Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cluster Facilitator Retreat

Utah takes good care of its foster parents. Each year they have something called a Facilitator Retreat, (and it's all paid for) for those foster parents who are Cluster Facilitators.

Let me explain who these Cluster Facilitators are: First of all a 'Cluster' is a geographical grouping of foster parents (for instance those who live in Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs are in the Crossroads Cluster, those who live in Provo and Orem are in the Central cluster); sometimes it's a specialized group of foster parents (like those who are kinship caregivers, or adoptive families, or Level 3 caregivers). Secondly, a 'facilitator' is a volunteer licensed foster parent who leads this group; they set up trainings, they keep in touch with other families, the regional trainer and retention specialist through emails and websites, and they offer support to newer licensed foster parents.

Because of that spirit of volunteerism, once a year in April, the Utah Foster Care Foundation provides a 1 and 1/2 day retreat/training for those facilitators and their spouses. The hours spent in training count as hours towards re-licensing requirements.

Today I sat in the audience while two state program directors (Tonya Albornoz and Marty Shannon) spoke about recent Legislative updates and the new assessment tool which DCFS is instigating (called Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths assessment (CANS) for better placement and treatment decisions). Both ladies were open to input and were articulate in the direction the Division was headed. The UFCF also brought in a currently licensed set of foster parents, and one of the state trainers to speak on their areas of expertise. We learned together, we laughed together, and it was all covered by the generosity of the UFCF.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Art of Apologizing

My two oldest girls, FiBo and MiChi (pronounced Mitchee) were asked to participate on a panel of teens to talk about their experiences before, during and after foster care. It was a training specifically for licensed foster parents and it's usually held 2-3 times a year.
I had planned to go with them until 15-20 min before they left; then my youngest, Juby decided she didn't want to go, so I was going to stay home with her. FiBo drives so she took herself and MiChi to American Fork (about 20 miles north of our home).
When they arrived home I asked how it went and I got the typical teen, "fine" from both of them and thought nothing of it...until a few days later when the two facilitators of the training emailed me asking for an 'in-person meeting'.
The facilitators both showed up solemn affects...they sat in my office and looked at each other. One said, 'we just have to say it'.

Now my mind is racing...what the heck could be so bad? They went on to explain about the poor manners of both girls. They talked about them monopolizing the conversation, one of them ripping up her name tent and tossing pieces of it at her sister, both of the girls having a private conversation in sign language and whispers and one of them telling parts of MY STORY which was not hers to tell.
I was embarassed...i knew my co-worker was in her office and probably heard most of this. I always brag about my girls so this was a tough report to hear. I also was mad and disappointed. Mad that parts of my story were told...without permission and without editing...and that I was disrespected by my own two girls about letting me babysit their babys (when they have them) because they don't trust me with them! What was THAT about?

I really didn't know what to say to these two young ladies...the two facilitators who made this specific appointment with me to tell me what a distraction my girls were, and probably really killed the spirit of the training with their antics...and also with MY TWO young ladies, who now needed a scolding and guidance.

As I drove home I said a little prayer. I wanted to be firm and serious, but I wanted to hear their point of view and make this a learning experience as well. FiBo had texted me about when I would be home...I texted her "Soon, and we have to talk." She asked "Is it serious?" and I replied "Yes.". (Later she told me that when she saw 'yes.' with a period after it, she knew it was serious! Kind of funny how little things like that make an impression)

I walked in the front door and both FiBo and MiChi were in the kitchen waiting for me. I mentioned that the two facilitators from their Teen Panel presentation last week met with me today. I asked them if they could figure out why they'd want to talk to me in person. Both replied that they didn't know. I then went down the list of things that the facilitators mentioned to me and they were quiet. Once or twice they said, 'we were just kidding!' (the part about not wanting me to babysit their kids), but I told them it wasn't received like they thought it was. I told them that apologies are going to be written to both facilitators. I have not had to really 'discipline' my 17 yr old in a long time (FiBo), so it was hard for her to hear my disappointment, and for her to admit she had poor judgment that night. I told them they probably won't sit on the same teen panels anymore, at least for a while....and when they do, I will be in attendance next time.

