What to do if your kids are placed in foster care

I was hanging out at my sister’s house when a friend called frantically. Child Protective Services had taken her children and placed them into foster care.

Since I’ve been a foster mom to 10 kids, they asked me my advice. And I’m sharing it for any other parent who is going through this very painful and scary experience.


Always remember that you want your kids back. This seems stupidly obvious, but you need to make getting your kids back your top priority and tell yourself over and over that you will do whatever it takes to have them living with you again, even all the things that you totally disagree with.

Here’s the top five things to do next:

1. Don’t do anything drastic
Parents are understandably very upset when their children are placed into care. It can be very tempting to let your emotions go crazy and do things you might regret later. You may want to scream at the social worker. You may feel so bad you just want to get drunk or high to make the bad feeling go away. You may have been struggling with depression or other mental illness and be tempted to stop taking your meds or attempt suicide.

Don’t. There is hope.

2. Go to every visit

Judges and social workers will look at how regularly you attended visits with your children. If you go to all or nearly all, this is evidence that you care and are trying to be a responsible parent. This is completely within your control, so go to every visit.

Some people may want to see their kids, but don’t feel motivated to go to the visits. It can be hard to be reunited only to have to say goodbye again. If you feel guilty, you may feel this more intensely when your kids ask to come home with you and you have to explain why they can’t. It may feel awkward to hang out with your kids when a social worker is present, observing your interactions. The process for getting your kids back can see unnecessarily bureaucratic and long, tempting you to give up. Don’t. Stick with it and go to every visit.

3. Express desire to get your kids back

It may seem very obvious to you that you want your kids back, but it may not be obvious to others. Tell the judge, social workers, lawyers, CASA (if one is assigned to your case), and foster parents that you want your children living with you again. Tell them about your concerns regarding the impact of living apart.

4. Do the things the judge says must be done.

The authorities will write a plan that lists the conditions which must be met in order for you to get your kids back. Ask to see this plan and make sure you understand what you need to do. Then do those things.

Psychological evaluations and substance abuse evaluations are common first steps. Some people don’t like to go through testing, especially if they don’t believe they have any mental health or drug/alcohol problems. Do them any way.

If you don’t do them, the authorities will think you are hiding something. If you do take the tests, it will show your willingness to do whatever it takes to get your kids back.

Your plan may also include parenting classes, therapy, anger management classes, or various treatments for mental illness, substance abuse, sexual abusing, etc.

I have seen cases where social workers and therapists didn’t think parents would be able to get their children back, and then parents worked really hard to do every item in their plan. They made positive changes in their lives and were successful in reuniting their family.

That could be you. You could be the parent that does whatever it takes and gets your kids back.

5. Ask relatives to raise your kids temporarily

Many parents feel uncomfortable having strangers raising their kids. This is 100% understandable.

You can ask relatives or close friends to act as foster parents while you work on meeting the requirements of your plan. They may need to take foster parent training.

Some people would prefer that family or friends not foster their children as they worry this may complicate their relationships. That’s ok, too.

However, if you do want someone you know to help out, it’s best to ask early as the vetting and training may take several months.

6. Befriend the foster parents

If you have non-related foster parents for your children, try to get to know them and have a positive relationship with them.

Some people may disagree with how the foster family is temporarily raising their children, wonder if the foster parents will judge them, or worry that they need to compete for their children’s affection.

However, keep in mind that foster parents want to help the parents and their children have healthy relationships and live together. This is why they became foster parents. Give them a chance.

When you befriend the foster parents, they are more likely to go the extra mile to help you stay connected with your kids and help you navigate the foster care system. You can ask them to send photos, facilitate phone calls/skype/email, or make reasonable changes to their parenting style. (Examples of reasonable changes could be how they dress your children, how they ensure your kids follow your religious beliefs, etc.).

If you are going through a hard time right now, my heart goes out to you. I hope whatever caused Child Protective Services to remove your children is resolved and you and your children can live together again soon.

Are You Somebody?

Have you ever read one of those stories about the toddler who was critically dehydrated after being left alone in a crib for days, crying while her mother got high?  Or the one about the eight year old boy who was hospitalized after being beaten by his father with a baseball bat?  Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

Did you find yourself outraged after reading a story about a child being taken from their family on trumped up charges?   Did you wonder why someone doesn’t help grown ups deal with addiction or mental illness so that their children could live safely with them?

What about that story about how the foster care system is filled with cold, uncaring social workers who lose track of where children are placed? Or about the greedy foster parents who spend the foster stipend money on themselves while feeding the kids just once a day? Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

I read these stories.  I was outraged.  I thought somebody should do something.  Then, I realized that I am somebody.  I became a foster parent.  A good one (or least to the best of my ability).  I love the children, care for them, advocate for them at their schools or therapist’s office or in the courts.  I advocate for their biological parents, too, helping them get their voices heard, their needs met, and have a real chance at getting their children back.  I volunteer to help out the foster care agency and help train new foster parents.

