Saturday, September 29, 2012

In It For The Money

Most of the stories in the media about foster care seem to take the most horrendous cases into account, portraying foster children as extremely disturbed or dangerous delinquents and painting foster parents in an equally unflattering light. 

One such unflattering assumption about foster parents which makes me laugh is that “Foster parents just take in kids for the money.”  Clearly, anybody who believes this has never done foster care.  
Michael and Sarah Gerstenzang were an upper middle class couple who were living in New York City with two young children when they took their first foster placement because, among other reasons they wanted to “give back to society and help a child.”  Michael was an attorney and as a social worker Sarah always had an interest in child welfare.  When reflecting on her personal experiences, Sarah shared her feelings about the low reimbursement rate foster parents receive:
[My husband ] “and I were asked numerous times by our friends and acquaintances if we thought that many foster parents were “doing it for the money.”  (I think middle class people sleep better when we assume that adults are being paid to care for children whom we as a society are responsible for.)  We would first explain that there wasn’t much money in foster care for foster parents, to which some people replied, “Yeah, but if they take in like ten kids?”  And then we would patiently explain that taking in ten kids wasn’t permitted.  But for argument’s sake, if one could take in ten kids, economize, and have a little left over, would it be worth it to have to live with ten kids?”
Thank goodness for reforms which limit the number of children in a foster home and thoroughly screen families before giving them a license to make sure they’re fostering for the right reasons.  In our state, one of the requirements for fostering is that the family must be financially independent enough that they don’t have to rely on foster care as a source of income (as verified by income tax returns and paycheck stubs) which hopefully helps to weed out the people who are just doing it for the money versus those who are truly interested in making a difference in the life of a child.
Realistically, it’s not accurate to say that you get PAID for doing foster care- you get reimbursed with a stipend because children not only require much of your time and attention, but cost money to raise.  I love how Gerstenzang continued to explain about stipends, drawing on her background of studying social policy as a graduate student:
 “The practice of reimbursing foster parents for some of the costs of caring for a child dates back more than one hundred years.  Stipends were initially paid to discourage families from putting children to work to earn their keep.  They were intentionally set at levels slightly lower than the cost of covering the child’s expenses.  The basic argument for the low level of reimbursement applies today:  Foster parents have to want to foster for humanitarian reasons, not for profit. So the people who make the most significant difference in quality of life for the foster children, the foster parents, are the only ones not getting paid; who does get paid are lawyers, judges, social workers, and administrators.  Because they are not employees, foster parents also forgo health insurance and Social Security benefits.  Since the foster system depends on career foster parents and children benefit from their experience, it is a shame that the system doesn’t support and encourage these parents.  And if children can’t be cared for in foster homes (due to either a lack of homes or the child’s difficult behavior) the next step for them is often a group home, which can cost two hundred dollars per day or more, depending on the level of care.”
On a related note, because of a legislative audit last year, my state’s Division of Child and Family Services is shifting its focus on how to spend funds for children in foster care, including less reliance on group homes as well as investing more money on in–home services in an attempt to reduce the number (and cost) of children being placed in out-of-home placements.
A newspaper article explaining the changes the recent audit prompted stated, While in-home placement provides better outcomes for children, it is unsafe for some children to remain in their own homes.” 
Hence the need for foster families!  Herein lies the problem, which the article continues to state:
“The low basic financial reimbursement rate may discourage some people from the 24-hour, seven days a week commitment that foster care requires, national advocates say.”
Props to Utah DCFS Director Brent Platt who was quoted in the article as saying "The reality is, people don’t do it for money.  These are people who want to help children, to give back to their communities."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Fost-Adopt Roller Coaster

There are two types of foster families:   1) Foster families provide a temporary home for children in foster care until they can be reunified with their birth families but they {usually} have no intent of adopting their foster children and 2) Foster-Adopt or Fost-Adopt families, provide a temporary home for children in foster care as well, but they also agree to adopt their foster children if things don’t work out with the child’s bio family and reunification isn’t an option. 

