The Foster Child
Excerpted from "A Guide to
Understanding Where Foster Children Come From and Where They are Going"
DSS Publication 435 [Rev. 4-95]
Foster care is part of a process that leads to a permanent home for the child. All children need and want a family that will be theirs forever. If it happens that the child must be removed from the birth parents, that child begins a journey with several stops along the way. One of the most important stops that the child will make will be to come into your care. The child will enter your life in a time of crisis. Each child will be different. Each child will come with complex problems.
Return Home to Birth Parents
The majority of children in foster care are temporary court wards. This means that the court has something to say about the child's future but the birth parents still have legal rights.
You may think that the foster child would want to leave his birth parents, especially if there has been neglect or abuse. This is not usually the case. No matter how painful the experiences which led to putting the child in foster care, he will almost always want to return to the birth parents. This is because the emotional bond between a parent and a child is very strong.
Since it is most often the child's desire to return home, the caseworker will do everything possible to help the birth parents correct the problems that caused the child to be placed in foster care. However, some parents' problems are so great that they may never be able to care for their child again. When the judge is convinced that return to the birth parents is not possible, he/she will end the parents' legal rights to their child. This means that the child become a permanent ward.
If the child is a permanent ward, the goal is adoption. When a child is ten years of age or older, he must agree to his own adoption. Sometimes a child chooses not to be adopted. If this happens, the caseworker will work out another plan, with your input.
It is the responsibility of the foster parent to work together with the caseworker to help the child achieve a permanent home.
Understanding Your Foster Child
Foster parents may think that the child will automatically become happy and well-adjusted after being placed in their home. It's natural to expect this from the child. However, it doesn't usually happen like that, at least not right away. It can be a very frightening experience for a child to be taken to live in a strange home, not knowing how long he will be there, whey he is there, and what is happening to his parents. These are some big hurdles that the child must overcome before he can feel secure in his new home.
No matter what others think of the pain the child has experienced, it is the separation from his parents that is the most painful for him. The only life the child knows was experienced with the birth parents. Through them, he has learned who he is. Leaving them means leaving behind his identity. In his heart, the child fears that his parents are forever lost to him. He will grieve for them as if they had died.
The child may not be able to tell you in words that he is grieving. You will need to look for signs in his actions. For example, he may be so saddened that he won't eat or he eats too much. The child may also wet his bed, have nightmares, mope about, show a general lack of interest in things or have sudden bursts of anger. Separation causes such extreme feelings in the child because there is a bond with the birth parents that is much more than a "feeling" of love. A child's home is his world.
When the child comes into your care, he may not be able to tell you his deepest feelings about his parents. You can be sure, though that he thinks about them and may even daydream about returning to them. Maybe he blames himself for the separation. He's also apt to feel very insecure about his future if he has been in more than one foster home or has seen other foster children come and go.
Learning to trust adults is also a problem. Children in foster care have usually known inconsistent care and kindness. They come to expect that it will always be this way. They may not know how to receive your affection or attention. Or, they are afraid that if they do respond they will be hurt again by having the affection withdrawn. The child may even see you as a combination of all the adults who have hurt or rejected him in the past.
The child has many ways of saying, "I'm afraid" -- afraid to trust, to care, to receive love. Very likely he sees himself as alone in an uncaring world. Your understanding and gentle discipline can help him overcome his fears and cross that bridge into the future where a permanent home and family are waiting.
What is the Caseworker Doing?
While you're busy caring for your foster child, your caseworker is involved with many different activities. He must develop a case plan that involves foster parents, court, attorneys, relatives, friends, doctors and counselors. Since the goal for the child is a permanent home, the worker is preparing him to either return home or be adopted. The case plan will determine which course of action your caseworker will follow:
When the Plan is to Return Home
a. Work with the Birth Family
When the plan is to return home, the worker is often very involved with the child's birth parents. Together they are working on the problems that made it necessary for the child to be removed from the home. Some examples of the activities that the worker and birth parents might be involved in are:
b. Preparation for Court
Because the worker is involved with the birth parents, he or she is the best person to provide information to the court on the progress of the case. It is very often the recommendation of the worker that determines the court decision.
When the Plan is Adoption
When it is decided to seek adoption for the child, another caseworker will be brought in. The foster care worker will still be involved but only in those services related to foster care. However, the adoption worker will be responsible for all aspects of the adoption.
The adoption process may go quickly or it may take a long time. The length of time depends on such things as availability of an adoptive family, the child's special needs or background (i.e., age, part of sibling group, etc.).
THE FOSTER PARENT
Foster parents are one of the most important elements in the child's journey to permanency. This is because they are closest to the child and can directly influence his attitude and actions.