You could do this, too.  All you have to do is Be Somebody.

If you want child abuse to end.  If you want families going through hard times to be given a fair chance.  If you want the “system” to work as well as it can.

All you have to do is Be Somebody, the somebody who steps forward to be a foster parent.


This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up on the topic of foster care / adoption memes.  Check out the link for other great voices on foster care and adoption!

You (yes you!) CAN Parent an Abused Child

How do you parent a physically abused child?  Cute-as-a-button, 8-year-old Watchful has had a tough week, and I thought I’d share how we dealt with abuse-related behavior that came up to give you a sense of just how “doable” foster parenting can be.

Scenario:  Fear of Playing Outside

Last Saturday, we told all four kids it was time to play outside since it was a beautiful, sunny day.  Silent One, Sassy, and Joyful all ran out and began pulling out sidewalk chalk, bikes, and a kick ball.  Watchful lingered behind, begging to stay inside.  Since we could tell he was stressed, we opened up the garage door and said Watchful could play in the garage (hubby’s man cave occupies half of the space, so there’s room to play).  We stayed nearby.  At first, Watchful did ok, but then he hid and began to cry.  Time to take him inside.  He was too upset to talk, so we waited until later when he was calm.  When he could talk, he explained that he felt like he was going to pass out and die when we asked him to play outside.  Ah ha – diagnosis panic attack.  We discussed things he could do next time he had a panic attack.

Parenting Techniques:

Here are the parenting techniques broken out into individual pieces so you can see what steps to take for any similar situation.

1)  Expose to healthy activities.  When we asked Watchful to play outside, we were encouraging physical exercise and social interaction.

2)  Modify “normal” activities as needed.  When Watchful had a hard time being outside, we modified outdoor play to mean in the garage, which is close to the desired behavior, but scaled back to make it easier on him (i.e. “baby steps” in the right direction).

3)  Be present during hard times.  We stayed in the garage with Watchful, because his emotions were heightened.  Feeling big emotions can mean a bumpy road ahead, so sticking around can help calm a child.  Being present also positions parents to be there when needed.

4)  Remove from trigger.  Abused children can have triggers that remind them of past scary events.  To find triggers, look for heightened emotional states (crying, hiding, lying, hitting, etc.) which are a kid’s signal that something big is going on inside them.  What happened right before the behavior?  That’s the likely trigger.  Remove the trigger to help the child calm down.  We could see that even being in the garage was too much for Watchful, so we took him inside.

5)  Talk when they can hear.  Kids in the middle of big emotions cannot process information well.  Help them calm down before trying to figure out what’s really going on.  One of the best ways to calm a child is to be calm yourself.  Your peaceful attitude is contagious and reassures them that everything is going to be ok.  You may need to wait minutes or hours.  We waited seven hours until Watchful was fully back in control of himself.

6)  Diagnose.   When a kiddo is calm, ask them to describe how they felt.  I asked Watchful was his heart pounding, did his tummy hurt, etc. to get a sense of what was happening with his body.  I asked about what he was thinking or doing right before these symptoms happened.  From his physical description of “feeling like he was going to pass out and die” when he walked outside, I could tell this was a panic attack.

7)  Label.  Traumatized kids may not be able to identify their feelings well.  Sometimes it’s because of their developmental stage or because the feeling is so overwhelming.  Other times, it’s because their abusers told them not to feel scared/angry/sad.  Or  because what the kids feel is too painful.  Or because kids had to “numb” their feelings in order to hide the abuse.   When asked what he thought happened, Watchful self-diagnosed his problem as “being bored.”  By careful questioning, I was able to let him know that what he was describing sounded more like scared than bored.  This labeling of the feeling is important, so a child understands himself better and can better communicate to caring adults about what’s going on inside them.  Now, Watchful will be more likely to understand that when his heart pounds and he feels like he’s going to pass out and die, that what he is feeling is scared.

8)  Validating.  Since abused kids sometimes are not sure if it’s ok to feel the way they do, it’s important to validate their emotions.   I told Watchful that being scared can be overwhelming, but it is ok to sometimes feel that way.

9)  Give coping skills.  The last thing I did was give Watchful ideas for what he can do the next time he feels that way.  He can go to a trusted adult like a foster parent or a teacher.  He can put on a hoodie and block out everything going on by pulling the hood over his face.  He can distract himself with a favorite toy.  This way he feels like he has some control over the feelings, rather than the feelings controlling him.

Writing this post took me longer than the actual parenting interaction.  It took two minutes to realize Watchful was being triggered, a few minutes to get him inside and playing a video game to calm down, and once he was ready to talk, about 10 minutes of talking.

See?  You can TOTALLY do this!