more to that story. After emails and phone calls with the teacher we were able to uncover a whole web of lies and behaviors involving sneaking, lying, and stealing. It has been a long while since she has concocted such an elaborate web and clearly she is anxious about something. These behaviors have also been on the upswing at home over the last month or so. I think school is too much for her. I think she feels unsafe and still thinks she needs me to help her do what she is supposed to do. I am noticing that even for small things the lying is back. It is her default response and she isn't "working" on telling the truth right now. As much as I hate to admit it she just isn't ready to go back to regular school (even a small one with only 11 girls in her class.) She can't negotiate the social stuff and it's not fair for me to expect her to. So, I think I am quickly reaching the conclusion that she is going to have to be homeschooled again next year. I enjoy working with her but it means I can't go back to work as I was hoping to and financially that's a big deal for us as a family.

Tortuga is having the same ups and downs. His are less extreme than they have been in the past but still present and unpredictable. I continue to be the target of his disrespect, anger, and violence. It angers him that he can't get a rise out of me no matter what he tries. School has been bad too. The teachers have him on a "behavior contract" for his constant impulse control issues, talking out, interrupting, wandering about the classroom and bugging people. In the past month he has averaged 1 or 2 good/ok days each week which basically means he engaged in these behaviors only 10-12 times each day! For being a "zero tolerance" school system in so many ways this just seems like way too many chances. I tried to get them to limit this more but they don't get it. In the meantime, we are hearing more about his aggression towards girls especially the smaller ones. He is definitely a bully at school. We have one more thing creeping up and that is he is working up to "running away." This weekend he made it out the door and down the street right before dark. It was over something somewhat minor (bad manners at the table) that he escalated by giving me "the finger" with both hands and then laughing when he thought I didn't notice. I thanked him for showing me how he felt at the moment without using words since we are working on him not talking while I am giving him directions. He bolted. Earned him early bedtime, alternate dinner (oatmeal this time) instead of one of his favorites. Also, he has announced that he thinks he will get"better" if I homeschool him. He is right. The important question is can I survive homeschooling the two of them?

Pollito is the one weighing on my mind these days but that is another post. I may need those moms with 4-6 year olds (RAD and not) to chime in as I formulate a plan for helping him.

As for Milagro. She is cute as ever and a constant reminder to me of what my other kids missed out on and what healthy attachment looks like. We are in the thick of a "language explosion" around here since this past week with this independent little 20 month old. Her newest trick is putting together longer phrases and sentences (yes, full sentences!) Her current favorites are:

"Mine! Mine! Mine. ... Thank You!"
"Over here."
"Over there."
"Where's Mami? Where's Mom?"
"Agua fell down."
"I need my shoes."
"Birding fy down."
"Get my book."
"Yaya (Corazon) no go skoooooool!"
"Come down mami!"

You're probably not as excited as I am but given all the speech/language issues around here these past few years (and still), I am totally impressed.

Happy Birthday Tortuga!

I'd been working on this for a while but just posting now. I will move it to its appropriate spot in a few days...

Happy Birthday Tortuga!

I cannot believe you are 10 years old! There's something about 10 that seems to signal that you are really growing up. Even though you have only lived with us for two years I have known you as a 7, 8, 9 and now 10 year old. I like how it works out that way. These days you are really into football hence the football themed cookies and creme cake. At school you have been playing football during both recesses until recently when you lost the privilege for being too competitive. That is still something you are working on. You want so badly to be good at everything that you act like you are the best at everything even if you have only tried it once. Still, you get to play flag football on Sundays and you love it. You smile so much of the time you are on that field even when you are on the sidelines. I can see how happy it makes you. There are so many things other things you really like to do including basketball, swimming and practically any sport. You like running and making noise especially outside. You like to draw, do math problems, do reading comprehension workbooks with multiple choice questions, write stories, and help me with chores. You also love music and you will start guitar lessons this summer. You are excited about that because it is something you have wanted to do for a while. In many ways you aren't the "typical" 10 year old boy especially with the things you like to do.
For your birthday you couldn't pick anything you wanted except for Warriors books. So we bought you 12 Warriors books and will be surprising you with them over the next several weeks. We got you a few other things you will like such as a basketball of your own, football cards, and a couple of games. I am secretly proud that books were your only request. You hated books two years ago and saw reading as the worse punishment except for bed without dinner. Now I can send you to read and most of the time you say "YES!" and get a smile on your face. You are a good reader. You read at a solid 4th grade level compared to where you were at the end of second grade when you tested at a mid-kindergarten level. So for parents who think it cannot be done you are an inspiration. You started going to school at age 3 because of your learning needs and yet you still couldn't remember the alphabet when you were a few months shy of being 8. Look at you now! Here you are tackling books that are at about a 5th grade level. You should also know that your Uncle J. (my brother) is reading the same books right now and he is almost 40! I like watching you when you are doing your reading. You are most relaxed at those times. Your body gets very still, you smile, and you are concentrating so intently that it is one of the few times you let your guard down.

I can see how hard you are working these days to do all the things we have taught you are important in our family. You have good manners and say "yes, mom," "excuse me," "please," and "thank you" all the time. You HATED doing that a year ago but now it is a big part of you. You have alot of your routines in place and almost never need reminders unless you are trying to get us to yell at you (you still seem to want us to do that) or are really mad. We no longer have to worry about reminding you all the steps for your morning routine for getting ready for school, your afterschool routine and homework, and your bedtime routine. The great thing is that you don't like some of these routines BUT you do it anyway. If you are mad you still mumble and stomp off (we are working on these things) but you still do them (albeit grudgingly).

You are a caring, sensitive and gentle boy who is still working through all the hurt you have experienced in your young life. You are thoughtful about your family despite all the behaviors you show (often) to push us away. When someone you love is hurt, you are kind and tender and quickly rush to their aid. You didn't do this a year ago. When I say my feet hurt, you quickly offer a footrub. When Milagro falls or starts doing something that is unsafe, you quickly call me and you run to her. You always pick her up ever so gently and use such a soft voice that you reserve just for her. When you go to bed (even after a bad day) you always say "I love you."
I am so proud of you and all the hard work you are doing to become the best kid you can become. I can barely remember what my life was like before you were here and I know for sure that you have helped me become a better mom, a better teacher, and most definitely a better person.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adoption Story Continues

Corazon's adoption story continued...(sixteen months into the journey--late Spring 2006)

Throughout all those months of court dates and waiting I was keenly aware that I had a whole lot more to deal with this child than I had originally bargained for. I now knew that she had full-blown RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) but I wasn't sure I would ever get her the help she needed. I didn't know anyone (except those in the books I read) who had a child with RAD or who had even heard of it. Her first therapist had been a total waste of time. The adoption assessment had determined that she did have PTSD and RAD (and has raised some other possible serious issues) but other than helping us get a "diagnosis" we weren't getting any other help from social services. Eight months after her placement we had started working with a new therapist, Annie, who was older and much more experienced. She was not an attachment therapist but she had extensive experience with children and attachment and some experience with RAD. She was well read and was doing ongoing training about attachment issues. She was the closest I could get to an attachment therapist given the costs and lack of trained attachment therapists in our area AND she was willing to work with my knowledge base. Her issues were really serious and there was not a day that went by that I didn't question whether I could do what she needed. Anyone who knows me knows I don't back away from challenges easily but I also know my limitations. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to help her and until the judge's ruling I was also equally terrified that she would be taken away.

Annie was a good therapist for us. Each session she worked on our connection and attachment to each other and helped up develop ways to build trust. She would listen to my concerns and issues and address them in our joint sessions with Corazon. However she was also charmed (suckered) by my daughter who rarely showed her "uglier" side in therapy. Corazon was cooperative, engaged, playful and manipulative towards the therapist. She clung to me, cuddled, hugged, and asked for kisses. Initially the therapist thought these were "good signs" of developing attachment despite my insistence that this was part of the "public performance." I finally had to start videotaping her rages and audio taping what I called her nightly "rundowns" of her manipulative behaviors throughout the day. Some tapes included recaps of her attempts at triangulation and outright manipulation of the therapist. Showing them to the therapist was the best way to get Annie to see what we were dealing with and to her credit Annie did work with it. At home I was implementing strategies from all my readings and working like crazy to create stability and security for Corazon, despite the fact that we didn't have it. We were on that RAD roller coaster and I wasn't even sure this child would get to stay.

