Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Great Holiday Visit Debate

I apologize if this post makes little sense and I am sorry if I sound more peevish than usual - I am exhausted and have gone round and round with these issues for the past few weeks. I kept wanting to post about them - but at the end of each work day I had to go home and try to forget about it all for a little bit. Not that I could actually do that -  I think I've developed secondary PTSD over it actually - but I tried. So, now that it is actually over, I am writing this post - partly to process and partly to ask for advice... because it will likely come up again.

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 have strong-armed appealed to the good nature of a few of them into working out Christmas Eve daytime visits - but the biological parents weren't particularly happy or satisfied. They want to see their children ON CHRISTMAS - to be able to open gifts and bring them to spend time with their extended families. Some of these are parents who are barely consistent with their weekly visits, but the holidays have them practically lined up outside my office door.

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!


  1. The State of Florida is making efforts to send kids home for Christmas.

    Perhaps you could start looking into programs like this.

    Re >> Most kids won't grow up knowing that information

    Yeah, God forbid you tell them the truth about their lives, for example that all of you wonderful social workers and foster parents who care so much had better things to do than to let them spend a little time with their families on Christmas. It's better for you, I suppose, if they don't know that their parents made efforts to make it happen. I know if I was a kid in this system right now, knowing the truth would make me hate you that much more. Helps the alienation process along.

    The real parents should have the right to see their kids on Christmas. Just because it's inconvenient for some foster parent doesn't make that an unreasonable request.

  2. ohhhhhh, oh, oh! I have something to say about this post . . .coming froma Fosterparent.

    I don't see it as a struggle between who gets the child for Christmas. It is simply that Fostercare takes over 99% of the rest of the days, it's not taking over Thanksgiving and Christmas. In short to quote you

    "I have to draw the line between my life and my job somewhere - working on Christmas is where I choose to do so"

    Now, granted Fostercare is not my job and I dont' necessarily view it that way, but I didn't give up my life when I decided to be a Fosterparent either.

    I am not the one who messed up, I'm gonna be with my family. The Fosterchild is welcome to come, and everyone will have a gift for them too, BUT that is not the point of not doing visits on Holidays, sorry, it's all about Me.

    Now I realize that didn't help you with ideas to solve your problem. So my suggestion for that is . . . in September let's both you and I think about a nice family member who we could draw into our little circle, sure they don't/can't take the kids into their care, but perhaps we could work it so they could supervise or transport to the occassional visit, all in a nod to setting up Holiday visits successfully. Just a thought, might work for some cases, obviously not for all.

  3. Thanks Lyttlethings! I do have quite a few families where relatives stepped up to help get visits done on holidays. I appreciate them so much!

  4. This Thanksgiving\Christmas we have our 1st placement two boys ages 3 & 4 years old that have been with us seven and a half months. Thier great aunt was granted a first time 5 day visit at Thanksgiving and 3 day at Christmas.

    We were heart broken and for a moment it seemed unfair. Until I stepped back and looked at it first from the boys eyes.....they would be so happy to be with their two older brothers, their family, and see their parents on Christmas. And if I were their great aunt I would want to be able to spend Christmas with them. I did however tell then we needed to met before and after the actual holiday and that's what we're doing. We must keep our eyes focused on what's best for the child as foster parents even if it hurts us a little along the's stil far less pain than these children have felt.

    So the night before the boys left we had our own big family Christmas......just for the boys!

  5. You really have my sympathy on this one. I can tell from your words how much this has bothered you and how hard it has been and I hope that at least a few of the parents understand how difficult your position is. Then again, if many of them had those kinds of skills they wouldn't be involved with you. As a foster/adopt parent, i don't say that to be mean spirited. I'm just stating what is.

    I have never allowed my boys to see their bio mom at Christmas or Thanksgiving. To her credit, she has never asked either. We are blessed to have a fairly decent relationship with her. If she had asked, I would have appealed to her good will and asked her to postpone until New Years.

    One idea I had was a holiday party. I'm not sure if you could do it because of confidentiality, but what if you hosted a holiday party for bio families and kids? Do it the week before Christmas so kids have time to recover. I know some parents would still not be satisfied, but at least you might have some peace of mind.

    The families you serve are blessed to have you, even if they don't realize it. I wish everyone who hung up on you and called you names could read this post and know it was from you. I wish they knew how much your heart is in your job.

    Merry Christmas, SW. If you were my neighbor, I would bring you some pie and a really good bottle of wine.

