Friday, May 28, 2010

"Foster Friday" - Foster Parental Rights

Being a foster parent is hard.  And any foster parent who tells you differently is either a liar or they're not doing it right. 

I'm not saying that to scare off potential foster parents.  As difficult as it can be, those kids are absolutely worth every second that you will spend pulling out your quickly-graying hair.  Everything from trying to track down pediatricians who accept Medicaid and who will actually see your child within the required amount of time to trying to update the 20 adults involved in your child's case to the monthly reports and paperwork to trying to advocate for your children without pissing off those other 20 adults, etc...  It's not easy.  But for me, by far the most difficult part of being a foster parent is that you really aren't a "parent" at all in the eyes of the law.

For me, the kids who come into my house become "mine" from the moment the enter the door.  But as a foster parent, you are reminded nearly every day that you have absolutely no rights when it comes to these kids.  Normal things that parents take for granted take an act of Congress for foster parents.  Little Bobby desperately needs a haircut...  Sorry.  You need to get written permission from the biological parents.  Planning a fun vacation?  You'd better fill out an application to get permission from the bio parents and court first.  Chances are, you're foster kids won't be allowed to participate and will have to go to respite care while you are gone.  I've had foster parent friends who were ordered by bio parents not to allow their children to ride bikes, to only give their infant chocolate milk, never ever, EVER give them medications, etc.  You do learn what you can and can't get away with.  I try to do what's best for the child without getting caught.  ;-)

CPS can come to your house and take these children to appointments that they set up whenever they want.  They can insist that your services are not needed at the appointment, but to be there when they get back.  They can require you to take children for evaluations, therapies, give them certain medications, etc. or they can insist that you stop the same things, even if you are certain your children need them.

For me, the fact that I am nothing more than the hired help is never more clear than when my children are moved from my home.  In some cases, you've raised these children for a year or more...  With infants, you've been the only parent they've ever known...  But as a foster parent, you are expected to hand them over with a smile on your face, turn off the love, and never look back. 

With Angel, she was moving to another foster home, but we were promised that we could still have close contact.  After she was moved, CPS backed out and started enforcing a "no contact" rule.  The one time I really "broke the rules" was a weekend when she called me, hysterical, because of some things that were happening.  There was no way that I was going to ignore her or not voice my concerns to her caseworker about that weekend's events.  Apparently, I should have kept my mouth shut because that one incident of expressing my concern began a month-long attack on me and complete and total nightmare.  I should have known better.  I had no rights when I was her foster parent.  I definitely had no rights after she was moved.  Nevermind the fact that she's 17 years old and about to age out of the system!

The day I lost the Booger Bear was the most obvious when it came to learning just how few rights I had.  I went to court that day having been told that CPS was getting an extension and that the Booger was going to be with me for at least another three months.  I should have known that something was up when no one at the courthouse so much as looked in my direction.  I was told 60 seconds before our case was called that the Booger (who was already scheduled to spent the afternoon with his dad that day for a visit) just wouldn't be coming home.  I stood there listening during the hearing as they praised everyone else involved in the case, and never once got a nod, a "thank you," or a concerned glance from anyone acknowledging that I had just lost the little boy who I had parented for almost a year.  I learned at that moment that the last time I would ever see that sweet little boy was that morning when I had dropped him off at daycare.  I asked if we could do the transition the next day, and they said that the didn't see any reason to drag it out.  I wasn't even given the opportunity to say "goodbye."  I had absolutely no rights.

Over the past year and a half, I've been very lucky to have "met" several online friends who started their fostering journey around the same time that I did.  And one of those friends is going through perhaps the most difficult experience that a foster parent can go through right now...  The complete and total inability to legally protect the child that she has been raising as her own from harm...

If I knew that my child was in danger, I would move Heaven and earth to keep them safe.  Deny access, fight anyone who crossed me, hide them, whatever it took...  But as a foster parent, we don't have that option.  We can voice our concerns, we can call everyone involved in the case, but in the end, the only thing we can do to help the child is to be there to try to repair the damage and heal their hurt after the damage is done.  I learned the hard way that by voicing my concerns too adamantly, you are viewed as a hindrance, and the caseworker will fight you every step of the way.  I've been told in all of my training that the goal of foster care is reunification.  But at what cost?!?  How do we keep these kids safe when we have absolutely no parental rights?  The helplessness...  The complete lack of control...  It's the most difficult thing in the world.

I suppose when it comes down to it, as foster parents, all we can do is our best.  We can love the children who are placed with us with all of our hearts, and we can do the very best that we can for them while they are with us, despite the limitations placed on us by the system.  Being a foster parent is hard, and at times it can seem like it's too much to handle.  But when you get a spontaneous hug from a child afraid of touch, a smile from a child who has never had anything to smile about, and see the small accomplishments of your children as they begin to blossom in your care...  It's worth it.

1 comment:

Leah W said...

i have had to come to a place where i am thankful for each day, one at a time. things have been horrible, yet, in the end, God did answer our prayers. who knows what the future will bring but i am so thankful for the next few days of knowing she is safe.

also, i do feel like over the past few days that we are getting looked at like we may be "coaching" her to say things or that we are a problem in this. it is a sad sad thing when a child tells you something horrible happened to them and apparently they don't really want you to report it because it is a pain for everyone else.

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