“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed persons can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead, anthropologist
Take note, foster parents. As solitary families, your chances of being heard within the system are likely nonexistent. But if you come together in small groups, you can provide one another with the support needed.
Stop accepting a position as low man on the totem pole. Look to other foster parents to provide basic information and support. Quit relying totally on your caseworker to answer all your questions and meet all your needs. You have the power if you work together and help one another.
Don’t wait for an agency to get you started. Most small groups begin with one motivated family. Contact your fellows until you have a small group of no more than ten foster families. Find some way or someplace to meet at least monthly. If personal meetings cannot be arranged, use group messaging on the internet.
Here are a few of the things we foster parents can offer one another.
We all need a knowledgeable friend for those moments when, despite our best intentions and efforts, difficulties multiply. Our foster child hoards food and steals from us. He gets in trouble at school. She lies. They respond with belligerence. Or are totally non-communicative. We get discouraged. What’s the use?
That’s when we need someone who has been there to encourage us to hang in there. Tell us we need to see this through. To reawaken our idealism and remind us why we became foster parents in the first place.
Everyone needs a break. Perhaps a night out. Or a weekend getaway. Another licensed foster family can fill in and allow us the chance to refresh ourselves.
A voice at case conferences and in court
Too often, despite day-to-day knowledge and personal concern, our information and suggestions go unheard. We may not even be notified of those hearings where important decisions are being made about the child under our care. Our plea for a voice is ignored.
Band together and insist on the right to be heard. Amplify your solitary voice. There is power in numbers. That’s where a small group can make a difference. Together, you can insist on the right to be notified of all hearings, the right to be present, and the right to present oral and written testimony. Accompany one another to important hearings and to court.
Foster parents face them regularly, often from birth parents. Too often, the charges depend solely on hearsay yet they can have serious consequences if not addressed promptly. Find out if they have been “substantiated.” Rely on your fellow foster parents for practical advice on how to proceed.
Finding a knowledgeable attorney
The foster care system is complex. Legal consultation is important if you are facing allegations. Adoption from foster care requires multiple steps. Many foster parents adopt with minimal knowledge of all the post-adoption subsidies available. Check with your fellow foster parents for a good recommendation.
Foster children have been damaged and may require a different style of discipline. You are not permitted to use physical punishment. How do you handle stealing and lying and confrontational behavior? What works? No one is better qualified to give practical advice than someone who has been there.
Foster parenting is a tough and demanding job. We will do better with the support of our fellows. Experienced foster parents have much to offer one another.