Foster Parents Change Lives
You see this slogan everywhere from billboards to pens when you go to a foster recruiting event. "Foster parents change lives" is the truth. But why is there such a shortage?
Recently Mountain State Spotlight has been shedding some light on their state, West Virginia, and telling not-so-amazing stories about their foster care system. In the first article in the series, you hear about placements for out-of-state care and children being abused in facilities that are outside of West Virginia. A child bravely tells his experiences in these homes. He mentions abuse in those facilities. He entered the Foster care system at 6 years old.
After nine years, he was adopted. Why would nine years pass before this child has a home? Hold on...
"Allegations of trouble in these out-of-state homes, and in the West Virginia foster care system, aren’t new. In September 2019, 12 West Virginia foster kids and their families sued the state, alleging among many things, West Virginia sent kids to unsafe homes and institutions that subjected the children to further abuse, neglect, and trauma. The suit also alleged kids were institutionalized and forced to languish in the system, and that the state lost track of an alarming number of children."
In at least two cases at centers in Georgia and Michigan, West Virginia officials continued or renewed the state’s contract despite media coverage and other states’ findings that children were being abused. - https://mountainstatespotlight.org/2021/09/21/west-virginia-foster-care-out-of-state-homes/ by Amelia Ferrell Knisely and Molly Born, The GroundTruth Project September 21st, 2021
Foster Parents Change Lives.
Why is there a shortage of foster parents?
One friend said, 'Well if they didn't treat foster parents like crap..."
The second post of the series revolves around Sara Gordon. She has been a foster mom to eight children in just three years. Initially, Sara felt called when she was in high school to help children in need. Foster Parents change lives, right.
This story is entitled "Foster kids need families to live with and state social workers to check on them. West Virginia doesn’t have enough of either." Sara describes her home, her children, their bedrooms, and her goals as a foster mom.
It's hard and it's infuriating to have people make decisions who have never even see the kids. -Sara Gordon, Martinsburg Foster Mom
More than half of West Virginia's foster kids live in a kinship placement with relatives. Kinship placement is directly related to the Family First Act of 2018. Their website, FamilyFirstAct.org states the following:
Signed into law on February 9, 2018, as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892), Family First includes long-overdue historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care. In passing the law, Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment or improved parenting skills.
"West Virginia’s foster care system is bursting at the seams: There are 71% more children in state custody now than there were a decade ago. Of the approximately 10,500 kids who spend time in the West Virginia foster care system every year, some are placed in certified foster homes or with relatives, often called “kinship care.”
"But despite efforts over the last few years to recruit and maintain foster families, there aren’t nearly enough homes. And in a system where about half of the children enter the state’s foster care system due to parental drug use, some have serious needs requiring specialized behavioral care or substance abuse treatment. Sometimes those services are available in kids’ communities, but often they aren’t."
Kinship Care Sounds great.
As a result of kinship care, does it help the foster care system? If Family First was enacted in 2018, why are we still in a crisis? Are we not relying on as many foster families as before 2018? Have there been so many more cases that it balances out the new kinship homes? Why are agencies spending ten thousand dollars a year on recruitment efforts for additional foster families? Necco has advertised on billboards, key chains, T-shirts, pencils, restaurant placemats, and more. That is just one agency. I see multiple agencies advertising in my neighborhood and surrounding counties. Perhaps foster homes' retention is the problem.
The article states that word of mouth is the best recruitment strategy. "Foster Parents Change Lives"
"...word of mouth is among the most effective strategies. And the state Department of Health and Human Resources says in order to get foster families to recommend the others consider the same path, they need to be happy with the experience. 'Parents need to be rewarded, respected, and most of all, their opinions need to be heard and valued,' the state's 'home finding policy' says, 'A family that has been pleased with the service it received from the Department will let others know of their positive experience.'"
Well, I have a few foster parents that have not had a positive experience. You won't hear them recruiting. There are multiple reasons they are disgruntled, and the reasons vary from lack of communication to not being invited to the meetings that discuss the children's well-being, updates, and goals for the family. These meetings are called Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) Meetings. Foster parents change lives, so they should have a right to be informed and attend.