I felt crazy half the time and I was exhausted the other half of the time. I had door alarms, video monitors, and baby monitors everywhere. The pets and adults in the house went to bed behind locked doors each night and I was awake much of the night due to her incessant hypervigilance, wanderings, sneaking, and just plain messing with me by setting off the door alarm or opening her window and screaming that she had to pee or "please stop I am begging you!" at all hours of the night. She loved to watch me race down the stairs (if you know me you know I DON'T run or race anywhere!) when I couldn't see her on the monitor and her door alarm was screeching. The lies, stealing, sneaking, unsafe behaviors, accusations, aggression and attention-seeking behaviors at school and with strangers was a daily part of our lives. She was sweet and cooperative one moment, then a raging mess the next who brought destruction everywhere she went. She did all the typical RAD bodily behaviors--peeing, pooping, tooting, burping, and other bodily noises--at all the wrong times/places. This had become our life. I was worn out but I was also committed to her.

We had good times too. Corazon was my stick-tight whenever she wasn't at school and I even took her to work with me whenever possible. If I was teaching a graduate class at night she sat through the entire 3 hour class without a peep. At school she couldn't sit still, focus on her work, mind the teacher, shut her mouth, etc. Yet, she could sit through my whole class, read her books, color, draw, or eavesdrop without one interruption in three hours. This had been the case since she was 4 1/2. It was amazing. She loved learning, reading, writing, maps and exploring new places so she was fun to engage with. I travelled to conferences quite a bit that first year and a half so she went with me to Canada, Pennsylvania, NYC, Arizona, San Francisco and a few other places. She sat with me through 9-12 hours of conference sessions for several days in a row and entertained herself perfectly well. Strangers complimented me on her behavior and offered her gifts and treats wherever we went. Of course, this all made my colleagues and professional friends love her more and if I tried to discuss her outrageous behaviors they dismissed it and looked at me like I was a monster. It was all very isolating and alienating and it was becoming our life. One real benefit to the trips was that I saw what she could do and each return trip home seemed to bring about a small but clearly positive change. I started to realize that the combination of being totally dependent on me when we were away together, plus being with me 24/7, gave her a stronger sense of security and connection. In addition, the returns home, took away all that stuff she associated with packing up and moving someplace else. She started talking about her room, her house, her home in a much more connected way than before.

Despite my guarded outlook (given the court stuff) she had, in my heart, become my daughter. I saw glimmers of attachment and trust. I still saw fear about being sent away or taken away once she knew more of what was going on. She was anxious when someone told her a court date was coming up (guardian ad litem and mother often told her during visits) and the rages would increase. She continually asked about the judge and about the adoption although depending on the day she was "waiting for her new family" and she was "staying here forever." I wasn't sure how much therapy was really helping her but it was helping me by giving me a sounding board besides C. and one other close friend, P. It was so difficult working with her and trying to build attachment to me when I was still not sure she would get to stay.

Sixteen months after it all began the court proceedings were over and we had a signed adoption agreement in hand. Now it was time to complete and file the adoption papers. When the judge ruled that Corazon was free for adoption a great weight was lifted and was promptly replaced by the ominous feeling of fear that I might not be able to help her. I honestly didn't care about anything except having this phase be over so I could tell this child that, yes, it was going to be forever. By then though Corazon was convinced she was never going to get adopted and she talked about it openly. She was now 6 years old and waiting for 16 months to get adopted felt like a lifetime for her. She would beg to start using my last name because to her that signalled finally being a part of my life forever. She was very vocal about her belief that the adoption would not happen and that I was "telling stories." I couldn't convince her otherwise and in fact I still had a hard time believing something else wouldn't come up. In fact, as I was clearing old email from my inbox a few weeks ago I came across the emails that went back and forth between the attorney and I about Corazon's adoption date. In one of these exchanges I jokingly wrote that the longer we waited for a date the more "bad scenarios" I could imaging popping up. Here is an excerpt from that email:

"Dear _______ If you decide to wait on setting the date you should know that so many things could happen before we actually have an adoption finalized. My nightmares these days include the following:

  • Her "real" father (the one no one knew existed of course) might show up to claim her.
  • She really was a surrogate baby and somehow got lost in someone's paper shuffle and they are now ready to fix their mistake.
  • The courthouse with all appropriate records burns down.
  • The judge gets amnesia and everyone agrees to go through all this again as part of her recovery.
  • My favorite attorney (Corazon's) will discover 12 other siblings she's never met and request separate bi-annual visits with each of them. "

I was clearly joking and we had a good laugh over it but it illustrated just how tenuous the situation had been and how unreal it felt that we might actually be finalizing this adoption.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Which one of you switched my kids?

You know that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop? That is where I am. Tortuga and Corazon have been doing really well. So much of what Tortuga had been doing for several weeks was just not possible to blog about and then about 5 days ago he turned it around. I don't know what is working for him but he is tapping 5-6 times per day, "strong sitting" 4 times per day, and we are doing cuddle time almost every night except I have to keep changing it up. Other than that I haven't started him on the GI because I have a feeling it's going to bring stuff up and I am enjoying his calm. Corazon still does her sitting 3 times per day but we pulled back tapping to twice a day or as a "calming" strategy when she starts to get agitated or frustrated. She seems to have stopped sneaking food at home from the pantry and she is interrupting adult conversations less and less which is a HUGE deal for her. This past weekend I enjoyed their company for the ENTIRE weekend and we had no major fights, meltdowns, drama, etc.

Friday night we had lots of rain and we had planned a dinner out. We ordered Chinese takeout from a new place. Chinese is a favorite of ours and we haven't found the calibre of Chinese food we had in Boston so it is always an experiment. The food was great and we had a great time during family dinner. We joked around and enjoyed the good food and each other's company. It made me realize how long it has been since we have done that without at least one child falling apart or needing to be sent away from the table. Corazon told me before bedtime that she thinks she has a better life and has more fun when I am "in control" because when she tried to be in control she usually "messes things up." Whatever was in that food, worked for us.

We took a 12 hour drive (6 hours each way) on Saturday to take my mom and my 86 year old aunt back home because they hate flying. They had been staying with us for the past 2 weeks or so. Tortuga and Corazon READ the entire drive down and didn't bicker one bit. On the return trip they napped and read, sang along with the country music on the radio, and just stared out the windows. You would have thought I slipped something in their drinks but I swear I didn't. I was so excited I even bought them sweets near the tail end of our drive. We NEVER do that.

On Sunday, they were still these great kids. We joked and laughed during breakfast and we even had a serious conversation about Tortuga's jealousy toward Corazon and Pollito. He listened, agreed with our assessments, and asked how we could help him stop being so jealous! He has never done that. They HAPPILY did family chore time quickly and efficiently (we usually do that on Saturday mornings) and even did a few extra chores. To top it ALL off they went to flag football and Corazon's team won while Tortuga's team lost. He congratulated her on the win. Also a first! By the end of the weekend Tortuga was beside himself since he seems to be most comfortable when he isn't having a good time that he worked hard to get himself worked up. We skyped with their grandparents (C.'s mom and dad) and he was the obnoxious, non-cooperative kid we are accustomed to. When I dismissed him to go to bed he tried to get really mad but I suggested we do tapping and that chilled him out right away.