  6. Hi, I'm not sure if I have commented here before...I think I have. I too am a foster parent and am intrigued by what you wrote. You said that you can sympathize with the foster parent as they have come to see the child 'as one of their own'. That is exactly what my hubby and children do, see this children AS our own. However, that doesn't then MAKE them our own. Quite simply, they are not our own, even if that is how we treat them and care for them. I see the dilemma of giving up part of your Christmas holiday for the bio family, but unless you are hours away and cannot make it back without blowing the child's holiday, I say that I am siding with the bio family here. If you are thinking that this child will soon be yours forever, then open you heart and realize that you will have many more Christmases with the child, unlike the bio family. For me, I do what I do with no holding back. (I would hold back a bit if I knew how but I haven't figured that out yet!)However, I try also to see fostering as a 'job' and in that light, I would have to side with the bio family, as the child in question IS NOT MINE but theirs.
    I may post later on how to plan ahead to prevent some of these issues, but need to run now. (Currently have a little boy on oxygen and a g-tube for feeding and Wow is he high maintenance! Of course one smile and I melt and even 2:00 AM doesn't seem so bad...)
    Have a great Christmas and just so ya knows,..I get all excited when I see that you have updated!

  7. posts like this one are why i love your blog! thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, your genuine concern for families, and all the hard work you do. as someone else who works in the system (in family court), i wish ALL social workers, lawyers, and judges had so much genuine concern for parents and kids.

  8. I think you are very kind, at least you care and have a conscience.

  9. I think you meant "If you hadn't done XYZ, your child *wouldn't* be in foster care and you would have them for Christmas",

    not "If you hadn't done XYZ, your child would be in foster care and you would have them for Christmas",

  10. I like the idea of having a party. Rent out a rec center, and if all the staff comes they'll be enough people to put out fires before anyone notices.

  11. We are adoptive parents of two children in open adoptions (different bparents). We visit (as a family) close to Christmas but not on the actual day. One set of bparents lives 6hrs away ... so it's tough. We are meeting at a midway point on the 28th for the afternoon/evening. Other bmom lives 1hr away ... we took her out for lunch and spent the afternoon together on the 18th. I'm surprised that foster children would be visiting on the actual holiday day? That would never have occurred to me.

  12. I think this is such a tough one. I know it sounds cliche, but I'm back to "the best interest of the child". I know a lot of kids in foster care struggle with the holidays and the-day-of might need to be avoided depending on their abuse history. I think the kids' therapists should make the call (with hopes that they have one).

    But, I may change my mind tomorrow!

  13. this one has twice now put me in a bad spot. but, i will for go telling every detail to say this.

    I do not think that a foster child should have their FIRST unsupervised visit be for 2 nights at Christmas time when no other unsupervised visits have been approved and when no one has been out to the house to see if it is safe. That is what happened with my first foster child and i think it is ridiculous that anyone would do that when on any other random day of the week these parents aren't even allowed to be alone with their own children.

    THIS Christmas my foster daughter's (different foster daughter) social worker called me and told me that she had approved a 3 hour visit on Christmas. "She was thinking between 11 am - 2pm". I told her no. That was right in the middle of OUR FAMILY CHRISTMAS. Seriously, that is ridiculous as well. They had JUST approved that she start unsupervised visit the week after Christmas AND because I have a very good relationship with the bio dad (I feel like he is capable of keeping her safe) I told the worker that they had to pick her up from me at 8 am (you know, because the agency isn't open on holidays) and they could return her at 6 pm so that it didn't ruin our Christmas. There was a lot of back and forth with her and I. First she said 3 hours, then she said 6 and I told her what I was willing to do and she decided to go with that.

    They did make it so that if I wouldn't do it at all then the visit on Christmas wouldn't happen. It was nice of them to make me the potential bad guy as well, I always appreciate that.

    In this case, and because of MANY factors, I had been hoping that they would let her go for an overnight so there wouldn't be any transporting on the actual holiday. They would absolutely not approve that. If they can't approve that why is she safe with them the whole day?

    My WHOLE entire issue is safety. If they aren't approved currently and haven't had several successful unsupervised visits I think them going home for Christmas is insane. If they are currently unsupervised then great, Christmas visit for sure. How it is considered safer around the holidays (when suicide rates and depression sky rockets) I will never understand.

  14. SocialWorkr24/7-In case you're puzzled by the sudden number of comments a week after the original post, I left a link to your post in a comment to a post on fosterhood's blog (above).