Simultaneously to this conversation, MiChi was getting ready to go to Las Vegas for a 3-day Choir field trip. I had to get her back to school by 3:00p...it was 2:40 as we were finishing up our conversation. FiBo sat in the living room and began her 45 min of reading (a normal after school requirement) and MiChi ran downstairs to get her things for her trip (which luckily she packed the night before). I leaned down to FiBo and hugged her head and kissed her forehead. I told her I love her and I'd be back in a few minutes.
MiChi wanted to drive. I let her. I was quiet during most of the trip back to Provo High. I didn't want to ruin MiChi's trip any more with a lecture. She must have apologized 3-4 times in the 3 mile drive. I told her, "let's forget about it for now. I want you to have a good time on your field trip." I squeezed her shoulder once or twice as she drove. When we got to the school, she said, 'Hey, let's take my first picture of the trip with me and you!". so, we posed together and she took the picture. She hugged me and skipped off with her things and I told her I loved her. Actually, she said it first, this time.

Sounds like a good place to end this story, but there is one more paragraph that needs to be told. About a week later, when emotions had settled, I had two cards sitting on the kitchen table when they got home from school. I reminded them that it's time to write their apology notes. They both sat down. One said, 'Can't we just call them and say we're sorry?" I said, "No, this is a good time to learn the art of apologizing." They both wrote their notes, when FiBo gave me hers to read I had to ask her to re-write most of it. Yes, she had said she was sorry for her behaviors, but she never listed what the behaviors were. I told her it is important to own your specific poor choices of that evening. She was not happy with me, but she did it. I re-read it and it was much better. They addressed the envelopes, stamped them and we mailed them the next morning.

Damn, it's hard to be a parent of teenagers. But you know what I think? I think they were just being teenagers! I think they were happy to be out without supervision, in a cool truck, sitting on a panel...probably showing off a little. I think they spoke without thinking (teen girls that speak without thinking is pretty normal, right?!!?) and never thought that they were being perceived so poorly. I love my girls very much. Sometimes I just want to hold and cuddle them forever. And just to keep this all in perspective...I get way more good reports about them, than reports like this. I just had to tell you, though...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Good Laugh!

So, i walk in the door from church today and my 17 yr old jumps up, meets me at the door, hugs me and says "it took you long enough!" (to get home). And I feel quite loved. Then I ascend the stairs and she asks me what is in the glass in the bathroom? I said, I didn't know. (I am now in my bedroom to change from Sunday dress to jeans).
"Is it beer?", one of them shouts to me...
"NO !".
"Is it urine?", the other one shouts...
"Well, it's the color of beer and urine, what's in it, we can't figure it out?! And it kinda smells like urine..."

I exit my room, peek into the bathroom as I walk towards them...
These girls know I am a Diet Coke fanatic. Yet this thought never occured to them. I guess it's more fun to think of what wild idea it could have been. And I smile as I mentally picture them sniffing the glass, maybe one daring the other to take a sip. HA!

I explaned that I had poured a glass of Diet Coke this morning while I was doing a little bit (a very little bit) of makeup and I had left the glass with a small amount of Diet Coke and some ice in the bathroom...the ice melted so it was a goldish color instead of brown like undiluted Diet Coke! Then in unison, my 15 and 17 yr old sighed, "Ohhhhhhhh!"

Oh yeah, I had a good laugh over that one! Then I went in to the bathroom, picked up the glass, took back the first answer and said, "you were right, it is urine, I was doing a pregnancy test. (and I gulped it down)."
Then in unison, "GROOOSSSSSSSS!" Another good laugh.
I love teenagers!

Friday, January 28, 2011


For some reason our family has been the focus of three articles in two newspapers (the Provo Daily Herald and the Salt Lake Deseret News) in the last four months (including the third one, yesterday, 1-27-11)! This most recent article was to bring to Utah's attention that TEENAGERS are often overlooked when it comes to both fostering needs and permanency (adoption).

Some stereotypes I've heard about TEENS in foster care are: bad influence, criminals, perpetrators, trouble makers, truancy problems...just the tip of the iceberg. But what many fail to realize is that some of these TEENS did not enter the system as TEENAGERS, they entered while they were in elementary school (both of my teens fall into this category) and for a variety of reasons have not been able to find permanency either at home, with a relative, or with a foster family. Many of these kids enter the system because they have been abused and neglected (both of mine).

I was told just last week, by a caseworker who specializes in TEENS (TS) that 52% of our kids in custody, in the Western Region of Utah today are ages 14 and older (up to age 20). That is a sad story. Again, the two of mine were in that percentage until July (for Aubrianna) and Nov 2010 (for Sophie)when I offered permanency to them, through adoption.

