On to the post!
Ugh - this post has been so difficult to write! I've started it, erased, cut and pasted and it still didn't feel right. The system is SO BIG and SO COMPLEX and there are SO MANY VARIABLES... and its so messed up.
So for right now, instead of trying to tell you what I think is wrong with it all and how to fix it, I am going to tell you what I wish the system looked like and worked.
My Dream Child Welfare System (DCWS):
First of all - I feel like an obvious start is with intervention, the earlier the better. The way things run now is all "reactive" and very little "proactive". In my DCWS there would be intensive Intact Family Services. And when I say "intensive", I mean INTENSIVE.
- These services would not be voluntary, as they currently are in my area, they would be court ordered and the court would follow the cases just as if they were placement cases. I know that the courts do this in some areas, but its nearly unheard of in mine.
- If the case came in because of inadequate supervision, neglect, or inadequate parenting (defined as the use of physical punishment that has not caused significant harm, but could lead to abuse) - they would get a minimum of 40 hours a week, in home parent coaching. Parenting classes are a joke for the most part - what good is learning the "how to's" of parenting if you only see your children for an hour a week? Plus, most of the families need more than just the step by steps of how to give a time out. And the children need to see their parent being supported in this new change. We know that children's behavior often gets worse before it gets better - someone needs to be backing up Mom and Dad until the children learn the new rules. (Think Supernanny - but with a therapy background in trauma and attachment!)
- If the case comes to the attention of DCWS because of substance abuse - there should be residential treatment centers that house the entire family. Some places already take children - but most only under 5, and no fathers. In my Dream System, all treatment centers would have rooms/units for entire families. Children would not be removed from their parents - they would all go to treatment together. Treatment centers would have programs for the children and parents - separately and together to learn how to be a sober family.
- If their is actual abuse that brings the case in - as in moderate to serious injury or threat thereof - then the child should be brought into care.
I wish that no children would ever come into foster care, but I'm trying to keep my dreams close to something that could actually be achievable. As another alternative to foster care, perhaps there could be something like a treatment center that would focus on abuse - but I think that the safety of the child has to be addressed first.
Now, once the child is in foster care, things have to be a lot different than they are now. I am a big fan of the "team" approach - my own version of "it takes a village". Having worked in both big and small agencies, I am a fan of smaller groups of people who all work together. At my last child welfare job I could give you the basics (and usually more) on every single case in the agency. Not just me - we all could. Because we all talked together about all the cases. So, when an emergency came up and the caseworker was on vacation - almost anyone could jump in with a decent degree of knowledge and understanding. And even better - all of our clients knew almost everyone in the agency, so it wasn't some stranger standing on their doorstep!
So, here is what my Dream Child Welfare Agency would look like:
- Teams - 3 to 4 caseworkers, 1 therapist, 1 supervisor, 2 respite workers + court personnel (GAL, attorneys etc).
- Foster parents would be considered at least Part Time employees of the agency - Full Time if they had more children in their home. This would allow foster parents to work less outside the home and be more available for the children placed with them. Foster parents would be expected to be active participants in the "reunification" process - meeting with the birth parents from the very beginning.
- EVERYONE above would have more training in trauma and attachment - not just from the perspective of the children, but also in adult survivors of trauma and how to help parents for attachments with their children.
- The position of "caseworker" would be considered a highly specialized position and would require a Master's Degree + years of experience. Caseworkers would have no more than 5 families on their caseloads.
- Therapists would be highly specialized as well - specifically in trauma and attachment.
- The entire team (foster parents and birth parents included) would meet on a bi-weekly basis to discuss the case and its progress. Any concern would be addressed and a corrective plan of action would be established. Those plans would be addressed for follow up at the next meeting.
- Judges and all other court personnel would have to attend training on a quarterly basis and have meetings with agencies 2x a year to make sure that all are on the same page.
- Because everyone has a higher level of degree/education/training - everyone gets paid more! :)
The Dream Child Welfare Service Plan:
- Visits between children and their parents would be at least 2-3 times per week. The foster parent and a parenting coach would be involved from the very beginning. This would give the foster parent help in working with each child's individual needs, the birth parent support and direction in learning parenting skills and both would get extra support in co-parenting. Foster parents would benefit from better understanding where the child is coming from and being able to reinforce what is happening with birth parent's progress. Birth parents would benefit from not feeling like their child is being "taken away" by a stranger, who they never see, and who is trying to keep their child from them. Seeing their foster and birth parents working together would benefit the children because it would reduce the "loyalty conflict" and reinforce healthy attachment to both sets of parents.
- Visits would last for a minimum of 3-4 hours and would be in a home environment (either the birth parent's home or the foster home). Preferably these visits would mimic daily life - enabling the parent to work on skills such as making dinner and cleaning the house while supervising, redirecting, and disciplining the children. Over time, as the foster parent is more comfortable, they will take on the role of supervision (on a more relaxed basis) and eventually parents will move to unsupervised visits.
- Birth Parents will start individual therapy immediately unless it is deemed acceptable for them to only have family therapy. Family therapy will be mandatory for all cases. Foster parents (and other family members) will attend family therapy when necessary to provide continuity for the children.
- There are no strict time lines as far as how long children will be in care. I know this seems contradictory - but there are just too many variables. I hope/believe that with the foster and birth parents working so closely, the stress on the children will be less severe. As long as the birth parents are making positive strides and the children are not being negatively affected, the case should continue to move towards reunification. The parents should have at least one year to demonstrate their desire and ability to make some forward progress.
- Decisions to move towards another goal will be based on the child's best interests - not on the progress made by the birth parent. Even if the birth parent is making progress, if it is determined by the team that it is not in the best interests for the child to return home, the case will move towards another goal.
If the goal is changed from reunification:
- If it is appropriate for the child to be adopted, all adoptions would have some level of openness. This would be based on the willingness and best interests of the child - even if only letter contact is maintained.
- New Birth Certificates would not be issued - the child has only been born once. An Adoption certificate would be issued - the child's name would not change except for the addition of the adoptive parent's last name if desired, but the child's original last name would be kept as well. Adoption certificates would serve the same function as birth certificates as far as legal matters are concerned.
- If the child is in need of specialized care (such as Residential Treatment) it would be covered and there would be continued services to the foster/adoptive and birth family until the child's release.
- If it is decided that the child should remain in the care of the foster family, but that parental rights should not be terminated (because of the desire of the child or because of extenuating circumstances), guardianship should be pursued so that the child still obtains a sense of permanency.
- Services as far as therapy and specialized medical treatment for the child would be covered until adulthood.
- The adoptive and birth families would continue to have access to the team to assist them with ongoing questions, concerns and issues relating to the open adoption.
Alright, that's as far as my mind will allow me to dream... otherwise I will get completely jaded and not be able to function in the Real Child Welfare System. :)
I'm hoping that you all will join in - write something at your own blog, leave a comment on this post, or come join the discussion in My Community. We keep saying that the system needs to change - but I for one have no idea where to start... other than to keep doing things as best I can in my little corner. Maybe some of you reading this have some insights or ideas? Change has to start somewhere right?
**I'm going to see about adding a Mr Linky so that if you all write your own blog posts they can be linked back here... I love learning from all of you!**Nope - couldn't figure Mr Linky out! Instead, if you do write a blog post, will you leave me a comment below with where i can find it? I'll make a list and add them to mine so that others can find them too! Thanks!