Thursday, October 20, 2016

When Someone Else Takes Care of Your Child

The other day I sat down at my computer to jot down a couple of “notes” of instructions for my sister and sister-in-law regarding my children’s sleeping and eating schedules, among other routines.  You see, I will be entrusting my children into my family’s care for a couple of days while my husband and I are on a short weekend getaway.  Because of this, I want to make things as easy as possible for my children’s caregivers as well as for my precious babies. 

My husband walked into the room while I was in the middle of typing intently on my keyboard and asked, “What are you working on?” 

“Instructions- for when we’re gone,” I explained.

My husband scoffed and said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you just show them where the kids clothes and pull-ups are and they know where the food is.”  He was joking- but only partially.

“THAT is why you’re not a mother!” I retorted.

Even if it were just for a day or two there is MUCH more information to be shared with anybody I would trust to watch my children than just what to have them wear or what to feed them.

“Don’t you think it might be helpful for them to know what time M. has to be at her bus stop in the morning?  Or what time to wake the kids so that they have enough time to get them ready and fed in order to even get out the door on time in the first place?”  I began building my case.   “Or what time to put them down for bed?”  I added, with a bit of sarcasm in my voice as I stated the obvious. 

Although I stopped verbalizing my list of necessary information to my husband I couldn’t help but mentally obsess over if I had left anything crucial out as I studiously looked over my “notes”:

Did I mention exactly what comfort items Jill needs at bedtime and naptime to fall asleep?  Check.  Did I mention not only what homework M. needs to get done before playdates or screen time but how to get her motivated to get it done?  Check.  Should I mention the fact that Jack is a picky eater so they know to just fix him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if he turns up his nose at dinner?  No- M. can just fill them in on that information- she’s helpful like that. 

My “notes” of instructions eventually turned out to be 845 words.   I think you get the point.

This experience of passing on “instructions” on how to care for my children to others served as a great reminder to me of a few things, namely:

1.       Perhaps I can be a bit of a control freak when it comes to making sure my kids are cared for.  But you know what?  I’m okay with that.  Better to err on the side of providing too much information than not enough.

2.     It’s not that I don’t trust my sister and sister-in-law with my kids because I absolutely do- otherwise I wouldn’t leave them in their care.  (After all, they have 11 children and 3 grandchildren between each of them and are both terrific mothers and grandmothers.)  My concern is not if they are capable of caring for children, I just want to ensure that MY children have as easy a transition as possible while I’m away from them.

3.      Three days is the longest I can go without my children.  My husband would prefer our getaway to be much longer but the separation anxiety is just too much for me to handle.  (And, incidentally, I’m talking about MY anxiety being away from my children- not the other way around!)

As a foster parent, perhaps the most important thing I was reminded of was:

4.      Think of what it would be like to have a child legally removed from your care and be sent to live with not just with kin but complete strangers!  Can you IMAGINE the stress, anxiety and LOSS OF CONTROL?  That is precisely what birth families with children in foster care must go through.  They must be praying that their child’s foster family is, in the least, decent.

If I found myself in the situation of having my children removed from my care and placed into the care of strangers I would be worried sick about my kids. My worry might even border on paranoia- What if this foster family isn’t taking care of my child?  What if they’re just in it for the money?  What kind of home and neighborhood do they live in?  Sure, they may have passed background checks and licensing requirements, but what if they appear presentable on the outside but are mean and terrible on the inside?

 And then to add in the possibility that my parental rights to my children could possibly be stripped away and this family of strangers could potentially adopt my children (if they’re a fost-adopt family).  Horrific!

I think it’s IMPERATIVE for foster families to put themselves in the shoes of the bio families of the children in their care.

A few things I’ve done as a foster parent to ease any fears of the bio parents of the children placed in my care are:

1)     Reassure them that I’m not here to “take” their kids from them, but to take good care of them until they can be placed back in their care.

I can usually tell if this is even an issue for bio parents in the first place based not only upon the CPS or ongoing caseworker’s report of the parent’s reaction to the removal and investigation and/or by the body language of the birth parents or the way they interact with me the first time we meet.

2)    Ask them if there are any routines their child is used to which might make it easier for them while in my care.

I admit that, depending on the background of the case, #2 is a tricky one as children coming from backgrounds of neglect may not be used to any specific “routine” or regularity when it comes to being fed or having a set bedtime or even being bathed or dressed in clean clothes on a regular basis. 

Wouldn’t it be easy if foster parents had a “list” of instructions regarding the child’s bedtime and feeding routine, food preferences or allergies, likes and dislikes, etc.  It is particularly challenging to care for a child when they are a baby or non-verbal and it’s just a guessing game as to how they like to be held or comforted or what foods or formulas they do best with.  One advantage to fostering older children or sibling groups with an older child is that they can at least tell you what they’re used to or the older sibling can fill in helpful information about younger siblings.

3)    Refer to their child as “your child” or specifically refer to the parent in front of the child as “your mommy” or “your dad”, etc. 

This might seem like a no-brainer but I had one caseworker specifically thank me for treating and referring to my foster daughter’s parents at visits and meetings as precisely that- her parents.  This caseworker had noted that a few foster parents would specifically say things like “Come to mommy!” to their young foster child, with outstretched arms in the presence of their foster child’s parents at the close of visits.  I was repulsed to hear of such disrespect.  Regardless of the reasons a child comes into care or what allegations have been made against the child’s parents, they are still, in fact, the child’s parents until a judge deems otherwise, and that needs to be acknowledged.

4)     Give the parents pictures of their children- especially if a special occasion is coming up like Christmas or Mother’s Day.  Bio parents may not have the greatest track record of caring for their children, but they do, in fact, love their children and when foster parents are willing to pass on pictures to them (whether just a snapshot or professionally done) these pictures of their children are sure to be treasured.

I recently attended a conference with a FABULOUS keynote speaker, Donna Foster (yes- that’s really her last name), who is a former foster parent and currently trains foster parents and child welfare professionals.  At the conference, Donna not only discussed fears that bio parents might have but suggestions of what foster parents can do to build better relationships with bio families.  Refer to this write-up for some of Donna Foster’s wisdom.

To read about some additional suggestions of ways  not only foster parents can build a relationship with their foster child’s parents, but ways that social workers can encourage such relationships, enlarge the following  charts which were taken from the Annie E. Casey Foundation website:

 I think we can all agree that every parent wants what’s best for their child and it can be tough to have someone take over parenting your child- whether that be for a couple of days, several months, or forever.