Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Plight Of The Foster Parent

I'd like to take a moment to address a problem I've been hearing a lot about lately.
In this blog I speak a lot about the plight of children in foster care and the issues that affect these children. But one thing I'd like to recognize now is that there are adults in our world who have taken it upon themselves to open up their homes and their hearts to children in foster care. When deciding to become a foster parent, a person decides that they will take on the responsibility of raising someone else's child on a 24/7 basis. Every child who moves in with the foster parent has gone through at least one traumatic experience. The child has been abused, or neglected, or seen his parents get arrested, or something else. If nothing else, the child is experiencing being removed from one home, and being placed in another home, a strange place with strange people and strange rules. Many children act out their frustration by having behavior issues, some more serious than others. Even infants in foster care may cry a lot more than other infants, and may be significantly undernourished and/or developmentally delayed when they come into the foster parents' care. When taking a foster child, a person makes the commitment to try to create as happy and normal of a life as possible for that child... all the while not knowing whether the child will be around for a week, a month, or years.
It may seem sensible to put up protective boundaries around oneself while taking on this task... provide physical care, and the illusion of affection, to each child, while in the back of ones mind keeping oneself from actually growing attached to the child. After all, getting attached to every child who comes and goes would be far too hard, right?
But the type of people who become foster parents in the first place are actually unlikely to emotionally distance themselves from the children. The reason they become foster parents is to share their love with kids who need it the most... not simply to put a roof over the heads of these children!
So. For these people partaking in the biggest volunteer job of all, you would think that social workers and others who work with children in foster care would treat foster parents with the utmost respect, kindness, and gratitude, right? Foster parents are probably showered with acknowledgement, and given everything they need as far as clothing, toys, medication, etc, for the children they care for. Right?
Hmm. Well. Lets take a look at some recent experiences that some very dedicated foster parents have shared.

Scenario 1. A foster parent is asked to take three children, siblings between the ages of 1 and 8. When the children arrive, they have nothing but the clothes on their backs. The foster parent, who happens to be a single mother raising a child she already adopted from foster care, must quickly come up with everything she needs to provide care for these three new kids. On her own, she scrambles to get car seats for the two youngest children, and get beds and bedding for all three of them. Because two of the children are toddlers, the foster parent will need plenty of things like sippy cups and bottles and diapers and wipes and highchairs... all things she has never had to have on hand before, as she adopted her first child when the child was already nine years old. The children's clothes are very dirty and several sizes too small, so the foster parent needs to take them all out to get shoes and undies and pants and shirts, and, because it is winter when the children arrive, they also need coats and mittens and hats and scarves and boots. Of course the children don't have any toys with them either, so the foster parent must buy them some things to play with. After all, every child deserves and needs some toys to keep them busy and stimulated! The three children also need to go to various medical appointments and dental appointments and therapy appointments and visitation appointments, and the foster parent must take off of work to bring the kids to all of these appointments. Plus, instead of having to buy groceries for herself and her daughter, she is now putting food on the table for a family of five. And then, because she is known as such a good foster parent, the foster parent is asked to take on two more hard-to-place older kids.
The foster parent is frustrated, but she knows that eventually she will recieve subsidy checks for the five kids in foster care.. The subsidy checks are meant to cover the expenses of the children, so that the foster parent doesn't have to try to stretch her own income to cover three extra kids!
Yet, time after time, the foster parent must call and demand her subsidy check, which is late or has gotten lost or has mysteriously never been written in the first place. And when she complains about this, guess what she is told?
"Please don't depend on the subsidy income as regular income. It is just meant to supplement your steady income and help with expenses."
In other words, "Be grateful we're giving you anything!"