Our family is a fost-adopt family and if you’re a fost-adopt family, too, or if you follow along with my blog, then you know what an emotional roller coaster being a fost-adopt family can be- full of so many mixed and conflicting emotions.  I’ve learned to deal with most of the uncertainty by not getting my hopes up too high and remembering that the most important thing for me to do is to provide a good home for my foster children. Whether they stay with us for months or if they become a part of our family forever is always secondary to fulfilling their needs.
However, as much as I’d like to think that I keep a realistic attitude and an even keel it can be nearly impossible not to imagine the possibilities when you find out, for example, that your foster child’s mom or dad spent the weekend in jail, or has missed more than one visit or appointment in a row, or you learn that they got evicted from their apartment, or decided to move out of state, or that there are no possible kinship options.  I’ve encountered literally all of these scenarios. 

But just as you start getting your hopes up high and jumping to conclusions guess what happens the very next week (or in some cases, within a matter of days)?  Your foster child’s parent served their time (or got bailed out) and shows up early to the next visit and seems extra motivated and tells you about the new job or new place they got, which is one of the things required of them in their Service Plan- and when you look into their eyes and see the look on their face as they share their good news with you, you can’t help but be proud of them.  And you’re suddenly brought back to reality and think “Things are turning around.  People change.  Everyone deserves a second chance and this child- their child is going to go back.  Why do I ever torture myself with thoughts of adoption?”
Last week at a training I picked up a flyer entitled “Foster-Adopt Parents:  Challenges for Shared Parenting with Biological Parents” compiled in August 2012 by an LCSW by the name of Marty Hood.  I’ve never met Marty but wanted to give her credit for her work.  As I looked over the flyer I found myself nodding my head in agreement at so many of the points and thought “Yep- that about sums it up!”
I was also particularly touched and somewhat comforted by the quote at the bottom of the flyer since one of the most frustrating parts of helping to raise a child and then letting them go is that you very well may never get to see the “fruits of your labors”.   
You can count the seeds in an apple but you can’t count the apples in a seed.
Your influence may grow for generations to come.

Fost Adopt Parents

The following was written by Marty Hood, LCSW in August 2010:

FOST-ADOPT PARENTS:  Challenges for Shared Parenting with Biological Parents
It is difficult to be a Foster-Adopt parent.
On the one hand, a Foster-Adopt parent is hoping that his child might become part of their family.  They want to dream and plan.  They want to begin taking them into their heart so that if by chance, it works out, the child will already feel loved.
However, they are expected to keep this hope on the back burner while they try to help the child and parent with reunification efforts.
This puts them in a very challenging position.  It is a challenge to open your heart and then be disappointed.  It is a loss and requires going through the grieving process.  It would be nice if we could all see ourselves as a temporary but safe haven where we do the best we can to provide love, security, safety, and hope.  Perhaps seeing yourself as the Safety Net Grandparents who wants what is best for your own children and for your children’s children.  If these foster children were the children of your own child, you would hope and pray that your daughter/son would get their priorities straight and be successful, loving parents.
-It is difficult to remain non-biased when you get the information about why the child was removed.
-It is difficult to put yourself in the bio parent’s place because you can’t imagine allowing yourself to become “like them.”
-It is a challenge to realize that a meth mom in person is very different from just hearing about the meth mom.
-It is a challenge to try to partner with someone who has hurt their child.  It is a challenge to remember that you don’t know the history or experience of a person.  (It is a challenge not to judge).
-It is challenging to remain strength-based when a child complains when they come back from visits.
-It is challenging to remember that negative behavior after a visit does not automatically mean that the visit was bad or that it is evidence that there should be mo more visits.
This is a myth that perpetuates itself when looked at in a simplistic way.  Bad behavior=bad visit= bad parent.  Even in the best circumstances where divorced parents are consistent, loving, and kind, children will have a transition period where their behavior is negative.  It is natural and normal to have a difficult time adapting to different homes, different rules, different personalities and feeling a division of loyalty.  It’s hard to go and it’s hard to come home.  It’s a bit like jet lag.
-It is a challenge to keep from wishing that the biological parent will fail.  Just be aware of this challenge and fight the urge to filter out the good things while looking for the bad.
-It is a challenge to try to disconnect gracefully when it looks like everything points to the child returning with the parents.  This is especially difficult when your heart says that the child would be better off with you.
You must trust that somehow in some way, that things will be as they should be.
You did your best and provided a temporary safe haven of love and care.