If a trained, licensed foster parent quits – it is a tragedy for all involved. Particularly the child who needs to now move to another foster home. We have all seen TV images of foster kids moving from from one home to another with their meagre belongings in a garbage bag. It is those heartbreaking images that motivates us at StartFosterCare.org to try and find the right foster parents and match them with the right foster care agencies.
We will be putting out a detailed post on why we should think of Foster Parents as volunteers. Note that the stipend paid is for the child and is not income for the foster parents and so no state or federal taxes apply.Meanwhile see: Melissa Hardesty,. “It’s not a job!” Foster care board payments and the logic of the profiteering parent.” Social Service Review 92.1 (2018): 93-133.
We studied the research on why foster parents quit. We also reflected on what we have learnt working with foster care agencies in the recruitment of prospective foster parents:
Foster Care Professionals are always under pressure: Whether you are a Government manager or a Foster Care Agency person you have a lot of distributed moving parts (human beings!) to manage. Since the public feels so strongly about children you can be sure that someone will complain to the State Governor for the slightest problem.
Foster Care as an interorganizational system: In a sense the link between the State Government- Foster Agency-Foster Parent reminds us of industrial networks with Tier 1 and Tier 2 Suppliers. [ Clarification: We are not trivializing the huge challenges of managing the foster care system.This post attempts to apply inter-organizational theory from industrial domains to human services. We appreciate that human services are more complex than industrial services. However, organizations do share similarities across industries. Please see the Business-to-Business/Supply Chain sections in the StratoServe blog. ].
Tier 1 ,Tier 2, Tier 3 Relationships: If Tier 1 is the State Government Department of Children and Families (along with the Family Court and Legal system) then Tier 2 is the Foster Care Agency and Tier 3 is the Foster Parent. An example from the Defence industry in Connecticut will make the idea clearer. For Sea Defence the US Navy decides that they need a new submarine. The DoD (Tier 1) has the budget (approved by Congress) to buy a submarine. They contract with General Dynamics (Tier 2) to build a submarine that might take years to manufacture. General Dynamics has a whole bunch of parts suppliers (Tier 3 sub contractors ) who might have a whole bunch of Tier 4 suppliers that provide some component to the part to Tier 3 suppliers, as subcontractor. However, the quality of a part supplied can be precisely measured before payments flow down the chain. If the part fails on quality or timeliness, the supplier can be fired.
In human services, failure occurs if the foster parent quits. If the Tier 3 or Tier 4 supplier for a submarine quits it’s a minor problem. Normally there are several suppliers who supply the same part and they can generally pick up the load. The submarine or other component parts don’t feel devastated.! The US Navy is happy so long the submarine gets delivered on time.
Not so in foster care.
Let us say the foster parent is trained,licensed and takes in a child. After two months the parent notifies the agency that they want to quit. There is a notice period of say 30 days by which time Tier 2 Foster Agency or Tier 1 The US State Government must find an alternative parent or make alternative arrangements. It’s challenging enough for these managers. But the terrible trauma and a feeling of rejection by the child is hard to visualize:
Since human beings are involved all across the foster care system there are more complexities involved. Here are some suggestions/thoughts on this quitting problem:
For State Governments/Foster Agencies:
Support the Foster Parent: Everyone else in the Foster Care system are paid folks except the Foster Parent. The Foster Parent is a volunteer and the stipend is to partially support the foster child. In fact, as we will explain in later posts the stipend is for the child but since the child is a minor the foster parent gets paid. It is NOT income for the foster parent and is not to be included in Federal or State Taxes by the foster parent. The Foster Parent is a volunteer and becomes a expert of the child in her/his care. Seeking their input and giving them the limelight in all child specific decisions is a show of respect that can make your work that much easier.
Including the Foster Parent in the child team : Let us face it. The actual work of caring for the child is done by the Foster Parent. It turns out that Foster Parents who quit or feel like quitting mention a top reason of not feeling included. The StartFosterCare platform allows you to talk with prospective parents in large numbers. Be very careful in selecting the right foster parents. Once you select the right prospective parents, train them well and then trust them to do a good job.
Respect and Acknowledgement: Everyone loves respect and acknowledgement for the good work they do. Foster Parents are no different. If you think about it, once a child is placed in foster care, the foster parent spends the most time with the child. Yet research in social work suggests that foster parents feel left out in the court processes and in the other decisions like family reunification. See Kathryn W. Rhodes, John G. Orme, and Cheryl Buehler. “A comparison of family foster parents who quit, consider quitting, and plan to continue fostering.” Social service review 75.1 (2001): 84-114.
For Foster Parents:
Your become the expert on the child: Although you might sometimes feel like a Tier 3 or 4 supplier of human services- you actually are the person who provides the service 24 hours to the foster child. This is the service that the Government is trying to provide on behalf of the public. Your service is different from your Doctor’s office or your child’s school teacher or coach. The doctor sees you for a few minutes and a child spends only fixed time with the teacher or coach. As a foster parent you are in constant contact with the child. That alone makes you an expert on the specific child. You are a volunteer and that makes you a noble soul. You also have a Bill of Rights that we will explain in a forthcoming post.
But you are part of the organization: Despite being a volunteer – remember that you are part of the tiered organization that is trying to provide a social service. Never forget why you got into this, in the first place. Right from the licensing and training stage build strong connections of trust and confidence. The Foster Agency folks must feel that they can rely on you. Communicate often. Once you earn the trust and confidence of the Agency, chances are that the Agency will consult you before they take decisions about the child in your care.