Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Foster Placement Removal and Confidentiality

I wrote this post earlier today, and then I saved it as a draft (which takes it off the blog, for those of you who don't blog) because I was nervous that FosterAbba, who is a friend, would be hurt by it, even though that was absolutely positively not what I intended. And it isn't even about her...

Then I remembered that the last time I asked FosterAbba if she was offended by something that I said, and I laughed and decided I had to publish it. And since you don't perhaps know her as well as I do, this is the conversation I had with her in my imagination today.

Me: "FosterAbba, I sure hope my post doesn't hurt your feelings or anything. It isn't intended to, I was just thinking about the whole topic and started writing..."
FosterAbba: "Yondalla, are you going to grow a back bone or do I have to drive out there and slap you?"
Me: "Um, I'll work on the backbone thing."

So here's the post:


I've been thinking a lot about when social services is justified in a removal. Most of you can guess why I have been thinking about this. I've been thinking about what friends of mine are going through, about how Carl came to me, and how Frankie and Ann left and my brain has been running in circles as I try to puzzle my way through what policy should be, how it could work out, and what it might look like.

It does seem to me that the standard for natural/adoptive families and foster families should be different.

Moves, disruptions, severing of attachments are all hard on children, but at some gut level it seems right that if you are going to take a child away from his or her first or adoptive family, you better have an overwhelming reason why. If nothing else, it is an issue of how much government interference we want to have in our lives. I am opposed to any suggestion that people required to be licensed before they have children (although I understand the frustration that leads people to complain, "You can't drive a car without a license, but anyone can become a parent.") I'm opposed to it because I don't trust the state the decide who the good parents are. We need to be able to disagree on what makes a good parent. Families have different values. And the state should not be able to remove a child from a natural or adoptive home because the family has become pagan, or does anything else the rest of us find weird.

In short, even if we had a plethora of fantastic foster parents, even if foster care was what it should be, we should not remove children from weird or even mediocre homes to place them with "better" parents.

This is a hard truth for foster parents who sometimes, even often, find themselves saying goodbye to a child they love so that the child can return to parents who they believe, perhaps rightfully, will not care for him or her as well as they have.

But what about when the state does take custody of the child? The standards then seem to me to be different. The state has the obligation to put the child in what it believes are good homes. It worries me greatly that the state may have very different ideas about what constitutes a good home. It angers me to hear that a gay or lesbian couple are not foster parents because they are judged unfit, or are afraid that they will be so judged. It frustrates me to learn that some family who would be good at care is denied a license because their house does not and cannot meet the code in some relatively minor way.

In general though, I accept that the state has an obligation to the children in its care that it is right to hold foster parents to a higher standard than first and adoptive parents.

I had a responsibility to report Frankie's self-destructive behavior. Had I not myself said that I thought he needed a safer place, the social worker would have come out to judge the situation for herself. She might have talked to Frankie and to my kids. She might have concluded that Frankie needed help. Even if she didn't, it is also possible that she could have spoken to Brian and that Brian might have said that he was afraid, but that he didn't want Frankie to be taken away and he didn't want to make us mad.

If that second thing had happened, if she and I agreed that Frankie was safe with me and that I was well-equipped to care for him, but that Brian told her secretly that he was afraid (or even felt neglected or ashamed to bring friends over, or couldn't sleep well anymore), the social worker might decide to move Frankie and might or might not tell me everything. Knowing the soical workers I work with and the relationship I have had with them, I think she would say, "I talked to Brian and I think this is harder on him than you realize." But if she thought that I would be angry at Brian for making Frankie leave, she might not tell me. She might just say that she thought it was in the best interests of all concerned.

When I imagine that happening, I imagine that all sorts of other things happening. I would be upset. My friends would be upset for me. I would keep asking for more information, and the more heated it got the more hesitant the social workers would be to announce that it was all because of Brian.

Of course they might believe other things about me, or about my husband, or our family dynamics that might make them think we were not the best place for a particular child or any child.

And they wouldn't have an obligation to tell me.

And that means that if they were wrong, I wouldn't be in a position to show them that they were wrong, because I wouldn't know what to show them.

The natural family has a right to know. They have the right to be told what precisely they need to do in order to keep their kids or get their kids back. They have the right to services to help them do it.

And we don't.

And sometimes that sucks beyond the power of words to describe.

When I think about how that might affect me or a friend I get angry. I want more rights. I don't want to be treated like a babysitter who can be discharged for no reason. When I am attached to a child I want to be part of the team that makes decisions. If the social workers disagree with me I want to know why and I want the chance to convince them I am right.