  15. My personal reflection, as a Jew, is that it's a shame that a whole host of practical considerations (background checks, insurance issues, etc.) would prevent what would otherwise be a way to help out on a day when I don't have work and have little to do anyway. That would get Christmas covered, at least. Sigh...

  16. My personal reflection, as a Jew, is that it's a shame that a whole host of practical considerations (background checks, insurance issues, etc.) would prevent what would otherwise be a way to help out on a day when I don't have work and have little to do anyway. I could be the Christmas visit transport/supervisor person! (I say this completely fancifully, as I know full well that there are those pesky practical issues...

  17. I've been a foster parent for a few years now and I always joke that natural parents always seem to want their kids on the photo-op days, i.e., Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, etc. And I'm fine with that. Afterall, holidays are for kids. Even if it's to protect them from feeling guilty as they get older.

    My experience has been parents with supervised visits don't expect visits on Christmas day since the Agency is closed. It's a non-issue. We try to get visits as close to Christmas as we can, and also arrange Christmas phone calls.

    Parents with unsupervised access can have their child on Christmas day provided they provide transportation. If they want daytime Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, I'll help with transpo. A little give and take . . .

    Ultimately, I feel it's best for the kids to see their family on the big holidays. Maybe not best for me, but I'm an adult, I can deal. I've seen it help the child (as they get older) feel better about not living with their parent/s day-to-day since they get to see them on the special days.

  18. Thanks for raising this issue! There's no right answer, really - always a compromise I think. We took our 16 year-old foster/adoptive son to see his aunts and cousins this Christmas for the second year in a row (his bio-mom refuses contact with him and with the rest of the family). The visits are inevitably chaotic and somewhat depressing for him, but it is also HUGELY important for him to feel that he is maintaining those bonds and we always tell him that adoption is about putting the pieces together, as best we can. We really have to set our own holiday expectations aside to make these visits happen and still they are nail-biters: this year, we celebrated "our Christmas" on the morning of the 24th, then spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day driving, driving, driving. In addition to driving him to and from, we went to another county to pick up his brother and bring him for a visit. To be honest, these visits often leave us feeling a bit depleted. The relatives tell the boys how important it is to have them remain part of the family, and yet they never offer to do any of the driving, don't give the boys gifts, and often ignore the boys while they are there, even going so far as to not feed them. Our kid happens to be extremely self-aware and organized, so we can rely on him to stay in touch with us and help make things work (this year, we transferred money to his check card on Christmas Eve so he could get some food!). But it's stressful and very imperfect. Mostly we're relieved when the holidays are past! However, I do think it builds a great deal of trust between the foster/adoptive parent and the child when we involve ourselves in facilitating these visits without criticism or complaint.

  19. This was an issue for us this year, but in a different way. Our foster son was making a transition from our home to a fost/adopt home, plus he had visits with birth mom and dad separately. The kid had so much going on that it was overwhelming! Including visits from people who hadn't cared to visit in over a month and suddenly he's supposed to be grateful for a gift, as well as hug and kiss them? The holidays are stressful!

    I'm glad that you see this as falling into the foster parent's laps, because they are the ones who know the child's state of mind best, and rearrange their entire lives on a daily basis for the child. The holidays are no different. Hopefully in caring for the child the foster parents see the possible benefits for the child as well. Our two year old foster son only knew that he was getting presents every time he turned around, he didn't have a clue of the date.

  20. As a foster parent, I can offer my perspective. My husband and I make every effort to facilitate the court ordered twice aweek visits. We are both working adults and have spent many hours waiting on the bio mom to arrive late or not at all. Despite her unreliabliabilty and the fussiness of the baby after vistis, we do believe they are important. As foster parents we cannot travel out of state to visit our own family because the biomom will not sign any permision for her child. We can't take in state weekend trips because the visits interfere and we did not get a choice on the days of the week. It is extremely difficult to get a babysitter because the state classified the baby as medically complex. We are basicly under the control of the mother. Still, if she asked to see him Christmas day and we did not have alternative plans, I would agree. If I had family visiting, I however would only offer xmas eve or similiar. I might be more willing if she was reliable in her own visits but I would not want my family to have to sit around waiting and for it to disrupt their holiday. At some point, bio parents need to realize that we are welcoming their children into our families and not being paid as transportation agents for their children.

  21. I do believe that when children are not able to see their biological families on holidays, it is damaging.

    Even if the parent can't be trusted not to be drunk, high or nuts? Too many of these people want to have the illusion that they're good parents, even for an afternoon.


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