Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Investigations of Foster Parents

I recently did, as Maerlowe called it, a round-up of misery. It was a list of foster parents who are experiencing grief of one form or another from the system. Since then Gina and Cindy have both posted that the investigations are being closed more quickly and less painfully than they had anticipated.

I'm am happy for them.

Now, some advise to potential foster parents. If at all possible, talk to foster parents already working for the agency you are considering signing up for. Understand that some things trigger investigations automatically. I think that is what is happening to Lionmom right now. One of her girls is pregnant. From what she said (please correct me if I am wrong, Lionmom), that means an investigation must be done.

Automatic investigations make sense to people outside the system. We hear stories about foster parents who don't parent, who don't supervise, who treat kids poorly. So someone sits downs and writes some guidelines. Everyone understands that social workers have too much to do, so they make a list of things that require someone to make a special effort to find out what is happening in the family. So let's say they write a rule that if a kid stops attending school, it must be investigated.

I'm making this up to use as an example. I do not know of any place that has such a rule. Although I can certainly see why it could sound reasonable.

So then you have a foster family who has been giving care for a while and has a kid who is cutting. The foster parent reports it to the social worker. The foster parent goes to the school to meet with the student and the counselor where the student is read the riot act. The foster parent talks with the social worker again and they discuss what reward or consequence might make a difference. Then the school sends in the mandated report that the foster child has more than 6 unexcused absences in one month.

What happens next is what matters. Will this report go to a social worker who knows you and is experienced? Or does it go straight to a separate office for investigations? Will the social worker you have been calling about the kid call you and say, "Now that Johnny has missed so much school, I have to fill out a report saying you've done everything you should. I have here that you called me on these dates, and that you met with the principal. Is there anything else I should add? And by the way, you are going to get a letter we are required to mail out saying you are being investigated. Please don't let it upset you. It's automatic. I'm filling out the report and as soon as it has been reviewed you will get another letter saying that all concerns were found to be unsubstantiated."

Of course it is going to be upsetting. If it is the first time you have gone through something like this you will probably worry that the social worker is wrong and that more trouble is on the way. It will be, at the very least, aggravating that precious time and money is being spent on this when there are so many things that need to be done, but you won't feel attacked. Well, it won't feel personal at least.

Whether the person who talks to you is someone who knows you, whether they speak to you with respect while they do what they have to do, or whether they act like you are a criminal varies.

So ask the foster parents in the system.

What happens when the licensing worker visits? Do they site you for having bananas in a fruit bowl on the table, where they belong, and not in the refrigerator where they don't? And if that happens, what will happen when that report gets turned in? Will the supervisor talk to the lowly, inexperienced worker about using a little common sense or will a report go in your licensing file showing that you were out of compliance with the regulations?

Or will it be like my agency where the licensing worker says, "Regulations have changed and you need to have a smoke alarm in the child's room now. I have one in the car I can give you... No I don't have to come back to check. Just promise you will install it." Or "I see you have prescription medications in the medicine cabinet. The rules require that they be locked up....Okay, well buy a box and a padlock and remember to send in the receipt so we can reimburse you."

If your child qualifies for a difficulty of care payment, will your experience be like mine or Baggage's? I got a notice from the supervisor of workers telling me she was applying for it for me. Then a series of emails: first one sending me a form I needed to fill out; the second one reminding me to fill out the form and giving me the fax number again; the third one saying they hadn't received the fax I said I sent and they were very sorry, but would I mind terribly sending it again; and a fourth saying that they got the second sending and all was well. That email was followed by a phone call apologizing for losing the first fax ("It must have got mixed up with another fax. We get a lot of reports in on Mondays. I so appreciate you sending it twice. We will get this processed right away.")

Or will someone give you false information which will keep you from applying for the payment for years and when you finally learn the truth and apply, will they insult you when they neglect to do the paper work?

Of course even the same agency will have different people working in it. It could be that the answer is that with your agency how you are treated depends entirely upon who you happen to get.

So, again, talk to the foster parents in your area. If there are private agencies, talk to the people who work in and for them. Find out how foster parents are treated.

Because it makes all the difference in the world.


  1. This post makes me feel a lot better-- I started reading the various foster/adopt/care blogs a while ago, and it's gotten into my head that this is a thing I would like to do someday. And finding out that it's not only not horrible but somewhat encouraged to ask, "So, is the state going to make this easier or harder?" makes me feel better about everything I've seen going on.

  2. This is a great post. We are thinking about venturing into foster care again in the near future but are looking for an agency this time.


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