Allegations against foster parents are common. They come from everywhere and nowhere, often as a surprise. No one warned you that this was likely. Someone calls in to say that you spanked your child. The child may have told her teacher that you touched him “improperly” during a bath. The birth mother charges that you left her child alone or locked him in his room. The caseworker may even charge you with neglect for failing to keep a doctor’s appointment.
In order to encourage the reporting of abuse, the accuser is granted anonymity. Consequently, you cannot confront your accuser directly. Even further, in an effort to assure the safety of the child, minimal proof may be accepted. Hearsay is allowed. The standard is sometimes defined simply as “credible.” This presents a problem because even the word of a four-year-old or the word of the biological mom who is a drug addict and looking for someone to blame may appear believable to the caseworker.
You became a foster parent because of a worthy desire to help children in need. When charged with neglect or abuse, you are hurt. It seems so unfair. No good deed goes unpunished. You want to give up.
But don’t give up without a fight. Even an unsubstantiated charge may remain on your record and resurface later in a different venue to cause problems. Insist that the charges be properly evaluated, even if you wish to stop fostering, Otherwise the complaint will likely remain on your foster care record, resurfacing later in another area. People have lost jobs as a therapist, a school bus driver, coach, and as a scout leader because of questions raised by unexamined charges.
You are facing charges on loose rules of evidence with minimal levels of due process. What ought you to do to defend yourself? Here are four suggestions:
- Get the specific charge in writing. What happened? Who is being accused? Who witnessed the event(s)?
- Write everything down and date your note. State your understanding of the incident. What those involved did and said. What you did and said.
- No matter how angry or hurt you may feel, stay with it. Do everything possible to assure that you are fully heard and that the allegations against you are properly addressed and hopefully unsubstantiated.
- Consult with an attorney familiar with child welfare policy in your state.
In any truly important effort, you will face obstacles. Some of these obstacles will be unwarranted and unfair, even mean-spirited. Other involved parties may try to use you as a scapegoat.
Remember why you became a foster parent. You wanted to share your love and home with troubled children. Get out of foster care if you must to protect yourself. Otherwise, thicken your skin against the accusations, deal with them as needed, and pat yourself on the back for doing a difficult and worthwhile task.