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.

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And so a year goes by…

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A year ago I made my first entry into the blogging world.  I began writing about deciding to become a foster parent.  Admittedly, the blog has been relatively abandoned since I have been crazy busy this year.  I can’t believe all the changes in our life since a year ago when we undertook the most crazy impulsive adventure of our lives.

So now that a year has gone by, I want to start giving advice to other foster families on how to successfully survive foster parenting.  I have learned so much in the last year and some of the things I thought I knew turned out to be figments of my imagination.  I want to keep sharing the experiences we have had and would love for people to ask any questions they might have about foster care and I promise to blog about what our experience has been.  And if I don’t have an experience with it, I have met so many foster parents in the last year who I know would be happy to share some of their experiences.

My goal this year is to be the best foster parenting blogger I can be.  You got it.  That is my new years resolution.

So a year goes by. A year ago today we had not had any placements yet and had just completed all of our paperwork and we were waiting for the official licensing.  We were licensed January 17, 2011.  We received our first temporary placement on January 20.  Crazy, huh?  We have had 27 children come through our home this year.  (Now you see why I abandoned the blog?) Our life has been so crazy and I can’t even begin to express the scheduling nightmares we have endured.

What I can tell you though is that it has been the most amazing adventure of my life.  We have laughed, cried, yelled, and growled.  I even occasionally spend an hour hiding in the bathroom just to read a book for peace and quiet.  We have had triumphs and heartaches.  We have had times when we thought we would just give up.  We have had times when we were so happy because we saw a child blossom before our very eyes.  We have grown our family.

We learned to accept that the house will never be fully clean again.

We learned to cook real food and how to budget and how to plan a grocery list.

We learned that even though you have a teenager, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still a child at heart.  And even though you have a child, it doesn’t mean they aren’t wiser than there years.

We have learned to expect nothing because as soon as you do they will do the exact opposite.

We have learned that even a child who hates you, can grow to love you with patience and kindness.

We have learned that love has no limits and it is unconditional.

We have learned that nothing in our life is private anymore because children have ears like hawks.

We have learned that there is always room for one more at the dinner time.

But most of all we have learned that this crazy adventure we decided to go on was the best decision we have ever made in our entire lives.

When the Noise Don’t Stop

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Stop that. Don’t hit him.  Be nice. No pinching.  Don’t pull her hair.

She won’t play with me.  He keeps staring at me.  So and so won’t get out of my room.

Somedays the noise is constant.  Especially when you have older kids in the house.  And it’s even worse when you have a blend of ages because then you have babies crying and older kids fighting.

 

Obviously this is a typical household for everyone with large families, but there are some extra challenges when it comes to having foster children.  I always call it the “don’t eat my children” hormone.  Some people have it, some don’t.

Now I’m not saying I have a desire to eat the children.  But I will be honest with you, the screaming gets on my nerves much faster with foster kids then most people.  And when you blend children from different families the dynamic becomes even more intense.  Children who barely know each other are expected to act as if they are siblings.  This is often easier said than done.  Children are adept at making friends but the novelty often wears off when they are living together.  Just ask anyone who has step-children.

He said. She said. They said.  Sometimes the noise just doesn’t stop.  My recommendation is an ipod.  Gets very loud directly in your ear and covers up the noise. 🙂  Obviously you need to deal with the serious problems but if you try to moderate every single interaction every single child has, then you will very quickly lose your mind.  At some point, you just need to let the kids be the kids.  This is where the headphones come in handy.

Co-Parenting: The Birth Parent Relationship

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To parent a child is difficult enough, but adding in the troubles that come with parenting someone else’s child and the results have the potential to be catastrophic. People often become foster parents with little knowledge of why children enter foster care. Sure, we all know about the parents who starved the children or locked them in cages or did any number of horrific things to their children. Let me just say that these are not the people who have rights to their kids any more.
The vast majority of children in foster care are on the path of reunification. Reunification means the goal is to send the children home to be raised by their biological parents. The myths surrounding foster care are many but this is perhaps the most pervasive. To truly be the best foster parent you can be, involves actively parenting with the birth parents.
Parents that have children removed or choose to relinquish them for a variety of reasons including poor parenting skills, medical reasons, or behavioral difficulties. This does not make them bad parents. Foster parenting is the epitome of the “it takes a village” concept. Co-parenting with the birth parents is better for everyone involved. If the birth parents and the foster parents can get along, then the child will feel more at ease in the home. Smaller children rarely understand fully what is going on, but this is essential in parenting older foster children.
I learned many things in my first year as a foster parent. The most important lesson I learned is that all mothers love their children. Sometimes they just need more help. The cycles of violence and neglect are only cycles until someone teaches them a better way. That is the foster parent’s job. Someone once said to me, “When I knew better, I did better.” I think that just about says it all.
To effectively co-parent, one must form a relationship forged in respect and understanding. You may not always approve of their choices and they may not approve of yours, but you must respect the families as they are.
Foster parents and birth parents often find themselves on different ends of the spectrum. Children are generally placed based on space not compatibility. When children come into your home they are often faced with culture shock and disbelief. Imagine watching TV every night to go to sleep and then moving to a foster home that doesn’t have television. I will admit that is probably our number one complaint from foster kids is that we don’t have a television. We don’t see the need for one.
Due to infertility issues, our family made the decision to only be foster parents and never biological parents. We chose to live in a world where we will always be the co-parents. It is definitely a challenge and one that most of our friends and family do not understand. However, we know that we are making a difference. It does take a village. Our village is always changing and we spend constant hours mentoring biological parents. The end result is always worth it.

