Monday, June 29, 2009

Musical Chairs

I’m settling into the emotional rollercoaster that is bound to be the next few months - we're finally fully involved in our program to meet and "host" a Los Angeles foster kid on weekends. But we haven't found the right kid yet. It might take a week, it might take six months - it’s hard to say, and our agency and our social worker seem to counsel that it’s impossible to rush or predict the process. I’m slowly getting used to that idea and it’s uncomfortable at times, because it goes against the grain of my natural modus operandi, which is to follow through decisions more or less right away (read: right now).

Our social worker, who is a stiletto-wearing Lakers-loving native Angeleno and two-time graduate of UCLA, recently asked me a question last week that drove the point home. “You realize, don’t you, that these kids come with two social workers – a primary social worker, and an adoption social worker? And then there’s the head of their group home, who also has a say. And all these people have to coordinate, and that doesn't always happen right away. So you might be calling the kid’s social worker trying to get an answer, and they might not return your phone calls for a week, and that might get really frustrating. You know what I mean?”

Yes, I do. I think experience has probably just taught her that fancy-pants white folks like me live in a world that insulates us from bureaucratic inefficiency most of the time. I get it. This isn’t a service business. The agency and the social worker aren’t there to fulfill my desires and preferences. They exist to protect, as best they can, tens of thousands of abandoned kids in a system that’s been robbed of resources, and they do so amid a nearly impenetrable tangle of laws and regulations. And that saps their energy and exhausts their idealism, and if they fail to be impressed by my noble desire to provide a permanent home for one of these kids, I'll just have to forgive them, because they've got a lot of thankless dirty work to do.

So we wait and we participate in loosely organized events sponsored by our agency every weekend. We are feeling good, as we’re done for now with the official process of qualifying as "weekend hosts". The Lakers-loving social worker interviewed us for hours the other night and gave us (and our home) the thumbs-up. That means the Los Angeles DCFS says we’re officially approved to have a foster kid in our home on weeekends.

I also finally got the answer to a question I've been trying to puzzle out for months. We know that if we find a good match, and if the kid is interested in being adopted (eventually), we'd like to make that commitment. But the state doesn't terminate birth parent rights unless/until there is an adoptive prospect in the works. And that means the kid lives with a licensed foster parent during the (sometimes lengthy) process of terminating birth parent rights, leading to adoption. So my fear throughout this process has been: what if we connect with a kid, we do a series of weekends visits, and we all decide we'd like to have a more permanent arrangement? Do we then have to go through all the training and licensing to become foster parents before the kid can move in full-time? And the answer is no. The agency we're working with has a special arrangement with DCFS that allows a weekend arrangement to go full-time under an obscure provision regarding what they term "Non-relative Extended Family Caregiving."

And we did just meet a kid we felt comfortable with, who seemed to feel comfortable with us – unfortunately, our agency had orchestrated a match for him with another couple last week, just at the same time we expressed interest. At times the process feels like musical chairs – if there are more adults than kids in the program on any given weekend, then it’s easy to get the feeling that when the music stops, you need to grab a kid quick, or they’ll all be taken. I'll continue to try to resist that feeling. We’ve got weekend events scheduled every weekend between now and Labor Day, so there's plenty of time left to let the music play and see what happens.

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