Kris’ Corner-From the Trenches: What I Wish I’d Known part 3

by Andra Martinez

For Part 3 of “What I Wish I’d Known” is one foster parent’s statement: Don’t have high expectations in the areas of DCS parental standards, biological parents’ behaviors, visit supervisors/transporters communication…ever! Keeping low expectations in these areas will save you a lot of frustration.”

This is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, but it is also often reality.

If you haven’t tossed your hat in the ring on this yet, let me explain what she means. At the beginning of a case, DCS and the Court will lay out expectations for the biological parent(s). Sometimes the standards aren’t met, but the children will still be reunified. It doesn’t happen in every case; but it does happen, and it is discussed in the foster care community often.

So, if you, as the foster parent, go into a new placement and understand that it is not about you versus them; but, it is about the biological parents doing their best to provide a fitting enough home for their kids. That’s all that needs to happen. There may be barriers preventing the parent(s) from meeting the standards set by DCS and the court, or maybe progress is slow but consistent. In the view of the court, the progress may be sufficient enough to allow the children to return home, hopefully with continued services and supervision.

And to piggy-back on that, understand that the DCS “Bar of Expectation” for you as a foster parent is much higher than the bar of the bio parents. Licensed foster homes are governed by law, rules, and policies. So, you will be expected to do much more, and be held to a higher level of standard than the biological parents ever will be.

Does this seem fair? No, it does not SEEM fair. But part of your bar is keeping foster parents completely above reproach. The state and your licensing agency (Children’s Bureau) want to ensure that kids in care are safe. Of course, they want to ensure children are safe when they go home as well, but they want to make sure that the homes in which they are placed are of the utmost highest caliber. Naturally, they don’t like having stories in the news about foster homes being unfit (or worse!). We have all seen those news reports and heard those stories. Its why foster parents have a bad reputation. It is why people don’t want to be foster parents.

But DCS is trying to change that community view by having a very high level of expectation for their foster homes. So if you, as a foster parent, can wrap your brain around the fact that it is nothing personal and it is more about an over-arching worldview of foster homes, you will set yourself up for success. There are groups and associations of foster parents (local, state, and national) who have organized to improve the quality of foster care, with some groups embracing a vision of enhanced and professional standards for foster parents.

This might mean you’ll be expected to take an infant to the dentist, as I was. My child had zero teeth and probably was n’tgoing to get any for a while. But yet I had to take him to the dentist. Would a biological parent have to do that? Absolutely not. It was ridiculous. But DCS was trying to ensure that I was providing the best care possible and that included such a visit. Even if it meant a ridiculous appointment that was a waste of time. Admittedly, I did not have the right mindset when I went into it and honestly, I was maybe a little snotty about it. But I did it because I knew I needed to. Ultimately, I figured out that it was not about me or how good or poor of a parent I was. It had to do with other people’s perception of foster care, and DCS’s stake in assuring the best care for the children entrusted to them.

Additionally, the above foster parent’s quote mentioned biological parent behaviors. You have to understand, going in, that the world foster children come from may be different than the one you live in. And things which DCS allows the biological parents to do might be mind-blowing at times. Or it might be that they are simply different from something you might do. Regardless, you have to let it go. I know it will be difficult and I don’t say it lightly…because I’ve been there. I’ve been indignant, I’ve been shocked, I’ve been in an absolute rage, and I’ve been super judgey. And none of it looked good on me. I had no reason to be that way, because it affected nothing at all in my life. I was just outraged that they had such a low bar (see my point above).

So all that to say: move past it as best you can…and trust me you want to; it takes a toll on your emotional health if you don’t.

And her last point had to do with communication from visit supervisors/visit transporters. So just go ahead and NOT plan to always know when the child will be picked up for a visit, how long the visit will last or when the child will be back. Because the relationship with you and the visit supervisor can start out pretty well, with her telling you times and such. But things come up and she’s early. Or late. Or the visit had to be cut short, so you’re expected to be home; even if you had no idea. Countless factors have an impact on both the transportation (if provided) and the family visit itself.

All that I’m saying here is “be flexible”…which is the whole mantra of foster care anyway. Are you getting that message in my posts so far? Be flexible and don’t let your feathers be ruffled. Yes, it’s super frustrating, but if you can let it roll off you instead of internalizing it (much as I did…I’ll be honest), then you’re going to be in a better place…especially to help the child regulate as he returns to your home (I discussed this in a previous post). If you’re worked up about the transporter being late, the child will know, and it will have the potential to upset the whole apple cart. So just don’t is what I’m encouraging.

All that to say, this foster parent’s words are spot on. It is about lowering your expectation of everyone else in the case. You will be held to a higher standard than any other “player” in this game. But it’s not about you. You just stay in your lane and let everyone else stay in theirs.  Working cooperatively and having mercy with the others will go a long way and contribute to a more pleasant experience.

Sincerely,

Kris