Changing Directions

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Shortly after we began the process of becoming licensed foster care parents, we were approached by the director of social services and asked if we would be interested in being receiving home parents.  So this was kind of a new direction and one we weren’t sure we were ready for, but we were willing to sit down and listen to what they had to say.

First of all, I think it would be beneficial for those foster care newbies out there to know the breakdown of foster care levels.  Your average foster care home is what most people think of.  The children are raised with a family that lasts anywhere from a few months to a few years and in some cases age out (turn 18 and are removed from the system).  These homes can often pick and choose what age ranges, genders, nationality, personality types, and so on that they are willing to accept.  In many cases they can even meet the child ahead of time to determine if they like the child.  This is your average foster care home.

On the next level up, is a treatment care home.  A treatment home is one that is higher licensed to deal with children of a more challenging nature.  These home’s are the one’s that take children who need almost constant care but are not considered dangerous or difficult enough to require 24 hour straight supervision.

Receiving homes are a special type of foster care.  This is the home the child is first place in when entering the system.  Children can arrive at any time day or night with little to no warning.  In fact, receiving home foster parents generally carry pagers to be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  The children generally stay for less than 30 days until they either are returned home or are placed in long term foster care while the home corrects the issues preventing them from providing a safe environment.

Finally, there are respite homes.  Respite providers provide short term care for foster children to allow foster care parents a break.  I like to call these homes the super-babysitters.

For extreme cases, there is also shelter care and group home options for foster children in the system.

Originally, my husband and I planned on being a basic foster care family.  However, our biggest fear was attachment.  One of the hardest things for foster care parents is letting the foster child go when it is time for the child to return home or the child has been adopted.  That is the greatest benefit of receiving home care and that is the short term of it and the high turnover.  However, the downside is that you really are on call ALL the time.  There are no days off or I don’t feel like it. You can not say no if you have a bed open.  This means you can get any child of any age, gender, nationality, or difficulty level at any time of the day or not.  In fact, they frequently show up in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back.

This was a big decision for us.  We really weren’t sure which way to go because this type of home can be really challenging but it does have a high burnout rate because of the stress involved.

However, when we really thought it over we realized that we can handle this AND we can really make a difference in so many lives instead of just a few.  The revolving door aspect of it makes it less likely we will get severely attached and it really gives us the opportunity to help in the best way we can.  So we decided that we will do the receiving care and I am truly hoping we will do great at it!

Paperwork! Paperwork! Paperwork!

Paperwork

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Early in November, we finally had our first home visit.  And with the first home visit came the mountain of paperwork.  The foster care system used to be really bad and part of making it better is by very thoroughly checking out the prospective parents. We had a GIANT stack of paperwork they brought.  They truly wanted to know every little detail about our lives.  On top of that they did our home inspection and added more things to our to do list.

Those first two weeks after the initial visit were extremely hectic.  Besides the mountain of paperwork to be filled out, we had paperwork for our friends to fill out.  We also had to get paperwork signed by the insurance companies showing we had insurance, proof of ownership for our house, and much much more.  The animals all needed to be vaccinated, the house needed to be baby-proofed, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, locks on the basement and every single safety feature you can think of.  Being as that we have no kids, these aren’t things that were already done.  AND we needed a stair banister.

There was so much stuff that after two months it still isn’t done!!!  Don’t worry we are almost there.  All in all there was so much to do and it never seems to end.  When they say it takes 60 to 90 days to license it’s because of the paperwork.  And so many people have told me there is no upfront cost.  Well they were wrong.  Granted I can see the reason for having all of these safety features, but come on how many people keep fire extinguishers on every level of the house?

Well if anyone is interested in it, don’t let the paperwork frighten you.  It is a lot but it will be worth it in the end.  (Or so I’m told).

The Beginning

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Becoming a foster care parent is a full time commitment that many are not able to conceive of doing.  My husband and I recently decided that we were going to try and make this commitment.  However, we had no kids of our own, very little children related things, and no idea where to start.

When beginning our research we became terrified.  There are dozens of websites and articles available online outlining foster parenting.  In fact, they will tell you everything that could possibly go wrong with a foster care child or that a foster care child could potentially do to you.  This got me to thinking.

Why would anyone do foster care if it is such a scary undertaking?  Do we really have a host of ticking time bombs disguised as children running around our neighborhoods?  The answers it seems are elusive.  From the research we have done so far we have determined that the foster care program can be intensely rewarding and satisfying.  However, there is no literature documenting the experiences of foster care parents that I can find online.

I intend to keep a record of our foster care experience and hopefully by providing this insight in the system, it will allow others to open their homes and become foster parents as well.  Please follow us in our journey to making a difference in the lives of needy children.  Please also remember that for the privacy of the child we will never share any names or personal information of the child.  This blog is simply about our experiences and perhaps an introduction to new foster care parents.