Foster Care Reform

Happy Children Playing Kids

Happy Children Playing Kids (Photo credit: epSos.de)

I see so many people on the internet complaining about needing foster care reform yet I never see anything being done about it.  There are so many things wrong with the foster care system that are in desperate need of reform.  The laws do not protect the children, they protect the parents and the social workers.  I have seen so many times kids going to places they should never be just because the social workers don’t want more work or because the judge believes the parents lies.  Its horrendous.

Wisconsin overall has a pretty good foster care system, but it is still lacking in many areas.  Including the fact that some homes in the state remain with unfilled beds, and children in larger cities are housed in shelter care which is basically jail for kids because there are no beds for them to go into.  This is ridiculous.  There is no system for the various counties to communicate with each other.  And since everything is run by the county, instead of by the state there is no obligation either.  So in smaller counties like mine, foster parents complain of open beds.  Counties with major cities in them have severe bed shortages.  We are less than an hour away and our county has open beds.  It is ridiculous.

Not to mention, the children who have to be repeatedly traumatized and abused so as not to hinder the parent’s rights before the court will step in.  Another problem is the kids who sit in foster care for years because of loopholes in the laws.  State of Wisconsin mandates that children in foster care 15 out of 22 months are required to go to termination of rights.  However if the parents basically work half their plan and do just enough to get by, the judge won’t authorize the termination.  The laws are written for the express reason of preventing kids from sitting in foster care for years and YET the judges disregard this law because of loopholes.  It is awful for the children.  It is disheartening for the foster parents.

I don’t even know what can be done to change this.  The laws are there but the judges have final say and they disregard the law.  Foster care reform will get nowhere if the judges don’t crack down and start making these parents work their plans.

Bedrooms For Foster Children

So I am trying to think up ways to decorate my foster kids bedrooms.  I had thought I was the only one truly concerned with this but after visiting several forums where people are asking the same questions I decided to address the issue.

Herein lies the problem.  You don’t always know what gender or what age range of child you are going to receive.  In homes with narrow intake qualifications, this is less of a problem.  In an emergency home, like mine, you can get any age, any gender, any time.  Originally I though the best way to handle this would be to have one girls room and one boys room and one baby room since we have three rooms available. Well with now having a permanent child, we are down to only two rooms to work with.  And what happens if we get 4 boys?

You would think that decorating gender neutral would be a good idea with the exception of one problem.  The gender neutral stuff is ugly.  Like really ugly.  So I am at a loss as to how to decorate.  I want the rooms to  be fun not plain old white with “grandma-themed” bedspreads.  Our kids rooms look more like a hotel then an inviting personal space.

So I am now on the search for gender neutral, not ugly, welcoming, and all age-appropriate bedroom designs.  If anyone has insight or ideas, this lady would totally welcome them.

Advocating at the School for your Foster Children

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The public school system has its good qualities and its bad qualities.  It has its good teachers and its bad teachers.  Unfortunately navigating the different schools can be daunting especially for foster families that work out of multiple homes.  While most foster homes will work with a single school, emergency and short term foster homes work with many schools for varying amounts of time.  This can be confusing as really the only thing you can do is do the most you can in the least amount of time.

I often find the schools unsurprised when children go into foster care.  Teachers and the primary reporters of suspected abuse and even when they aren’t the ones that reported, they are usually the first to know that issues are arising.  The problem with emergency foster care is you need to learn everything there is to know about a child in a short amount of time and then implement a plan.

Using the children’s teachers as a reference with new children is a good resource.  Often times the teachers at the children’s school have been the only stable adult in the child’s life.  These adults have usually built a foundation with the child that can be built upon with the right direction.  The children will usually trust the teachers they already know sooner than they will trust the new foster parents.

One of the first things I do with a new placement is sit down with the teachers and get an idea of the child’s performance, level of education, and broad behavioral challenges.  Then I request (sometimes forcefully) a team meeting.  The team meeting should include the child’s teachers, the school counselor, the school social worker, the principal, the foster parents, and the agency social worker.  When feasible, the bio-parents should also be included.  A plan needs to be made to address where the children are and where they need to be and then make a plan on how to get there.  It is up to the foster parent to be an advocate and enforce the plan.  It is also up to the foster parent to request services for the child.  And then keep requesting until the services are received.

Try not to lose your patience.  These things take time.  Persistence is the key to achieving effective advocacy.

Interracial Foster Families

English: Children at a parade in North College...

English: Children at a parade in North College Hill, Ohio, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am always surprised that the concept of interracial families is even still considered an issue.  I know racism is still rampant in many areas and I can honestly say that I didn’t think it was such a big deal until I became a foster parent.  Some people are truly racist, others are rudely curious, and some are just ignorant.

I have always considered myself to be an open minded person.  My mother always taught me that color is a non-issue and that people are people regardless. She raised her kids to be color blind.  Further growing up in a rural area, left me little exposure to the bigotry that exists in more metropolitan areas.  So imagine my horror when we became the target of racism.

The first introduction I had to racism was the people who asked us where we got our kids from.  My husband and I, although both white, did not think anything of accepting children of other races.  Whenever we have Black or Hispanic children, people inevitably ask us questions like where we got the kids from.  People literally assume that the kids come from other countries?  I have never justified these questions with answers.  I find it insulting to ask this of a complete stranger.

The second introduction we had to racism was from the children.  In more cases than I would like to admit the black kids we had were racist to white families.  We were told things like black kids shouldn’t be with “white folk” because we didn’t know how to raise them right.  We were also told things like we couldn’t take care of their hair or skin properly because white people can’t do stuff like that.  We were accused of making the kids “wannabe whites”.  I am not even sure what that one means, but it was said to us at one point.

There is no real advice I can give on how to deal with these people.  The reality is some people just suck and that is never going to change. The sadder part of the situation is the adults that drag their children down that hateful path. When strangers ask us rude questions, we very bluntly tell them how rude it is to ask someone those type of questions.  Family members and friends who were not accepting of our mixed family were no longer welcome around us.  We have our family and that is all that matters to us.  And children who acted racist in our home, were immediately told that that type of behavior would not be acceptable in our household.

But the one thing we know for sure is that in our world, people are people no matter what color.

Allegations and Threats

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.

Confidentiality for Foster Children

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

Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care (Photo credit: epnichols)

Facebook and Foster Kids

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

So a lot of states and counties and agencies have wildly varying opinions on Facebook.  Not all agencies have even addressed this concept, and some agencies have taken very hard stances on Facebook.

The best advice for Facebook and Foster Kids is to ask your agency for a written example of their policy.

In my county, foster children are not allowed anywhere near Facebook.  You cannot talk about them, post pictures of them, or be friends with them or their parents on facebook.  The county allows the kids to have a Facebook at the discretion of the foster parents, but the foster parents are not allowed to have any references to the foster kids.

This all comes down to the confidentiality laws.  There is so much that people could discern about the children from Facebook that it would break most confidentiality laws.  Confidentiality will be touched on in a different blog post so I won’t get into it too much.  In fact, this post is going to be short all together because the cardinal rule is simple.

Before you foster and facebook, get the rules in writing.