If your foster care training was anything like mine it included a long
discussion lecture on how you are supposed to welcome the birth parents (and family) into your life with open arms. You are taught by your trainers to be open with birth family and be their best friend. They give glowing examples of relationships that include barbecues, picnics, sharing your phone number, and supervising visits that may or may not be expected to take place at your home. They make it sound idyllic, achievable to all and that anything less is outrageous.
I think it is outrageous that they teach this as being normal and always achievable. Even more outrageous is the pressure some trainers or caseworkers place on foster parents to do these things. Some people treat you as if you’re bad if you can’t achieve this. I’m here to tell you that all of those people are wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful when you can have a healthy relationship with birth family. I’ve had it happen so I know it is possible. I also know from experience that it can go completely the other way. The reality is you don’t know how crazy someone is going to get until they are losing everything. That’s what can happen when people lose their kids or aren’t getting what they want. The problem with what those trainers are teaching or what those caseworkers are pushing is that it leaves foster families and the kids they’re taking care of open to harm and or accusations.
I have experienced a case that involved some of the “craziest” people our case worker has ever seen and she has been doing this for over 20 years. This case involved false accusations, being accused of stealing children and a group of women who actively set out to make everyone hate me in the vain attempt to get the kids to go live with a relative who couldn’t pass a background check. Thankfully my case worker is awesome and saw through it all. This situation taught me a lot though. It gave me the opportunity to lay out safety rules for future cases. Some of these might seem extreme. They are my starting point, if all goes well some of them will be able to be removed over time. A key thing to remember is that you can always share more information about yourself later, but you can never go back.
1.Don’t give your personal information out to birth family.
This means your last name, phone number, address or email address. If you want the birth family to have a way to contact you that can be documented set up a separate email account for them. I would add that if your first name is uncommon that you use a middle name so its harder for them to find you. These are things that you can change in the future if people prove to be stable. In the mean time, do you really want to risk having to change your phone number, last name or move. All of those things have been done by foster parents for safety reasons.
2. Tell the caseworker that you are not sharing any of your personal or contact information with the birth family.
This includes any other state worker who has your information. Remind them that this includes your last name and make sure they know that if they send a group text that that would be sharing your information. This has happened to me so make sure they know you are counting on them to keep safety a top priority as they handle the case.
3. Don’t give your personal information to “professionals”.
I’m talking doctors, therapists, pharmacies, school teachers. They do their best to keep your information private, but sooner or later they will slip up. I’ve had it happen. Instead of communicating by phone communicate with them through that email you set up specifically for foster related things. If they insist on an address give them the address to DCFS. This is something my same caseworker told me to do. She also said not to sign my last name but to sign foster parent instead. There is one exception to sharing my phone number that I would make and that is for my kiddos teacher. This is because your kid is going to be there for hours upon hours. There is a good chance that they are going to need to call you sooner or later to let you know what is going on with your kiddo or that you need to come pick them up. For this I would give your phone number directly to your kiddos teacher. Ask them to keep the number in their phone and not write it down. That way they can shoot you a text if your sweetie lost his cookies all over the circle time rug.
4. Never be alone with birth family.
This is one that might bother your case worker. It’s necessary though. We had a relative that was allowed to have unsupervised visits with the kids. I only spoke to them for about 5 minuets at pick up and drop off. The relative went on to claim that I said all sorts of things I never said during those reoccurring 5 minuets. Yes, our awesome caseworker didn’t believe the relative, but the birth parent did, which caused problems.
5. Never supervise contact with birth family.
You never know what is going to happen during a visit or a phone call. If something goes wrong you are supposed to report it though. It is extremely possible that (and this has happened to me) the birth family (or their attorney) will claim that you are bias or that you are to unskilled to give a credible testimony. Do you really want to have the majority of testimony regarding the kids relationship with a person be yours? Even if this doesn’t happen there is still room for a lot of drama to take place if the relative isn’t stable.
Those are my five rules to help keep my family safe while we foster kids. If things go well some of those rules can be lifted, but please remember, you can always share more information about yourself later, but you can never go back.
Have a g’day,