Saturday, October 06, 2007

Unpopular View, Indeed

This started out as a response in Process' comment box, but it was too big. So I copied it and put it here. I wasn't going to post about the recent study showing that almost every state reimburses expenses below the rate it costs to raise the kids. No particular reason, but I wasn't going to. If you haven't, first go read Process' post, An Unpopular View. [And for those of you who haven't been reading here long, Process and I have a long history of mutual respect and of gratitude by me for insight and guidance which is not the least changed by this disagreement.]

Well, not surprisingly Process, I don't agree.

As you know I work for a private agency and though even their monthly reimbursement payment falls below what the article states is the amount it costs, they reimburse enough other expenses (mileage for trips over 35 miles, school fees, full cost of clothes, etc) that it doesn't cost me money to be a foster parent. And I know a lot of people who work with them and not with the state. And I think the agency that reimburses all the expenses gets and keeps more good people. We talk about whether we will do this for a few more years or a few more decades. Eventually we decide that it is is time to retire. But we don't have conversations in which we say, "I care about the kids, but I don't know how much longer I can tolerate the system."

If you talk with us you will learn that we do appreciate knowing that whatever resources our kids need, they will get. Those of us who have biokids appreciate knowing that we will not be asking them to sacrifice things like money for camp or lessons. Even so, what we really appreciate most is being treated like a part of the team, being listened to, and being cared about ourselves.

And yes, good foster parents treat all the children in the house as equally important. All their needs matter and all those needs require sacrifices. We sacrifice full nights sleep, the chance to come home and relax after work, hours spent in the car driving a kid to appointments, evenings alone with our partners when our biokids accept spontaneous invitations to spend the night and our other kids may not because no one there has been background-checked, hours when we could be getting something else done worrying and wondering about the child, hours helping all our children learn to interact with and accept each other.

My husband is a elementary school teacher and like most good school teachers he takes from his own pocket to supplement the classroom for items for which the district will not pay. And that is what people who are committed to important jobs do. They sacrifice more money, time and energy in order to do it well.

Though it may be true that the truly dedicated make sacrifices, it is fallacious to conclude from that that you attract and keep the best people by requiring unreasonable sacrifices as part of the job.

If you want to attract and keep the best people tell them, "We will give you everything we can to help you do this job well. We will provide you with adequate resources so that you know by taking in one more child you will not have to take away anything from the children you already care for. We will give you training that actually gives you skills to do the job. We will hire enough social workers that they can help you work through problems and we will pay them well enough, treat them well enough, that they stay and you can come to know them and trust them.

Doing this will still require sacrifices. We pay your expenses, but we cannot afford to pay you even what a teenage babysitter will be paid for taking care of them. Your loss energy, time, and (sometimes) sanity will be rewarded by seeing children who sometimes succeed, and sometimes call you foul names and walk away, and all too often end up living the very lives you hoped to help them avoid.

When your heart breaks, all the compensation you will get is an understanding hug and a sympathetic ear.

We will do the minimum though. We can at the very least tell you you do not have to pay money for the privilege. We will pay the expenses. We will not ask you to sacrifice the needs of kids you already have in order to satisfy the needs of the next child we ask you to take. We will not put you in a position of accepting donations over the Internet (as Baggage had to do) in order to buy the children the clothes they need so you can still pay the rent. We will treat you with respect and provide you with the resources to do the job we ask you to do."


  1. faithful reader1:26 PM

    Amen. I think social workers who insist that "that's what parents do" forget that parents also typically have careers next to being amateur social workers, i.e., most foster parents have jobs, then their own parental relationships, and then have to take on the therapeutic parent role with the foster child. This is a lot to ask, and there is no reason that at least the financial expenses (as opposed to the emotional ones) cannot be adequately and fully reimbursed.

  2. You know, I almost used you as an example in my post, but decided that it would make the post too long. I was going to say something about how you DO get (almost) fully reimbursed, and that it helps you provide high-quality care, but that you work within a different system, one that has other filters.

    I just want to say that I am not at all opposed to foster parents being fully reimbursed--I even support professional foster parenting--and I ALWAYS do my best to get foster parents as much financial support as possible.

  3. I agree, and I must say that comparatively speaking I think we are well paid. It's all the other bull you know what that I could do without. We are strictly state, not agency. We can't go agency because we have too many children in our home, and so, as strictly state we are the bottom of the totem pole. No support, no mediators, just us vs the turnips and the Simons, who have the power to make us miserable.

    We never have to fight for our monthly stipend, but I am still fighting for things they agreed to pay for last year (there is a glitch in the system they tell me! HA!) and Walmart won't even take their payment vouchers because they know they will never get paid, and now the rec centers have caught on as well. That is pathetic and frankly unacceptable. Then when I don't want to sign them up for an expensive activity and take financial responsibility it's because I don't care enough or I'm "only in this for the money". Ugh.

  4. It seems to me there are two approaches to having good people in a system:
    - provide excellent support and resources, to the point that so many people want to do something that you can pick and chose the most able or (at the very least) stop employing the least able
    - provide very few resources and assume (or hope) that only the very dedicated and motivated will volunteer.

    I'm not convinced the latter is the best approach.

  5. Well, I've made all my feelings apparent so far I think.

    It makes me feel good to be called out as a dedicated foster parent in the post on Process's blog. However, it makes me feel ashamed and embarassed to be called out as having to accept donations on this blog.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I was able to somehow get through having these kids, but just barely. If I didn't have a boyfriend who ponied up his credit card and a mom who sent me money and a dad who babysat for free while he should have been working AND a blog that gets enough hits then I never would have made it.

    Some might look at it as a sign of my devotion and dedication to children that I took on five children when obviously I didn't have the means to support them without the state reimbursement.

    Others would look at it as complete irresponsibility.

    Yet, if I was in a program like Yondalla's, it would be a moot point.

  6. My apologies to Baggage -- Making her feel bad was the last thing in my mind. We've emailed regarding this post and she declined my offer to delete the reference to her.

    Let me say as clearly as I can that I greatly admire Baggage, and that I believe accepting help that was offered (not requested) was wise.

    She has nothing but my admiration.

  7. A good parallel might be hubby's job as an elementary school teacher. I think most people agree that the best elementary school teachers are the ones who enjoy their job and their students and will go above and beyond to help students where they can. The problem is that we use that logic to justify paying them almost nothing even though they are performing one of the jobs we value most. That puts teachers in the position of having to choose between buying school supplies for their students and buying lessons or treats or other items for themselves or their families.

    I personally think that there are many people out there who would love to be a teacher or a foster parent for all the right reasons, but who choose not to because it means sacrificing too many other things they value. And that is a loss to the schools and the system and the children.

  8. Though it may be true that the truly dedicated make sacrifices, it is fallacious to conclude from that that you attract and keep the best people by requiring unreasonable sacrifices as part of the job.

    I agree wholeheartedly. My mom was one of those super-dedicated elementary school teachers, and she did reach into her own pocket more times than any of us could count. Why did she stop teaching? The system/lack of support eventually became too much to deal with and she quit.

    No one would expect a surgeon (in the US at least) to buy the sutures or gauze for his or her patients, but it's okay (and expected) for teachers, foster parents and other child educators and caregivers to subsidize things from their own pockets when the system doesn't meet minimal needs (I'm not talking lavish vacations here, but socks and underwear type necessities).


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