Thursday, January 19, 2006

Types of Foster Care

Depending upon where you are, there are probably different kinds of foster families. Deciding which you want to participate in will require some research. In my area there are at least the following options:

Traditional Foster Care:
In regular, state-run foster care you can expect to care for children on a short term basis. Social workers will be trying to find a permanent plan for these kids. Most will return to some member of their birth family. Some will be adopted. If the are placed for adoption you may be able to adopt them yourself. If you have a state license you can expect children to at least some times come and go unexpectedly. You will be expected to take children into your home without knowing much about them and you may be left out of the loop when decisions about the kids are being made. Be sure to talk to foster parents in your state about the system there works.

Challenge is the local name for what is in some place called Treatment Foster Care or Therapeutic Foster Care. Kids with behavioral problems past what their foster families can deal with are often sent to Challenge homes. For many, a Challenge home is the last stop before institutional care or juvenile detention. Some of the Challenge youth have behaviors that makes it nearly impossible to take them out in public. You may very well have youth who are banned from the rec center, the market, and the movie theatre for shoplifting or vandalism. Challenge provides up to 4 days/nights of respite a month and adult "youth partners" to stay with the youth for a few hours so that you can get out.

Permanent Placement Care
I work with a private organization that works in co-operation with the state. Children for whom permanent foster care is the best option are considered for placement with them. It is not unusual for a child to move from theraputic to permanent care (or the other way). Parents with our agency are just shy of adoptive parents. We don't work alone, but we are always part of the team when decisions are made about the kids. If the social worker has found an opportunity she wants to suggest to your child, she will ask you if it is okay with you first. If your child is taken to the hospital, the social worker will ensure that you have visitation rights. They provide 12 days/nights of respite a year. They will reimburse for babysitting (which you arrange) when you are participating in one of their workshops, but not so that you can take a short break. They have more money to provide services and opportunities for the kids. They will pay for medical care not covered by Medicaid (e.g. orthodontic care). They have an educational specialist that will help with whatever academic support you need for your kid, and they have money for post-secondary training and education.

I could not imagining working anywhere else.

I know several Challenge families though. I understand the satisfaction they receive from helping kids who so very badly need their help, and I understand how much they depend upon the high level of support they get from Challenge.

Usually the plan is for a child to only spend about 6 months in a Challenge home. Sometimes they end up living there throughout high school. Challenge families that take care of 4 or 6 youth at a time and have a youth admitted into the permanent placement program are faced with a difficult choice. They can get a license with the second agency and keep the youth -- but then they have to deal with two different organizations with different services. Challenge youth partners will not take responsibility for permenancy kids. The permanent placement agency expects the youth to feel like one of the family and will not let you put him or her into respite two weekends a month.

Some families find it impossible to do both and so have to tell the youth that if they get accepted into the permanency program they will have to move. Sometimes though that is also what the youth wants. He or she has moved past the shoplifting, vandalizing, skipping school, and running-away stage and no longer wants to live with kids who haven't.

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