The foster care system is the epitome of bureaucracy. There are mountains of rules and regulations that must be followed–but in reality, these are mostly on paper. Our agency (which is one of several that are contracted by the different county CYS departments to find screened suitable foster families) provides ongoing training which I do find helpful sometimes when dealing with disciplinary techniques. These kids need a lot of structure and loving and firm discipline, and sometimes I can be a push-over, which was ok with my own boys, because they knew from the beginning from Big Daddy that they better not stray too far from the straight and narrow. A lot of these kids, however, even if they are academically behind, can be very manipulative and street-smart. I imagine these skills help them survive.
Although I haven’t really had problems with our agency, with the exception of the new caseworker who I’m more and more convinced exacerbated the respite problem because she wasn’t keen on having to drive the kids to the next county among other things, some of the trainings include typical foster care scenarios that are more fiction than fact.
One common proclamation of the foster care system is that “we are all important members of a team.” This sounds really good…we all have our important part to play in the goal of getting these children back to a safe environment–preferably with their own families. In reality, foster parents are often marginalized by the system. Even though we often know these children better than their own parents (especially true of the younger kids) and we definitely know them better than the revolving-door supply of caseworkers who pass through, and the judges and supervisors who mostly know them through the paperwork in their files, our input and insight is rarely sought or valued. We are the best resource they have for these kids; not only have a lot of us successfully raised kids of our own and picked up a few tips here and there, but we are the ones who tuck these kids in at night, hear their stories, and have a good sense of what these kids need, yet there is often the unspoken feeling that “they” are the experts and that we foster parents just need to do our job and mind our business.
Another thing that was frequently stressed is that it is highly recommended that we utilize the “respite system” and work with other families in the agency where the kids can spend some time away from us and widen their support network of caring families. Supposedly this is good for the kids and for us. The reality is that is almost impossible to forge any kind of relationship with a respite family because there really is not a great supply of them. Our old caseworker was always very diligent about finding one when we really needed to get away for a night with adult friends or an important weekend event with our grown-up kids, but we rarely could use the same family more than once because they had gotten a foster child of their own and were no longer available or had decided foster care was not for them.
Foster parents are entitled to know all relevant information about the kids being placed in their homes. This one kind of makes me roll my eyes. Although everyone says we have the right to listen in on the hearings, we were pretty much relegated to sitting in the lobby of the courthouse every time we were asked to bring the kids, who sometimes got to speak to the judge, and other times just got to miss a day of school to hang out with the slew of caseworkers, county workers, foster kids, foster parents and bio parents. One time even our agency caseworker was kept out of the hearing by the one very lazy clueless CYS caseworker we had last summer. It’s kind of hard to make plans for kids when you don’t have the facts. I often had to clue in the caseworker on things they should have had in their files about the kids’ siblings or former placements because luckily I had an older child who liked to share information with us. Sometimes chatting with one of the other foster mothers at family visitation you might pick up another gem of information that would have been helpful to know. And, sadly, sometimes information is intentionally withheld. One adoptive foster mom, who is used to dealing with the more difficult children and actually seems to relish the challenge of helping them, claimed that even she would not have agreed to adopt her son had she seen all the stuff in his file that she was not given until the adoption papers were filed. It did not turn out well.
Our agency also stressed that at anytime, if the placement was not working out, either for the kids or for the foster parents, other arrangements would be made. Big Daddy and I, of course, had every intention of making it work from our end. No matter how difficult, we wanted to provide a stable home and not contribute more rejection or instability. But there are some deal breakers, and sad to say, at one very difficult point when we feared for the well-being of our family, we had explored the possibility of having Bonus Child placed elsewhere. Bonus Child had been chafing mightily against our rules and fought bonding with us, saying often that she wanted to leave, especially since we had to clamp down on her for some very unacceptable behaviors. Our agency said it wouldn’t be a problem. The lazy clueless CYS worker said it wouldn’t be a problem. We told them there was no need to hurry; we wanted her to be able to finish out the school year with her friends. “No problem. A done deal.” These were the exact words out of lazy CYS worker’s mouth.
All of these factors no doubt played a part in the disastrous scenario that happened five months later. But things were very different then. By the time those girls were sent to live with yet another household of strangers, we had become a family. These kids were torn away from two families that loved them in their very young lives.