Sunday, January 16, 2011

The United States foster care system has a higher turnover rate than most fast food industries.

I read an article today that begins with this statement: "The United States foster care system has a higher turnover rate than most fast food industries. Of the estimated 200,000 licensed foster homes, from 30 to 50 percent drop out each year...Why are foster parents leaving? Of all the reasons, the biggest by far is that they are treated poorly."

All I can say to that is, yes, indeed. We might have fostered and/or adopted a few times in our lives, these days we are inclined to think that we'll do it just this once.

Our main reason is that we connected with T so deeply and have had such a profound experience becoming his parents that we fear there will never be another T and we might just hang up our parenting gear when he no longer needs us.

But the other reason we aren't anticipating a repeat performance is that the bureaucracy is too punishing. Unless we managed to meet a child with whom we can establish the kind of connection we have with T, we would surely be adrift without the support required to address the needs of a child with complex needs. We became foster parents after meeting T and only because we found him so compelling and there was such unusual chemistry amongst us. Without T as my motivating factor I just don't think I would be able to tolerate this bureacracy.

It's on my mind this week because we recently attended a court hearing to decide the matter of noticing his biological parents regarding the adoption (a discussion they have waited 18 months to even initiate). At the hearing, the court had to fire his present attorney who hasn't shown up in court on T's behalf for several years. The court appointed a new attorney exactly three minutes prior to the hearing, and the hearing moved forward despite the fact that the attorney knew nothing about the case. When we asked to address the court (about the fact that T's caseworker has asked him to notice his own mother) we were told that we can't speak to the judge. After I got back to my office that day, T's adoption social worker called me to ask what is going on with his case, and ask me to straighten out a huge misunderstanding between herself and his primary caseworker. Then T.'s biological mother called him at home to ask him what is going on with the court case because she doesn't understand the papers she's received from the court and the confusing phone calls she's had from his social worker and they've just managed to get her worked up and anxious, despite the fact that she's been aware of and not expressly opposed to his adoption all along. I wanted to scream.

To be brutally honest, we have mostly been treated like low rent babysitters by the social workers and inspectors and court officials involved in T's case. Often, to this day, have the sense that the myriad caseworkers and inspectors and bureacrats involved expect us to fail in our endeavor to provide him with a permanent home.

In my imaginary better world, becoming a parent should feel sort of like joining the Peace Corps must have in the heydey of the Kennedy Administration. There should be recruiters, and the recruiters should help people find a way to view foster parenting as a noble and unique endeavor, not a poor approximation and substitute for bio parenting. The training courses should be hard, and they should take place somewhere fun. (How about luxury hotels, that donate the rooms and facilities for a long weekend as a tax writeoff, like a gift to charity?) The trainings should include a panel of foster children to speak for themselves and their peers. Perhaps they could rank potential foster and adoptive parents: "This foster parent gets an 8 out of 10 stars in reviews from 32 other foster children..."

When we met T. we received a two page form describing his personality and interests. It was 90% inaccurate, with large portions that were frankly erroneous. It managed to be both clinical and superficial, a disturbing combination. Virtually everything we know about his background, his needs and his medical and educational history we found out from him. He in turn received nothing about us except the packet that we put together for him of our own accord. At some point (when his adoption finalizes? it's never been clear), the social workers tell us that we'll receive a thick packet of papers documenting his history; by then, we will have no use at all for the information it contains.

Thank goodness we fell utterly in love with him, I say, because we have mostly had to parent him from the gut while he has helped us understand over time where he's coming from. Had we needed to be more strategic from the start, and had he been unable to articulate his needs, we would have had a very rough time indeed.


Anonymous said...

We once wanted to adopt several older kids from foster care over time, but after our first rodeo we have decided once our daughter no longer needs our parenting as intensely, we will provide respite care to foster families we know in the area. We will still have to maintain our license, which is less than exciting, but we can help those who are willing to put up with the system and help keep kids in placement with good famlies, instead of moving due to a vacation, illness, etc.

SocialWrkr24/7 said...

"Often, to this day, have the sense that the myriad caseworkers and inspectors and bureacrats involved expect us to fail in our endeavor to provide him with a permanent home."

Unfortunately, I think that many of us have seen it fail so often that we expect the worst, instead of the best out of people. I fear this does sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I do want to say that your abilities in understanding trauma and how it affects T's behavior ARE unique in my experience. For many foster parents, no amount of explaining trauma and attachment helps them modify their reactions to a child's behavior. What seems to come somewhat naturally to you, is a rarity in my experience - and many placements fail because of it.

But your words about the system ring true - you read my feelings about it recently! :)

marythemom said...

I believe the staff turnover rate and inexperienced staff at our local agency contributed greatly to the difficulties we had, and our decision to not adopt again.

We were lucky in that we were given access to our children's records before we agreed to adopt them, but it didn't give us information about their likes and dislikes - just some of the history of how they came into foster care, their diagnoses and (negative) behaviors while in foster care. We were allowed to talk to their foster parents a couple of times, their therapist and the caseworker who had been with them awhile.

Honestly, nothing could have prepared us for our RAD kids. I would have loved better training, access to parents "in the trenches" and help finding resources. Instead we got a brief class with instructors who were reading from a manual, and couldn't answer questions. We were blamed and told, "just don't let him escalate" when our 5'9" 200+lb son was having what we later discovered was bipolar rages combined with RAD and PTSD.

I hope that when our oldest son moves out I can talk my husband into adopting again, but I don't know if I want to go through Texas since we had such a difficult time with them treating us like we were stupid, child abusers who should be able to prevent our kids from getting in trouble.

Mary in TX

Anonymous said...

I am a foster care worker in Michigan, and I have to say that the workers have little control over the system, you get paid salery for a reason, because you work average 60+ hours a week and only paid for 40. Also judges will make orders like the one I got this week "the parental visits shall be supervised by the case worker every Saturday from 12:00 to 5:00" what sucks about this, before court we talked about burn out and how wonderful mom is doing and needs to have unsupervised visits, so in court he said, unsupervised visits, then he changed his mind after court and put this jem or an order in his order. What really sucks, my agency, the most senior worker is only 2 years, turn over is higher then fast food, i worked fast food during high school. And you know what sucks, the supervisors only want reports done on time everytime or else they get yealled at. Its a job where everybody hates you, you are overworked, underpaid, emotionally drained, physicaly unhealthy because of the stress. oh and I MISSED WATCHING MY DAUGHTER CRAWL FOR HER FIRST TIME, why because I WAS AT WORK doing some report for a damn deadline for court which when i get at court i'm going to get yealled at some more. Corts hate us, parents hate us, foster parents hate us, media hates us and on top of all this we feel that we have to do the best possible job because a family is in our hands. If we screw up, which happens because we are so overworked and over stressed a family is at risk, who the hell wants that responsibilty, which is why I started looking for a new job a long time ago and hopefully soon, i'll be the hell out of dodge.

--Angry foster care worker that is pissed at the broken system.

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