Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Group homes and safety

For some kids, group homes feel (and perhaps are) safer than foster homes.

One of them is that they are staffed by people who work in shifts. They get to go home to their families and relax. Foster parents live with foster kids (duh). It means that we are always on duty. It means that we rarely, if ever, get time off. It means that we are the foster parents when we are sleep deprived, sick, sad, frustrated, and exhausted. We don't usually get to say to ourselves, "I just have to hold it together until 5:00." What this means is that the kids have the advantage of always being with adults who are, relatively speaking, rested and ready to be present for them.

Group home professional staff are probably better at not taking comments personally. When the kids are having a bad day and say something mean or threaten to run away the staff can probably more easily say nothing (and just let the kids cool down) or, "Well, let's talk about your choices. What would happen if you ran away?"

We foster parents are trying to be mommies and daddies (or aunties and uncles). We have been offering our hearts. We may think we have "broken through." When a kid gets mad and says, "I hate you! I'm going to call my social worker and tell her you are b****h and have her move me!" The response, "Go ahead. Leave if you want to!" is likely to come rushing to our lips. Sometimes we are too tired to hold it back. Nearly every foster parent who works with teenagers has at some point lost their temper and said something like, "Yeah? Well sometimes I hate you too."

And then there is the issue of sexual safety. Are they safer? Maybe. I don't have any statistics on the rates of sexual abuse in foster homes or group homes. I am sure in happens in both places. Regardless of the actual rates, it should not surprise us if many kids feels safer in group homes.

They are returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak. The abuse and neglect they experienced happened in a home. It was often perpetrated by parental figures who were supposed to protect them. On one hand these foster parents are supposed to be nice people, but in the child's mind they may feel less safe than the parents who abused them. After all, they are not even the youth's "real parents." What reason would the parents have for not abusing the child? The only person who would know would be the child, and these children have a long history of not being believed.

If you told the vast majority of foster fathers that they could not be trusted alone with the girls because, not being the "real" father, they had no reason not to molest the kids, they would be offended. Of course they have very good reasons NOT to molest them. Even if they are not "real" fathers, they are thinking of themselves as fathers. Even if they are not thinking of themselves as fathers, they are adult men and these are under-aged girls. Most of these men have very strong feelings about what should be done to men (and women) who molest children and teenagers. And if THAT isn't enough, foster parents know that if a child accuses them of abuse of any kind there will be an investigation.

That is probably why so much time and energy is spent on things like Safety Plans. A great deal of foster parent training focuses on what we need to do to make kids FEEL safe. That's why Mandy's husband never touches the girls, even when they ask for hugs. It is not that they are not safe if he touches them, it is that they often don't feel safe. Even if the kid he is hugging feels safe, the kid who witnesses the hug may feel threatened by it.

It is frustrating to us as parents. We want to love these kids and often that means, to us, touching them. We are, I think rightly, concerned that if we are afraid to touch the children, to hug and cuddle them, they will feel that we think they are unlovable.

My thought about this is that there is just no way to create rules for safety that will work with all the kids. I have come to really appreciate having those blank lines in the safety plan. I am glad that I have become comfortable asking kids "Are you a hugger?"

4 comments:

  1. As you said, it's hard to make "one size fits all" rules. I don't have a foster kid in my home yet, so I don't know how well this idea would work, but I think I'd be inclined to ask kids on a regular basis, "what do you need to feel safe right now?"

    FosterAbba and I have also discussed the idea of a "safe word" -- something the kid (or adult) can say that clearly expresses to everyone, "whatever you're doing right now doesn't feel safe, so stop immediately." Again, not sure how well it'll work, but it's worth a try.

    I guess that's the bottom line: all we can do is our best, and we learn and grow with each child's unique experiences and history.

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  2. I find life is pretty different with the respite kids and my permanent placement kids. As we grow more comfortable together things loosen up.

    Carl is the only person I know who wants to hug more than I do. David is a cuddle-bug too. Evan "accepts" hugs. The only time I felt like he was really hugging me back was when he had just found out that his cousin died.

    Every kid is different.

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  3. I'd really have to think about this one.

    There's a lot to be said about loving foster care; on the other hand the kids with attachment difficulties might feel more comfortable with the "arm's length" of the group and no danger of becoming to ivolved with a family and then being moved (happens far too often here).

    Truth be told, I just don't know.

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  4. I'd really have to think about this one.

    There's a lot to be said about loving foster care; on the other hand the kids with attachment difficulties might feel more comfortable with the "arm's length" of the group and no danger of becoming to ivolved with a family and then being moved (happens far too often here).

    Truth be told, I just don't know.

    ReplyDelete

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