Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Different Families

Last night was the first meeting of the new agency-sponsored foster parent support group. Though I had been with the agency longer than more than half of the parents, most of them had been state foster parents for a decade, or two, or almost three.

It was interesting that no brand-new foster parents came. I sat wondering if it was that you had be around for a while to know that you needed support, or if it was that the newbies just had more trouble getting out of the house. Certainly the ones who have just finished the initially training would not be in the mood.

Foster parents are an odd bunch over-all. One family doesn't own a TV or allow their kids to go to the movies. They do have some G and PG rated movies at home they can watch periodically. The kids don't get bored, not with all church-related fun they have. Another allows TV, just not anything occult like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One couple there kept horses, and insists that all family members do barn chores. Most required whoever lived with them to go to their church, and most of those churches were pretty conservative. We did not talk about these issues, by the way, I just have come to know these people.

I realized that I like and admire them, and that I would hate to live with them. They are dedicated and smart and compassionate. They are funny, kind, and firm. They are good people.

And if I were thirteen and told that I had to muck out a stall on Saturday, or could not watch my favorite TV show, or read the books I wanted, or had to go roller skating with the church youth group every week ... well, I don't know how I could live with it. I was a good, but bookish kid. I was fairly shy. I still get to know people slowly and am not comfortable in large groups. Being made to go roller skating with a bunch of teenagers who knew each other but not me would be torture. Can't I just bring a book and read on a bench? Pleeeease?

Can I say again that I think all these families are good families?

And there are kids who would hate to be placed with us. You can watch almost anything you want, but no more than 90 minutes electronic time on school days, after which we have nothing in particular for you to do. I have 50 papers to grade and Roland is making visual schedules for all of his students. Yeah, we do work a lot and it is kind of boring here. The library's just down the street though, you could check out a book. Do you have a hobby? I could buy you yarn or art supplies.

It must be so difficult for the kids. I mean, put aside all the big stuff, the trauma of moving and feeling rejected. What about the little stuff?

In one house Fox News is turned on every night. In ours everyone watches the Daily Show. Roland adds some CNN; I go on-line to newspapers. In some houses they eat red meat of some sort almost every night. Kids get to mine and comment that they had no idea you could do that many different things with chicken. In one home they are told that Buffy is absolutely forbidden. I own all seven seasons on DVD. In one home they got in trouble for saying "damn" but no one blinked if they complained about the "homo" in gym class. In my house...

Our homes are so different. They smell different; the foods taste different; what is valued is different; the rules are different.

I just think about the kids moving from one of these kind, dedicated families to another and it makes me tired.

Just THINKING about it makes me tired.


  1. Yeah. It's tough beyond belief to be a foster kid. The more I come to know the more I think that foster care isn't a good solution.

  2. That's why we fought so hard to keep "Danielle" here. We figured that, even if we weren't the "perfect" match, we were better than moving around all the time.

    After a while, we all got used to each other.

  3. I can understand some of the examples, but the horse barn one--that's part of the house and everyone has to do chores. It would like saying that at one house kids have to help with the laundry or cleaning the bathroom or fixing dinner and thinking that was strange. The other examples were all activity-based.

    But maybe that's just me--we have a yard and a garden and a driveway and if we ever have kids over 3, they will be expected to help with chores in these areas. (Not that a 3 year-old is all that *helpful* but they will come and "help" just like our current 3 year old does. She can fold laundry and put it away already. Washcloths and socks mostly. And last summer she planted the peas in the row. Mostly.)

    The church one is something I've wondered about. Would we be expected to ferry foster kids to whatever church they belonged to? Can we require them to attend ours since everyone else does (which isn't actually true since DH doesn't, but if one kid stays home, it means he has to get up Sunday mornings, his day off!). I can see leaving it up to a teenager to choose, but kids younger than that? What do you do with a kid who doesn't want to go but the rest of the family is going? I guess that's true of any activity, but church seems a bit different since you can't force someone to participate in, say, prayer or belief.

  4. in regards to the church thing, in NYS it's required by law that they have either 24 or 48 hours to find a foster family whose religion matches the child's.

    In real world terms, this means that kids (for the most part) don't wind up in foster homes where they may face criticism for their beliefs. I don't know about Muslims, but there are a few Jewish agencies that recruit like mad, because they don't want kids to wind up in a home where they will have problems because they are not _________, or worse problems because they are Jewish (because you know the Jews killed J [that was sarcasm]). Ohel is the first that comes to mind.

    I would think this is why there are social workers - to match kids to appropriate families.

    It goes both ways - if a chassidic kid was pulled and put into a home with non-kosher food and television, it would probably feel like they were on mars.

  5. AnnMarie,
    I was not trying to say that any of these things were necessarily good or bad, at least not here. All I was thinking last night while I was looking around the table was even though these are all very nice people, it must be very difficult to move from home to home.

    It's just a thought, not a position statement.

    About church... in our case the church we go to is pretty far away and we don't let kids stay at home until we know them very well. I don't require participation though. Sometimes kids sit with us, sometimes they bring a book or something and sit in an empty room, Miss E would sat outside and took advantage of my free weekend minutes on my cell phone.

  6. Aidel,
    Here the private agency will work pretty hard to recruit a family that shares a child's religion.

    Technically families are supposed to support the kid. Practically it doesn't work out that way. I remember being pretty irritated in the weeks before Carl moved in with us that we were not allowed to take him to church with us (which is, remember, where we met him). His temporary foster mother insisted that he attend her church.

    That wasn't the way it was supposed to be.

  7. Yondalla, I just came across your blog the other day so I haven't lurked long enough to get to know what you are like :) But you seem quite interesting.

    I have thought about this too. When you look at each kid and their history when they join us, they are so unique. Our daughter's last home was extremely religious. Even though we are the same religion as her old foster family, it was still quite the shocker for her because we handle our beliefs very differently. Then you think about all the places she had been before us and them and it makes your mind spin.

    It's not just religion or TV either. It's what is done at dinnertime or how people wake up in the morning or what the definition of "clean" is in different homes. There are so many variables that these kids are exposed to it is no wonder they are out of sorts when they arrive :) I'm going to think about this some more as we may have a new arrival soon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this!!


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