Many states have a Foster Care Bill of Rights. Here is one sample from Oklahoma:
A statement of foster parent's rights shall include, but not be limited to, the right to:
1. Be treated with dignity, respect, and consideration as a professional member of the child welfare team;
2. Be notified of and be given appropriate, ongoing education and continuing education and training to develop and enhance foster parenting skills;
3. Be informed about ways to contact the state agency or the child-placing agency in order to receive information and assistance to access supportive services for any child in the foster parent's care;
4. Receive timely financial reimbursement for providing foster care services;
5. Be notified of any costs or expenses for which the foster parent may be eligible for reimbursement;
6. Be provided a clear, written explanation of the individual treatment and service plan concerning the child in the foster parent's home, listing components of the plan pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Children's Code;1
7. Receive, at any time during which a child is placed with the foster parent, additional or necessary information that is relevant to the care of the child;
8. Be notified of scheduled review meetings, permanency planning meetings, and special staffing concerning the foster child in order to actively participate in the case planning and decision-making process regarding the child;
9. Provide input concerning the plan of services for the child and to have that input be given full consideration in the same manner as information presented by any other professional on the team;
10. Communicate with other foster parents in order to share information regarding the foster child. In particular, receive any information concerning the number of times a foster child has been moved and the reasons why, and the names and telephone numbers of the previous foster parent if the previous foster parent has authorized such release;
11. Communicate with other professionals who work with the foster child within the context of the team including, but not limited to, therapists, physicians, and teachers;
12. Be given, in a timely and consistent manner, any information regarding the child and the child's family which is pertinent to the care and needs of the child and to the making of a permanency plan for the child. Disclosure of information shall be limited to that information which is authorized by the provisions of Chapter VI of the Oklahoma Children's Code for foster parents;
13. Be given reasonable notice of any change in or addition to the services provided to the child pursuant to the child's individual treatment and service plan;
14. a. Be given written notice of:
(1) plans to terminate the placement of the child with the foster parent pursuant to Section 1-4-805 of this title, and
(2) the reasons for the changes or termination in placement.
b. The notice shall be waived only in emergency cases pursuant to Section 1-4-805 of this title;
15. Be notified by the applicable state agency in a timely and complete manner of all court hearings, including notice of the date and time of any court hearing, the name of the judge or hearing officer hearing the case, the location of the hearing, and the court docket number of the case;
16. Be informed of decisions made by the court, the state agency or the child-placing agency concerning the child;
17. Be considered as a preferred placement option when a foster child who was formerly placed with the foster parent is to reenter foster care at the same level and type of care if that placement is consistent with the best interest of the child and other children in the home of the foster parent;
18. Be provided a fair, timely, and impartial investigation of complaints concerning the certification of the foster parent;
19. Be provided the opportunity to request and receive a fair and impartial hearing regarding decisions that affect certification retention or placement of children in the home;
20. Be allowed the right to exercise parental substitute authority;
21. Have timely access to the appeals process of the state agency and child placement agency and the right to be free from acts of harassment and retaliation by any other party when exercising the right to appeal;
22. Be given the number of the statewide toll-free Foster Parent Hotline; and
23. File a grievance and be informed of the process for filing a grievance.
[See your state's foster parent and foster child's bill of rights here: https://nfpaonline.org/Rights]
Foster Family Complaints also revolve around professionals not visiting the children.
The social worker from the Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to visit each month. The specific agency is also supposed to meet with the child. The Guardian et Litem, the child's lawyer, is supposed to meet with the child and advocate for him or her in court. Agency policy varies from one to another.
If these key players are not discussing things with the foster parents - the ones caring for them each day - how will the other members of the team make important decisions?
Remember Mason? What was Mason's first MDT meeting like and every other early MDT meeting, for example? Why was he sent to a group home and left there? Who was advocating for him?
Often the foster moms are the heroes for the foster children.
Foster parents change lives. These foster moms advocate. They are the ones who want the best for the child. And, often, everyone knows, the best is not reunification. If a foster family speaks anything regarding the child in a way that says, "I'd like to adopt this child if it comes up." Or if there is any rebuttal from the foster parent regarding decisions, the social worker takes her authority to a new level. There should never be any retaliation in foster parents. However, Washington state has an article from 2020 that discusses just that. Find out more details here https://www.invw.org/2020/01/15/foster-parents-struggle-against-retaliation-by-state-caseworkers/
Recently, I have heard of stories where a child has been moved from safe foster homes because a social worker, basically, got mad at the foster mother. The DHHR can use the attitude that the family was interfering in reunification and boom, foster kids get moved, for example.
Foster Care Moves
Moving foster children increases their likelihood of additional trauma, depression, and failure in school. Just do a quick research of the adverse effects of foster care moves.
