Friday, December 31, 2010

Improving the Foster Care System - Part VII

Before I get on to this week's post about how we can improve the foster care system, I'd like to wish everyone a happy and healthy secular New Year. If you are traveling, please be safe and keep the rubber side of your car down and in contact with the road.

Now, for this week's installment.

A bit more than two weeks ago, Mothering4Money wrote a comment in response to my post Word to the Wise: Keep Everything. In her comment, she wrote:
This demonstrates another thing that should change about the foster care system. Workers treat an investigation of a homestudied/fingerprinted/referenced/background checked foster & adoptive parent the same as an investigation of a birth parent. Actually they seem to have laws or rules that protects the birth parents (can't enter the home without police or court order) more than the foster parents (because foster parents sign that document allowing 24/7 access into their homes - as a show of good faith and supposedly to prove they aren't harming anyone and are always in compliance of state standards). If CPS has already given the family clearance and assessed them to be worthy of caring for children, and that family has a clean record of caring for children for CPS with no problems spanning over years and years, then CPS should give that family the benefit of the doubt or use a little common sense when deciding whether or not to investigate.

Recently there was a foster parent here locally who received two children from a disruption. The previous foster parent kept documenting the children's behaviors and asking for help, and when she couldn't get any assistance, she requested the kids to be moved. The couple that accepted the placement were in the final stages of adopting a child that they've had for several years. That was halted though when one of the new kids went to play therapy and said "Mama spanked me with a fly swatter." The foster parent got a call from the regular case worker saying she was just in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by. When she arrived, she was with her supervisor's supervisor, and they were there to remove the children. Fortunately, the foster parent didn't even own a fly swatter. And when they further questioned the little boy, calling the foster parent by name, he said "She's not my Mama!" After that, the foster parents requested everyone be moved except for the child they were adopting and told CPS that they were no longer interested in accepting placements. The whole thing could have been avoided had CPS used a little common sense or had the decency to give the foster parent the benefit of the doubt.

Thank you, Mothering4Money, because you have just written this week's post for me. I could stop right here and enough would be said on the subject. This is exactly one of the biggest problems that face foster caregivers in the system.

Now the truth is that there are foster parents who abuse their children. It happens. There was a pretty horrible case here recently where a well-known and well-liked foster parent was accused of hitting and withholding meals from her foster children when they misbehaved. It was a shock to everyone, because this foster mom had been licensed for decades and had probably been mistreating kids for most of her career.

That's bad. It's really bad. But I also think that foster parents who abuse their kids are in a tiny minority.

The problem is that whenever a foster mother abuses her charges, it makes the local news. It gives all foster parents a bad name, even those who don't deserve it. When a birth mother abuses her child it rarely makes the paper, unless what she's done is so egregious that the child has suffered life-threatening injuries.

The real issue here is that social workers simply do not give foster parents the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anything that involves the children in their care. If a child misbehaves, seems to have educational delays, or emotional problems, social workers are lightning-fast to blame the foster parents. Even if a child has a history of making false allegations, the child's word will be believed long before the foster parents' testimony will be considered truthful.

It's this jack-booted thug mentality that creates a lot of problems.

In our case, this mentality meant that we spent a year in litigation fighting for a kid that nobody else wanted. It wasn't as if our agency had a better home lined up for our child. Rather, they simply didn't want us to adopt her, and it didn't matter who got hurt in the process. It was also this mentality that was displayed, not only by social workers, but by county-employed therapists who blamed us for our child's emotional and behavioral problems, rather than addressing them in an appropriate fashion. Although we finally were vindicated when the school psychologist diagnosed problems we'd expressed concern about for years, it's little consolation when we know that years of our child's life have been wasted.

What would have happened if we'd been given the benefit of the doubt? We wouldn't have spent thousands of dollars on legal fees, our child wouldn't feel as if her placement with us (despite living here for more than four years) is tenuous, and she might have gotten the appropriate emotional and educational interventions much sooner. Certainly we wouldn't have wasted all of last school year with a teacher who refused to intellectually challenge our child or push for her academic advancement.

Were it not for the fact that we are stubborn people who were willing to fight, our daughter could have found herself removed from our home and living in foster care. Had we been given the benefit of the doubt, much would be different.

And what about the family that Mothering4Money mentioned? They are no longer foster parents, and their agency had to replace them. Perhaps that seems like not a big deal, but at least in our county, it costs far more to recruit and train a foster family than it does to give them ongoing training and keep them on the roster. It's this short-sighted attitude that keeps foster families churning in and out of the system, which I think is a huge mistake. More experienced parents learn to be better parents, and rotating families in and out of the system might solve an immediate need for beds, but it doesn't solve the longer-term need for quality foster homes.


  1. 2 points

    # 1. Many children experience abuse in foster care. Yes there are good homes, but the fact is that when a child is bounced from home to home for whatever reason, the likelihood of that child experiencing an abusive placement, at some point, increases. Not to mention the systems inability to provide stability for kids in care, failures in background checking,

    ... and the fact that kids average 14 placements prior to aging out of the system are all factors.

    In 2009 in New York, there were 2,838 reports of child abuse in foster care, resulting in 662 substantiations, but nowhere's near that many made the news. So for the most part the system does a really good job of covering it up as well.

    Also, if you read that article, you can see that lots and lots of foster parents are falsely accused of abuse as well, but the system has to cover it's ass in order to avoid lawsuits. Ether way, these are major systematic failures.

    # 2. Although, I think you are on the right track with what you said about the media, I disagree that foster and adoptive parents get that bad of a rap in the news.

    From what I see, they are much more often portrayed as heroes and angels. It is only when a case becomes criminal that some of it becomes public record allowing the media access to some files. And then the communities are shocked that such a thing would ever happen in foster care.

    For the most part, however, the news preaches the wrong message because about 90% of it is foster parent recruitment campaigns. Talking about how fulfilling a life it is adopting through foster care, preaching happily ever after, etc.


    PS: FA, I would really like to read your thoughts on the last article.

  2. Sorry I am just now reading this. I wish I would have worded that first part better. What I meant was essentially what you said here:

    I agree that this current foster parent recruitment campaign needs to change. The happily ever after Forever Home mantra needs to stop. Instead they should be talking more about the realities of foster care & adoption. Less people would sign up, but those who do would be less naive about the process. Maybe. Hopefully?

    Locally CPS acknowledges that foster parent turnover is too high, but off the record they want it that way. Seasoned foster parents see too much, learn too much, and become jaded in regards to the system. New foster parents are still wearing those rose tinted glasses. They still do exactly what CPS says. They believe everything told to them. They don't ask the right questions.

    And without the more experienced foster parents being around to be mentors, the new ones don't know they have a Bill of Rights. They don't know how to contact the state commissioner to file complaints. So it benefits CPS to get rid of the old and always have a fresh batch of new foster parents waiting in the wings (of GPS and/or MAPP classes).


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