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An Everlasting Fugue

I’m currently sitting at my computer, fluffiest cat in my lap chewing on a hole in my jeans, while I pick my nails and rigorously assess my hair for split ends. This is what my writing process has come to. The dos and don’ts of what can and cannot be shared, the ever-increasing desire for privacy from my children as they age, legalities regarding Isaac and the child welfare system… these are the things that paralyze my writing – my very need to release has been hushed. There are so many thoughts swirling about my mind, preventing me from putting pen to paper, that I fear I will be bald and fingernail-less within the hour! So please, bear with me.

My husband said it best yesterday when he referred to our oldest two as the Mozart and Beethoven of nonsensical arguments. I’ll forgive him for the misquote due to his lack of composer knowledge… because obviously my kids are more like Bach. A schizophrenic Bach who got stuck in an endless loop of fugues, creating chaos while feeding off the other’s energy. Their composition is entitled Cameron and Taylor – An Everlasting Fugue. These two children are, in a sense, The Song That Never Ends. (At least Shari Lewis gets to rest in peace, unlike those of us living in my home.)

It’s to the point that even the three-year-old recognizes the disparities, both social and intellectual, between himself and his siblings. He regularly tells them to stop arguing and to “Quit acting like babies!” He reiterates that he already told them something ten times and, because I know he is my child, when they continue to ignore his directions he puts his arms in the air with a flourish and yells “I’m done!” before stomping away. (I swear it’s like looking in a mirror!)

But what Wyatt fails to understand at his young age is that Cameron and Taylor are stunted. Taylor remains under close watch and with limited freedom due to her extreme need to have the adults in her world enforcing moment by moment safety measures over her. This confuses Wyatt, as well as many of those close to us. When others look at her, they see a beautiful, vibrant 10-year-old. What they miss is the overwhelming need my daughter has to love and be loved in the only way she was shown as a young girl – a way that was traumatizing and abusive.

Even with Cameron, Wyatt constantly yells at him to stop being mean. And just like the regressed, overgrown toddler that Cameron is, he continues to instigate and torment, despite the consequences. But this week was a difficult one for him, both physically and emotionally. Not only did he have a kidney relapse after over-exerting himself on a youth group retreat, he also had his neuropsychological testing done. Whereas we haven’t received the results back from the 3.5-hour test, it was evident by the looks on both Cameron’s and the doctor’s faces that our follow-up appointment will be one that is lengthy. If that weren’t enough, on our way home from this exhausting test, we had no choice but to pass the town where Cameron lived before being adopted.

I do my best to avoid certain towns and neighborhoods with my children, but there are times when there is NO other route and the memories just start flooding. This was the case with my son as we drove home in silence from the doctor’s office. It was as if he couldn’t handle the thoughts in his head and they had to come out. As he spouted story after story, feeling after feeling, he made a statement that I’m still trying to process days later. He said that he has these feelings and thoughts that take over and he can’t stop thinking about them until he acts on them – things that make him want to do things that are dangerous, harmful to others, and scary. He admitted to actions that I had no idea about, things that he had previously kept hidden or blamed on others.

Ok, these are the moments that make you question becoming a parent, let’s be honest! There are days where I just sit there and wonder if I’m harboring future predators and serial killers (this increases the nail biting and hair picking by about a million percent) and then there are other days when I remind myself that it is RAD, brain damage, learned behavior – that they have a therapist, mostly sane parents, and a very big God. Those are the days that I remember to breathe as I push thoughts of felonies from my mind.

And then there’s Isaac. The sweet boy who is quickly fading under the perpetual weighty exposure of drugs, abuse, sex, and instability. With each new update on his condition, each failure of the police or CYS to rescue him, each broken Christmas toy and returned birthday gift – I am devastatingly aware that he was the one that was left behind. Cameron and Taylor were saved, even if it may have been too late. But Isaac is just a number – a statistic of gross negligence from society who wants to be helped but is quickly learning that help will not come. At least not for him. However… his smile is still a sight to behold. When I catch a glimpse of a new picture and see a hint of the twinkle that I remember so well, I feel a warmth spread through my soul. He is not a number to me.

So, on those days that my kids are fugueing up my very last nerve, I choose to remember the moments that have been special – like when Cameron thought Wyatt was having hallucinations because he was talking to himself (aka, using his imagination), or when Taylor asked us at kids’ church to pray for all the children who didn’t get cute boots for Christmas like she did, or when Wyatt told me he would be my best friend forever if I gave him some Doritos (followed by screams that I’m a “bad girl” because I didn’t give him Doritos), or when I think of Isaac’s belly laugh, the one that will never leave my mind, even though I’m sure he would wreak just as much havoc as the others if he were here with us today!

Despite the nonsensical arguments, the nail biting, and the split end picking, there is a beautiful and slightly distorted, off-key composition taking place in our home. Whether it’s a day of putting in ear plugs or choosing to sing along to the chaos, I know that our music will continue to grow and change – our everlasting fugue.

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Finding Hope: Parenting Children With Trauma

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Finding Hope: Parenting Children With Trauma

Ok, so apart from realizing that I stand with my legs too far apart and that my outfit was put together by a blind elephant from the 1990's -- I mean, once we get past all that, some of you may enjoy hearing my break-out session from the Imagine Conference in Pittsburgh. I was blessed to be given the opportunity to speak on raising children with trauma and how that effects our day to day lives as parents.

If anything, I hope you can relate, have a good laugh, cry, and remember that you are not weak because you can't "fix" your kiddos. You are strong because you have survived another day and still get up again to start the day all over. It's conferences like these that remind me how many of us there are and that together, we can move mountains.

God bless and enjoy!

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It's a Book Launch!

     So, this week has FINALLY arrived! And I want to cordially invite all of you to the launch and first signing of my new book, The Children Who Raised Me. (Insert all manner of joyous sounds here!) Come and join me for some light refreshments, a brief reading, and time to chat with the author! I will be signing books as well and will have a limited number for purchase if you haven't already bought yours (books are $20). This is a family friendly event, so feel free to bring your friends, family, and random people from the street (as long as they agree - no abductions, please).

WHEN:  Saturday, April 8th, 2017 from 6:00 - 8:00 pm

WHERE: The 1st Baptist Church of Ellwood City (220 Fountain Ave. Ellwood City, PA 16117)

     Additionally, if you're interested in having me come speak at your church, agency, school, or group - contact me HERE to schedule! I love to share information on Adoption, Foster Care, Mental Health, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and ways to improve our Child Welfare Systems.

     See you all Saturday!!!

     XOXO,

     Shivonne

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Our Children Are Dying, And No One Will Help

It seems that Children and Youth Services of Pennsylvania have been under severe scrutiny as of late. Over the years, countless news articles have been done depicting uninvestigated child abuse, fatalities of children, and the lack of response to child lines being made. Sadly, Beaver county CYS has been facing the most recent allegations of nonchalance when it comes to the safety of local children.

Just one month ago, WTAE Pittsburgh Action News conducted a special investigation into several local CYS agencies, one of which was Beaver county. The report showed that had CYS responded to child lines that were conducted, several children in the county would still be alive to this day. And whereas the other agencies sent spokesmen to make a statement, Beaver county refused to reply to the story.

The CYS Bench book, which is the reigning guidelines to be followed by each employee of the agency, states this on page 11: “All children have the right: to be happy, thriving, self-actualized, educated, healthy, and content; to have the opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals capable of healthy relationships and productive lives; and to have a fair chance in life with opportunities for healthy, balanced, and well-rounded development.”

If this is the case, then why is CYS ignoring reports made from doctors, police, therapists, teachers, guidance counselors, eye witnesses, and the children themselves? If all children have the right to safety, then why are these children dying? Why are they allowed to remain in homes where they fear daily for their safety? Where they watch domestic violence and are exposed to drug deals, prostitution, and gross negligence?

And just as important, why are the higher powers turning a blind eye?

STATS from the PA Child Protective Services Annual Report of 2015 (which is the most recent) and the PA Partnerships Annual Report of 2015:

·         In 2015, only 10.4% of abuses reported in PA were substantiated by CYS (meaning they were looked into and abuse or neglect was proven).

·         Out of the 10.4% substantiated, 2.2% of those ended in fatality (34 cases) or near fatality (58 cases).

·         Of the 34 cases that ended in fatality, 58% of those families already had CYS involvement or the case had been closed “successfully”.

·         Of the 58 cases that ended in near fatality, 55% percent of these children had CYS involvement or the case had already been closed “successfully”.

·         Of the fatalities in PA, 27% of the children had been removed from foster care and given back to biological parents. Of near fatalities, 19% of children had been reunified with parents and removed from foster care.

·         1 fatality occurred in Beaver county in 2015 – the family was known to CYS through multiple abuse reports. This mother had threatened the week prior to murder her children and then herself. Her children were not removed from her care until the 2-month old was killed.

·         1 near fatality (19-month-old that now has traumatic brain injury) also occurred in Beaver county – No charges have been filed and no parenting or anger management classes were completed.

·         Out of the 40,590 reports of abuse and neglect, 35,313 (87%) were made by mandated reporters – people trained in the symptoms of abuse and neglect; people that are mandated to report their sightings; therapists, foster parents, drug and alcohol counselors, psychiatrists, law enforcement, etc. And yet only 10% were deemed actual abuse by CYS caseworkers (an occupation with a turn-over rate of an average of 2-years, many straight from college and in any field of study).

·         In 2015, PA law enforcers reported 12,608 crimes against children where the adults didn’t qualify as a “perpetrator” to CYS. All of these crimes were then forwarded to the District Attorney’s office instead of CYS and the children remained in their homes.

·         In 2015 - 181,371 children received in-home services provided through CYS.

·         In 2015 – 22,980 children entered foster care or remained in foster care from the previous year.

·         In 2015 – 2,544 children re-entered foster care after having already been reunited with a parent previously during their lifetime.

·         In 2015 – 24.1% (a quarter) of all biological family reunifications failed.

Not in the CPS Report:

·         According to the Beaver Falls police department, so far multiple young children have died in Beaver County at the hands of their parents – no charges have been filed, CYS was aware of complaints made against the families, and the siblings of the deceased children remain in these homes. The police department also stated that CYS is not sending all of the child lines to them, as stated in the protocol. And according to the Franklin Twp. Police department in Beaver County, if they get the reports at all, they are multiple weeks after the date of the report, and they have already been cast aside by CYS.

·         After a conversation in 2016 with a CYS caseworker, I was informed that if a guardian is a “functioning addict” and “there are no broken bones”, there is no way that CYS will step in and assist the children.

·         Even as recent as this week, after well over a dozen reports from professionals AND the children themselves made to CYS regarding a particular case of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, neglect, drug abuse, and drug dealing – CYS talked to the suspected abuser about those involved in making the child lines and asked if the guardian would agree to a Drug and Alcohol Evaluation. When the father vehemently refused, CYS said that they couldn’t mandate it. And then they left the children in the home.

Following the Money:

·         In 2015, the state of PA received $344 million dollars in federal funds for child welfare, $1.036 billion dollars from the state, and $388 dollars from their local funds (on average) – totaling $1.769 billion dollars statewide for child welfare purposes.

·         Of that total, $43.5 million dollars were used for investigating child abuse. That left $1.726 billion dollars for salaries, trainings, and child abuse clearances.

·         Of that $43.5 million, $2.3 million was used for Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence county investigations of abuse and neglect.

·         If the average county has 50 caseworkers (what I was informed was the average number) that average $35,000 per year (what I was told was the average pay) in all 67 counties, that would add up to $117,250,000 dollars.