Scenario 2. A married couple decides to become foster parents. They take in a 3-year-old child who has been seriously, seriously, seriously neglected and mistreated. The social workers who place the little boy fail to mention all the child's behavioral and medical issues, or the fact that the child was exposed to drugs. The little guy can barely walk, eat, or even see, because he's been so neglected. Plus, he's filled with so much anger, he's like a wild animal. He screams obscenities at strangers on the street, hits and bites and kicks his foster parents, and even tries to smother his foster mother with a pillow while she sleeps. He tells his foster parents he hates them and wants to kill them. He eats feces out of his diaper. But although previous foster parents have had him removed from their homes after only a week, these two foster parents are determined to keep the little boy with him. They nurse him to health and provide a stable, loving home for him. Ten months later, this little boy still has some behavioral problems, but in other ways he's become more of a real child, and less of an anger-filled tornado. He is able to give and recieve hugs and affection, sincerely. He runs and jumps and plays and dances like a regular preschooler. He is no longer malnourished, and in fact he loves brocolli! So. One day some workers from the state show up at the family's door. Is it to give the foster parents the Foster Parent Of The Year Award? No. It is for a surprise inspection, in which these foster parents... these people who took a very, very difficult child and gave him a safe and loving home... are written up on several infractions. What are the infractions, you wonder? Lets see. A bowl of unpeeled, perfectly ripe and ready-to-eat fruit was on the table, instead of in the refrigerator. A freshly baked cake, which the foster mother was in the midst of frosting when the doorbell rang, is on the counter... when, according to the state workers, the foster mother should have immediately covered it or put it into the refrigerator before answering the door. The family used cloth towels in their bathroom instead of paper towels. The vacuum cleaner cord didn't have a safety lock on it. (Where the heck do you even get a safety lock for your vacuum cleaner cord?)Their refrigerator has a temperature gage on the outside of it, instead of on the inside. And instead of placing their foster parenting license on the wall for all to see, they had it inside the cabinet next to the emergency numbers. To me, this home seems like the ideal home for a happy, healthy child to grow up in. But the state workers wanted something a little more... hmm... institutional. Now, these wonderful foster parents are afraid they're going to lose the little boy they've grown to adore!

Scenario 3: A foster mother notices that an outfit has left a mark on the leg of her 5-month-old foster son. Being diligant, she reports the mark to the child's social worker, the child's mother, and the child's doctor. She wants to make sure that all involved agree that this mark was made from clothes, and not from some sort of mistreatment of the chlld.
Two weeks later, a worker whose job it is to pick up the baby, take him somewhere where he needs to be, and bring him back, all so the foster mother doesn't have to pack up her other children for the day-long journey. When the worker brings the baby home, she asks the foster mother, "Tell me about the mark on his leg. You know, I am a mandated reporter!" Brushing off this subtle accusation, the foster mother explains that the mark was made from an outfit, and that she has already reported this to the social worker, doctor, and the baby's mother.
Shortly thereafter, the foster mother finds out that she is under investigation for possible child abuse because of the mark on the baby's leg!

These are just three foster parents who I happen to know of... a small sampling of what is going on all over the country.
Want to know the saddest part of all this? All three of these foster parents have decided that they are not going to be foster parents any more. They are not going to "call it quits" on any of the children they currently have... in fact, all three of them are in the process of adopting their children from foster care... but they will not take on any more foster children. Why? Because they are treated like criminals, when they should be treated like heroes.
Crazy, isn't it? And sad, very sad... for the foster parents who are going through this, and for the children in foster care who will have less and less quality homes to be placed in.


Danielle said...

This is the sad reality for so many families. I am an elementary school teacher and I am often sickened by the system. From the cases that the state will not take to the way that incredible foster families are treated. There must be a better way.

Maerlowe said...

As terrible as this sounds, it is at least good to know that I'm in good company with Baggage and Gina. Thank you for this post. I've started feeling less scared and more angry today.

Maerlowe said...

And I do want to let you know that all of Huckle's anger issues were directed at me, and mostly when we were the only ones home. He attached to my husband lickety split, since he'd never really had a father before. I, however, was the fake mommy, and he didn't forgive me for that for almost 6 months (a longer time, by the way, than he'd EVER been in his mother's custody).

Colleen (My Baby and More) said...

This is so sad. We am going through the process right to be foster parents. I can not believe what an arduous process it is! All parent should have to go through at least 10% of what we are going through to be approved. It is very interesting though. Glad to have found your blog.

Colleen (My Baby and More) said...

Sorry for all of the above typos! Typing while holding the baby!!

David said...

Thanks for sharing these stories. I applaud foster parents everywhere who make such a difference in the lives of their foster children. Everything possible should be done to support them and cases like these are sad in deed.