We are a foster family, which while it was not something we sought out, it has certainly been a blessing to us in many different ways. Also, it opened us up to a function of government that we had always managed to avoid. that would be State Child Welfare services, or whatever your local form of government calls them, ours is the Department of Health and Human Services, then the sub-department of Child Welfare. The iterations of combinations thereof seem quite varied, but basically it ends up with the same thing, the people who try to make sure kids get the best start. Now growing up in my parents household, middle class English, I had no exposure to any sort of child welfare services, they were not something that we had any knowledge of. Then in the ______ County Constabulary I generally met some of the workers, usually when we called them to take a kid who was in some sort of situation that was not good, or they accompanied us on a warrant, or called us to a situation they were in with criminal issues. But before _____ arrived I did not have to deal with them in the context of being someone they had to ‘deal’ with.
Then one fine day, we were delivered of a fully formed and functioning ____yr old female child, but she was not alone, oh no, oh no no no no, Before she could be brought over we had to go through background checks, which having been a police officer I am familiar with, and all they had time for was a computerized conviction check, nothing extensive like a pre-employment background check a Detective would conduct for a prospective employee as a Police Officer or anything like that, which I have gone through more than a few times, and can take weeks. So once they established we had no criminal convictions (I know for a fact they did not have time to check our mental health, since checks with the two mental institutions which hold the records take weeks, not days) then they wanted to come over to the house.
So we filled out more paperwork, then the DHHS worker asked if we had working smoke alarms in the house, which since they were asking so many invasive questions, this one seemed quite harmless. She wanted to actually see all of the smoke alarms, which of course meant going into all of the rooms. So quite amicably and glibly I showed her around, going into all of the kids rooms, which were mostly, of course, full of kids doing various things, but luckily fully clothed. And finally our room, where the vacuum cleaner was abandoned in the middle of the floor where we had been rushing to clear up all our garbage, after being in the meeting all day, then rushing home to beat the DHHS worker there so we could clean up some of our rubbish before they got there!
Now I am sure some of you are already ahead of me here, but please understand we were so stressed out with the speed and direction things had gone in just a few days, that I didn’t see it right away, and really this is my point, the DHHS workers are charged with the welfare of the child, not your welfare, and they are trained in putting pressure on you, as a foster parent, to get the best outcome for the child possible. Now in this, of course, my aims and goals are quite in step with what DHHS is trying to achieve for ______, I just object to being manipulated in the process. Now as most of you already know, she was not really very interested in the fire alarms per-sae, after all a full inspection by a State Fire Marshall was in our future, something we didn’t know about, but the DHHS worker surely did. So she was not really checking for fire alarms, she possibly did not even know if all the rooms were required to have alarms or if just the floors were, and she certainly did not take one down to check the expiry date ( yup the Fire Marshall did, and they were expired! ), obviously what she wanted was to look into each room in the house to make sure there were no obvious signs of abuse, and no ‘extra’ people there we had not told them about so far. “oh yes that’s just Roger-the-lodger, the half-way house kicked him out for Meth abuse, so we are just putting him up for a while until he get’s back into the local drug scene….” that sort of thing.
I would have been not been in the slightest bit put-out for her to say, “I just need to look into all the rooms in your house, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but it’s mu job.” Having been there multiple times myself, I would have been more than happy to show her around. I suppose I am quite a boring person, our closets do not contain skeletons, and other than the clutter, there is nothing there to be ashamed of, not even an embarrassing CD collection.
Now having been on plenty of searches as a police officer, I know that such a cursory glance around would not have revealed much that could be easily hidden from sight, but I also know that most people who do that sort of thing, become so casual about their illegal activity, they leave it out in plain sight. Anyway, I think that is fruit for a future post.
So I feel we were manipulated a iittle, and that was certainly not the first time, but it was different to all of the other things we had to do, which were mostly complying with certain rules. The Fire Marshall visit was quite revealing, apart from the out-of-date fire alarms, it was revealed that our deck steps were incredibly unsafe, and for the last ten years we had been risking life-or-limb when we used them because the railing did not have a separate hand-rail that you could grab around with your whole hand. So after I fixed it one weekend, we spent the next few weeks congratulating each other when we managed to use the stairs with the new hand-rail, on being able to navigate the steps safely now. But these things were different, these were published rules that every foster home had to achieve, what the DHHS worker was doing was to manipulate us into doing things they wanted us to do, without revealing to us their purpose. And i wasn’t just DHHS, for there were also other agencies involved, who all provide ