"We owe this baby the time for her mother to become healthy"
Social Work Supervisor Rodney Moore sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to his children each night. When the decision was made for his family to become kinship caregivers, that song and his voice welcomed "Ju Ju" into his family. He now sings to her - with the same emotion and love - just like he does with his own two children.
"I am humbled and honored to care for this baby," stated Rodney. The journey for Ju Ju to be placed into the Moore home is one full of life lessons. Kinship care can be complicated and for Rodney, a 6-year veteran of the Department, the decision his family made to open up their home was not easy.
Extended family were aware of the birth mother's struggles and her pregnancy. It was apparent the family had to plan for this little baby. When the conversation shifted to Rodney's family being a placement option, the questions between he and his wife were many. "What if we get attached? How will we work with the birth mother? What will we say to the kids?" Rodney recalls.
"Yeah, let's do it," his wife said. The next day was the call to the Social Worker. Then came the home visit and…Ju Ju.
"Seeing her for the first time in the hospital solidified it for me," Rodney stated. "This is what we are supposed to be doing. We do not ever want her to feel less than the other children in our home."
Caring for others is a value in Rodney's extended family. Rodney's grandmother, whom he lived with the majority of his life, was a foster and adoptive parent. While Rodney lived with her as a child, she adopted four children, and she adopted two more approximately five years ago.
"I would not be the type of father I am today without what my mom and grandmother gave me," he stated. It was these experiences with his grandmother which influenced him to begin his career at DCF. She was also the first person Rodney called to tell that Ju Ju was coming. "That's amazing" was her response. "She said we would have nothing but a positive impact on this child's life," Rodney explained.
As a professional, Rodney knew the value of kinship care - keeping children within the family system - maintaining their culture and those close family bonds. As kin, the emotions were now on the surface and had to be balanced. "The bond, chemistry and emotions are all real," he stated.
Rodney Moore has many lessons he can teach all of us about kinship placements.
His first concern was that he did not want his children to feel they were receiving any less attention from him. Rodney knew from his grandmother that providing love to so many was possible. "It is not about dividing up love, it is about showing the same amount of love to each child," he stated.
Preparation was key and it was Rodney, pulling from his personal and professional experiences, who prepped his own children.
Rodney put Ju Ju's need for a family into the context of his job while explaining the placement to his 10-year-old son. This little boy knew Ju Ju's mother and his response was "cool" when told a baby was coming.
For his 5-year-old daughter, the framing was a little different. "We are going to have a baby come and live with us for a little while," Rodney explained to her. "She was excited and always wanted to be a big sister."
Rodney guarded against how much of a change this would present for his children and developed a schedule to spend intentional 1:1 time with both of them. "We made sure it was not all about the baby," he stated. "The family is opening up our home to someone who needs love and care," was the constant theme he reinforced.
Both children welcomed Ju Ju with "open arms" and play with her, sing to her and she is treated just like a regular member of the family. "It's going to be okay, Ju Ju" his daughter says soothingly when the baby cries.
Patience with family members is also a point Rodney makes. "Explain the process and what to expect," Rodney advised. Rodney and his family are maternal relatives to Ju Ju. His wife experienced more emotions while considering the placement. This was all very natural.
With a history of tense family relationships, questions were raised about how the birth mother would feel about where the baby was placed. Contact does occur with the birth mother and she is aware of the placement. "Her mother knows she is in good hands," Rodney affirmed. These relationships will still take time.
The role of extended kin and their ability to be a resource is one we should all keep in mind. When kin are supported, the entire experience becomes easier and ultimately, the child benefits. "Realize it may not be right for you to be a caregiver, but you can be a support in other ways," he pointed out. "Offer up what you can." Upon placement, the extended family stepped up to help. "They provided us clothes, formula and raised money," Rodney stated. They wanted the placement to be successful. They also wanted something much more.
"They want to see mom healthy."
The ease at which Rodney describes changing diapers, the feedings and establishing a new routine may overshadow the attachment his family immediately made with Ju Ju. Rodney describes the talks of permanency, would this placement lead to adoption, or what if Ju Ju was reunified.
Rodney was also clear on the message he would like to impart to his DCF colleagues in regard to permanency and the timeframes expected within the Department. "Be mindful of timeframes and why they are in place," he recommended.
Providing kinship care can be a journey - focus always must remain on the child.
"Be okay with an alternative outcome. Know you can advocate, know the role you can play," is Rodney's advice. There may be times when permanency is not in alignment with your own beliefs. "Understand what you want may be different than what others want. What will happen will happen," he added.
"What is most important is this child's understanding of how we attempted to help her mother get as healthy as she possibly can. If she believes we tried to help her mother in a time of need, she will know we will always try to help her in a time of need," he stated.
"We owe this baby the time for her mother to become healthy."