Thus my only conclusion is that someone out there has switched my kids. If you did, please don't tell me. I'm not giving these back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Shhh...Corazon is doing well

I haven't posted about Corazon's current behaviors because they have actually been improving and I didn't want to jinx the last few days. We have had lots of defiance, meanness, control issues, food sneaking, lying to her teacher, and rudeness and disrespect over the last few weeks. This week, in the spirit of Easter and new beginnings she seems to have turned over a new leaf. She is trying to do what is expected of her and I have even seen her catch herself when she starts to lie or get an attitude. I think she is still angry about being away from me and in school which is good since it means she misses me. :) She has also decided that homeschooling was a lot more fun than she originally thought and she is upset that I won't pull her out of school. The funny thing is she does like school, is seeing academic success and is having fun. She has some trouble making friends because of her bossiness and social immaturity but she seems to be doing OK in that area right now and she is actually starting to care about making friends.

I was so proud of her yesterday. She got REALLY mad at me because she was invited to a birthday party sleepover and convinced herself we would let her go. Not sure where she got that idea given that we have never let her go before and given her behavior these past few weeks there was no way we were letting her too far out of our sight. She was able to say she was sad about it and disappointed which is huge for her. AND she didn't tantrum, pout, or meltdown. She just cried. It was one of those moments where I really wanted to make her happy and figure out a way for her to go but then I came to my senses and realized that would not be a good idea.

Because we are seeing regression in so many areas I am keeping her close and have stepped up the cuddle time. We pulled back on tapping because I started wondering if that was bringing up some other stuff for her. I also started her on the Guided Imagery which she really likes. I am also trying to spend more one-on-one time. During our time together we have gone back to working on her keyboarding skills. She loves the computer and is getting too much time at school on the computer but she really wants to learn to use the keyboard and type as fast as I do. Back in November/December we started a blog for her to put her daily writing and practice keyboard skills. She doesn't always earn the privilege but when she does she gets to write a post. Over the last month or so we added to her journal prompt assignment and she writes about her feelings. She has a regular diary/journal that she writes in every night but she asked if she could add it to her blog. We got an idea for a format for writing about her feelings and what she is grateful for from Lisa. She also checked out J.'s blog and decided that her writing format could work for her. She is so excited to get on the computer with me helping her or just sitting next to her that she is not complaining as much about her journal writing. Last week she asked if she could share her writing with some of our/my friends and so I have added her info on the sidebar. She is back to working really hard to be a good family kid so I told her I would encourage y'all to check her blog out. No pressure but if you feel inclined she would be tickled by any comments. She puts the writing prompt question first then addresses it. Some posts are then followed by her own reflections on her feelings. I am obviously a very biased and proud mom but if I do say so myself, she is a pretty good writer and she comes up with some neat ideas. I learn a lot about her from her writing.

So, if you feel so inclined, please go over there and give her some love....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adoption Agreement

Socialwkr24/7 asked some questions in my previous post that I tried to answer succinctly in a comment but failed so I thought I would try to respond here. I can only say that this is what happened in our case which I was led to believe was often true in our state. Her comment/questions were:

" in IL, there are no 'legal' open adoptions. Adoptive parents can SAY that they are willing to have contact - but are not legally bound to it. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Do you think having the visits laid out and legally bound is a good thing? I'm really undecided - on one hand, it seems that this would reassure bio-families and potentially allow them to feel more secure in voluntarily surrendering to adoption. I also happen to believe that children should have as much contact with their bio-family as is healthy. But then I wonder how long things like this can be dragged out in court? And, what are the legal consequences if you were to decide that someone was not appropriate to visit - such as Corazon's sister due to her mental health issues? Or in the future could her mother petition for more visitation? Like in a custody case, could you get brought back into court? I could see this possibility scaring some adoptive parents off as well..."

In my state open adoption agreements were encouraged whenever it seemed like a good compromise and there was little question TPR would happen but birth families wanted contact or it was deemed important for the children. Individual agencies/workers have their biases for and against them but I think they are a good idea. I think you are right that having the actual visits, cards, letters and other contact spelled out in the agreement can be reassuring to bio family and ensure that kids will definitely have some contact when it is safe and desirable to do so. I think sometimes having that spelled out leaves little up for speculation and/or misinterpretation and if there is tension or animosity between the different parties then it can help maintain some degree of contact and it is clearly delineated with less room for interpretation.

The reality is that in our case it wasn't necessary to have it spelled out but it was reassuring to have just in case problems arose. We have in fact maintained a great deal of contact with Corazon's bio family. We have seen her mom at least every 2 months or so (although we have now moved thousands of miles away and that is changing.) We invited her to significant events in Corazon's life (dance recitals, gymnastics exhibitions, birthday celebrations.) We have attended their birthday parties, graduations, and other events. We see them for major holidays (Christmas) and talk on the phone during minor ones (Valentine's Day, Halloween.) I compile a photo album each year that documents her life during that year and send/give it to her mom each New Year's. Corazon sends her cards (that I select and buy because she isn't especially attached to her bio family yet) for birthdays, mother's day, and other holidays. She has accepted our other children as well and genuinely seems to enjoy visiting with all of us. It has been an easy relationship on our part.

We also have consistent contact with her bio sister and sporadic contact with her older brother. She has a niece and a nephew and we have attended their birthday celebrations. When her 16 year old sister was hospitalized near us after complications from surgery her mom called us and asked us to visit her because she was 10 minutes from us and 1 1/2 hours from her. They are a part of our extended family and we have an easy communication. We didn't choose each other but we are connected because of Corazon which I think will mean a lot more to her as she gets older. It is a very important connection FOR OUR FAMILY. This may not be the case for others.

I don't have the sense that open adoption agreements in my state usually went through as much scrutiny and court time as our whole situation did. In fact, they are presented as ways to avoid alot of court time. The social services attorney in charge of the case lists this as her single most dragged out case in over 16 years of experience. This one was also one for the record books according to any other social services personnel I have spoken with. While I have shared a bit trust me when I say there is a whole lot that went on that I wasn't able to share. When I think of it I still cringe and cry and cannot believe so much of what took place.

Our adoption agreement spells out EVERYTHING when it comes to visits and appropriateness. Our stipulated WHERE visits took place, WHEN and by whom they were to be supervised. All the responsibility was placed on the bio family members to notify me of interest and intent to schedule a visit and they were responsible for paying the fee at the assigned visitation center for the supervision if I/they were uncomfortable with me supervising. Cancelling of a visit was grounds for missing it altogether (for the whole year!) and inappropriateness (drug use, etc.) during a visit could nullify the whole visitation portion of the agreement FOREVER. There was also a stipulation that petitioning for more visits was not a real option (although I guess still possible to go to court for just about anything) and that any extra contact was at the discretion of adoptive family, wasn't setting a precedent and should be viewed as a "bonus". The only reason they could take me to court and have a case was if I didn't allow the required visits and they met all the requirements. (They would be required to pay the costs on top of that.) In terms of the sister, her psychological report was due in writing to me a month ahead of the visit and could be no more than 2 weeks old! It's all very skewed in favor of the adoptive family and I would guess the reason is so that prospective adoptive parents don't get scared off.

I should add that I didn't come up with any of that language. It was pretty standard in a case like ours. I only had to pick months for visits, months for letters and agree to the visitation "center."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back to Court

Corazon's adoption story continued...

We had a draft of an open adoption agreement between Corazon's mother and me. Now we needed to find out if the judge would set aside her ruling giving Corazon's mother no visitation and the grandmother 6 visits per year. It was anybody's guess what the judge would decide?

The judge rejected the agreement not because there was anything wrong with it but because there had been a challenge to the agreement from Corazon's attorney. He is the guy who had been her attorney since the day she came into foster care (almost 6 years before) and who had NEVER met her. He had also never spoken to her mother or the grandmother (even though he had seen them throughout the court hearings) but there he was standing in the way of us signing the open adoption agreement! His argument was that she would be "cut off" from the rest of her family (the one that had so little involvement in much of her life) so he objected to keeping the grandmother "out of her life." The grandmother already was out of her life and didn't seem to care whether she was or was not in her life but nonetheless everyone went back to court.

