Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Discouraging" doesn't begin to describe it.

I interrupt this blog hiatus to bring you a rant on a very poorly designed and executed foster care introductory class that we attended last night. You have been warned.

I think I have mentioned here before that the idea of foster care has floated in and out of our consciousness for awhile now. It's an idea I/we have been toying with, but never really got serious about.

Lately, though, I've been seeing lots of yard signs and PSAs and articles about foster care. The Forgotten Initiative has put out some really excellent, thought-provoking articles (like this one). It just kept coming back up. So I started doing some browsing through online photo listings of waiting children. I saw a couple of older children who captured my imagination. I started to think maybe this is worth looking into.

So I mentioned this to Joe, and he agreed to go to the first class and see what this was all about.

A little background. For foster care (in our state, at least), you need to go through the three RAPT classes (Resource and Adoptive Parent Training), amounting in ten hours of training before getting licensed. Couples interested in adopting also go through a fourth, six-hour class. All classes are free, and there is no obligation to follow through with fostering. You can go to one or all and decide it is not for you and you are not out anything but your time.

We decided to invest three hours of our time to find out more.

We found out least nothing that we didn't know before.

You guys. This "class" was so, so disappointing. As an introduction to DCS and the foster care system, it served to do nothing other than cast foster kids in a negative light. And yes, I understand that some foster kids...maybe even most foster kids...carry a lot of baggage. But I'm not really sure that highlighting that baggage is exactly the right thing to do in your introduction class.

We were supposed to learn all of the pertinent acronyms and social worker titles associated with the process, but I don't remember any of that explained very clearly.

Here's what I do remember: They talked a lot about kids hating foster parents for that which they don't understand. They talked about teens and abuse. They talked about lack of control and damaged kids.

Now let me explain to you who was in this room. This tight, cramped, freezing room was crammed full of couples. Three of them (including us) were couples who had domestically adopted young children and were interested in adoption or foster-to-adopt. One couple was childless and also interested in foster-to-adopt, likely of infants or small children. The three remaining couples were currently caring for children related to them and were simply there to get licensed as foster parents to continue caring for their relatives under the financial support and protection of DCS and the state.

In my research and discussions with the adoption specialist with DCS, it is my understanding that DCS does NOT place foster kids who have been sexually or physically abused in homes with small children because of the danger that the abused kids might pose to the small children.

So, based on the demographics of the room, who, exactly, needed to hear multiple references to older, emotionally damaged and/or abused children and how they might react to placement in a foster home? At the INTRODUCTORY meeting?

I would argue, not a single person.

I'm not saying we don't need to be informed about some of the situations and behaviors that might arise with foster kids. I'm not saying that at all. But, come on, DCS. Do we really need all that doom-and-gloom during our first introduction to the foster care process? It was distracting and unnecessary.

There were other things. Like when we were going through the orientation packet (and holy wow, someone needs to hire a graphic artist because those pages had NO WHITE SPACE AT ALL). And we got to the "definitions" page. And the social worker leading the session said, "Why don't we go around the room and read these definitions out loud." And I flashed back to fifth grade and my brain exploded just a little.

The facilitator kept referring to page numbers that didn't exist. She had a different copy than the rest of us, and her page numbers didn't match up. And then we read several pages word-for-word. And then we skipped a bunch of pages for no reason at all.

They kept referring to certain things within the system that only insiders would know and then having a side laugh about that while the rest of us just stared in bewilderment. They kept saying stuff that just occurred to them, like "Just remember to tell us if..." and "You'll see when you work with so-and-so."

At one point, it occurred to them to say something about confidentiality (which didn't appear in the packet at all OMG). They mentioned social media and explained that it is absolutely inappropriate to post photos of foster children unless and until they are legally adopted by you. Which, yes, of course. Then one couple who is fostering their grandchildren asked whether it was OK for them to post, since they have a relationship with these kids outside of fostering and like to post grandkid pics so other relatives can see them. The social worker sort of hemmed and hawed and said, well, you know, that might be a different situation and technically we aren't supposed to do it but as long as the parents are OK with it... But then another grandparent-foster candidate piped in with a perfectly logical reason why you should follow the letter of the law in this case, and the social worker quickly agreed with him and said, yes, that makes sense, and that's why we should stick to the rules.

I am not even kidding.

There were just so many things, but I think you get the idea. I have no experience as a social worker and have been changing diapers professionally for the last six years, but I'm relatively certain that two hours looking over the DCS website and I could have led a more professional and informative session than this was.

And you know what? It makes me angry. It makes me very, very angry because there are so many kids in need of homes. There are so many organizations who promote and support foster care, and do it well. There is such a great NEED for families willing to dig a little deeper and investigate this process. And if THIS is the best we can do as an introduction, then I think the system is failing these kids. 

Luckily, RAPT 2 class is online, so we can dig a little deeper without hiring a sitter and wasting three more hours of our time in a freezing box of a room. I only hope the online materials are presented a bit more professionally.