And at the very same time, I know that it is very possible that I will receive a placement after something like this has happened to someone else. It could easily happen that a GLBT kid will come out to his or her social worker and that the two of them will decide both to move the youth and NOT tell the foster parents the truth about why. In fact that is basically what did happen with Carl. He had been living as a temporary placement with the TTFM. He did not want her to know he was gay. It was different because he came to her as a temporary placement, but it was the same in that she said "I would like to keep him" and the social worker said, "Sorry, but despite your 20 years of excellent work with us, we are placing him with this brand new family. Yes we know they have a five and a ten year old and that is not recommended with a fifteen year old, but we are doing it anyway. Sorry, we can't tell you why." (Come to think of it, it is no longer so surprising that she treated me they way she did.)

And all of this that would make me so angry when I think of it happening to me, and I agree with it when I think about it from a policy perspective.

And now my brain is beginning to hurt.

It could happen to me.

If it did, given my agency and my relationship with those people I would visit the supervisor in her office. I would say, "Please tell me, was this necessary? Are you convinced that it would hurt someone or violate confidentiality if I were told why?" And she would probably say, "Yes, Yondalla, it is necessary, and I can't tell you why." And I would cry, and she would hug me.

I would ask her, "Did I do something wrong?"

And the only small comfort that I have is that I know whatever she would tell me would be the truth.


  1. It's nice that you know you would get the truth. After reading about Carl I do understand better that there are things that as the foster parent maybe I shouldn't know, but on the other hand, when you have had a child in your home for over a year and they are part of your family, you expect to know, well, everything.

  2. If I honestly believed that the state was motivated for concern for the child and that's why they held us to higher standards, I would feel better about it.

    But really, I think it's about liability... they hold us to a higher standard because they don't want to be sued.

    And I think they DO have an obligation to tell us WHY a child is being removed. They don't have to change their minds, they may not even have to give us a chance to prove differently, or get services, or whatever, but I think, as someone who is supposed to be part of the care team, we at least deserve to know why.

  3. This is such a difficult issue. And I actually agree with you that in some cases it makes sense for the agencies not to discuss everything with the foster parents. The problem is that in order for that to work, we have to trust that the agencies are making their decisions for the right reasons. That they are doing so in the best interest of a child (foster or bio), or a family structure, or something else that is worth protecting even if it means disrupting a secure placement.

    I am not as down on social workers in general as FosterAbba seems to be. But as much as I'd like to believe (for Danielle's sake if no one else's) that this removal is for the right reasons, there's just no way to know if that is true. There is no reason to believe that this isn't just a lazy social worker who thinks she can find another family who is less whiny and demanding, or who is prioritizing something like language ability over stability and commitment.

    I understand why the foster parents may sometimes not be the best people to make objective judgments about what is best for the child. But I do wish that there was a better system in place - some kind of checks and balances - to help make sure that all social workers are making decisions in the way that yours does.

  4. I never want to discourage comments, but I also don't want this to become a forum for speculating on FosterAbba, FosterEema, Danielle, or possible motivations of the social workers. I understand how this post could lead to that, which is one of the reasons that I debated publishing it.

    I think the topic of what information we as foster parents should have, what rights we should have, etc. is important and I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Let's please just keep the discussion about the general issue and not about any particular person. The except of course being when the particular person is yourself.

  5. I still don't see how not telling the foster family the reason for the removal could be beneficial in some cases. Even more, I don't see why not telling the CHILD the reason for removal could be beneficial.

    In the example you gave earlier, what would be the worst that could happen if the worker had given more info like, "Carl has asked to be removed because there is something about this other family that would fit his needs better, and due to his privacy concerns we can't tell you exactly what that is." In the hypothetical case of Brian... I think when children complain of fears and issues to workers, those issues ought to be shared with the parents. Who else is going to take care of them? Foster kids don't necessarily fall under that rule, but biological children should. The state is not "representing" Brian.

    When I think about the possibility of a "mystery" removal it honestly makes me never want to do foster care, ever ever ever. And thinking about it from the point of view of a child is ten times as bad. It's better to be angry about what you consider an unjust decree than to live in fear and confusion about WHY this is happening to you and blaming yourself for it.

    Thanks for putting this in a larger perspective, but I still see it as a terrible injustice. More than anything, it seems to benefit the social workers, who get to avoid confrontations and tedious explanations (and sometimes liability). It reminds me of corporate HR scripts for mass layoffs.

  6. You are very wise Yondalla. I appreciate your post.

    I think maybe since i come from an agency and not the county directly I have a similar perspective. I felt insulated from the county , and the agency having ALL the information at most times could deal with them directly and inform of the situation. It was vital that we wroked together because I was the source of their income. They treated me less like a liability and more like a partner.