At about this time, Corazon's 16 year old sister (living with grandmother) was put in foster care. It was very sad. It turned out that that convicted child sex offender who was supposed to move out but was still living at grandmother's house (he was her son) had been sexually molesting her for years. She finally told her mother who notified social services. Corazon's attorney had been given this information by the social services attorney but he still would not change his mind about the grandmother getting visits. In court when social services presented this new information the judge really didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Corazon's attorney then asked for mother's visit to include "any relative she chose to bring" which was modified to "with adoptive mother approval." He then argued for each of her bio siblings (there are 3) to each get 2 supervised visits per year. Since each bio sibling was in a different circumstance/home/city they were potentially arguing for an agreement that required us to schedule 9 separate annual visits with various family members. The social services attorney challenged that by suggesting that the bio sister (the 16 year old) was the only one with any connection to Corazon and pleaded with the judge to consider all I had said during my testimony about my desire to ensure that Corazon had contact with as much of her family as possible as long as it served her. She encouraged the judge to trust me to do what was right for Corazon. That judge agreed that we could proceed with adoption agreement. As the proceeding ended, the judge asked to be the one who "officiated" at Corazon's adoption (whenever that took place!)

It had been 16 months since Corazon's placement in my home and we were about to sign an open adoption agreement that gave her mother one visit per year and her sister two visits per year. These visits were to be supervised and her sister's visits would require that she show evidence that she was "mentally" healthy due to her very serious mental health issues. Within days the agreement was redrafted and signed by all parties.

We could finally move forward with an adoption date.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter fun

It's been a very long and eventful few days. I want to focus on the good things so I'm going to post a bunch of pictures along the way.

We have sentences! In the last few days Milagro has said "Mommy I need my shoes!" "Mommy I need my crocs!" "I need a cracker, peeez (please)." and "This car is mine." It's impressive to me but then I am a very biased mom when it comes to this little girl. Milagro is such a wonderful toddler. She knows her mind and is at that stage where she can actually follow much of a conversation and participate quite nicely. She also has this not so nice habit of waking me up in the middle of the night to say "Mommy, diaper please." I think if she can tell me she needs a diaper change then potty training should start soon. She already announces everyone else's potty business so maybe we need to focus her on her own. She had a wonderful Easter. She was only 7 months old last time so it was all a blur.

This year she got all excited about Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts (yes, hunts, we participated in two this year.)

Pollito is growing so fast. His language development is astounding and I think I have his teacher to thank for a lot of it. He has always been delayed by about a year and a half or so but we figured his issues were just that--delays--rather than the serious speech and language issues we were told he had when we got him. He has so many complex sentences and can communicate many of his thoughts and ideas. When he can't he does say "I don't know how to say it mom" rather than having a meltdown or pouting because we don't understand. I still worry about attachment issues for him. He has behaviors that remind me of Corazon when she was 4 but it is hard to separate what is learned (from watching older siblings) and what is a real issue. He clearly has attached in some ways especially to me. He asks if he can be my baby. He wants to cuddle with me on the couch but only on his terms. He smiles when he sees me most of the time but he doesn't automatically reciprocate hugs or kisses without reminders. I have to do more active attachment work with him but it gets easy to ignore that when the others are so clearly demanding of my time. He has such a wonderful time with all the Easter activity. Coloring eggs, egg hunts, and just playing around. I even let him and Tortuga play together which is almost unheard of unless I am right there with them because of Tortuga's aggression toward him.

Minutes after the picture of the two of them was taken Tortuga decided they should use those bubble wands as swords and started poking Pollito. I decided to watch and see what would happen for awhile. Pollito came over to tell me that Tortuga was poking him and he wanted my permission to poke him back. I said he might get hurt but it was his decision. Two minutes later Tortuga (remember he's 10) comes running and crying that Pollito (who is 4) was hitting him and had "broken" his pinkie finger. I just looked at him and suggested they stop the game. I got closer thinking my intervention would be needed only to hear Pollito say "Tortuga, can you stop whining already?" When he saw me Pollito says "mom, why can't he stop whining? He whines all the time." And with that Pollito took himself out of the game! Good for him.

Corazon and Tortuga need their own posts otherwise I will be here forever. The good news is they both got to participate in Sunday's Easter egg hunt and celebrations and Tortuga got to participate in the egg decorating/coloring tradition. The bad news was Corazon pretty much missed all the cookie making and egg coloring, and they both missed Saturday's neighborhood egg hunt. She spent much of the time writing yet another apology letter...Tortuga also threatened to run away twice and told me he was going to k*ll me once (in front of my mother.) It wasn't pretty. I cannot write about that now. Maybe later since I do have some thoughts on what has been going on for both of them these past few days.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Still in limbo?!?!

Corazon's adoption story continued.... (March 2006)

Five months after the court hearing (and 13 months into Corazon's placement) I got a call from the social services attorney that they were all being summoned to the judge's chambers that afternoon. She would call me as soon as she had more information. I was on pins and needles. I couldn't believe it would finally be over. Or would it? What if over meant she would go to her grandmother's home. In my heart of hearts I knew I wanted to keep her despite all we were going through. I still saw glimmers of a great little kid in there. I also felt that grandmother didn't want her and my head hurt when I thought about what would happen to her there.

True to her word the social services attorney called to let me know the judge had terminated mother's parental rights, rejected any request from birth mother to have continued contact with Corazon (no letters, calls, visits, etc.), granted the grandmother 6 visits per year (plus cards and letters!) and approved social services moving forward with Corazon getting adopted (by me presumably.) I also got calls from Corazon's social worker and her supervior. Everyone was glad rights were terminated but no one was happy with the outcome.

No one could believe absent and disinterested grandmother was getting visitation while mother got nothing. The mother had stayed clean for about 18 months at that point (although not following all of her plan) and had attempted to make some of the visits with Corazon throughout the last three years Corazon had been in foster care. Grandmother had not. If anyone got visitation it should have been the mother. Social Services felt 6 visits/year tied the hands of an adoptive family even though I was willing. They felt the judge's order set a precedent that would have a tremendous impact on future cases. If an absent relative with a criminal record could get 6 visitations/year what did that mean for other relatives. On principle along social services decided they needed to appeal the decision. The mother was stunned to get no visitation so she had nothing to lose but to appeal. When was this going to end?

It was now over a year since Corazon had arrived in my life. She was still a mess but we had started with the new therapist who was working on addressing some of Corazon's behaviors. She had terrible nightmares about jail, judges, monsters, etc. since that meeting months before with the guardian ad litem so on the advice of the therapist we had told her that the judge said she could stay with me. That alleviated some of the nightmares but not the rest of the behaviors.

In the meantime social services wanted to schedule a termination visit as soon as possible. Corazon's mother, Linda, asked if I would attend the termination visit because she wanted to talk to me. We agreed to meet for 30 minutes prior to her visit with Corazon. I went on ahead and my friend agreed to bring Corazon by a little later so she wouldn't be there for the initial part of our meeting. The tension in that office was palatable. Social services personnel familiar with the case were all "hanging out" in the lobby area as I arrived for the visit. Social services insisted on having someone from their office present in the meeting. (They were concerned she would be violent or hostile because they had seen alot of that from her. I wasn't concerned but agreed as long as Linda agreed to having someone from social services there.)

Linda, myself, Corazon's social worker, and one of the supervisors went into a meeting room. Linda spoke only to me. She told me of her love for Corazon, her hopes for her daughter and how she KNEW she would lose her from the day she had been born. She said she had held out all those years and kept fighting because a part of her hoped she (Linda) could do what she needed for her child but another part of her knew that if she was going to lose Corazon she needed to hold out for the best possible mother for her child. She said I was that mother. She said that she now knew all of this we had all been through was about waiting for me. She said she knew that now and she was at peace with that even if she never saw her daughter again.

There was nothing for me to say.

