|Do's and Don'ts of Dealing with Parents of Children in Care|
with Sharon Billingslea, MS
Tuesday, the 4th of December 2007
Kim: I would like to welcome everyone to tonights chat. We have with us tonight Sharon Billingslea , Sharon is currently the Director of Bethany Christian Services in Columbus Georgia . She has worn many hats including a child protective services worker and senior foster care specialist. Tonight we will be discussing the "Do's and Dont's of Dealing with the Parents of Children in Care"
sharonb: Good evening everyone!
sharonb: Is anyone currently fostering children? ?
Kim: Pam Could you please tell us your policy concerning interaction between Foster parents and Bio parents.
Pam: Currently open but none in the house right now. I've had at least 40 over the last 25 years. Adopted two.
Kim: Im Sorry Sharon
sharonb: Everything that we do should be focused on what is best for the child. We encourage this type of interaction if it is deemed to be the best for the child's best interest.
sharonb: That's wonderful Pam!
Pam: Agreed. But don't you think that your own household's welfare comes in right behind the child's welfare in dealing with birth parents?
sharonb: Absolutely! If this type of interaction is going to cause problems or difficulties in any respect, careful thought and consideration must be given to this decision.
sharonb: Has anyone had an unpleasant experience in this regard? ?
Pam: I've probably made all the mistakes from getting too personally involved with the birth family to avoiding contact too much.
Kim: I have had both good and Bad experiences but the good far out weigh the bad.
sharonb: That's one of the risks, particularly if you care too much. The one thing to remember is to not base future decisions on past mistakes. Every situation has different dynamics.
Pam: My attitude these days is to treat a relationship with the birth family like walking across a floor that may not be solid. You test each step before you put your full weight on it.
sharonb: In light of some of the mistakes, did you feel that what you were attempting to do was for the child's own good? ?
Kim: Do your families ever help the Bio parents?
sharonb: In response to Pam, I agree. You have to tread very lightly. Not every bio parent will understand your good intentions.
Pam: Most of us make most of the choices about our foster children with the belief that it's for their own good.
Kim: How do you handle allegations against a foster parent by the childres bio parent?
sharonb: In response to Pam... That's great! As long as that is your focus, irregardless how things may turn out, you will feel good about your efforts.
sharonb: We always want to be clear that everything that we do is for the child's safety and welfare. Foster parents are subject to interanl investigations if we feel it is warranted. We do thais to protect the child as well as the foster parent.
Pam: Allegations are one of the biggest dangers for foster parents. We are in a position of having to be guilty until proven innocent in many cases because of the concern for the child's safety.
sharonb: Unfortunately, because we are responsible for the safety and well being of children, we cannot ignore allegations.
Kim: Ho important is communication with your agency and the child's case worker?
Pam: Does your agency advocate for foster parents?
sharonb: It is perhaps the single most important aspect of fostering.
sharonb: Yes. Yes. Yes. That's our commitment to them.
sharonb: We value our foster parents. Without them we cannot do what we do.
Pam: Fostering under DFCS can leave us feeling vulnerable since DFCS barely has enough staff to do the basics of the job - no resources left to advocate well for foster parents. Unless you have a good foster parents association (we do), you're really on your own.
Kim: What is the best way to facilitate and support plans for reunification .
sharonb: In response to Pam... That is why many people choose to work with private agencies. More accessibility and lower case loads.
Pam: I know, I worked with one until I moved out of their geographic area.
sharonb: In response to Kim... Those conversations need to happen even before placement of a child. It needs to be clear that the intent is reunification.
Kim: How close should foster parents become with bio-family is it ok to share phone numbers etc?
sharonb: Again, those decisions should be made on a case by case basis. You do not want to do anything that is going to place yourself or your family in sticky situation.
sharonb: I would advise to talk things over with your case manager. More often than not they have enough experience to advise you accordingly.
