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.
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.
Lately I have been getting a lot of people asking me about what it takes to be a foster parent and how to get started with foster parenting. I am always happy to help a new home get started. So here is the best “Getting Started” advice from Temporary Mommy:
First and foremost, contact your local Department of Human Services or Department of Children and Families and set up an initial appointment. If you are even slightly interested now, it could take months or years to complete the licensing process depending on your location and the workload of your social workers. Get started immediately. You don’t have to go through with it, if you decide it is not for you. It only took us three months to get licensed but I have known homes that had to wait over a year before their licensing was complete.
Get in touch with the local association. In Wisconsin, it is the Foster and Adoptive Parent Association. Each county has their own association. The association can get you set up with a mentor family to answer any questions you might have. They are also a great resource for training hours and certification processes. For areas that don’t have mentor foster homes, the local association can guide you through the foster parenting process.
Decide what you want to do and be firm. If you are only willing to work with children from five to ten years old, make sure it is clearly understood. A foster family can burn out quickly when dealing with children that they are not equipped to handle. If you are not willing to work with certain behaviors, then be firm. Everyone has something that is their drawn line and don’t be afraid to vocalize it. Mine is animal cruelty. We will not tolerate it and we will not keep kids that are going to hurt our animals. With more than 30 children, we have only had one incident and that incident wasn’t intentional. But we stuck to that point and we refuse to take children with a history of it.
Talk to your family. Whether or not your family supports you can play a big role in your future of foster care. I never really thought about it and we never consulted our family before we decided to do it. But with our kids, our families are the ones who remember birthdays, babysit on weekends, and spoil them every now and then. If your family isn’t fully on board, it is not a deal breaker. But really consider the implications before pursuing it further. With our family we were about half and half for support. However, our whole family is 100% behind us now. Sometimes people who are a little skeptical come around when they see how great it is to make a difference in a child’s life.
Wow. What a day today. This morning I e-mailed our social worker to see how our application was going and to check on our training dates. She e-mailed me back to say that some things have come up and she will explain later today when calls.
I tell you what; my heart skipped a beat. Now it was probably my naughty inner child. You know when you are younger and your mom says your name in that angry voice and you start thinking of all the things you could have possibly done wrong? That’s how I felt today. Did we do something wrong or say something wrong? Did someone give us a bad reference?
However, my fears were completely unfounded and in fact, she laughed when I asked her what we did wrong. Apparently, the phone call was to talk about our first placement.
I am so excited. Bare in mind, I can never release details about our foster kids or about why they are placed with us. However, I can say that we are hopefully going to be receiving a sibling group next week! I am so excited and a little apprehensive. There are two sibling groups she is trying to decide between assigning to us as a temporary placement.
I am so excited and scared at the same time. What if the kids don’t like us? What if we don’t like them? What if they are scared of dogs? Well, wish us luck. She is going to call me when she knows for sure what’s going on.
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.
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).