Transforming Foster Care

Transforming Foster Care: Quality Parenting Initiative

In June, I attended the National Foster Parent Association Conference and walked away from it with a new focus – advocating for and educating foster parents. I wrote a post about the importance of recruiting and retaining quality foster parents. And I promised to come back and share some things that our local agency is doing right – and that every foster parent should be asking their agency or county to implement.
I certainly didn’t plan to wait this long to revisit the issue, but such is my life.

First, a brief reminder:

Child welfare in Florida is privatized. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) subcontracts with a statewide network of Community-Based Care agencies (CBCs). My CBC, Community Partnership for Children (CPC), covers Volusia, Flagler, and Putnam counties in East Central Florida.

(if you’d like a more detailed explanation, you can find that here or here

Community Partnership for Children follows the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) model. We’ll go over specifics over the next few weeks and months. For now I want to give you a high-level overview and some general examples.

QPI is about ensuring that excellent out-of-home care is provided to children in the child welfare system by recruiting, educating, supporting and retaining quality foster families and kinship caregivers who are committed to providing the highest level of love, nurturing, advocacy and support to the children in their care.

QPI places some non-traditional requirements on foster and kinship families, but also provides for a higher level of support for and partnership with these families. Possibly the very best thing you can do to improve how foster families are viewed and treated in your area is to check into the Quality Parenting Initiative.

Under the QPI model, I am considered to be truly part of the team. I am not only entitled to notice of all hearings and staffings, I am expected to attend and I am encouraged to speak up and offer my insights.

Now, I am still the foster parent, so my thoughts don’t always carry the weight that I think they should, but I am ENTITLED to a seat at the table. I am considered to be a partner in ensuring the best outcomes for the children in my care. I am expected to be their advocate, and my opinion matters.

I am expected to treat any child in my home as though they were my own forever child. It is my responsibility to arrange medical and therapeutic treatment – and to transport my kids to their appointments and participate in treatment in whatever manner I would if the child were legally mine.

Some may view this as a double-edged sword. When we saw that Lil Bit was struggling with feeding, I asked my CM for a referral. She provided the referral and I scheduled and attended the evaluation. While some may find this inconvenient, it only makes sense – SuperDad and I are the ones parenting this child – who else would be able to provide the appropriate information to the evaluaters?? What would be the point of sending a non-verbal child to be evaluated for ANYTHING and not include input from the person or people who provide the majority of his care?

When we felt that he needed a speech therapy evaluation, I notified the CM that I was asking the doctor for a referral, scheduled and attended the evaluation and notified the CM of the results. When visitation was scheduled that would interfere with his therapy, I talked the CM about it and she and I are working together to resolve the conflict! 

Because I am viewed as a PARENT, rather than a babysitter, I am trusted to identify a need and arrange for it to be met.

On the other hand, when daycare called last week because Lil Bit had a rash that appeared to be spreading and needed to be picked up, it was my responsibility to leave work, pick him up and take him to the doctor. It was my responsibility to make arrangements for SuperDad to take off the next day in case Lil Bit couldn’t go back to daycare right away.

Because I am viewed as a PARENT, rather than a babysitter, it is my responsibility to make arrangements when daycare is closed for the holidays.

Full disclosure: Even under QPI, I have encountered case managers who don’t buy into foster parents being part of the team. I have spoken with foster parents who don’t feel that certain inconveniences should be their problem. However, it has been my experience that the more I am willing to accept the responsibilities of parenting, the more I am allowed the authority to parent.

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Hint:
It has recently come to my attention that not all of my readers can easily tell when I’m being sarcastic. That is truly unfortunate, so finding a solution was imperative. ^Obviously, the easiest answer is to assume that if something can be read with sarcasm, it should be;^; but that’s not really workable, I guess. After reviewing several options for a “sarcasm font”, I’ve come up up with my own system. Whenever you see italics inside carrots (^snark^), that is my “sarcasm font”.

