Where are the foster children?

The beds aren’t made. If these were my children’s beds or my own, this would truly be non-news. But these are the beds for future foster children.

And the house isn’t clean. There’s clutter everywhere, dishes in the sink, and laundry to be done. Prior to becoming a foster family, this wouldn’t have been news either.

Yet, these unkempt beds make me worried. Typically, the beds are always made with fresh white sheets, in case a social worker calls and asks us to welcome foster children into our home with very little advanced notice.

And the house is usually clean so that a social worker, or guardian ad litem (GAL) or court appointed special advocate (CASA) can visit at any point and I don’t feel embarrassed by the state of my home.

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I’m in no rush to make the beds or clean the house, because we won’t be welcoming kids to our home until August at the earliest. Although we’ve been open for new long-term placements for several months, we’ve only been officially contacted once and that child went to another foster family. And soon we’ll be going on vacation, so we would need to turn down placements until after we get back. So messy beds, messy house.

This long wait isn’t just a phenomena experienced by our family. And that’s what’s got me worried.

The number of children being brought into foster care has gone down dramatically in our county. Why? If the reason for this decrease is because the county is doing a better job of fixing what’s wrong with a family without removing kids, great. That’s awesome. I love it.

The rumor, though, is that there’s a new supervisor who is all about reducing the caseload. That he is directing staff to keep children in abusive or neglectful situations that would have previously resulted in a removal. Initially, I ignored this rumor, because, rumors are often wrong.

But then I learned of a case where a child was being sexually abused and originally the social workers were leaving the child in the home with the abuser, but with in-home services to “fix” the problem. Then the child ran away and the county brought the child into care.

Was there doubt if the child was truly being abused and that’s why she was left in the home with the abuser? Does the county feel that there is an effective treatment protocol wherein sex offenders and victims live together? Or is this the work of the supervisor who is making it extra hard to bring a child into care?

Roughly 88 children could be expected to enter into care each month in my country*. And yet, I know many foster parents whose homes have been empty for months and months. It wasn’t always like this. The numbers dropped off dramatically about nine months ago.

I pray that this change is because children are being helped in another, effective way.


 

* Wonder how I reached this number? Approximately 00.357% of American children enter foster care each year (yes, well below 1%), according to the 2010 census and the 2014 AFCARS report on U.S. foster care statistics. I used this national average and applied it to the number of children in my county. My county’s average intake could be higher or lower, but it shouldn’t deviate that dramatically from the national average.

Foster care and line of sight supervision

Two boys in foster care just visited our home to help prepare them to stay with us in about a week.  Harry Potter, age 6, and his little brother, Explorer, age 5, are pretty gosh darn adorable… and overflowing with energy!

These sweet boys have lived in four – yes four! – foster homes since they came into care just six months ago.  I’m sure their excessive energy, tantrums, and other behaviors have been challenging, but my guess is that the need for constant, line-of-sight supervision is what really tired out the foster parents.  We’re super happy that the current foster family has asked us to do respite so that they can re-charge their batteries and continue on with the placement.  These boys need stability in their lives!

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Children can need line-of-sight supervision for a variety of reasons.  They may get rowdy and knock over lamps, use the couch as a trampoline, and accidentally launch projectiles at the tv – in other words they have not yet developed safe indoor playing skills.  When toddlers engage in this behavior, it’s age appropriate and fairly easy to redirect.  My friend who has an older, developmentally-delayed son who gets too exuberant says she feels like they are always five minutes from an emergency room visit.  Whew!  Imagine constantly being on edge, feeling disaster is lurking just out of sight.

Other children need help with social skills and need adult intervention to help them have good interactions with other kids.  They might be prone to fighting or hitting or saying mean things when they get irritated.  As foster parents, our job is to see when a child is beginning to become agitated and either help them calm down, think through their actions, or remove them from situations.

Another reason for line-of-sight parenting is sexualized behavior, which can occur if a child has been sexually abused and hasn’t yet learned the rules of appropriate sexual behavior for children.  Children may masturbate or try to touch other children.  A child who is masturbating can be given a choice of going to their room as sexual self-touching is a private activity or the child can play in the living room without touching their privates.  A child who tries to touch another child is reminded to keep their hands to themselves.  The trick is to not shame them while ensuring no other kids are touched in appropriately.

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When we are parenting kids who need line-of-sight supervision, we use a tag team approach.  My hubby, teenaged kids, and I take turns watching the little ones and ensure the adults get some down time.  Why?  Frazzled parents have a harder time keeping calm and being a good role model.  We never have our teens watch more than one, and usually only if we’re near by.  For example, 15-year-old Savvy might do a craft project with a child while I prepare dinner.  If an issue comes up, I can easily intervene.  Such a method teaches the teens how to interact with others without putting too much responsibility on their shoulders.  At the same time, the little ones see a “cool,” older kid practicing good behavior and they naturally want to emulate them.