start 'em young!

Whenever I get any money, I buy books; and if I have any left over, I buy food and clothing. -- Erasmus

It was time to add to J-Man's book collection! He might be young, but it's never too early to start developing a love for books in our kiddos.

This round of book-ordering focused on books that will help him...

understand foster care:
understand and value his culture:

Booker T. Washington (On My Own Biography)      You Can Do It!     Martin Luther King, Jr. (My First Biography)     Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream

love Jesus:

Any books you would recommend? We are all ears!


organized = more time for play!

One of the things that has helped me tremendously as I've been serving our little ones is documentation! My former principal would be proud!

Combining several organization tips from Starry, ideas from the PESA class that I took back in the fall, and then my own personal preferences, I've tried to be diligent in keeping all the information organized and up to date.

Here is my system!:

I keep all documents stored in a binder with the child's name. If the child leaves our care, I then put the papers in a file folder and store in our filing cabinet in case I need to reference it for later use.

Inside the folder, I've created the following tabs: placement paperwork, Service Plans (which are primarily an extensive list of goals created for the child by the foster care agency), Medical, Calendar, Communication Log, Info Sent to Starry, Info from/to CPS, and Court Documents.

I use the calendar to document all that J-Man experiences and all the milestones he meets. I try to write down a little blurb of something that he did or something he experienced each day. My hope is that he can keep this for many years to come and know exactly what his "firsts" were and know all that he experienced while he was with us. My hope is that this will also be a tool for bio mom to use in the future.

The communication log has proven to be a very helpful form. I created a form on word that has 4 columns: the date, whom I communication with, Type (call, email, visit...), and a description of the conversation. There have been so many times that I have needed to go back and reference information and it has been a dream to have all this information stored in one place!

Both of these tools, the calendar and the communication log, have also been particularly helpful when I write up J-Man's progress notes to send to Starry each month. We are required to submit an extensive summary of what the child's month looked like, including visits to doctors, visits with ad litems, summaries of visits with bio mom, etc. We are also required to give an update on how the child is doing to reach his/her goals that our case manager creates in the Service Plan. Since my memory is not too reliable, this notebook makes the end-of-the-month summary-writing much more effiicient. And I am all about being more efficient these days.


accent those baby curls

I have always been impressed with African American hair styles. Now that I'm responsible for styling and caring for my little guy's hair, I was a bit intimated to say the least. But you better believe that I wanted to do such a good job that no one would know that a WHITE lady is doing his hair!

So it was high time to do some research. After consulting a few friends and doing some homework online, everyone agreed- those sweet baby curls need to be accented. I could not agree more, ladies. Now how to accent those curls was the question. I chose: "It's a Curl for Babies".
Peek A Boo Shampoo, Patty Cake Conditioner, Itsy Bitsy Spirals & Ring Around the Curlies Leave in Cream

It helped me in my decision making process to know that other products from curls.biz are used by, uh huh, that's right... Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Ameri, Ashanti, and Halle Berry.


needing Jesus

I can't help but be moved by music. Lately, I find myself searching from radio station to radio station hoping that they will play this song by Sanctus Real, knowing that every time I hear it it will inevitably bring tears to my eyes and stir my heart. God has used it as a reminder that our kiddos are worth fighting for and that I am desperately dependent on the Lord as we are opening up our home to these little ones.
It also makes me thankful to be married to a man who fights for our family by preserving his affections for Jesus.

A clip of the lyrics from Lead Me:

I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They're just children from the outside
I'm working hard, I tell myself they'll be fine
They're in independent
But on the inside, I can hear them saying...

Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won't You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, 'cause I can't do this alone


foster care 201

Now to zoom in... I shared what the foster care system looked like from a bird's-eye view, and now here is what it looks like from the foster parents' view.
Choosing a foster agency: there are two major routes to pick from: public or private. The public option is becoming licensed directly through DFPS. The private options will vary depending on the area you live in, of course. The private foster care agencies are typically funded partially by state funding and then also by private funding. The private agencies that I am familiar with and would recommend in the Austin area are as follows: Starry, Arrow, and Caring Family Network. When fostering through a private agency, you will have a case manager assigned to you who leads you and the child through the entire fostering process. We have been ever grateful for ours! We couldn't imagine walking this path without her!

