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

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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

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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.

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.

Telling Our Families

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When being interviewed by the social workers, we were asked what our families thought about us deciding to become foster parents.  We were stumped.  Neither of us had even thought to talk to our families about it.  I mean, we are the ones doing it right?  Its not really anyone’s business what we do with our free time and spare bedroom.  WRONG.  Your family is definitely a part of the experience whether they want to be or not.  Think about Christmas, family get-together, birthdays, vacations, and so on.  You can’t just get rid of your foster child because you have something to do that day.  They are a part of your family, however temporary.

So with admitted apprehension we approached our families with our plans.  I was AMAZED at the overall support and blessings we got from our family.  I was even more surprised by how many people said they wanted to do it to but were afraid of attachment.  Offers to supply toys, clothing, assistance, babysitting, and so on streamed in from several unexpected corners.

Admittedly there were a few family members who said we were very generous with incredibly worried looks on their face, but in all honesty they would probably have had the same reaction if we told them we were volunteering at a group home.  Not everyone has a giving spirit and we take that into account.

Happily, the family members who mattered were all vastly excited by our decision and proud of us for what we have chosen to do.  For any other apprehensive potential foster parents, telling your family honestly and upfront is the best thing you can do to create strong communication flows.  You might be surprised by the responses you receive.

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!