Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lessons Learned from Foster Care, Part 3

This post was originally published in MEM's MEMOS on April 6, 2009.

Okay, I know you're going to think my husband and I are totally insane, but despite our first experiences with the child welfare sytem, we still decided that we needed to be foster parents. (After all, I'm a glutton for punishment, remember?)

We’ve only had two placements with the Foster Care System so we’re still “newbies.” However, we’ve learned A LOT during our brief time fostering. Here are a few MORE lessons I’ve learned as a foster parent- Things I wish I would have known before our first placement!

Our main concerns about fostering had to do with the children themselves, but now we have come to the conclusion that the “children” were the relatively easy part.

LESSON #5- It’s dealing with birthparents or caseworkers that can be difficult.

Justin was our first placement. His birthparents were very easy to work with. They would always show up to their weekly visitation appointments and expressed gratitude to us for caring for their little boy. They even invited us to keep in contact with him after he was returned to their care. They also invited us to their wedding and to Justin’s Fourth Birthday Party. Justin’s caseworker, however, was a different story.

I know most caseworkers are overworked and underpaid and carry a large caseload. How do I know this? Because shortly after graduating from college I actually interviewed for a casework position with DCFS despite these facts and warnings I had received about the burn-out rate for child welfare workers. (See “A” and “B” from this post). Although I did well on the preliminary required written test and felt good about the two subsequent interviews I had to go through I didn’t end up getting the position. I was kindly told that they were looking for somebody who had some experience. I had a head full of theories and statistics and a desire to rescue children from bad situations, but I had no experience whatsoever. So, yes, I am aware that social work can be very stressful. But in ANY profession isn’t it common courtesy to return a phone call?

LESSON #6- If your caseworker doesn’t feel the need to return your phone calls, then contact his or her supervisor. If the caseworker’s supervisor doesn’t feel the need to return your phone calls, call the supervisor’s supervisor. And so on and so forth. Who knew I could be so assertive!

I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad though- Justin’s birthparents told us that his caseworker never returned their phone calls, either. I guess he thought it only fair to treat birthparents and foster parents with an equal amount of disrespect.

Our second placement, Molly, had three different caseworkers during the time we had her. I really loved one of those caseworkers in particular and I was so bummed when I heard the case had been transferred. Molly’s birthparents, on the other hand, could find NO GOOD in us. They were polite to our faces but then Molly’s caseworker would pull us aside after each weekly visitation and inform us of a complaint they had against us. One week they would complain that her diaper was on too loose, the next week they would complain that her diaper was too tight, etc.

“This case is most likely headed towards adoption after parental rights have been terminated…”

My husband and I have heard this twice before only to get our hearts broken afterwards. The second time we heard it was from Justin’s caseworker. He went on to tell us “Since it looks like you’ll be adopting him, you can look through some of Justin’s medical and family history as well as some files about his parents.” So during one of Justin’s weekly visits at the DCFS building Justin was in one room visiting with his parents while I was in another room taking thorough notes as I looked through files of information about his parents, including their criminal records and mug shots.

LESSON #7- If somebody other than a judge tells you that a child is adoptable DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

LESSON #8- Family and Team Meetings are supposed to happen. And foster parents have every right to be there- You can even call one if you want!

Although Justin’s caseworker would visit our home once a month as required, we only had one Family and Team Meeting during his stay with us. Well, quite technically it was on the day of his Permanency Hearing AFTER he had been returned to his parent’s care.

LESSON #9- Birthparents are not “THE ENEMY” Foster parenting is not a battle of “Birth Parent” vs. “Foster Parents”

I’m hoping I will be a little more sensitive to the feelings of the birthparents involved in our next placement (Even if they do hate us for having their child.) As easy as it is to do I don’t want to make it a contest of “US” versus “THEM”. Nobody is perfect. PERIOD.

LESSON #10 Foster care is not about “US” and our needs- it’s about the children!

In the past I have gotten my hopes up high about possibly adding to our family through adoption or I have whined about how hard it is to see a child leave our home. But foster care isn’t about me- giving me a sense of fulfillment, protecting my feelings, etc.- IT'S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!

Although it was heartbreaking for us (and our families) to see Molly and Justin leave I can honestly say that I wouldn't change having them be a part of of our lives. I learned MUCH, grew tremendously, and "perfected my faith" by learning to be less selfish and accept the will of the Lord.

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