As I mentioned in Part 1 of this “two part series”, we ended up disrupting two placements. And since this is clearly NOT what should happen, I want to discuss some ways I believe that at least one of these disruptions could have been avoided.
Let me begin by saying this: The system being what it is, it is so difficult to know when you take a placement if you are going to be able to handle it. And to fully know what issues the child being placed with you truly has…because when a child is new into care, DCS and your agency (Children’s Bureau) are not going to have all the facts. There is simply no way that they could. They give you all the details they have at their disposal, but honestly it is sometimes a stab in the dark for the foster parent on whether the placement is going to assimilate well into the household.
I know that might not be the encouragement you may be seeking. But I tell you this to know that no placement is 100% guaranteed to go well. Every placement will have difficulties, be it the child, the caseworker, the visit supervisor, the biological parents, or even the foster parents themselves getting in the way of things.
For our first placement, I am willing to admit that part of the issue was my inability to understand that we needed to change some of how our household operated. I didn’t fully understand how difficult it would be for the children to simply assimilate into our mold. I don’t believe this is uncommon, especially with first placements, but I let my frustration get to the point of disruption.
In hindsight, I could have given the girls more one-on-one time, by planning activities for my boys to do outside the home for a while. We are a homeschool family, so this would not necessarily have been ideal, but we could have done it in an effort to preserve the placement. In addition, I could have sent the girls to public school instead of trying to teach them at home. I didn’t understand how that would be so stressful to them in a time already fraught with stress and anxiety. Keeping them in their same school would have meant that we would have to transport them about 45 minutes one way to school each day, but it would have given them some comfort by virtue of the fact that it was familiar, and they could be with the same teacher and friends.
Other techniques for trying to retain a placement include, but are not limited to, such things:
- Relying on natural supports…this would be reaching out to friends and family who are supportive of your decision to foster and leaning on them for physical and emotional support
- Venting to your Children’s Bureau Case Manager…they don’t believe you if you say things are fine, so it’s best to simply be honest. They have broad backs and can handle your venting. Plus, they can’t help you if they don’t know what is going on.
- Getting suggestions from team members…this could be the FCM, the therapists, or even the biological parents themselves. They might have tips or ideas for you on how to help a child better assimilate. For instance: does the child have a favorite toy or blanket that he didn’t get to bring from his home? Could he get that particular item, or could the foster parents help him choose a suitable replacement?
- Taking respite…there are foster homes who can temporarily take your foster child in order to give you a break. This could be for a day or overnight…or even up to several days. By taking advantage of this time apart, it can help you see more clearly what might work better with your foster child.
- Taking time for yourself…or even simply “putting yourself in timeout” just for a few minutes so you can regroup and readjust. It’s amazing what a little break from a stressful situation can do for you.
- Personal stress relief…this might be going to the gym or going out with friends. Whatever you need to help de-stress.
- “Riding it out”…just know that adjustment takes time for both the child and the foster home, and choosing to ride it out until the dust settles a bit might be another technique to use.
Now for the placement following our son’s adoption, because the problems we experienced had nothing to do with the case, but with our own child. Having permanently added a child with trauma history to our family, the foundation of our “foster family” had shifted and we needed to consider how he and his needs factored into things. More often than not, the stress comes from the foster child and the frustrating behavior is particular to their case and understanding where that behavior comes from; that behavior is rooted in the child’s trauma experience.
That being said, we had to utilize different methods in this instance, some of which will seem obvious and simple things. For example, we tried to be more intentional with our son regarding attention, especially when the baby was gone for visits with his biological parents. We made attempts to preserve as much of the normalcy of our son’s routine as possible and to ensure he had what he needed in order to feel safe and secure. We did things he enjoyed…riding in the car, playing outside, playing with his favorite toys, anything that would help regulate him. But ultimately it was to no avail…and if nothing else, it helped clarify for us that our son just simply was not emotionally capable of handling it.
Not that anyone goes into a placement with the intent of a disruption, but I want to make sure you are aware that it is an option; to let know that if you are completely at the end of your rope and I think there is no way you can hang on any longer, you do have the option to disrupt if absolutely necessary. That said, it should never be acted upon lightly or flippantly, and without regard to the child being disrupted. And while a disrupted placement may bring relief to the foster family, it becomes a permanent loss and failure for the child. Any measures must be tried to improve the situation and recommendations from the agency before deciding to ask for the removal of the child.