Friday, April 22, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXIII

Michele Bachmann is a member of the United States House of Representatives. From 1992 to 1998, she was a foster parent to a total of 23 foster teens.

She was quoted in this article as saying:

It was wonderful, probably the most intellectually rewarding time of my life.

The article went on to quote her as saying:

We are so thankful that we did. We were at least able to be part of the solution.

The madness has got to stop.

The biggest disservice that the foster care system does to everyone involved is to continue the myth that becoming a licensed foster parent is always one of the best, most rewarding, and fulfilling experiences one can enjoy.

It's a myth.

It's garbage.

It's not fulfilling to watch a raging teen destroy her bedroom. It's not intellectually rewarding to take your child from appointment to appointment, only to see her emotional state deteriorate and her problem behaviors increase. There is no joy in being blamed for your child's problems, no matter how much you advocate for her or try your best to do the right thing. There is no reward in doing your best, watching your child implode (or explode) again and again and again, when you know there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

Corey's comment to my post Secondarily Traumatized has stuck with me for the past few days:

And what's more, there is NOTHING we can do about it, and we all KNOW it. We cannot stop the trauma. We cannot heal our children. We cannot get them into residential facilities. We cannot depend on mental health professionals, hospitals, school systems, police, social services, doctors, courts, churches/clergy, family, or friends.. NO ONE.. and we KNOW we can't, because we have all been totally, completely, utterly FAILED by these people. And in many cases, not only FAILED by them, but BLAMED for our children's behaviors and our inability to "fix" them, to protect our other children, and to cope with them ourselves. It is completely unfathomable what we live with, and no one understands except other parents of kids like ours.

So to improve the foster care system, we need to get real about what parents should expect. When we went through PRIDE training back in the Spring of 2006, our trainers didn't really discuss the heavy-duty problems we should expect as foster or potential adoptive parents. Sure, they mentioned the possibility that some of the foster kids in the system could have problems like FASD or Reactive Attachment Disorder, but they led parents to believe that these problems were relatively rare. One training video we saw, showed a cute-as-a-bug African American boy saying that he "hated" his foster parents. The parents responded in a loving way, and the next thing you knew the little boy was snuggling in for hugs. It was the perfect ending to what was a pretty mild behavioral incident.

They don't tell you the truth is that this cute-as-a-bug boy might smear feces on your wall, or this innocent little girl might steal your socks, use them as menstrual pads, and then throw them behind your dresser to find weeks later. They don't explain that your sweet new child might rage for hours, causing injury to himself, household pets, or others.

The ubiquitous "they" make it somewhat difficult to become licensed as foster parents, so that only the determined survive, but not so hard that the majority quit. People are led down a garden path, thinking that they are doing the right thing and will be "helping" children and their families.

I often feel as if I am unable to help my child very much at all.

Now in fairness, in some respects she is much better off than she was five years ago. She's no longer living in a place where she's routinely neglected or abused. She's being sent to school on a regular basis, and she's learned to read and write. She's living with people who, despite everything she's done to them, still care and want what's best for her.

So in those respects, she's better off. If she had stayed where she was, the abuse and neglect would have continued, she probably would never have learned to read, and she would likely have become pregnant long before her 18th birthday.

But I also recognize what she has lost. She has lost her birth family members, whom she loves beyond measure. No caregiver, no matter how much she might grow to love them, can ever compare to the the now-embellished memories of all the good times she had with them. She has forgotten, as we all do, many parts of her painful past, and she remembers only the beautiful parts of her birth family that she wants to remember.

And those memories cause her considerable pain.

I also recognize that in many ways we have failed to help her. We have failed, despite numerous parenting classes, visits to numerous therapists, and pleading with social workers, to find any meaningful, lasting help for her emotional problems. Yes, sending her to boot camp put an end, at least for the time being, to her violence against us, but it didn't solve any of the underlying psychological problems that fueled the violence. Four therapists, a behavioral aide, a psychiatrist, and at least two school psychologists have failed to make a lasting dent in her emotional and psychological problems.

Had we known what was ahead of us, we might have left this very daunting job to someone else. We very well might have said, "this isn't the life for us," and we would have spared ourselves, and possibly even our child, a certain amount of pain.

If our foster parent trainers had been really honest, we might have been scared off, which might have been better for everyone.

I know I have said this before, but I feel the need to say it again. We need to be a lot more honest in the way we train and prepare foster parents. Sure, it might reduce the available supply of gullible families willing to take in troubled children, but I think it would benefit those kids in the long run to have families who really know what they are getting into and are prepared to deal with it.


  1. I don't know..the shitty parts have been..well, shitty, but I've had a lot of rewarding experiences. A lot with the little kids and actually I do see progress with Bug that is rewarding. I try to look for those things. Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations, or look for victory in the small things. I think I saw the same video that you did in training though :)

  2. I agree with Baggage - some parts have been really crappy, but there have been rewarding parts too. I have had one really horrible awful situation, a couple really bad and several very difficult, but I have also have dozens of overall positive ones. If my only experience had been the one really awful one, then I would be here agreeing with you. I am sad for you that you didn't get to balance out this difficulty with some success stories. I don't know where I would be without those. I fostered about 40 kids over 18 years and adopted 7 (one disrupted). Most of my adopted kids have done well and a couple have done really well. If I had to categorize my experience over the 18 years, I would have to agree with the woman you quoted -it has been an overall rewarding experience and I have felt mostly successful. I agree with you that the training is so deficient. foster parents aren't adequately prepared and then once they become foster parents, they are often treated like crap. I have a friend fostering right now who is being bullied and beaten up by her agency and I hate it every time I hear about it. It is the main reason I am no longer fostering. But I do believe it can still be rewarding - I don't agree that that is a myth.

  3. I feel really, really good about adoption through foster care too. And it's like Baggage said a few posts ago... they do not all have the serious trauma and attachment disorders (clinically relevant problems). And when they do, if you can find the right kind of help I think things can be less bumpy than what you experienced. I did have to stand up tall and go against caseworker recommendations at some point to get a real psyche eval (somehow managed to get them to pay for it too) and a real attachment therapist. That's what I usually tell new foster parents. Don't use the default services - get the best your money can buy.

  4. It seems like you were definently NOT prepaed for the behaviors you might encounter, but nt all counties/agencies fail in that area. We went through a private agency and they went to GREAT lengths to make sure we understood what we would encounter and how difficult it would be. I think it's sad that more liscensing agencies are not forthcoming.

  5. It seems like you were definently NOT prepaed for the behaviors you might encounter, but nt all counties/agencies fail in that area. We went through a private agency and they went to GREAT lengths to make sure we understood what we would encounter and how difficult it would be. I think it's sad that more liscensing agencies are not forthcoming.


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