Some things to consider when looking for an agency are as follows: proximity to your home, size of the agency, level of support that is offered to the child and you, values, religious affiliation, and agency goals. Different agencies are also equipped for taking in different "levels" of chidren. Each child in care is assigned a number based on their level of need. Most children come into care as a "level 1", which means that they are at a basic level of need. If children have medical needs or certain disabilities, their level of need increases accordingly, up to a level 4. Some agencies are equipped to handle children that have higher levels of need than others. So if you are looking to foster children with more severe disabilities, for instance, ask if the agency that you are considering is licensed to take these children. DFPS's website has great information on this if you are curious to learn more.

Once you've chosen an agency, here is the journey ahead:

- Application
- Initial training: these classes are a commitment, so be ready to devote some hours to this!
- Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!: severe weather plans, signing different agreements, and listing emergency contacts, etc.
- Fire Inspection: a fire marshal comes to your house and is mainly looking for a fire extinguisher, a smoke detector, and a carbon monoxide detector
- Health Inspection: a rep from the health department comes to your home to generally make sure it's a healthy place to live. This inspection is easy!
- TB Tests completed by each person living in your home. These can be done for free at the health department.
- Your agency will provide you with a list of specifics that need to be done in your home. For instance: you will have to have all medications locked in away, all firearms are locked away, all tools are put out of reach of children, and safety measures must be put in place to match the age of the child. You will also post an evacuation plan in a visible place. Our visitors always laugh when they see ours posted since we live in a small apartment with a baby!
- Home study: There are 2 parts to this, the individual interviews and then a joint interview with the husband and wife together in the home.
- The final walk-through: your agency will do one last walk-through in your home to make sure your home is up to minimum standards per CPS requirements and ready to be licensed to have foster children in your home!

Not too bad, right? It's definitely worth it!

During the process, you can communicate with your agency what type of children you are interested in having as part of your family. You can be as specific and broad as you like, specifying age, race, gender, number of children. Although, the more broad you are, the sooner you'll get a placement!

After you are licensed and ready to have children in your home, you will be put on your agency's list. Once your agency gets a call from CPU (Central Placing Unit) that a child or children have been removed, they look through their list to find a family whose criteria matches the intake. The agency will then contact the family sharing with them that there is a child or children ready for a home! Usually the only information that they are given is the number of children taken into care, a general age, and maybe a name. Although, for our last two placements, the name was completely wrong!! The family should be able to articulate a "yes!" or a "no" at that moment, or else CPU continues to try to find another home as quickly as possible. Once your agency gets a "yes!" from you, the will contact CPU to inform them that they have a family for that child. These calls usually take place around 4pm. The investigator/CPS caseworker, along with a case manager from your agency will come usually around 8pm to do the placement which entails bringing the child to your home, having everyone sign paper after paper, and giving you a general overview of the situation of the case.

Talk about an adrenaline high! There is nothing quite like it. Of course, this is only the beginning of your story...


capturing memories

A break in the serious blog posts- here are some pictures that a very talented friend of ours took for us. Jamie, we are so blessed to have you in our lives! We wish we could post the other pictures she took for us, but for confidentiality reasons we'll stick to these...

J-Man will be using these for walking in the very near future!

As part of our nursery decor, we decided to hang Bible verses- each member of our family shared a meaningful verse  that they wanted to share with our kiddos.

Ah! The tree! A little nature in the nursery...

Our plan is to have some of Jamie's pictures printed out so we can share them with bio mom. I know her heart will melt when she sees her little photogenic guy..


foster care 101

Foster care has become one of my favorite topics to talk about these days. I enjoy that others are usually intrigued and are anxious to know more about it; which, of course, I am more than happy to talk about my new-found passion! My ulterior motive for writing this blog post is that more people will become involved in foster care in one way or another. If there is a reader or two out there who has more info (or finds that mine needs tweaking), add away!

So if anyone out there is interested, here is a brief overview of fostering:
Basically, the foster care system exists because children are not able to currently live in a safe environment.  Children are usually placed in state care because of one or more and of the following reasons: physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. CPS ("Child Protective Services", which is a part of DFPS "Department of Family and Protective Services") receives notification, usually in the form of a call by a family member, neighbor, or community member to the Child Abuse Hotline, which in Texas is: 1.800.252.5400. Sometimes parents contact CPS if they are in need of specific services to help them live in a safe environment and provide a safe environment for their child/ren.

Abuse can range from physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and/or emotional abuse. After the individual reports the information, there is sometimes a follow-up investigation. If the situation is serious enough, there can be an immediate removal where the child/children are taken out of the current situation and placed in a temporary home. This home can be a relative, family friend, or a foster home.

