The greatest fear of a foster parent is allegations or threats. This can come in many forms. Some are small and inconsequential. For example, one time a bio-parent lodged a complaint that the child had cat hair on them. I have three cats. Yeah, it’s going to happen. Some are more severe. For example, a friend of mine was accused of breaking a child’s nose. These allegations can have an impact on not only your license, but your life.
The one with the broken nose is something that was completely untrue. The child got a bloody nose from running into another child. The child was only three so the septum was not developed. And it is pretty hard to break something, that doesn’t have bones in it. Not to mention the three witnesses to the incident and the fact that the bio-parents wouldn’t even have known about it if the foster parent had not told them.
Thankfully in this case, the testimony of the witnesses and the children involved saved the foster parents from the allegations being taken seriously. However, that is not always the case. Had the children not been old enough to talk to the officers, or had there not been any witnesses that case could have gone in entirely different direction.
The biggest thing is to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Email your caseworker immediately when something happens. Take a trip to urgent care and get all injuries documented by the doctors. Being proactive in these situations can mean the difference between losing your license or not.
Threats are another fear of foster parents. I have had children threaten to make allegations and I have had parents threaten to “have me taken care of”. Take all threats seriously. Report them immediately. Children who make threats of allegations should never be alone with one parent and the threat should be documented so that if an allegation is forthcoming it is not taken seriously. Bio-parents who threaten harm should be immediately reported to the police. Even if nothing comes of it, it is on file that a threat has been made. If the threats continue, harassment charges can be filed.
Again, documentation and reporting will be the key factors in protecting yourself and your license.
Maintaining confidentiality for foster children is one of the hardest things about being a foster parent. People will inevitably ask you questions about where the child came from, why they are in foster care, and why they display certain behaviors. Some states have begun using a panel of former foster children to determine ways to improve the foster care system. One of the main things that came out of these panels was that the children felt like they were on display for the world. Before confidentiality laws were put into place, many foster parents would talk about their foster kids blatantly and share very personal information. This made the children feel like outcasts.
Laws are now in place to protect the children’s right to privacy. They have the right to not have all the bad things that have happened to them broadcast to anyone who will listen. It makes them feel horrible and they deserve to feel better about themselves.
Foster care confidentiality laws are built on the “need to know” concept. This can be a tricky line because it can be open to interpretation on what is need to know. I basically try to use my best judgement on what people need to know. For example, if there are problems with the visits resulting in escalated behavior problems on visit days, then the school does fall under the “need to know” category so they can prepare for those days. However, the neighbor doesn’t need to know that the child’s parents got drunk and were denied visits. A way to tell the school would be something along the lines of “The bio-parents have been being denied visits due to showing up intoxicated. This is causing the child to act out on days that were supposed to be visit days.” The neighbor doesn’t need to know but the school does.
I always try to take an extra precaution and give very little information. However, my child care providers and close family members know the basics to help deal with behavioral issues. Again this should be shared in a professional manner. Explaining that the child is food oriented because of not having food needs met is much more appropriate then saying that the parents starved the child and now all they think about is food. Remember that you are the professional parent in this instance and need to conduct yourself in that manner.
Now on that absolute other end of the spectrum. The kids can tell anyone they choose to personal information about themselves. I have found that some of my kids don’t want anyone to know anything, and others tell perfect strangers everything. It is always wise to council kids that there is a time and a place. For example, disclosing details about sexual abuse to the other kids at camp is not the best time and place for that kind of conversation. Our closest family has become used to children disclosing random information at inappropriate times but that is a factor that comes with foster children.
We have learned to counsel our family members on how to respond. For example, a child disclosing sexual abuse should not be met with a strong reaction. The family member should be able to say, I am sorry that happened to you. If met with a strong reaction from a person the child will immediately close up and stop sharing.
Again confidentiality is a fine line. Need to know is loosely interpreted. Use your best judgement.
Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care (Photo credit: epnichols)