Ok, time to get serious about keeping up on this blog! : )
I'm going to try to reserve Wednesdays for a Child Welfare 101 post - I am passionate about family preservation, foster care, etc! I want others to better understand how the "system" works - mostly in hopes that they will get involved!! There are so many ups/downs/misinformation about families who are involved with Child Protective Services - that caseworkers are "baby snatchers", all the parents are "bad", the kids are all "messed up" and that foster parents are "in it for the money". I don't believe any of this to be true - though I do believe that the best of intentions are not always enough.
I think that parents often go into bringing babies into the world with a lot less information, support and resources than are necessary to be good parents. We haven't done a very good job of reassuring new parents that it is okay to need help or that they should confidently ask for support when it is needed. In fact, much of the information about support for new parents is mixed up in fears about having their children removed from them - and not all of that fear is unfounded. So, parents get more overwhelmed, more desperate, and more hopeless. By the time the system steps in, parents already feel like failures - is it any wonder that many are never able to recover enough to have their children returned to them?
I believe that most foster parents have admirable reasons for signing up - they love kids, they are hoping to adopt, a family member needs placement, or even simply because they have raised kids of their own and see this as a way to "help out". I don't believe most do it simply "for the money" - no more than some daycare providers do it "for the money". The money isn't that good! They believe that they can care for kids while also having some income. I don't think any of those reason are horrible in and of themselves. However, what most are unprepared for is the elevated needs of the children and the intensity of the system itself. Caseworkers, home inspections, micromanaging rules, court dates, and the sheer ambiguity of the situation is overwhelming to foster parents. This creates power struggles, resentment and defensiveness - who wants to deal with all of that? Even if it is in the "best interests of the child"?
The children aren't "like other kids" - come with trauma, attachment issues, and divided loyalty. They haven't always had structure, stability or security - and whatever they did have is now completely disrupted by being removed from their families. They miss their parents, their siblings, their room, and their school friends. At the same time, they get attached to new families, teachers, and routines - because kids are hardwired to attache to caregivers - only to often be uprooted time and time again. After a while, they don't even know which way is up - so why try to fit in anywhere at all?
Social workers all pretty much start out going to school in order to "help people" - it doesn't take us long in Child Welfare to figure out that many people don't want our help! At that point, we should be able to maintain our objectivity and do what is best for our clients regardless. Then add high caseloads, pressures from all sides, lack of training, and often inadequate supervision to the pool and being objective is easier said than done. "Helping" seems impossible - so how do we continue to do our jobs?
And the system itself - I'm sure the original idea was to "protect children".... but aren't really doing that so well sometimes. Children are often damaged just as much as a result of being in foster care as they were in their original families. Reunifying families is the first goal - but the barriers are often so complicated that we don't even know where to start. And when families can not be reunited - then begins the process of finding permanent homes for the children. Sadly, there are not enough appropriate adoptive families to provide these homes - which all too often means a child ages out of foster care with no true supports to help them as they move into adulthood and becoming parents themselves. See how that cycle is about to repeat itself all over again?
So, Child Welfare 101 posts are my attempt to look critically at some of these issues, to provide information about some of the more complicated procedures and protocols within the system, and to assist those already involved in the system in some capacity.
Please throw out suggestions, questions, etc - I know you all have some!
(All Child Welfare 101 posts can also be found in the Blog Series Tab up above!)