Friday, June 06, 2008

The Story of Joseph - The Shelter Care Situation

In the foster care system there are homes that are licensed as emergency shelter homes. They are the homes that kids are taken too right after being put into foster care. The placements are usually short term with the child staying there only long enough for their needs and situation to be assessed and to wait for a more permanent, suitable placement. It takes a special kind of person to be an emergency shelter foster parent. It's a lot to handle, having a constant flow of traumatized and abused children coming in and out of your home and not everyone can or should do it. Unfortunately since this type of foster care pays more than regular foster care it sometimes attracts the wrong type of people.

Joseph came to us from a shelter home that was run by the wrong type of people. He had been in the shelter home for longer than the usual amount of time. This was because there had been some back and forth about if he should even be in foster care at all. No one would make a final decision on what should happen to him so he was just left hanging out there. In the meantime the people at the shelter home applied for and received his clothing allowance, enough to buy a good sized wardrobe for an infant. They also asked for his WIC voucher and got that, no small deal since the special formula Joseph was on cost about $15 a day. All of this, the clothes and the formula was supposed to come with him. Guess what happened?

When Sabrina dropped Joseph off he was wearing the same way too big sleeper he had been wearing the day before. Sabrina had a small cloth bag with her that had everything in it that these people had seen fit to send with him. Inside it was a filthy, size 12 month sleeper, a rag doll with marker all over it, a rubber tube (?), a bib from the hospital where he was born and three ounces of spoiled formula. That's it.

Sabrina was livid. "You see!" she said "This is why I wanted him out of that home! These people should not be taking care of kids!"

Sabrina was angry but she was not one to stand around and shrug her shoulders like Dippy had been. Before the day was out Sabrina had done all the paperwork to get us a new clothing allowance and WIC voucher for Joseph. This would not be the first time I would think how lucky Joseph was to have Sabrina on his side.

We had been warned that Joseph had a huge spitting up problem. I gave him his first bottle and prepared myself for a mess. It never came though. A few hours later I gave him another bottle and again, prepared for the deluge of spit-up I was promised would follow. Again, it never came. Every time I would feel him I would think that certainly this would be the time he would spit up but it just never happened. In fact, he probably spit up less than any other baby I had ever taken care of.

Three days after Joseph came to us he had his visit with the home health care nurse. One of the first things she said to me was "I'm so glad he's out of that home!" It didn't look like anyone had been too impressed with these people. The nurse weighed Joseph and much to her delight (and mine) he had actually gained weight. She remarked that his eyes looked brighter and that he seemed more alert. Then she said something that gave me goosebumps. "I've got to tell you, this is not was I was expecting to see with this visit. I really wondered if this little guy was going to make it at all." (We would later hear the same thing from the people at the WIC office and both times it just made me so angry that no on in this kid's life had given a damn about him other than the people that were paid too.)

I explained to the nurse about how I had never seen Joseph spit up. She got a grim look on her face. She told me she had always suspected that Joseph's spitting up had less to do with him and more to do with the way he was being cared for. She thought that he was probably not being fed until he was ravenously hungry and then when he did eat he would eat too much, too quickly and would swallow a lot of air and then spit up. He was probably never fed unless he was screaming.

I can't imagine how hungry Joseph must have been allowed to get. He never cried with us. Never. Not if he was hungry, not if he was wet, never. I think in his very short life he had already learned that crying did no good so he just didn't do it. Thankfully he did eventually learn to cry when he needed something but it would take a long time.

Another odd thing about when Joseph first came to us was how he didn't like to be held. He was ok with us holding him if he was eating or falling asleep but other times he would stiffen up when we would hold him. His little back would arch and his face would turn away from you. I don't think he was held a lot (or at all) before we got him so the sensation was just too much for him.

What Joseph did like was to be wrapped up really tight. I would swaddle him snugly and then put him in a little bed I made for him in laundry basket. Then I would pull him around to where ever I was so even though he didn't want to be held he could at least be near me and get used to contact that way. I talked to him all the time so that he would get used to me voice and start to feel more comfortable around me.

When the home health care nurse came for her second visit she was amazed at how well Joseph was doing. Thanks to the feeding schedule we had him on he was no longer spitting up and was gaining weight quickly. She was so pleased with his progress that she said she was going to call Sabrina and ask that we be allowed to cancel the surgery Joseph was supposed to have to "fix" his "reflux". Sabrina, of course, agreed right away. She also filed a complaint against Joseph's former shelter care parents. She told me "It won't make any difference. No one ever takes action against the shelter homes. We need them to much. They know it too so and that's why they keep pulling this stuff."

I will admit that I was a little bitter that we had been investigated for what happened to Daniel while everyone just looked away from what happened to Joseph. I tried to be zen about the whole thing though. I knew that if Daniel had not been taken when we was we would have never gotten Joseph and he may have ended up in yet another bad foster home. I thought that maybe there was some big reason why things worked out the way they did. I knew that we would only have Joseph for a month or so but I thought that in that month I could do my best to make a real difference in his life.

"You can squeeze an awful lot of love into one month." I thought. And what would happene to him after that one month? I couldn't think about that. I was just glad he was out of that shelter home.


Laggin said...

Ah . . . early Aspie . . . the infamous arching of the back and turning away. Eldest didn't like that either!

Jerseygirl89 said...

That story breaks my heart. Thank God you were there for him.

Jen said...

laggin - Of course at the time I didn't know that I had anything to do with Aspergers. I still think it had something to do with never being picked up before because he did at some point start to enjoy being held more.

jerseygirl - IT makes me sad too but I just try to remember as I write this up that everything worked out in the end.

nell said...

This is such a great story, Jen.