Continuing Corazon's adoption story... Edited: This part of the story takes place in February/March 2005.
Of course there was more to the story on several levels. There was an awful lot going on with Corazon that suggested she wasn't a "normal" 4 year old even with her history. I had a good history of all the placements Corazon had been in and she had definitely been bounced around a fair amount. Her story before our time together is hers to share so I won't go too much into the specifics. It was apparent that she had very little stability at times and some stability at others. She had a rough beginning as a very small preemie who spent time in the hospital battling the drugs that were in her system. It is unclear if she had any family attention during that time. When she was released from the hospital she was placed with a paternal relative who neglected her and actually turned out not to be related to her after all. Subsequent placements included family members who at times turned her over to her mother whenever she seemed to be holding things together. When her mother relapsed someone would take Corazon temporarily and once through legal guardianship. Her mother was sometimes involved in her life before age two but Corazon rarely lived with her for long. Social services was continually involved with the mother because she had another older child in foster care. They provided many supports to her as she tried to fight to keep Corazon and get the other child back.
In Corazon's first 2 1/2 years of life she had 9 different caregivers although there were many more moves back and forth. She spent very little total time with her mother although her mother saw a good deal of her at various family members homes. With one exception there had been lots of neglect, inadequate parenting, and some abuse in those placements. This exception was an important one because the paternal aunt that took her in really did care for her in every sense of the word and Corazon was able to bond with her to some extent. This relative had her for short stints in between other placements and finally at about 2 1/2 years of age it looked like this aunt would adopt Corazon. About a year later, the aunt changed her mind for complex reasons and Corazon entered the foster home she was in before coming home to me. There is much more that I know about her life during those years that is not mine to share. Suffice it to say that because all those placements happened when she was very young and she had stability with the aunt, social services determined that she was too young to be significantly impacted (negatively) by that history and that she was one of the lucky ones. We all know they were wrong but at the time she was held up as a kid with few problems that a little stability and love would cure.
At the time that Corazon moved in she had not had a visit with her mother in about 7 months. Her mother was supposed to have supervised visits every two weeks but she often didn't show up or she cancelled the visits. Immediately after the TPR hearing was postponed visits were reinstated based on the judge's orders, on a weekly basis with her mother and her grandmother. At this point her grandmother had only seen Corazon once in her 4 1/2 years of life but she had legal guardianship of Corazon's 16 and 17 year old sister and brother. This had been the case since they were in elementary school. Social services had not been involved in making that arrangement.
Corazon was hysterical after her first visit with her mother. She cried and cried and clung to me and begged me not to send her away. Then she went into a dissociative state that would become very familiar over the next several months and years. When she snapped out of that she got mad at me and told me she was going to live with "that lady" which is how she referred to her mother. She cried, raged, slept and then started it all over again. Over the next several months her mother did not keep the weekly meetings but did see her at most, once a month. The grandmother did not show up for visits citing health issues as the reason. During those first 4 or 5 months Corazon's behaviors and problems continued to emerge. She had lots of good times of cuddling, kissing, and total sweetness but these were also punctuated by many other incidents where she asked strangers to take her home, walked off with other children to "meet" their parents if we took our eyes off her for a second, shopped constantly for a new family and told stories of how her life would be there. She raged, stole, lied, hit, destroyed, was obsessed with fire, peed, spit, hit herself, sneaked around the house and all those other behaviors that families of kids with RAD are quite familiar with. There were other "less serious" but annoying behaviors--constant nonsense chatter, nonsense questions, loudness, charming strangers, lying to people about us, attempts at triangulation of adults especially in our house, lack of eye contact, inappropriate responses, no sense of cause and effect, superficially engaging, affectionate only on her terms, controlling about lots of things, would insist on eating take-out food only, ate more than I had ever seen a human being eat, always denied being asleep when I woke her but most of the time was awake no matter what time I came in to her room to check on her. We had some serious incidents where she tried to kill one of our cats twice, and came into my bedroom when I was sleeping armed with a steak knife several times. One night C. woke up to find Corazon standing over her inches from her face. Later that day, I discovered a knife underneath C.'s bed. (To explain the living arrangement a little, we lived in a two family house that we kept "open" for the three adults in the house. C. lived downstairs, I lived upstairs with Corazon and a family member who was also a good friend. Corazon did not have ANY access to the downstairs apartment and had never been down there at the time of this incident.) Those last incidents prompted me to put an alarm on her door and replace the baby monitor with a video monitor in her room. Most people in my life didn't hear about what was going on and to the outside observer she was a happy, cute, charming and polite kid. All my colleagues and friends LOVED her. Yet at home she continued to be unpredictable. We (jokingly) called her "Sybil" and/or "Regan" whenever we discussed her most recent behaviors (I hope some of you remember those movies.) Yet she was also a great kid at times but I knew there was something wrong.
I tried to raise my concerns with her social worker who suggested therapy but who also cautioned me about talking too much about her issues or "we" might lose her if the judge thought I couldn't handle her. That was the first inkling that I needed to know more about what the holdup or issue with the TPR was. I had had a number of foster kids and except for the last one (a short term placement of a teen with RAD)they had all been reunified with their parents and I had been happy about that. I was strongly invested in making sure that kids who could be raised by their parents or other family members were raised by their family members. I didn't want to get in the way of that. But I also knew that her mother wasn't showing up to meetings and neither was the grandmother. They didn't seem to be really interested in seeing her and they really seemed to confuse her and mess with her when they did have a visit. They often brought other relatives (aunts, cousins, etc.) that Corazon didn't know and she would come back from the visits frazzled and telling me about a new person she might go live with. It was all very messy and didn't help this kid at all.
About 2 months after Corazon moved in I attended a foster care review where all the people involved with the child meet to check in on the status of the child/family case. I showed up and so did a whole host of people including her mother and her attorney. The meeting was awful! People yelled, cursed, screamed, accused, interrupted, and ultimately stormed out. The mother was not in good shape and was verbally abusive to the social workers and supervisors in the room. It was also clear she had not met the majority of the goals in her "plan." She announced she didn't have to do those things because her mother (the absent grandmother) was going to raise Corazon! This was how I found out that a relative had come forward and was showing interest in Corazon.
One really good thing came out of that meeting though. When I left the mother was waiting outside for me. She came up to me and apologized for her behavior, thanked me for caring for her daughter, told me how impressed she was by how wonderful and healthy and happy Corazon seemed. At that time I told her that I fully supported her fighting for her child and would do my best not to stand in her way if they really could provide for her. She told me that she would never direct her anger at her but that if she lost the case she KNEW her daughter was in the best possible hands and she wouldn't stand in my way. The mutual respect we showed for each other's position at that initial meeting would take us a very long way over the next 20 months.