Once CPS does a removal and the child needs to be placed in a foster home, CPU (Central Placing Unit) is notified and begins contacting foster care agencies or families that are licensed directly with CPS to try to find an available home. Foster care agencies are privately funded organizations that are responsible for training, licensing, and supporting foster families. More to come on these in the next blog post!

Shortly after the placement, there is a court hearing where the decision is made to either keep the child/ren in the state's care, move them to the Conservatorship Department of CPS (which is basically the foster care department), or the child/ren could be moved back home with services in place to help the family maintain a safe environment.

If the child/ren remain in foster care, the parent(s) have 1 year (according to the "Safe Families Act") to complete their services and create and maintain a safe environment for their children to return. The CPS caseworker creates a list of services that they deem will help the parents become more equipped to create this safe environment. The service plan can include classes, personal goals, random drug testing, etc.

Throughout the year, there are several court hearings that take place to check in on the parent's progress as well as the child/ren's progress. CPS caseworkers, attorneys, CASA workers all present their information related to the case to update the judge.

During the course of the case, there is a "Plan A" or a "Plan B". By default, "Plan A" is usually reunification since CPS policy is to reunify if at all possible. "Plan B" is typically termination of rights, which would mean that the child/ren would be adopted by a relative, family friend, or stranger (e.g. foster parent). During the life of the case, the "Plan" could be switched based on the parent's progress.

Often times, once the parent is close to meeting the goals, the children get increased visits, unsupervised visits, and then overnight visits to help make the transition back home more smooth for both the parent and the children.

If the parent does not make progress towards meeting the goals by the 1 year mark, termination of rights is seriously considered. There are times when the judge allows for a 6 month extension to continue working towards their goals, but I have heard that this is more the exception instead of the rule. The goal is to get the children to a permanent and safe home as quickly as possible, whether that be with their biological parent(s) or with another family.

If the child/ren are able to return home, DFPS keeps in contact with the family and often continues to provide services to help them maintain that safe environment, both for themselves and for their children, that they worked so hard for. This helps to encourage success for everyone involved.

It's a messy, complex system, yes, but at least there is a system in place.

We have been ever so grateful to work with people thus far that really do have the best interest of the children at heart. Being a voice for the voiceless- that's what it's all about.


holidays, o holidays, it's the best time of the year!

The holidays came and went so fast this year! Here is an overview of our fun:

For Thanksgiving this year, Jessica's family traveled from Tennessee to give some thanks Austin-style. We were so grateful to have family come to us! Thanks, Fam!

Jessica (a.k.a Aunt Gaga) enjoyed doing a few crafty-crafts with Mason.
First, our "Thankful Tree". We had fun talking about what the word "thankful" meant and writing/drawing many of the things we were thankful for.

Next was our table center piece. A gaggle of turkeys! What 3 year old doesn't like making the good 'ol hand-print turkey with finger paint? None that I know of...

Now on to the real turkey! Even though our family has always enjoyed making a completely made-from-scratch meal each year, this year we left the hard work to Sprouts, one of our favorite local grocery stores here in town. Our compliments to the chef(s)!

Of course we couldn't stay couped up in the apartment all weekend! We live in Austin for goodness sake! We found some good excuses to brave the chilliness and enjoy ATX.

Here we have the Chuy's Christmas parade which benefits Blue Santa- a nonprofit led by the police force here in town that collects toys for kids who wouldn't otherwise have nice gifts for Christmas. Everyone who comes to the parade is encouraged to bring a gift or two to benefit the cause.

Mason, Papaw, and Aunt Sassy watch in expectation...

Santa! We know him!

And of course our weekend included some fine Austin cuisine: Gordough's Donuts and Shady Grove!

Gigi and Papaw get their trailer park goodies!

"The Baby Rattler"
Auntie N and Papaw @ Shady Grove

Mason kinda likes ATX himself. Especially the "honghorns"!

 Our next outting was designed to cater to all the men in the group: Cabella's.

Mason gives Gigi the grand tour of all the stuffed wildlife

This boy lives for fish!

 And now on to Christmas! For Christmas we traveled back to Bart's sweet home Alabama to visit his family. Here is the review in pictures:

Bart's family graced us with their usual sweet southern hospitality

J-Man enjoys a stroll through the country with Nana!

J-Man's first view of the country!

Mesmerized by Aunt Mandy's piano playing. He confused her with Alicia Keys at first...

And there you have it! Our holidays with our sweet J-man!
We are so blessed.