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Foster Shipwreck

May 11, 2010 permalink

An article by former California foster parent Karen Ball illustrates the frustration of not having meaningful authority to make parental decisions. While the social worker retains control over safety, medication, discipline, custody and education, the foster mom is restricted to trifles such as which color clothing to provide while being kept in the dark about the child's medical needs. On a ship, the captain has full authority and responsibility, and usually ships get safely to their destination. But in foster care, the separation of responsibility and authority makes failure likely.



Karen Ball: Foster parenting has high risks, low rewards

I read the article about the shortage of foster parents Tuesday, and as a former foster parent, I have a different idea about why this is happening.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect Wanda Lamb and foster parents. They are trying valiantly to do a job that is unappreciated and overregulated, leaves you open to great liability, has a social stigma, and has very little reward.

When you become a foster parent, you think you are going to be a part of a team that is to do good for your community. You jump through unbelievable amounts of red tape and go through endless, mostly useless “training.” And then, you are all alone. Your motives, frustrations and attempts to parent are under constant scrutiny — usually by a worker who has never raised a child and has no clue about being a parent.

Your house is converted into an institution. No matter the age of your foster children, your house will be baby-proofed at all times: locks on cabinets, alarms on doors, caps on electrical outlets, fences around pools — if you are even allowed to keep yours — medications under lock and key including vitamins and cold medicine. And you think, “OK, I understand they want it safe,” and you try.

But they are not finished. No, then they inform you of all the ways you cannot discipline the children, and these children come to you from homes that have had no structure or discipline in the first place. They are not well adjusted: They are broken, depressed, sad children who are further traumatized with scheduled visits where you go and wait for parents who never show up and then you go home and hold them while they cry and wonder, “Where is mommy?”

Social Services offers pie-in-the-sky parenting techniques that do not work unless the children are heavily medicated. They insist on being in charge of their medical regimes, including giving antipsychotic drugs that you may feel are not only unnecessary but harmful. They basically strip you of every decision a real parent would make, give you no authority and make sure the children know they don’t have to stay with you if they don’t want to.

There is no effort made to back a foster parent or to encourage a child to make things work, so if you tell your 16-year-old that she cannot have her boyfriend over because she did not do her homework, was disrespectful and hurt another child, all she has to do is call her worker and say, “They are not feeding me!” Forget that it is not true: They are picked up at school the next day and you are faxed a list of their belongings, which is laughable because they came with nothing.

Or maybe the child is even more vindictive and accuses you of abuse. You are guilty until proven innocent and I know of innocent people who were wrongfully accused. You are not part of the team, you are a necessary evil. Your neighbors resent you. Your community thinks you are doing it for the money — what a joke! The staff at the doctors’ offices look down at you when you present the Medi-Cal card because you don’t look like you should be on welfare. You get less than the welfare the mother was getting and you have to replace everything they lost or most likely never had: clothes, toys, furniture, experiences.

You have to take them to counseling and therapy, and help them catch up in everything because they have been neglected in every way. I know of one lovely woman who took in a sickly child for respite care. The child collapsed and horrifically died. She was not told that he needed puréed food. She was not told that his organs were reversed so when she attempted CPR it was ineffective. She called 911 and went with him to the hospital, and then he was shipped to Davis and she worried and agonized over this child. Several weeks later, she learned he had choked on an apple. Then she was sued for wrongful death by a woman who abused her child and most likely did drugs while pregnant.

So why would anyone do it? Even the most altruistic people would be crazy to subject themselves to this. I revere current foster parents, and I fear for them. Their lives are given over to the authority of children who are starved for attention and don’t know how to get it in a normal way. They have no recourse in the event of conflict, and no support. Social Services leads them to believe that all the training is for their support: It is just CYA so that the foster parents are liable and vulnerable.

It’s a joke to call them foster parents because they are not allowed to be parents. But they put their hearts out there and they love these children as much as the children will let them and they get hurt. It is a very high-risk job with less than minimum wage pay and no benefits, huge emotional stress, great liability and the likelihood of loss. There is your problem.

Karen Ball, a former foster parent, lives in Redding.

Source: Redding Record Searchlight