She was going to instruct her attorney to drop the appeal. She understood from her attorney that social services wouldn't drop theirs because of the judge's order for visitation for the grandmother. She was OK with that because her mother shouldn't raise Corazon. She had been desperate to keep a connection to her and her mother seemed to be the last hope. She knew she had tried many times but still couldn't stay on the right track and serve Corazon's needs but she loved her. Now all she wanted was for Corazon to move on and be adopted. At that point, with tears in her eyes Corazon's worker and supervisor left the room. Within minutes they returned with a phone and both attorneys on the line. They determined that if we signed an open adoption agreement with mother before the appeals were filed, the judge's order would not stand. Linda could get one visit per year (that is what she asked for) and it would be over. (An open adoption agreement had been presented more than a year ago and rejected by Linda. Now it was her best hope for seeing her daughter.) Linda was apologetic for all the hurt she had caused her daughter especially over the past year. She told me that if she had signed the agreement then Corazon would be adopted by now. She started to cry.

I told her I understood why she couldn't sign that agreement then and I really think I did. I said that if she had given up fighting then she had to live with that and so would Corazon. At this point we would all be able to tell Corazon that her mother loved her and had fought to the end to get her back and keep her in the family. How could I not understand that? How could I not support that? It was something that might help Corazon as she got older and started to wonder and ask questions. Linda and I hugged and cried. There was not a dry eye in that room. Could it be that it was finally over?

The judge would have to agree and we all agreed that with this judge we just couldn't be sure... We were still in limbo...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

She's driving us nuts!

Corazon is driving us nuts! She just refuses to do all the things she is supposed to do. She has lost 3 sets of pjs, 2 pairs of shoes, countless undies and socks, 2 shirts, 4 books, 9 pencils and half a dozen toys in the last week. My rule is that if they leave stuff in the wrong place or don't pick up after themselves they lose it. The funny thing is that she didn't ask about any of these items until tonight. I said they weren't mine so I didn't know. She started crying and carrying on that she knew I had hidden them. I sent her to calm herself down. She tried begging me to give her stuff back and I said I didn't have it. She started crying again.

Corazon has made significant progress over the past 4 years. Some days she even seems to be pretty close to being a normal little kid. We do have ongoing control issues about big and little things. She still makes sure she does something in the opposite order in which she is told or she will leave out critical details and pretend she "forgot." Sometimes she will try to argue that her way is better and she doesn't take responsibility when she messes about. A major issue we are working on right now is also her eavesdropping, interrupting and not minding her own business especially where I am concerned. If she sees C. and I talking about ANYTHING she cannot help but move herself into that area, interrupt us, or sneak up on us to hear what we are talking about. If she is with us and we ask each other a question she offers her opinion. If I call out to C. from another room, she assumes or pretends I am talking to her and even when corrected she tries to monopolize my time at that moment.

Recently she has started sneaking stuff to school, home from school, and/or upstairs to her room. She has started stealing food from the pantry. I saw the stealing as a need for attention and more cuddle time and offered it. I also increased our one-on-one time. It isn't enough and yesterday I found food wrappers in her closet. She had to do some writing (4 apology letters) over the weekend and she refused. She did everything BUT write those letters. I finally got her to tell my why it was taking so long for her to just do them (they should each take her 10-15 minutes tops) and she said she wished she did not have to do them. I was happy she could articulate that and we talked about how to prevent needing to do them in the future but I was clear she still had to write them. She begged, pleaded, negotiated and pouted. She cried and I told her it was OK to be sad but she had to take responsibility. She still just stood there biting her nails, playing with her feet, doodling, etc. Her 4 year old brother asked her if she was going to write her letter and she snarled at him that she wasn't. I haven't seen snarling from her in about a year and a half.

She is the most stubborn kid I have ever met although she met her match in that I am just about the most stubborn mom she could ever encounter. So if I am not careful we can butt heads badly. I think the Creator decided I deserved some of my own medicine when He put her in my life. I know RAD kids are stubborn but for this kid it's RAD + personality trait. Her birth family has it too which is one of the things that has made my relationship with her (birth) mother such a good one!

I spoke with her teacher and she is sneaking reading instead of doing her work and she is going onto the computer instead of doing her other assignments. She also is doing her best to NOT complete her morning chore correctly and she has been leaving things on the floor in common areas as she gets ready for school, wearing indoor slippers outside and vice versa, asking to use the bathroom and then 5 minutes later interrupting me to ask to use it again, using her little brother's toothpaste then claiming she forgot it wasn't hers--five days in a row!

She told the teacher we don't give her enough food for lunch (two sandwiches, 1 piece of fruit, 2 snacks) so she is begging the other kids for food. Then she came home and told me her teacher is concerned she isn't bringing enough food for lunch! She also told the teacher she was jealous of Tortuga and the attention he gets from me because it is always when I am doing something with her. He is demanding a great deal of attention so I think she is trying to get attention in the ways that he does. However, I NEVER stop doing something with one of the kids when another demands it. So, I know that I haven't stopped whatever I am doing with her to give him attention. I am not sure if she just feels that way or it is a ploy to get the teacher's attention.

These are all behaviors that (I thought) we had virtually eliminated but they are back in full force. I can tell that she is in pain but she denies it. She is on the downward spiral and so far I haven't been able to help move her out of it. She seems to be hell-bent on staying in that miserable place. She won't talk about it. She won't change it. She is making herself and the rest of us miserable.

On a totally separate note: Milagro, my 1 1/2 year old, just came up to me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said "love you." This was totally unprompted! I am off to tuck her in and make sure we do plenty of cuddling. I am taking no chances with attachment and this one!

Going to court (Corazon's adoption story)

Corazon's adoption story continued. For anyone following this story please note that most of these posts are all about things taking place in the first 8 months of our placement.

Corazon had been with me for about 7 months when the court proceedings continued. They had begun prior to Corazon being placed but there continued to be continuances, investigations, new orders from the judge, and other types of delays. I was told that I would be asked to testify as her foster parent and as her preadoptive parent. There was a difference because as her foster parent I was considered an informed authority about Corazon's state of mind, care, issues, and anything she had expressed about going to live with her birth family. As a preadoptive parent I would be considered "hostile" to the birth family because I would be perceived as an opponent. I wasn't happy about this because from the beginning I had indicated that I wanted Corazon with her birth family if they were able to care for her. I couldn't deny my growing attachment and fear for her future given the issues I was seeing. But I was still adamant that I did not want to stand in the way of her being with her family and I told the social services attorney that I would not disparage the family or offer comparisons in any way.

I arrived at the courthouse at my assigned time 9 a.m. As I waited outside I noticed that Corazon's mother, Linda, was also waiting. We greeted each other and she introduced me to Corazon's grandmother who had come forward as interested in taking Corazon. The grandmother was very pleasant and began telling me how well cared for Corazon looked (based on pictures I had sent Linda.) She told me she didn't want to raise Corazon and was too old to have a 5 year old to chase after. She listed off all her health issues and medications she was taking and went on and on about how much work Corazon's older siblings, now 16 & 17 had been and continued to be. She said she had only been to one scheduled visitation with Corazon in the past 7 months because she was "too busy." She also said she was confident I would be a good parent for Corazon. I was a bit stunned because she was the whole reason we were here in court and here she was telling me she didn't want to take care of the child!

In retrospect I think there was divine intervention at this point because I ended up spending ALL day outside the courtroom with the grandmother and mother. I got to know them better and we were never called in because the therapist and adoption assessor were on the stand all day. I returned the next day to testify. Linda and I greeted each other warmly as we entered the courtroom. Since we were sworn to secrecy I cannot reveal the details but I have to say it was one of the most disheartening experiences in my life. There were SO many people involved. I have written before about all the social workers and some of them were there. There were also 4 social service supervisors and 4 attorneys (social services, mother's, Corazon's, and legal father's--not to be confused with bio father.) The hostility in that room was palpable. Social services sat on one side and all the other attorneys on the other. Someone forgot to warn me that I would be questioned by ALL 4 attorneys and the judge. I spend a day and a half on the stand due to the number of interruptions and sidebars that took place throughout the day. I was thoroughly impressed by the social services attorney for her passion, professionalism, clarity and composure. Two of the other attorneys yelled, stormed, rolled their eyes and were pretty patronizing. The legal father's attorney was just there. He had nothing to add and no investment since he was representing someone who really didn't exist or had anything to do with this but was required to have representation anyway. I think he asked me two questions but otherwise stayed out of the fray. All those interruptions did serve a purpose. While sidebars were taking place I had to step off the witness stand and away from their yelling matches ...uhmm... conversations I went over to chat with Linda, Corazon's mother. Neither of us could believe the behavior of most of these people!

