I may have posted something along these lines before, but I’ve been at this blog awhile & this one bears repeating anyhow.
I have a few friends who are just starting on their fostering journey and I wish I could just give them all of the tips and tricks and things I learned through the years instantly. But, I don’t know how to do that. I figure, this post can help a bit though…
Often, as a foster parent, you are the one who sees the child the most. You’re the expert on the case. But, the courts and the case worker tend to forget this fact. They rely on the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem, or the lawyer for the child) to be the expert. The caseworkers are usually really good people who have a really tough job and have no way of truly knowing what’s going on with every.single.case. The problem becomes, “How do I get “the system” to pay attention and know my foster kiddo like I do?”
I know, for a fact, that I’ve blogged before about documenting. Document, document, document!! I had a nurse in class one time tell us, “if it’s not in the chart, it didn’t happen”… The same is true with foster care. If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Biological family visits are on the top of this list. If you’re local, you have the incident reports that I know and love to fill out… Here are the times that we used incident reports (only when dealing with visits):
- If the visit was canceled
- If the visit was moved to a different location
- If the parent aide was late
- If either of the parents were late
- If drop off was late
- If the child had behaviors when the visit started or when the parent aide came
- If we saw any unusual behavior after visits
- When there was a new lice outbreak after a visit
- If there were any new scratches or bruises after a visit
I will warn you, your caseworker likely won’t appreciate this many reports. Tough. It’s the report that you use to communicate these issues. Tell them that *I* told you you needed to document 🙂 After you file the incident report with your agency and the caseworker, make sure you that you keep track of the dates of these incident reports. I think it’s great to keep a calendar that has all of the foster care related stuff written on it, then you can use that calendar as a snapshot of what’s going on and can use it to fill out your monthly reports. Each agency handles their monthly reports a little differently, but it’s just good practice to have it all together.
Now that you’ve started documenting more, make sure that you’re there to insure that someone is reading those reports.
Go to court. Make sure you’re there every single hearing. Show up a little early and bring a few things with you–bring a recent photo of the child or children, bring an up-to-date summary of any incidents that have happened since the last court date. I like to e-mail *everything* then you have a little back-up proof just in case any of the lawyers act like you’re giving them new news. Try to chat with both the GAL and the caseworker before court. Give that photo of your kiddo to the GAL and ask that he or she give it to the judge to be included with the court documents. Having that little face looking at the judge is a massive reminder of why we’re all there in the first place.
Take notes while you’re in court. It can go quickly and be hard to understand. If you have the option, see if someone from your agency can go with you the first few times to translate. Make sure that you note the date and time of the next hearing. Also, make note of what the judge orders… If the judge orders that the bio-parent do something, it’s o.k. to ask your caseworker about progress. The caseworker might not share everything with you, but I found it never hurt to ask. I was always as diplomatic as possible and *always* polite, but I was the one in the trenches, I had a right to check up and make sure everyone else was following through. I learned to use that calendar… If the caseworker told me she’d take care of “X” I’d put a note on my calendar to ask her about it during the next home visit…
Court isn’t the only place you need to be! Get yourself to your FCRB’s. FCRB stands for Foster Care Review Board. If you’ve never been to an FCRB for your child go here. Get yourself on the mailing list and make sure that they know that the child is in your home. Sometimes when kids move, it takes the system too long to update and you’ll miss a review. You don’t want that to happen more than once. There are a few people that judges really listen to… the FCRB is one of them. You do not need anyone from your agency to go with you, but if they do attend, they can participate, too. The board will listen to your testimony as well as that from the caseworker, your agency, the biological family.. And then they’ll make a recommendation to the court. The court takes this recommendation over half of the time.
If you’re doing these things and following up, you’re doing what you can. Hopefully the courts will make the best decisions. Just be glad that you aren’t the one who has to make those calls. Watching a parent lose his or her rights to their child is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Driving with V the other day I started thinking about what his bio-mom has missed out on and I started crying. He is about the coolest 7 year old in the whole wide world, and she never gets to cuddle him, she never gets to hear his questions, she never gets to tickle him or look into his blue eyes. A parent losing there rights is a big deal. And there’s a reason that it takes the courts so long to get through the process. Each day that a foster kiddo stays in care, however, is chance for you to love him or her. It’s chance for them to see what a family should be and feel safe and loved. Even the kids that were only with us for a short time, left a huge impression on us… and we got to see, even in just months, how much they changed and grew and how much of an impact we had on them.
Parenting isn’t’ for the weak. Foster parenting is for the iron-man athletes of the parenting world.