I say it's a sad story because many new foster families only want little children; many would prefer ages 0-2 years...but let me list some of the benefits of having TEENAGERS:
1- no diaper changing
2- no waking up at god-forsaken hours during the night
3- they do their own laundry
4- you have live-in babysitters!
5- they bathe themselves and do their own hair
6- many know how to and enjoy cooking and baking
7- they can help you program and then re-program cell phones, remotes, dvr's, etc!
8- they sing in the truck
9- they help you remember to use your turn signal...all the time.
10- they can be dropped off at the mall and you can go to lunch with your spouse or friends!
11- they make fun of you when you listen to classic rock, or wear 'comfortable' shoes instead of trendy shoes.
12- they are real competition in Scrabble and card games
13- they will still cuddle with you (now and then) while watching tv
14- they come home totally frustrated with a friend who is now their enemy, and they want to know if I would be mad at them if they got suspended for fighting! (ooops, that shouldn't be on this list...)

I LOVE TEENAGERS!! Of course I know that not all TEENS will be funloving and responsible all the time...I wasn't, and my girls are not either. As a matter of fact, my 15 yr old asked me just last night 'why'd you do drugs when you were a teenager?' (heavy sigh)

Yes, they get mad at me, and mad at each other...and a few 'f' bombs have been dropped, and hair has been died black (with permission, you have to pick your battles, right?) and doors have been slammed and broken, but those moments are short lived and fewer and far between as the months progress.

They want what we all want: to belong. Please consider TEENAGERS as you contemplate fostering and or fostering towards adoption. Check out the Utah Foster Care Foundation website if you're in Utah: www.utahfostercare.org

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A week ago the four of us went to meet our new Primary Care Physician. My 17 yr old daughter, Aubrianna, wanted a female doctor and didn't want to go to her pediatrician anymore. I found someone I thought she'd like. I made appointments for three of us to get our FLU shots, two of them to get their Gardasil shot, and all of us to meet the doctor.

As my 11 yr old (Aubri's youngest sibling) sat on the paper covered exam bed, her anxiety began to grow. She began to whine and hold/cover her upper arms with her own hands. I thought she was kidding. I may even have verbally reprimanded her. But as the nurse approached my youngest girl with the needle, Aubri stood up and stood right in front of her little sister. She leaned in and they touched foreheads. Aubri held her hands and told her to "just look at me, it'll be over in a minute". Even though her sister whined and tried to pull away from the nurse, Aubrianna knew just what to do. She was comforting and attentive and motherly. I, on the other hand, sat and watched and soaked it in. Yes, I was a little embarassed that I didn't think to do that. But my embarassment turned to awe as I saw my daughter (who has been her sisters mom for close to 11 years) nurture and calm her sister.

I've heard many caseworkers and even therapists recommend that siblings be separated if there are 'parenting issues' or if one of the children is 'parentified'. They say things like, 'it's in the oldest childs best interest', 'it will give them a chance to be a kid'. But my oldest daughter has only lived with me a year and a day...the trust is growing, but it's not at it's pinacle yet. She has a decade more parenting experience than I do (sadly for both of us) and her little sister TRUSTS her. That is the real point, isn't it?

When I earn the trust of my girls, I will be earning the title of MOTHER. As I learn the skills of mothering, I will earn the title of MOM. Oh, yeah...

I'm so proud....

The past two nights my girls have shared parts of their stories with both 'potential' foster parents (those still in training and waiting for their background checks) and tonight, with licensed foster parents. They share funny stories about things happening in our lives and they share the sad, scary and abusive stuff that happened to them before they came into states custody, as well as the culture-shocky experiences as they transitioned from home to home.
Why did these girls come to my home? We have such an interesting history which goes back five years. Why are their parents willing to have a relationship with me? Why is it getting so comfortable between us all? What does God have planned for us?
My girls are SURVIVORS! Every child who enters the foster care system has survived abuse and neglect serious enough to be removed from their caregivers. Yet they are blessed with talents, intelligence, wisdom, articulate expression, humor and many other gifts. I love them today more than I did yesterday; and I can hardly wait till tomorrow!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Farewell to Kelly Glasser ....Guardian ad Litem

Kelly and her husband Joe died in a tragic kayaking accident in Utah over the weekend. I didn't know much about her on a personal level but I worked with her for many years as she represented DCFS children who are in foster care. She had a carefree laugh and along with her long, loose, curly hair those two things symbolized her attitude about life.

Kelly also represented my two daughters in court just weeks ago; they have been on her caseload since the day they entered care 5 years ago. I will have to share with them, today also, of our great loss.

"Guardian ad Litem" is a Latin term meaning, 'Guardian of the child'...she did it in her profession of attorney, and I'm positive she will continue in this work on the other side. May God bless with comfort her family and friends during this unexpected loss (and recovery). I love you Kelli.