Testifying was painful when I was asked questions about Corazon's feelings towards her mother. Corazon had little attachment to anyone except perhaps the aunt she had lived with so she was indifferent to her mother unless she was getting gifts. She was afraid she would be sent away to another house (even as she shopped for new families) and had no memories nor desire to live with mother. The grandmother didn't even exist in Corazon's world. It was a grueling two days but it did solidify a level of trust with Linda, Corazon's mother. This would turn out to "save the day" when all was said and done.

The proceedings ended the day after I testified. In the meantime the highest state official had made clear that they would not approve the grandmother's home so that the judge would have to order them to place Corazon there despite the fact that it was considered an unfit home based on criminal convictions against the grandmother AND the child sex offender STILL living in her home. We couldn't believe how this had continued and everyone seemed to think the judge was overstepping her bounds (reports had been filed against her) but there we were counting on her to render a decision that would affect all of our futures. The judge announced she would render her decision in one week. During that time social services approached the birth mother once again. She refused and said she was still hoping that her mother would get custody. Her rights hadn't actually been terminated yet but she believed she wouldn't get Corazon.

We waited on pins and needles and the week came and went with no response from the court. It would be 5 MONTHS before the judge rendered her decision!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Two steps forward, three steps back

We are doing that dance around here. I cannot write much about it at this point so I keep focusing on telling Corazon's adoption story. I hope folks aren't bored with that but it is helping me gain perspective. Corazon is at a low point. She had done really well but she is spiralling downward again. I think I gave her too much control and too much trust too soon. I have to pull back. Tortuga is all over the place. Sometimes he seems to be working hard to do the right thing, not talk back, yell, or explode but mostly he is defiant, explosive, oppositional, unpleasant to be around and just not willing to work on anything for long. He has started doing the tapping more regularly and I think it is helping. I think I am also tired and becoming less tolerant of his behaviors. I feel like Pollito and Milagro continue to be neglected around here because they aren't acting out.

This weekend we were supposed to celebrate Tortuga's birthday. I cancelled almost all the plans and surprised him with cake and a few presents on Sunday morning. My sister, brother in law and niece came over and my mom and my aunt were also here. He was pleased and seemed to hold it together for the brief celebration. My mom and my aunt are visiting for a few weeks and are staying with us. We drove 5 1/2 hours each way to get them on Saturday. I left Pollito with my sister because he was invited to his first friend's birthday party and I really wanted him to go. He had a great time. He spent the night with my sister and she took him to the party. He was all smiles when I picked him up late Saturday night and told me "Mom, I missed you sooooo much!" Music to my ears.

Edited: I have a coupon for $300.00 off TWO people signing up for a Beyond Consequences training. If there is anyone who could use it please let me know. Expiration date is December 2009.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Going to Therapy

Corazon's adoption story continues...
It is a good thing I kept daily notes about our lives when Corazon came and throughout that whole transition time. As I have been revisiting the details of Corazon's adoption for this writing I am in shock at times about all the things we have been through. I am sure so many people who go through this process feel this way as well. Nothing seems to be what it is supposed to and life is full of so many ups and downs.

I was so hopeful about therapy for Corazon. I was doing everything the books suggested but I needed help. I needed someone to understand what was going on, and give me some perspective. I wanted to know what else I could do to help this child even if it would turn out that she wasn't going to stay with me.
Therapy was a DISASTER!!!!! The therapist, Stacy, was presented to me as someone who was experienced in attachment issues and trauma. We spoke on the phone for 2 hours prior to Corazon's first appointment. During that time she was very thorough in collecting a history and asking about the kind of issues we had at home. I told her everything we were experiencing--rages, violence, aggression, disassociation, lying, stealing, peeing, sneaking, etc. At the first appointment the three of us met together for the first 30 minutes and then she met alone with Corazon for 20 minutes. After the first session she informed me that Corazon was such a different person when they were alone that she thought it would be best if I didn't sit in on any session but that we checked in by phone prior to appointments "as necessary." She wanted to establish trust with Corazon and get her to open up. I didn't know enough about Corazon's issues to object.

After 3 sessions I could see how over the top Corazon was before, during and after therapy. The whole way to therapy she was gleeful and excited, her voice got louder, her nonsense chatter increased as did her defiance. Despite the fact that the therapy rooms had those little sound machines outside the rooms to limit any passersby from hearing what was going on, I managed to clearly hear Corazon from the waiting room. She was THAT loud. After therapy, Corazon would cling to Stacy, tell her she loved her, beg to stay longer, then throw herself in my arms in a tearful mess. By the time we got to the car, she was more than fine, could barely remember Stacy's name and chattered nonstop about what takeout food would be great to eat for dinner. Whenever she got mad at me she would announce she was going to live in "Ms. Stacy's office because it was fun."
Stacy's response to Corazon was that she was a traumatized kid (I agreed) who needed a lot of love and attention. She suggested I hug her more, love her more, etc. She also told Corazon that anything she said in therapy was private and wouldn't be shared with anyone. She allowed Corazon to control everything, destroy everything, and basically be a hellion for the entire session. Afterwards, Corazon would be furious if I asked her to pick up a toy or not grab things that weren't hers or whatever. Corazon looked forward to therapy and I dreaded it. One good thing that did come out of those sessions was that I was able to see how good Corazon was at manipulation and triangulation. She had the therapist so much under her control it would have been funny if I hadn't been so desperate. I don't think I have mentioned this before but part of how I discovered some of the extent of Corazon's lying and sneaking was through the baby monitor I had in her room because of her asthma. Her room was next to my study so when I put her to bed I didn't generally need the receiver because I was usually doing work and could hear her. The receiver was up in my bedroom and by the time I went to bed she was usually calm/asleep so I would only hear her if she got up or was having a asthma problems. One night (about 3 months into this) I went upstairs right after tucking her in. What an education. I heard my little 4 year old darling talking to herself and she was running down a litany of every little thing she did at home and school that day. The list included every lie she told, every time she got away with something, every time she controlled a situation or person. I was stunned. Most of the things were small things but some were pretty major. I had never seen/heard anything like it. Since then I kept the receiver with me so that when she did this I could be better informed. This turned out to be very helpful in finding out what was going on in therapy.

Stacy was still sharing very little with me because she wanted Corazon to "trust her." But she did need information from me and in the process she would ask questions about people and experiences in Corazon's life and her past. I discovered just how much Corazon was manipulating the situation even when she was actually sharing or acting out through play therapy some significant events. For example the therapist was convinced that Corazon was very hurt by her mother's rejection. I discovered from eavesdropping on Corazon at night that Corazon KNEW the therapist thought she was talking about her mother when in fact it was her aunt that Corazon was talking about. Corazon also learned that there were important "trigger" words for her therapist and so whenever the therapist tried to go somewhere this child didn't want to go, Corazon would pull out those words and would be delighted to watch the therapist scribble on her notepad.

I was getting nowhere and Corazon wasn't doing any better so I hit the books and the internet to try and figure out what she had. I remember finding one of those "Does your child have RAD?" lists and realizing Corazon had almost all of those issues and behaviors. I have never been one to latch onto a label or need one but I would be lying if I didn't say that I was excited about this. Corazon had been with me for 6 months by then. I ordered every book I could find on adoption, trauma, PTSD and RAD. I also started asking questions of the therapist and her experience with attachment. Imagine my surprise when she told me she had limited knowledge about serious attachment issues, had NEVER worked with children until this position, Corazon was the youngest child she had ever worked with AND all of her therapy experience was with adult gay men suffering from trauma! I can see how that made her qualified to help Corazon...NOT!

