Monday, March 28, 2011

Life's Audible at the Line of Scrimmage.

I'm not much of a football fan and I'm not terribly versed on the rules and lexicon of the game.  I do understand that plays are called in a huddle, the team breaks the huddle and heads for an imaginery line draw across the field even with the football and that this line is called the "line of scrimmage".  The quarterback then settles behind this great big guy who usually looks like for all the world that he's about to split out his pants and proceeds to bark out a bunch of nonsense "codes" and at some point in this strange sequence the guy who's about split out his pants snaps the ball back to the quarterback and the play starts.  But sometimes the quarter gets real uncomfortable with what he sees across that line and he calls what is known as an "audible".  This is when the quarterback decides to not go with the plan devised in the huddle and instead, switch the play right there in the middle of the action.  This past weekend, life called an audible on our family and man did it turn out to be a winning play!

Annually the male types on our family have gone on our "Boys Club Campout".  All the men and boys get together somewhere in the wilderness equipped with camping gear and plenty of good eats that are shared throughout the weekend, While the women and girls get together at our home for their own fun. We stand around a campfire much of the weekend, hike through woods and mountains, and generally give our best Daniel Boone impression before returning home to the women in our lives smelling like the great out of doors among other things!  This weekend the event for the guys was to be held at a state park nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in upstate South Carolina.  Our oldest son, Jason, went a day early to enjoy some R&R along with his 90 lbs German Shepard, Max.  The rest of us guys got up Saturday and began our journey to meet Jason and Max for the weekend in the park. We were all en route when the phone rang.  It was Jason letting us know that a heavy rain had set in, flooding the campsite, soaking everything he had, and that perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to follow through as planned.  The "audible" was called and we decided to all invade the women folk back at our home in southeastern North Carolina.  Throughout the afternoon car loads of rugged warriors waylaid by the weather arrived at our house. 

Afternoon gave way to evening as everyone settled in to plan and prepare meals for what turned out to be 14 family members in our home.  People were laughing, playing and enjoying the time together as the meal was being prepared.  We realized that all of our children were present in our house, which is actually a fairly rare event.  But our four new children along with the others we've been loving for years were all present. Including our daughter in law (who is with child) and our soon to be son in law. In that moment we realized that God had orchestrated a wonderful time for our family to enjoy.  It was a "Little House on the Prairie" moment as we watched the new kids playing and interacting well with the older ones and the older ones enjoying one another as well as the new kids.  All were laughing, playing and there was such a strong sense of well-being and safety that permeated the atmosphere of our home.

The teasing and talks of who prayed for the rain went on and on......Was it Jason, the devout Carolina fan who was going up against Kentucky on Sunday? or was it Russell, the devout Kentucky fan? Could it have been Chris, the soon to be son in law, joining the camp out for the first time? Rumors had it that there would be an initiation into the family :)...he certainly had ample motivation to pray this one a wash out!  Or, was it Karen, who was supposed to be home with the four new kids for the weekend?  Or maybe it was just one of those collective unconscious things that moved Heaven to intervene for the good of the entire tribe.  

Whatever the cause, we could not have planned it any better if we had tried.   Children gathered literally from all over the country, having fun, enjoying the magnanimous blessing of family and all the best that offers us and there was the blessed peace of God and deep down joy that comes when you know that the Heavenly Father is watching over His children with great satisfaction.  The audible was called and the play generated huge gain.   We look forward to many more such moments.  Thanks to each of you for letting us share it with you today!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

System Solutions vs Parental Solutions

This is a long post, but an incredibly important one.  We'd like to ask all our readers to please stay with us until the end.  Throughout the adoption process there are various snags, snafus and sometimes, even landmines to navigate.  The battle for orphans, their lives, their sanity, and their very souls can be intense.  With older children, if its not intense enough just dealing with their undersocialized, unstructured and at times, unruly behavior, it often seems that there is this collision of idealogies that exists between the systems that are charged with the care of these children and the parental philosophies of those who accepted the challenged of providing a forever home and parents.  We have encountered this collision of idealogies several times along the way while caring for our 4 new children. 

One of those collisions occurred recently when we received an email from our social worker outlining a conversation she had with the social workers from the children's placing agency. Our social worker indicated that there is apparently a court order for the placing agency and other state personnel to have contact with us and the children each month.  Additionally, we were informed that the children’s care plan allegedly calls for psychotherapy, play therapy and for some of our children, speech therapy. We have searched through our paperwork and could not find either the court order or a copy of the care plan. We saw a form that we signed obligating us to participate in a care plan development, but we have had neither participation in the plan and have not even seen the plan. This blog is intended not to bash the system or point out breakdowns in communication, but to express our ideas about the philosophy that drives these recommendations on the alleged care plan.  That is to say we are opposed to involving the children in all these various services at this time for several very important reasons.  We would like to express our ideas and what distinguishes them as parental ideas vs. system ideas of caring for children.