The first steps in fixing the foster care system

  1. Treat good foster parents better
  2. Provide better training, resources and support to good foster parents

It seems that every time I turn on the news, there is another scandal about a child being mistreated – or ignored – in a foster home.

Or a family that was investigated, but the children were not removed from relatives who ultimately hurt them.
Both of these very real issues in the child welfare system can be addressed by recruiting and ***retaining*** quality foster families. Inferior foster homes are frequently allowed to keep their licenses – even when their agencies don’t consider them good placement options – because even counting the bad homes, there still aren’t enough foster beds – even with the people that are in it for the money, or for easy access to children – there are still children in group homes that shouldn’t be.

 

Disclaimer: Some children SHOULD be in group homes or residential facilities. Some children have been so traumatized that a family setting is not the best place for them. I’m not not talking about those kids. I’m talking about the ones who would likely thrive in a family environment if given the chance. The kids who don’t get that chance because there are no beds available in family settings.

I imagine that it’s very hard to justify closing a foster home when there is already an extreme shortage of beds.

The best way to eliminate the “bad” foster homes is to recruit and retain enough “good” homes so that closing a bad one won’t send kids to a shelter or group home.

Imagine being a child welfare investigator and having to make the decision between leaving a child in a questionable situation or sending them to a group home – possibly with kids who’ve already abused other children. 
 
Consider having to choose whether a child will be better off with an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother who forgets to feed them – or with the only open foster home in the area, where the father may or may not have behaved inappropriately with a previous foster child. How do you make that call? And if you really care about kids (which you do or you wouldn’t be in this field), how do you live with having to make that decision over and over?It’s fairly common knowledge within fostering circles – quality foster parents get soured on being abused by the system, great case workers and protective investigators get burnt out from being overloaded and having to choose between two evils day-in and day-out.I just read another article from a former foster child about how much harder it should be to become and remain a foster parent. Many states continue to increase the hoops foster parents have to jump through and most child welfare systems continue to treat foster parents as glorified babysitters, at best, and as self-centered-money-hungry-baby-snatchers, at worst.

Since I started blogging, I’ve come into contact with foster parents all over the country. I’m really glad that’s happened, because it has made me see just how good I have it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some bad experiences – a case manager that didn’t think I needed to know when she ^randomlypicked up my son at daycare for visits; a case manager who lied in court and coordinated with bio-mom’s attorney to accuse me of medical neglect (twice), two GALs who are incapable of looking at their calendars and repeatedly realize 3 days before court that they MUST see the child NO LATER THAN TOMORROW (^does 2pm today or 3:15pm tomorrow work better for me^) and forget that both SuperDad and I work full-time. 
 
My grandfather was an epic jackass. Seriously. The guy was the biggest jerk you’ll ever meet.
 
But that doesn’t mean he was always wrong. He always told me to find a way be part of the solution, rather than one of the masses just complaining about the problem. I won’t promise to stop being negative or snarky (^have you met me?^). But I do want to be part of the solution. (^hell, maybe I’ll even manage to convince the old asshat that I am worth something^) 
 
My CBC is on the forefront of changing the way foster care works. I know some of it (maybe all of it?) is based on the Quality Parenting Initiative, but I’m certain that the success with which it has been implemented, is due to the dedicated social workers and administrators who truly are committed to improving the lives of foster children and their families (both biological AND foster families!)
 
I’m going to be talking more about how we do things around here – in the hopes that maybe you’ll be able to take some of our processes to your agencies and work to improve foster care from the inside out.
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Hint:
It has recently come to my attention that not all of my readers can easily tell when I’m being sarcastic. That is truly unfortunate, so finding a solution was imperative. ^Obviously, the easiest answer is to assume that if something can be read with sarcasm, it should be;^; but that’s not really workable, I guess. After reviewing several options for a “sarcasm font”, I’ve come up up with my own system. Whenever you see italics inside carrots (^snark^), that is my “sarcasm font”.