What a Plan of Return Home Means
to the Foster Parent
It is vital that the foster parents support the plan to return the child to his birth parents. This may seem hard at first because the child has suffered abuse or neglect. It should be remembered, however, that the birth parent is also suffering. They may be feeling guilt, anger, depression or helplessness. The birth parents are often themselves victims of abuse or neglect from their parents. Their poor parenting is often a part of a never-ending cycle of inadequacy and suffering that must be broken. The best way to do this is to help them become worthwhile parents.
The relationship between the foster parents and the birth parents is especially important. If the child sees that both families are able to communicate, it helps him to feel more secure and hastens the healing process. It also frees the child from having to choose between two sets of parents for affection.
The birth parents need to be encouraged in their efforts to become better parents. However, each family may have certain notions about the other. The birth parents may see the foster parents as representing they agency who took their child away. Or, they may resent the foster parents because they are a constant reminder of their own failure as parents. However, birth parents may appreciate the care foster parents are giving their children.
On the other hand, the foster parents may see the birth parents as not loving the child or being irresponsible. They may feel that because the situation wasn't the best for the child, he should be taken from the home permanently. It is seldom that the birth parents do not feel love for their child. It is their parenting skills which may be inadequate, not their capacity to love.
There are many things foster parents can do to help the birth parents build better parenting skills. Every chance to involve the parents gives them dignity and brings them closer to becoming a family again.
Birth Parent Visits
If the plan for the child is to return home, the social worker will be encouraging the birth parents to visit their child regularly. These visits are essential to rebuild and strengthen the parent-child relationship. The social worker will discuss the visitation schedule with the foster parent prior to visits. Visits will reassure the child that their birth parents have not died or abandoned them. They will also give the child the opportunity to see that their parents are working towards the goal of reunification.
Sometimes foster parents have the opinion that the visits are not good for the child, especially if the child is upset after a visit or the birth parent is late, or if a birth parent dresses or acts in a way that bothers the foster parents. It is normal for foster parents to have this reaction since they feel protective towards the child. However, it is necessary to look beyond appearances and minor behaviors and respect the bond between the birth parents and the child.
Foster Parent Responsibilities
What is Bandele?
In 1992, over 800 African American school-age children, primarily males, were awaiting permanent families in Metropolitan Detroit.
In response to this overwhelming need, Spaulding for Children, a child welfare agency which places children with special needs in permanent families, sought a two year Adoption Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the fall of 1992, the grant was awarded and the African American Community Adoption Campaign for Boys was established.
A unique feature of this campaign was the creation of a collaborative project uniting the driving force of the African American community -- its churches -- with Detroit area child welfare agencies.
In March, 1993 the African American Community Adoption Campaign for Boys was renamed Bandele, an African male name, the translation of which is "follow me home." It was also at this time that the African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child" was adopted by the church participants as the Bandele guiding principle.
In April 1995, Spaulding was awarded a four year grant from the Skillman Foundation to expand and refine the Bandele Project. Currently, there are nine churches and 11 child welfare agencies united in the work of finding, training and supporting families to adopt, foster and otherwise provide permanency and an emotionally healing environment for children not born to them.
Bandele is much more than a recruitment project, though. Training is provided for parents in the church communities and is open to those families involved in potentially stressful parenting situations, i.e., grandparents, stepparents, adopters, foster families and others.
Bandele is a cooperative partnership between churches and child welfare agencies. The partnering churches are Calvary Baptist Fellowhsip Chapel, Hartford Memorial Baptist, Hope United Methodist, Kadesh Baptist, Metropolitan Church of God, Oak Grove AME, Perfecting Church, and Tabernacle Baptist Church. The partnering agencies are Ennis Center for Children, Evergreen Children's Service, Judson Center, Lutheran Adoption Service, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, Methodist Children's Home Society, Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, St. Francis Family Services, St. Vincent & Sarah Fisher Center, Spectrum Human Services, Teen Ranch, and Wayne County FIA. Its mission is to create and sustain supportive church communities within Metro Detroit to benefit children who need families, and the families that come forward to raise them.
To obtain additional information regarding Bandele please call (810) 443-0300 or write to Bandele, 16250 Northland Dr., Suite 100, Southfield, Michigan, 48075.
Building your child's confidence and feelings of worth
Encouragement is the process of focusing on your children's assets and strengths in order to build their self-confidence and feelings of worth.
Focus on what is good about the child or the situation. See the positive.
Accept your children as they are. Don't make your love and acceptance dependent on their behavior.
Have faith in your children so they can come to believe in themselves.
Respect your children. It will lay the foundation of their self-respect.
Praise is reserved for things well done. It implies a spirit of completion. Encouragement is given for effort or improvement. It implies a spirit of cooperation.
The most powerful forces in human relationships are expectations. We can influence a person's behavior by changing our expectations of the person.
Lack of faith in children helps them to anticipate failure.
Standards that are too high invite failure and discouragement.
Avoid using discouraging words or actions.
Avoid tacking qualifiers to your words of enouragement. Don't "give with one hand and take away with the other."