Of all the things that I have been rushing around like a madwoman to get done these past few weeks, arranging visitation has consumed more than its share of my time. I have spent half my work hours mediating, arranging, facilitating, and worrying about Parent/Child visits around the holidays. My office phone has rung non stop with (biological) parents insisting that they be granted a visit with their child on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now, I completely understand and have tried very hard to make that happen for any parent who has called. However, its not as simple as just saying "Sure!" and setting up a time. My agency isn't open on either of those holidays. As much as I love my job and am passionate about my families... I am not willing to spend those days doing visits. Even if I agreed to do so, I couldn't facilitate ALL the visits that were requested!
Most foster parents understand the importance of visitation (or at least that it is mandatory in my state) and don't mind helping out with things like transporting kids and occasionally supervising a visit themselves. But when it comes to disrupting their holiday plans and/or missing time with their foster child on the actual holiday itself? Well, it hasn't been pretty.
All of a sudden it becomes an argument over who "deserves" to spend that particular day with a child. Is it the foster parent who tucks the child into bed each night? The biological parent who already has to miss out on so many important events?
I don't have an easy answer to that dilemma.
I will be brutally honest and admit that I have thought, "If you hadn't done XYZ, your child would be in foster care and you would have them for Christmas", more than once since early November.
But I hate myself every time I have that thought. I pretty much feel like the worst person (not too mention worst social worker) in the world every time it crosses my mind.
I don't believe in punishing parents by not allowing them to see their children - that has never helped anyone "get their act together". If anything, I believe that the less a parent sees their child, the less hope they have about reunification. The less hope a parent has, the less willpower they have to stay clean, be compliant with their meds, make progress in therapy, or whatever they need to do to safely parent their children full time again.
Foster families are supposed to be supporting reunification and honoring the child's family of origin - but this time of year can bring out entitlement about more than just toys and gifts. Sometimes foster parents would be willing to bring the children to a visit, but the misdirected anger of the biological families makes it unwise to allow that contact to happen without the aid of an agency staff. And, I sympathize with foster families who sincerely love their foster kids and want spend the holidays with the child they've come to see as "one of their own". But for many of them, the issue of bringing the child to visit their biological family on Thanksgiving or Christmas becomes an argument about who "deserves" to be with the child on these days.
An annual "King Solomon" power struggle - and I'm forced to play the role of King Solomon, but I can't order that children be split in half.
At the end of the day, I don't really have much "say so" about it. I can beg foster parents and reason with biological parents until I am blue in the face, but at the end of the day my hands are tied. The bottom line is that unless the foster parent is willing to work out something with the biological family, the foster family wins this one. I can't force them to give up their holiday plans, they only have to "make the child available for visits", not actually facilitate or participate in them. And I have to draw the line between my life and my job somewhere - working on Christmas is where I choose to do so. ( I did work on Thanksgiving this year, and have worked on Christmas Eve other years...)
I do believe that when children are not able to see their biological families on holidays, it is damaging. No matter how happy a child is in their foster family they will wonder ... why? And many of them will come to the conclusion that their parents didn't care enough to see them. Those children will often assume that the reason is because they were not worth their parents' time or energy - that they were not "good enough". Very few children are told that their parents DID want to see them - but they couldn't because of agency policy, or foster parents' fears, or a variety of other issues that have nothing to do with the child.
Most kids won't grow up knowing that information - most people see these issues as annoyances. They grumble about how these parents should put as much effort into their service plans or showing up for court dates. As difficult as dealing with some of these angry parents has been, and though it means being called names, listening to frustrated tears, getting hung up on, and countless rounds of phone calls...
I would rather be able to tell a child - "Your Mommy really wanted to be with you on Christmas, she called my office every day for weeks!" than to allow that child to believe they weren't worth their parents' time. Even though that parent may never be able to parent full time, doesn't negate the times that they fought. But at the same time, I don't negate the importance of a child getting to spend the holidays with their "everyday" (and possibly "forever") family. And I really wish that I had all the "right" answers and power to make those things happen...
So, feel free to drop me your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, rants... whatever might actually be helpful. After all, next Thanksgiving is only about 330ish days away!