    Were they perfect? Nope. Did the state still "screw" me. Yep. They didn't give me or my agency all the information that put my child in danger. I felt like fostercare was our "calling", but that call was soon ended as we knew our family was too important to rely on others for information they said they couldn't give. Legally their hands were tied. I struggle with that because over the years I know workers who crossed the "legal" lines and did thins or said things that were necessary for the care of the foster I had a t the time. Did thopse workers care more? Who knows. Maybe this last worker was a rule oriented person. Maybe she had corssed the line before and been burnt. Maybe she was the witch I thought she was.

    Regardless, at the time it hurt painfully. I did love this child and he thought he had found an adoptive home in us. Maybe I could've dealt with his issues better had I known the whole story. Maybe my child would not have been a victim. Apparently it was not meant to be.

  7. Ironically, I both agree with the post and disagree with it at the same time.

    I know our agency is point blank honest about who they prefer as foster parents. They've said it at meetings. They announced us as the "poster family" at get togethers. They make no secrets about who they want to recruit.

    And who is that? a youngish mom and dad, traditional value (read Christian, in this area, specifically Baptist), stay at home momma, white, suburbian family with money. Pets, natural kids, etc a plus.

    Our MAPP class consisted of us, another white couple (retired), one AA couple (retired) and about 8 single AA females.

    The trainer consistently commented that "we have enough single black women, we need more white families". Over and over. Women whose sexuality came into play were semi-encouraged that they would get the "tough, sexually abused and therfore scared of men" little girls. Older couples were told they weren't sure if they'd get placements- it takes a high energy level to deal with teens and infants/toddlers. They were told they MIGHT be used for respite.

    I can look around that room and tell you at least 3 women that I bet are better cooks than I am. I heard them talking about holiday plans, and thought, dang-a-lankin, Martha Stewart's got nothing on them.

    I bet over half are better housekeepers than me- I go from anal about somethings (kitchen) to oblivious about others (the height of grass i the yard being a main one).

    I understand, to a point, about the benefits of having a stay at home mom/parent. There are a lot of meetings/appts to be met.

    I understand to a point about wanting gender balance in the home. To a point, in that ideally, in utopia, a child should grow up with a male perspective and a female perspective. I also believe though, that it can often be provided through close friends, grandpas, uncles, aunts, grandmas, etc.

    I understand that in reality, some bio parents, although unable to parent themselves, have specific desires for the type of home their child will go to. I've heard our agency rep talk about how the parents that call in adn voluntarily place their kids often request families just like ours and are told there aren't any.

    But at the same time, it makes zero sense to me to tell a family "sorry, we changed our mind" after the child has bonded. And settled in. Regardless of his sexual preference. Would a child leave his natural family because of that? No, they'd be told to work it out. They'd go to counseling, maybe have a few heated discussions, etc.

    But eventually, love would prevail. The child would learn acceptance where he needd it, as opposed to always knowing that his lifestyle choice or natural feelings (not getting into that debate, thank you very much)weren't acceptable to the very people that claimed to love him.

    I think that's the hardest thing for me- family is a constantly changing definition. And for kids in care, they need stability. Whatever it is, whatever the issue, won't it teach the child more to teach him/her how to work it out, rather than constantly be moved to a "better" match?

    Doesn't that create a child that is constantly looking for perfection in others? Doesn't it make that child oblivious to how to deal with tough situations without leaving?

    I'm scared, that we are teaching kids the "flight" side of flight/fight. And because of that, its why foster kids seem to grow up to go to jail, rehab, or homelessness.

    Maybe its just my perspective today. It just seems like another way for the kids to get out of having to quote "grow a backbone" and learn to stand by what they believe.

    Which seems to lead to them becoming lifelong victims, constantly bullied and looking for a way to escape.

    As you can probably tell, this is hitting close to home for me today. I'm not sure why, just the thought of a family friend who is battling similar issues, I guess. Please no one take me personally- no offense meant.

    But does anyone else see this pattern developing?

    (And I do think a lot of it is SW ineffeciency- changing of SW, one is extremely conservative, one extremely liberal, jerking kids around willy nilly because of their personal beliefs as opposed to fact or reason)

  8. What wonderful and interesting responses! You are all giving me more to think about, and I will probably write more on this in the future.

    Atlasien, What you suggest be told to the TTFM is pretty much what was told to her. She found it to be evasive and uninformative.

    And maybe that is part of the issue. I think sometimes the amount of information we are given doesn't fill up the void, so to speak. It is not a sufficient explanation from our perspectives.

    And sometimes we may be right about that -- and sometimes we migh just not have all the information.


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