Our first idea focuses on the historical instability in the children's lives and the need for a strong season of stable bonding.  These children have moved so many, many times and to the point that they expect to move again any day now.  Every time we do our monthly post-adoption placement visits, our children's behavior regress unbelievably and it takes another 2-3 weeks, literally, before they settle back into a safe, secure routine.  Their behavior screams (sometimes literally!) of the fact that nothing has been stable in their life. You can observe, sense and feel their anxiety, as they wonder if they will be removed from the home, because after all, in their worlds, that's what the social worker does...removes them from home and places them in a temporary shelter.  They have been conditioned to an adult just telling them where they will be and taking them there.  No explanation of their long term future, just that you're safe and will be fed today.  Perhaps some of the placements have taken a shot at structure and instruction, but little investment in their long term welfare and destinies, if you will. 
Don't get me wrong, there is value in securing a child's evening or day, but at some point that care plan needs to shift to the long term vision and destiny of a child.  That requires concentrated effort that only comes through a bonded relationship.  We have spent the first 90 days trying to bond with the children and getting them accustomed to responding to our voice. The children are responding positively to this approach and developing a parent/child relationship that they have never known.  The process begs the question, Why do we want to introduce 1, 2 or more other voices instructing them right now?  In my opinion, which also includes 30 years of clinical psychology experience, that idea does not make sense at this time and is not a parental solution, but rather a system solution. Let me explain.

The system is overloaded with children and in many cases there are no reliable caregivers, thereby forcing the system to take on the voice of a parent. One of the system’s best options to fill this “parental voice” is therapy. Whether it is psychotherapy, play therapy, speech therapy, primal scream therapy or all of the above!  But what is the goal of such therapy?  Where does it go?  The standard answer is “to work out these issues” however “these issues” are defined.  In my career I've written many of these treatment plans and signed off on hundreds more.  The popular lines in the Individual Care Plan reads something like this:
BEHAVIOR:  child becomes easily angered and frustrated, fights with others, is defiant with authority figures
GOAL:  reduce angry outbursts from 10 times a day to less than 3 times per day
INTERVENTION:  individual outpatient psychotherapy
And then the plan goes on to outline timeframes, who is going to do what, when, how often, etc.  But we have to stop right here and ask an important question: If we are doing all these things in therapy, what in the world are the parents for?!  The system responds with a "yeah, well the parents may not X,Y,Z, and even if they do, the therapy is designed to support what the parents are doing!"  And to that I (Russell) say, "never kid a kidder!"  I know what the deal is.  And in most cases, the system is saying that because there is no parent doing the parenting and we (the therapists) assume the parental role of teaching, instructing, guiding both child and parent(s) if they will participate.  We operate as if we are the one best shot at being a guiding, structured, i.e., parental voice in that child's life...and for good reason...many times we are!   But this is not how life should be.  I am quick to say that the system, which is subject to its own transitions, e.g., therapist moves, maternity leaves, or decisions to change careers and go into real estate, is a weak substitute for positive, consistent parenting.  I know how the shelters, group homes and respite care facilities are staffed.  Well meaning, good people, with big hearts of compassion who care about the residents…for 8 to 10 hours a day for 5 days a week, maybe 6 days if there’s no one else to fill the shift.  They are generally minimally trained but usually supervised by a more educated individual…and this is the best case scenario...I don’t want to even talk about the worst!  These people come and go, impacting the moment with safety and basic needs, but having little vision for the life of the child because after all, next week the kids may be placed somewhere else or perhaps a better job opens up across town, or perhaps one is just flat burnt out and needs a change of vocational scenery.  The point is, this is in essence, trying to stop a hemorrhage with a Band-Aid!  While it sounds like I am bashing the system, I assure you that I am not.  I, of all people, recognize and know its strengths and weaknesses.  When there is no reasonable option available to provide stable, responsible and enduring care, the system is the best option.  However, when there is a reasonable option, the system should recognize its limitations in both practice and philosophy, back off and let parents do the parenting.  To bring it back to our children, we do not believe that introducing more “parental voices” to them is in their best interest, especially at this time.  It introduces “competing voices” and weakens or even interferes with, the bonding process between the children and us as their forever parents.

The second reason has to do with simple logistics.  To place the four children in these services at this time means anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week of time spent either on the road or in an office somewhere.  This makes no sense to interrupt the children’s routine and structure in our home.  We have established a consistent routine with the children and they are responding positively to such structure.  We have noticed that any disruption in this routine, whether it’s a visitor, change in supper time or just doing something different, generates significant regression in behavior.  Let a social worker show up or a phone contact with a former social services worker, and it literally requires weeks of intense supervision to return the children to the previous higher levels of functioning.  To place the children in all of these services (1) limits our time with them developing bonding, and (2) disrupts routine and structure for the children.  It is hard to see that the potential benefits of therapy is going to be greater than us being with the children and providing a consistent, loving and predictable environment for them.  Again, if we saw that the potential benefits were greater than doing what we are currently doing, we would deal with that and certainly put the children in all these services.  However, we are not currently convinced of such benefits.

So, the battle for the future and welfare of our children continues.  It is intense and requires diligence, perseverance and patience.  We'd love to hear from some of our readers.  What are your thoughts?  Maybe some of you have had experiences.  What have those experiences been like for you?  Drop us a line in the comments section.  We have been greatly encouraged by many of you and your insights in the past.  We'd like to invite you to give us more!  Until we talk again...