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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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.

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.

Food Issues in Foster Children

Crisps!

Crisps! (Photo credit: henry…)

Many times kids in foster care come with severe food issues.  While I am by no means an expert, and I am sure there are a ton more that I have not experienced, I will do my best to talk about some of the ones I have seen and dealt with.

  • Won’t Eat Any Healthy Food.  Many children in foster care come from low income families or come out of neglect situations.  Things like daily vegetables are a mystery to them.  Food that is prepared in a healthy manner (i.e. not macaroni and cheese) are often times alien concepts to them.  It can take a long time to overcome issues like this.  Kids do not always adjust well to change and that can cause long term repercussions in their dietary life span.  What we do is allow the kids to pick 2 foods that they absolutely do not want to eat, and everything else they have to take a “thank you” helping of.  Now be careful for the smart alecs who will inevitably try to pick a whole food group.  (And yes that has happened to me).  No it is one food.  One of my kids picked tomatoes and broccoli so anything I prepare with tomatoes and broccoli, she does not have to eat.  Everything else, whether she likes it or not, she has to have at least one serving of.
  • Consumes Caffeine Regularly.  A majority of my foster kids have come into care as regular caffeine drinkers.  Coffee, soda, redbull, you name it.  I have seen kids as young as one come in with soda addictions.  This is hard to overcome as the bio-parents allowed it so the kids don’t understand why you don’t.  Repeated and firm no’s are really the only way to deal with it.  When asked for an explanation, tell them different families do things differently and in this family that is not appropriate.  Be prepared to deal with caffeine withdrawal in some of the heavy users.  I would recommend asking your doctor how they best think to handle this.  Our doctor recommended Ibuprophen for the older kids and a lot of naps for the younger ones.
  • Does Not Eat on a Normal Schedule OR Eats Whenever.  A lot of kids especially coming out of neglect situations are not used to having three meals a day with scheduled snack times.  Most of the time, they are responsible for feeding themselves if they are hungry. They tend to be very food oriented and do not seem to understand that they need to wait until dinnertime to eat.  In situations like this we keep pre-made “snack packs” of veggies in the fridge where they can reach.  If they need to eat between meals, they can have veggies only.  If they are hungry, they will eat the veggies and it is better for them to fill up on veggies than anything else.
  • Food Hoarding.  It is inevitable that some foster kids will hoard food.  When you never know when your next meal is going to come, it gives the kids a sense of self-preservation to stash food for the next dry spell.  While I have never had a case of food hoarding that wasn’t solved by the free veggies rule, some foster homes I have worked with have.  They have solved this by providing the kids with a plastic bin for them to put “their” food in.  That way the kids know they always have food for the next time in their bin.
  • Obsession with Feeding Schedule.  Children who do not get their food needs met, will develop a preoccupation with food.  Everything is about when is the next meal, where is the next meal, what are we having for the next meal.  I cannot tell you how many times we will be eating lunch and the kids are already asking me what is for dinner.  I deal with this by having all meals and snacks scheduled.  The kids can look at the time and know that is when the next meal is.  We try to keep to the schedule as best we can.  Meals are written out on a calendar and the kids can check the calendar whenever they like to find out what is for the next meal.
  • Texture Problems.  Some kids have texture issues.  For example, I had one two year old who would not eat anything soft.  Mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.  These are issues that need to be addressed by a doctor and/or therapist.

Again these are just a few of the food issues, that I have dealt with and how we dealt with them.  This post in no way should take the place of advice from a licensed therapist but I hope it gives some insight into the extreme food issues that many foster children have.  It is something that is extremely common and new foster parents should definitely be prepared for it.

What Should I Call You?

Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

The one question that comes up with nearly every child is: What should I call you?

The concept of new parents, no matter how temporary, can be really hard for children.  Kids have many emotions about being in foster care.  Some are embarrassed, some are sad, and sometimes they are even relieved.  This myriad of emotions can cause the kids to have some serious confusion about where they fit in their new family.

My advice is to let the kids decide what they want to call you.  So long as it is appropriate, allow them to decide how they want to fit in.  I have had kids begin calling me mom within hours of meeting me and I have had some that prefer to call me by my first name.  Some call me Aunty because that makes them part of the family without calling me mom.  But it all depends on the child and their case.

My one child has lived with us for two years but only started calling us mom and dad a few months ago when she switched to being an adoptive placement.  She is a preteen and was on her way to reunification before so she wasn’t ready.  Now she is.  The younger ones tend to just slip into calling you mom and dad, especially if you have other kids calling you that.  In general, ages 1 to 3 mom and dad is more of a role in their minds than a person.  What I have noticed is that they see all moms and dads as moms and dads but their bioparents or primary caregivers are Moms and Dads with a capital letter.  The older children tend to vary based on where they are in life.  Some will call you mom and dad based on their desire to fit in and not let people know they are foster children.  Others have a genuine interest in becoming a part of your family.  And some may have a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD.  Other children will only call you by your name.

The biggest thing is to not be offended on whatever the children choose to call you by.  It is not a reflection on your parenting, more a reflection on the children’s personal lives.  And for those of us who are not parents before becoming foster parents it can be awkward to be called mom and dad but you do get used to it.  I don’t have any bio-children or adopted children so when I first started getting called mom it was definitely an adjustment.

When the children ask you what they should call you, just let them know that they have options and it is up to them.

Advice for 2am

So what do you do when you get an emergency call at 2am?  You get up.  Emergency calls are the hardest.  You usually know the age and sometimes the gender of the children but you rarely know their disposition and why they are coming.

The two things I try to make sure I do is make sure there are clean sheets on the bed and something quick to eat.  Most kids will at least a peanut butter sandwich so we keep peanut butter in the house at all times.  And quite frankly you don’t want to making beds at 2am, especially if you have other foster kids in the room they are going into.

The one thing I learned is that even when you are given information, it is rarely correct information.  In fact, for several weeks I though my five year old was three.  Sure explained a lot when I finally got his file and found out he was older.  Otherwise he would have basically been the smartest, most advanced three year old I have ever met. So never assume what or who the children are going to be.

One time I got in a child that attacked his mother and needed emergency placement.  The officer said the child was basically overwhelmed and the mother was struggling with the role of being a parent.  The officer never told me the child’s age and honestly implied that he was a teenager.  Imagine my surprise when a terrified five year old showed up on my doorstep.

The process of taking emergency placements is confusing and quite frankly not everyone does their jobs correctly.  All you can do is respond the best way you can.

Another thing that helps is not putting a lot of pressure on the child when they come in.  We usually get them settled quickly and then go on with our day like nothing has changed.  This helps them to adjust without being self conscious.  At 2am: get them clean, get them settled, and let everyone go back to bed.

Sometimes this is a little bit easier said than done.  This is one of the few times I break my rule about TV at bedtime.  A lot of times a light cartoon will help get their mind off the frequently traumatic events of the evening.  Emergency placements are not for everyone, but it can be a very rewarding segment of foster care.