Pam: To Kim's question about facilitating reunification... even if the stated plan is reunification, we all have seen cases where it isn't going to happen. I see my role in each case to give the child permission for a range of emotions... loving and wanting mom and dad while being angry at them if that is what they feel and getting them to give themselves permission to be happy with or without birth family.
Kim: Is reunification always the plan?
sharonb: You are right, however, as long as you are clear about your role and how you can positively impact the reunification efforts, you and the child will be prepared either way.
sharonb: Most of the time reunification is the plan. Unless in cases of shocking and heinous abuse and in some instances of abandonment
sharonb: The state must build a case for termination of parental rights. The first step is to show due diligence towards reunification when possible.
Pam: I had a birth mom once who constantly told me how glad she was the children were with me - she was afraid of her own anger issues. She made it easy to offer her parenting support and encouragement. I've had others who were hostile and combative no matter what I did and for the child's sake I stayed in the background in those cases.
Kim: Sharon How do you help foster families when you have parents that are combative to the foster parent?
sharonb: You experienced both sides of the coin, as have I. It feels good when a parent can recognize their own limitations and also recognize what is in her child's best interest.
sharonb: We are quick to intervene and consult with county staff. It may be neccessary to halt or suspend contact until those matters can be addressed.
Pam: It goes back to that fragile floor. If you haven't moved too fast with the birth families, you can tell whether this is a situation where you should keep the caseworker as an intermediary between yourself and the birth family.
sharonb: You are right. Has anyone ever been assaulted or threatened by a birth parent? ?
Pam: I prefer that the birth family not know anything about my location or contact information until I see how supervised visits go.
sharonb: That's a good rule of thumb. Cautious but still open to future possibilities.
Shannon H: - has joined the chat -
sharonb: Please know that foster parents are not obligated to divulge that type of personal information.
Kim: Sharon how do you help the children when these situations arise, it is hard for them with birth families dont accept the foster family .
Pam: Earlier this year I had a little 9 year old who threw dangerous tantrums. I had learned a safety restraint procedure years ago and found I needed it with her sometimes. The point of the restraining was to keep her from harming herself but I came out of it pretty banged up. I didn't know that she had been bruising herself - sucking on her skin until it bruised (a caseworker and I saw her doing it once). She had a visit with Mom and showed her bruises telling her I'd done it. DFCS took pictures and was going to start investigating. Mom was raising a fuss and glaring at me. Until a social worker saw bruises on me much bigger than the child's.
sharonb: It is extreemly hard because a child feels a sense of loyalty to both.
Kim: They can feel unsafe because of what the birth family expressing about the foster family.
Pam: That birth mom I mentioned had set herself against me already because I wouldn't let the child have a cellphone she bought her. DFCS backed me up on my house rule about it but Mom hated me over that.
Kim: How can foster familys help these children when these situations arise?
sharonb: In response to Pam... I want to caution families about using holds and restraints on children. The child's worker must be agreeable and satisfied that you are well trained. Most often it is not advised to place children in any retraints or holds. It is against DHR policy.
Pam: Agreed. My caseworker was aware of what I did and in what circumstances.
dparker: - has joined the chat -
sharonb: The best way to talk with any child about anything is to be loving and supportive. Explain to the child in terms they can understand about the situation, while reassuring them that their parents love them and you do to.
sharonb: In response to Pam.... That's good.
Pam: Children sometimes set up conflict between birth and foster families because they think birth families will be happier if they criticize the foster family. It's sad but not vindictive - though it may feel otherwise to the foster family.
sharonb: Good point. Recognize that most children do not have the ability to understand cause and effect. Very often children do what they think is expected or what the other person wants them to do.
metrogirl: - has joined the chat -
cindy: I think that it is important for the child and birth family to understand that you can love many without being disloyal
chatadmin: - has joined the chat -
chatadmin: This has been a very enlightening hour. Alot of helping information has been shared.!
chatadmin: We are experiencing some technical difficulities and will have to end the session. Sharon , thankyou for being part of the session. It was very helpful.
chatadmin: Good night everyone.