There should be a standard policy for an investigation to occur into the lives (and files) of these children who are moved more than, say, three times in to determine how they have been treated. For example, a child goes to a group home at six years old; does that mean the Child Protective Workers stop trying to find him a foster home? Ideally, "No." Often they are moved multiple times. Mason only had group home changes.
The concern in drifting, or having a long stint in foster care, is the negative effect on the psychological health of the child, and also on the increasing cost of such placement. So in West Virginia, there is a 15/22 month rule. Let the parents have 15 months to get their lives together and support them in the process. Drug rehabilitation is offered, resources for GED preparation to completion or additional schooling beyond the GED can be offered, housing, job search assistance, and job skills are offered.
After 15 months...
But after so long, we need to think about the child. We need to cut the tie so that the child does not linger in care for nine years like Mason. This process took nine years. Think of the lost childhood. Was this case studied, reviewed, peer-reviewed? Independently reviewed?
Foster care retention would occur if these families were treated with respect and gratefulness and as a member of the professional community.
Start with the salary of a social worker that works at the DHHR. Do you realize that they make often less than $30,000 a year? That salary needs doubled or create a system for annual raises based upon performance and inflation. And, did you know, there is often no overtime allotted for the evenings that they stay late looking for a home. Some counties may offer overtime but most offer comp time.
College degreed yet living just above poverty?
Imagine getting a college degree then working for $500 a week or around $26,000 a year in West Virginia. No overtime to take care of these kids. Social workers in CPS are practically volunteers. It is no wonder many CPS workers burn out or are not capable of doing an excellent job due to their workload. They don't have time or energy to accomplish what is on their schedule.
Not only could we pay social workers a lot more, but we could also give them fewer caseloads. With an increase in salary, we can hire people who are willing to stay for the long haul and not as a stepping-stone to get to a better paying job with better hours.
If we pay the social workers better, hire more, and let them have time to do their jobs, then foster moms like Sara Gordon would not have to foster a child, basically, without support. She says she had one child that hadn't seen the child worker in eight months; it reminds me of the lack of supervision in the group homes.
First Things First
When the correction in the DHHR system has been accomplished, or even simultaneously, we will work to give a good testimony of doing foster care. Foster care has its rewards that have nothing to do with the system and nothing to do with the workers. The relationship with the workers can make us frustrated or flabergasted.
Foster Parents Change Lives and we love these children. We want to do it, because we are called to it.
We should be protecting the ones that have no one to protect them.
Let the foster parents help. Let them be the professional person at the MDT meeting that is missing. These children need an advocate.
I had two boys that never saw their Guardian et Litem. Their social worker did visit each month but stayed only five minutes. I had over six children in my home. I was working hard as well to maintain normalcy for the boys.
When I complained about the situation of them being in care for over two years, the bio family got them back almost immediately - within a month. They, subsequently, shut my home. I honestly had too many children that were adopted by that time. This closing was fine with me. I often think that it was a blessing in disguise. At that time, I would have liked to have hosted additional foster care children, but now I write about it and support other moms who are in the trenches.
I am currently educating on Reactive Attachment Disorder, how to be a good foster parent, and write! It is therapeutic. I'll have a new book in a few months. I share how to be a valued member of the professionals who make the decisions about these foster children.
I'm so happy Mason found a home. I am so glad that it worked out for him; however, according to Mission WV,
West Virginia has over 4,000 children in foster care.
More than 1 in 5 foster children who “age out” will become homeless after age 18.
Only 58% will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87% of all 19 year olds).
By the age of 24, only half are employed.
Fewer than 10% will attempt a college degree; fewer than 3% will earn a college degree by age 25.
1 in 4 will be involved in the justice system within 2 years of leaving the foster care system.
Don't think I'm saying that you should not do foster care!
Foster Parents Change Lives
I do recommend doing foster care because I really do think that foster parents change lives. I believe that young parents can make a difference. Parents with grown children should consider opening their homes to teens. Couples who want to help children may want to consider foster care. If you find yourself interested in fostering teens, read this post: https://impressingminds.com/?s=teen
If you do foster care, get support. This is so important in your journey. Find this well-needed support in churches, online, in the community. I teach you several things regarding support in this post. Read it before signing up for classes even. https://impressingminds.com/foster-parent-support/
Tell me in the comments, what is one negative story you have heard about your foster care system but also share how that area can be improved?