I started my search for a new therapist but was discouraged by social worker #5, Cindy, who informed me that Stacy was going to be called in as a witness in court and they wouldn't want to discredit her before then. Here I was worried about Corazon and the court case really wasn't my priority. As soon as we got the new social worker, Selma, I broached the issue and she supported my search for help for Corazon regardless of the impact in court. Selma also informed me that they had been ordered by the court to do another "adoption assessment" on Corazon by an "independent evaluator." This independent evaluator did a whole battery of psychological testing with Corazon, examined everything there was about her record, met with her several times, observed her in several settings, met with me for a total of about 6 hours to discuss her behavior, and basically paid more attention to her behaviors and my observations than anyone else had to date. Then he dropped a bombshell. Corazon had an "adoption assessment" that had been done by someone else who he respected highly. This assessment suggested that Corazon had PTSD, ODD, severe RAD, was "borderline unadoptable" and suggested she was possibly bipolar. The recommendation had been for her to enter residential treatment. At the time she had just been moved from the aunt's home and into the foster home she was in before coming to me. He showed me a copy of the report that he had gotten from his colleague and he noted it was not in her social services file. Had that report had been "buried" by social services or did it never make it to the file? I had no way of knowing but I did call her social worker's supervisor, Leslie, about it and she recalled an assessment being done but didn't recall ever seeing it. She suggested it might had fallen through the cracks somehow and promised to look into it. His assessment determined she showed some extremely serious issues, and confirmed the PTSD and RAD. I had NOT broached RAD in my conversations with him so it was incredible that as he "broke the news" to me I was smiling. The poor man was prepared for and expecting me to change my mind about adopting Corazon and I was smiling! I was so incredibly relieved to have someone else "see" what I was seeing. He was relieved that I still wanted to adopt her.

Armed with this information, I continued my search for an appropriate therapist and discovered I was "out of luck." The nearest attachment therapists were hours away and had extensive waiting lists. Their services also weren't covered by Corazon's insurance. I had to find another option and went to the head of one of the most well-respected children's centers in our area. She seemed to understand my plight and recommended someone in her office who was not an "attachment therapist" but had extensive experience with attachment issues. I met this woman, Anne, and she had done significant study of attachment issues in children. She was still continuing her training in attachment therapy, admitted working with some kids with mild RAD, knew about RAD, and was willing to work with us. The first words out of her mouth after our initial conversations and as we prepared for our first session were magical. She said "I will never meet with your child alone. I am here to help the two of you attach to each other."

We scheduled our first session for a month later (due to conflicting schedules). We would start the day after I was to testify in court.

Corazon's social workers

Corazon's adoption story continued. *all names are pseudonyms

Since Corazon had been in and out of foster care since she was born, there were at least 6 social workers that had been in charge of her case since the beginning. I don't know a great deal about what happens when a case changes hands and beyond reading the file and maybe speaking with the former SW, how a new social worker "gets up to speed." I say that not to excuse anyone but to say that I think the changes in social workers caused some of the problems in their being able to identify how deep Corazon's problems were.

At the time Corazon moved in she was on her 5th social worker. This woman, who I will call "Cindy," was young and inexperienced in some ways but not others (experienced social worker, new to adoption). I believe she truly cared about Corazon and was completely charmed (fooled) by this child and could not see the issues that Corazon had. Corazon is beautiful, intelligent, articulate, energetic, polite, and very well-mannered. She was always so fully engaged in any conversation or activity with an adult who is giving her one-on-one attention that it was difficult to believe there could be anything wrong with this child. I believe Cindy thought Corazon had gotten a raw deal for most of her young life (I agree) and she wanted the world for Corazon. I believe that in Cindy's mind she truly believed that Corazon belonged in a "good" (e.g. middle class) home where she could be the center of someones universe. I also believe that social worker was heavily biased against Corazon's birth family and previous foster home(s) based on class, educational background and cultural factors. I also believe she knew how neglectful, at best, most of the people related to Corazon had been when Corazon was in their care and she wanted to take her out of that environment. I am not sure that she was interested in giving any of the people Corazon was related to "a chance" because she felt they had blown it so badly already. It is complicated and I cannot completely fault her for the passion with which she advocated for Corazon and her firm belief that I would be the better parent for this child. I wish all social workers could have that kind of passion for all their charges. As a educator and a parent I wish all teachers, for that matter, could have that kind of investment in all their students.

I don't know if Corazon's worker lied or if she just didn't let herself see what was going on with this child. She knew I was committed to this child/any child and she knew I wouldn't turn my back on her. Corazon's worker was afraid that Corazon would once again be turned over to a family member who would not be able to do "right" by her. That was clear to anyone who read the file. I think she also wanted to protect Corazon and me from the uncertainty that the delay of the TPR raised so she withheld some important information from me hoping that once I had Corazon I would be "hooked." After all she had assured me that everything was set and the TPR hearing was a formality. When it didn't turn out that way, I think Cindy just saw one more obstacle in Corazon's path toward having a stable family to grow up in. She didn't seem very interested Corazon's birth family nor was she particularly sympathetic toward them.

Corazon's birth mother's social worker (I will call her Daphne) had a very long history of trying to support the birth mother. She had worked with the mother for 6 years and had created opportunities for her a dozen times. Daphne seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty a number of times that I knew of. She would often drive 45 minutes one way to pick up the mother to bring her to a visit with Corazon (or her brother) and she would wait all day "just in case" the mother lost track of time or was running late on her way to a visit or a counseling session or any other appointment. Daphne told me she was conflicted by what she saw of Corazon's "progress" in my home and by her genuine caring for the birth mother. At the time that Corazon moved in she had stopped by my house that day so that she could call the mother and assure her that Corazon was in a good place. I believed Daphne genuinely cared about the mother. Daphne told me up front that she really wanted it to work for the mother and Corazon BUT she didn't think it had been fair to Corazon and had left Corazon in limbo for a long time. She also believed the mother just wasn't able or willing to do what she needed to do to get her child(ren) back. When the aunt backed out of her intention to adopt Corazon, Daphne spent hours trying to talk the aunt into changing her mind. She even went so far as to bring the agency's attorney to a meeting with the aunt to reassure her that they could make it work. By the time I got Corazon, that social worker was still trying to help the mother, but she seemed relieved that Corazon was with me.

My social workers who did my home study and provided "support" during the transition process were wonderful. Fannie and Gilda were very experienced in adoption and would step in anytime there was a problem and I didn't get immediate response. When subsidies were late or I was inconvenienced in any way they stepped in. When I had to go to court and testify during the TPR hearing they both offered to come with me.

About 4 months into the placement, Corazon's social worker, Cindy, transferred to another position and Corazon was assigned a new social worker, Selma. Selma was older and very experienced. She struck me as a no-nonsense person who did her job well. She didn't "oooh and ahhh" over Corazon's cuteness and wittiness and I must admit that was enough for her to win me over at this point. By this point the battles with Corazon were exhausting and I felt like I was the only one seeing them. Even my friend/housemate who lived with us didn't see it. C. had witnessed some of the more serious incidents so she believed me but still didn't live it. Selma was new to Corazon's case but she knew Corazon's grandmother from another case. She seemed surprised that the grandmother was showing interest in raising Corazon. She didn't share any details at the time but I later discovered that she had a great deal of information about all the reasons the grandmother couldn't and shouldn't parent anyone. These included greater details about her criminal record, current serious health issues and the relationship with the child sex offender in her home (who they had told the court had moved out but was actually still living in the home!)

I talk about these social workers because they were a big part of our live and provided important supports during the adoption process (although not so helpful in getting Corazon's issues identified and addressed.) I also want to acknowledge that while these workers withheld vital information from me at different points in time, I still believe they did the best they could in some very difficult circumstances. I can fault Corazon's social workers with being blind to her troubles in the same way that so many others are blind to the realities of RAD kids' behaviors when they don't live with them 24/7. None of us want to believe some of the stuff our kids do!

