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.

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.

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.

I’m Melting, I’m Melting

notice the shower

Image via Wikipedia

Brushing teeth
Image via Wikipedia

Do you ever feel like you are watching the dramatic scene from Wizard of Oz whenever you try and get your foster child to shower?  I know I do.  Many foster children, especially those that have been neglected are unaccustomed to having proper hygiene.  In fact, many of them will down right refuse to have proper hygiene.  It has just never been instilled in them.  So as a foster parent it is up to you to teach age appropriate hygiene and establish consequences for failure to follow directions.

Tips From Temporary Mommy

  • Make sure children actually know how to take a shower.  This includes explaining the process of shampooing and conditioning.  It also includes explaining that everything must be washed with soap.  Do not just assume a child knows what should be washed, with what, and in what order.  We have a training session involving a Barbie hair styling head to show how to shampoo and condition.  Then we use the song “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes… and everything in between”.  It seems kind of trite especially if you have teenagers but even our older kids always laugh when we do it.
  • Explain the bathroom to them.  Simple things such as how to adjust water temperature, keeping the shower liner inside the tub, and not flooding the bathroom may have never been taught to them.
  • If you have older kids, talk to them about special face care to prevent breakouts.  In some older kids, you may even have to teach them how to shave legs, armpits, or beards.  I will never forget the first time I had to sit down with a foster child in our shorty shorts and teach her how to shave her legs.  Let’s just say there was a log of giggling.
  • Make sure children know how to floss and to brush their teeth.  If they never had to do it before, then it can be confusing and they may not be doing it properly.
  • Make a list of expected hygiene behaviors such as daily bathing, brushing hair, brushing teeth, and so forth and post it in the bathrooms with pictures for those who have difficulty reading.  Assign a consequence for failure to follow hygiene rules.  Be patient.  Kids are not going to learn everything perfectly the first day.

Most of all remember to be honest with your foster children.  I ask my children very bluntly when we are one on one if they want to be smelly.  They always unanimously say no.  If you are persistent, you can instill more appropriate behaviors in them for the future.  Children are not always aware that they smell.  If it is all you have ever known, then it is difficult to see another way.

The Beginning

This photo of a rural child was photographed b...

Image via Wikipedia

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.