·         Child abuse clearance costs totaled $6.017 million for the state of PA in 2015.

·         MAXIMUM foster care subsidies given out in 2015 was $138 million dollars.

·         The state’s total amount of estimated caseworker salaries, child abuse investigations, foster care subsidies, and child abuse clearances equals $304,767,000.

·         Minus that from the $1.769 billion dollars given to PA for child welfare and you have a remaining balance of $1.464 billion dollars – WHERE IS IT GOING? (I realize that the state is paying for caseworkers to go to college, facilities and their utilities, trainings, etc. But obviously the actual functions of the agency are being used so sparingly in comparison the $1.5 billion used elsewhere.)

·         According to the State of PA’s government salary reports, The Beaver County Director of CYS made $104,000 in 2014 while she complained that they were understaffed. This amount is more than double that of what any of the surrounding county CYS directors made in the same year or since.)

·         According to two previous CYS caseworker in the local counties, both were told on multiple occasions NOT to remove children until the end of the fiscal year… if they remove more or less than the allotted amount, the county would get less funding for the following year.

·         According to a current CYS caseworker, she has been forced to close out cases that still needed child welfare assistance because the case could currently be closed “successfully”, whereas if they waited another month, the family could “blow up” and throw off their numbers of successful reunifications.

It’s important to note that these are just the reports for BEAVER COUNTY. Children are dying and being severely abused in all of our surrounding counties, including Lawrence County. Also in this county are caseworkers who are committing fraud - writing up reports about visiting children in their biological or foster homes monthly, even though they haven’t been to the home in a year or more. And when these are reported to the supervisors, nothing is done. In fact, foster parents are threatened to never receive future foster children, be banned from all potential adoptions, and even told that their current children can be taken from them if they continue to advocate “too much” for the foster children in their care.

Due to this statewide abuse of power in the system, there is a yearly drop in quality foster families. Good people who provide love, support, and safety for these children in need are being forced out of the system due to the horrific treatment by the agencies sworn to help these very kids. And when the counties can say “we would help more children if we had any foster homes to put them in!”, we know the truth. If it weren’t for CYS supervisors, County Commissioners, District Attorneys, and crooked police focusing so much on lining their own pockets and following their own political agendas, we may have more people willing to step up to the plate for these dying children.

And until that happens, we will continue to live in a society where money, power, and corruption trump the lives and well-being of the very children that we see in our schools, our parks, and our streets. Because when it comes right down to it, our local counties have decided that some children are only SOME children have the right: to be happy, thriving, self-actualized, educated, healthy, and content; to have the opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals capable of healthy relationships and productive lives; and to have a fair chance in life with opportunities for healthy, balanced, and well-rounded development.

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"The Children Who Raised Me" ~ Now Available!

In case you missed the memo (which, how could you because I've basically been blowing up my social media feeds with the news because I'm SOOOO excited), my first book is now available online at tatepublishing.com!  If you've followed my family's story, you may already know some of what falls in the pages of this particular memoir. However, have no fear, there is plenty of NEW content that helps put our lives into some perspective. 

From foster care to adoption, mental health behaviors to Reactive Attachment Disorder, grief and loss to new life, Christian parenting to just plain survival - this book has a little bit of something for everyone and I'm so blessed that God gave me the words that needed to be said... words that are hard to say. Although I floundered my way through much of it, my deepest aim was to shed light on the hard parts of raising someone else's children... to say the things that we're told not to say, and to take away the facade that all things related to adoption, fostering, and just plain parenting is nothing but happiness and love.

Because let's be honest. It's oftentimes not. In fact, sometimes it sucks so badly that you can't find breath and you make parenting mistakes and you cry ugly tears that no one should ever feel they need to hide out of shame. We are ALL together in this parenting thing. Whether it's messed or blessed, we are together. Even when you've felt you couldn't go on another moment; Even when you gave up and came back and gave up again and came back again all within the same 10 minutes; Even if you feel like you're failing...

There is always Hope.

And you are never alone.

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