Friday, April 3, 2009


This continues to be a challenging weekend with the older kids even though the weekend has just begun. I am up later than I usually am because every time I try to close my eyes I find myself drawn right into their issues and how to help. I keep strategizing about how to deal with this behavior or that behavior. They monopolize my waking hours which I don't usually mind but tonight they are monopolizing my sleeping hours and someone is going to have to pay... :)

So as I sat here trying to compose a post that didn't make me sound too whiny, or too fed up, or too upset and totally failing at it I decided to catch up on reading the news. It always helps take my attention off the kids especially because there are so many depressing things out there that it puts my life into perspective. Some pretty terrible things happened out here in our world but I cannot focus on that here.

Instead I wanted to turn this around and think about something good that is happening in our world. This may not seem like good news to everyone but it is to our family and families like ours. Looks like Iowa has become state #3 to legalize same-sex marriages. I can honestly say that of ALL the states I never would have guessed it would be Iowa. It was good to be reminded that good things can come from where I least expected. Now if I can just apply that thinking to my kids....


I have been working on a birthday post for Tortuga but I am struggling because I don't like him very much right now. There is so much craziness going on here for him. Expected and anticipated but nonetheless annoying and exhausting. It has rubbed off on Corazon. She is learning much from her brother and none of it is good. I had to keep Tortuga home from school today and I sent Corazon in kicking and screaming. C. actually had to "drag" her into the school building and up the stairs. The good thing was she actually cared what her peers thought so she stopped screaming and crying as they approached the classroom. Progress?

Anyway, I am still working on Corazon's adoption story. Hope people aren't bored with it but I am going to post another installment or two today. I posting one of those now and may get to another one later.

Adoption Story: What will happen to Corazon?

Adoption story continues. There were so many things going on at the same time that the story gets confusing if I try to tell it chronologically. I already wrote about the social workers involved in Corazon's case. In this post I will discuss some of my struggle with finding out if Corazon was going to be free for adoption and my own feelings about whether Corazon really might belong with a member of her birth family. This part of the adoption story takes place during an 8 month period between February and September 2005. Edited: Oops, I haven't posted about her social workers yet. It is written but I haven't posted it yet.

We were in a serious holding pattern. I had very little information about what was really going on but I knew there had been a number of court hearings and sessions due to the questions and issues raised by all sides. I had many pressing questions/issues: Would she get to stay? What was causing her outrageous behaviors? How could I help her? Was social services standing in the way of Corazon being with her family? Was that where she belonged? Because so much of this was beyond my control I decided that I had to let as much of it go as I could. I started viewing her as one of my foster kids who might be reunified and my role was to help her be safe and get healthy for whatever happened next.

The social worker maintained that my home was the best place for her and that the family members that had been brought forward were unfit. (First time I heard there was more than one!) I finally asked to speak with her supervisor, who I had met briefly during the disclosure meeting. Her supervisor was great. She gave me a whole lot more information about the issues surrounding the court delays and hearings that had taken place since that first one where TPR wasn't granted. She clarified who the various relatives were and assured me they were not interested or able to care for Corazon. I made my point about wanting to make sure they didn't block a family member's ability to have Corazon simply because the "liked" me better. I felt that she heard my concerns and she gave me important information about why the grandmother who had been put forward as interested in Corazon could not be approved to take her. What little she revealed raised significant concerns and include very serious criminal activity in her past and the fact that she had a convicted child sex offender living in her home. When I asked if the judge had this information, I was told the judge did and had dismissed both of those issues as having taken place in the past AND as "fixable" if she had the sex offender move out. The judge had also ordered the department to "waive" their requirements (the ones that keep them from approving homes where the adults have serious criminal charges and/or convictions, among other things) and do whatever they could to make that home an acceptable one. In our state the only one who could approve such a waiver was the tope person in charge at the state office level. The supervisor seemed genuinely puzzled about the reason why the judge was so invested in having this grandparent approved. Furthermore our state system had been in the media at the time due to some pretty awful stuff that had happened to adopted kids in homes where waivers had been granted in the past. These facts seemed to raise even more concerns about why the judge was so interested in having this happen. Social services was moving the case up to the highest levels in their offices to comply with the judges orders and to figure out what else they could do. The supervisor apologized profusely to me about their having expected that TPR was imminent at the time I got Corazon. She said that as an experienced supervisor she had not seen this type of advocacy and interest (by a judge) on behalf of any child before. She truly believed that the grandmother's home was unfit but she also very concerned about the judge's interest in having that home approved. So at this point everyone was in and out of court and we were in a holding pattern. I was grateful for the information and believed the supervisor. She strongly encouraged me to call the social service attorney in charge of the case and speak with her directly because she understood why I might not want to believe her department anymore given that they had misled me about Corazon's case. At the time, I was satisfied with the supervisor's explanations so I did not bother to call the attorney.

The social worker had suggested that we start therapy to help her adjust to her new home. I jumped at the suggestion and was anxious to have therapy given all the behaviors I was seeing. Corazon was still doing all kinds of inappropriate things, stealing, hitting, lying, raging, manipulating, peeing all over the place or at will, withholding pee, farting all the time especially when I got close to her, shopping for new parents, spitting, screaming, etc. She had nightmares about "monsters" stealing her from our house especially once visits with her mother and grandmother began. She raged more and more and was becoming more distressed and hypervigilant. She started saying goodbye to me each day by declaring she might be going to her "new" parents from daycare and that she would (or wouldn't) miss me depending on the day.

I kept trying to make her feel safe and had established a pretty regular and consistent routine. We had our moments where she seemed really vulnerable and ready to open up (brief and fleeting but there.) She also had this heartbreaking way of detailing what an awful, bad person she was and why she should not be loved. We were on a serious rollercoaster and I was hopeful that therapy might help. Three months from the time she moved in we were finally assigned a therapist who was "experienced" with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder.) I was thrilled! (Can you tell how naive I still was about this stuff?)

Three months into the placement my life and schedule were no longer my own. I was still working full-time but managing Corazon's schedule and her issues were more than another full-time job. I was juggling an awful lot of people, meetings, and visits especially given everyone's sudden interest in Corazon. I cannot imagine there are too many foster children who had as many people checking in about her on such a regular basis. I had monthly visits from my social worker, her current worker, her previous worker, her mother's worker, the supervisors of all these people. I had weekly calls from her social worker and her mother's social worker. Corazon still had weekly scheduled visits with mother and grandmother that I had to prep her for even though they often didn't show. (Over an 11 month period they kept only 7 of those weekly appointments.) Even so, the mother's social worker insisted on picking her up weekly from daycare in the middle of the morning, taking her to the office to wait for her mother or grandmother, only to have them not show up. It took months before I could pressure the daycare and social worker to stop picking her up until after (and if) the mother showed up.

I also had almost daily meetings at her daycare (which had finally decided I was committed enough to the kid that they could tell me all the awful things she was doing to herself and others). Then other people started coming out of the woodwork to check in on Corazon. Corazon's attorney had called me the day before the TPR hearing (9 days into her placement with me) to tell me that Corazon would probably be removed from my care that weekend! Other than that he had not bothered to check in with her in the ENTIRE time I had her. I don't believe he had actually EVER met her. She also had a guardian ad litem who also had never met her but suddenly started calling weekly about her and then decided she needed to meet with her. I told her what Corazon knew and didn't know about what was going on. She was 4 and didn't really understand adoption so I had tried to explain things to her as simply as possible. At the time her social worker had told her she was going to have a forever home and now we weren't sure but everyone had agreed to not let her feel bounced around again and even her birth mother didn't want people talking about the court stuff with her. We went to meet with the guardian ad litem and that was absolutely horrible. She was a pleasant enough attorney who spoke with Corazon in my presence. Thank God! Otherwise I would never have known where half the stuff Corazon came up with later was coming from. The woman decided that Corazon was so smart that she deserved to hear more of the "truth." She proceeded to explain courts, judges, custody, adoption, parental rights termination, etc. to Corazon. The poor child was so overwhelmed and confused by it all but the one clear statement she was able to make several times was that she wanted to live with me "forever and ever and ever."

We started therapy three months into our placement. I had so much hope that this would help Corazon! I would be proven wrong once again!

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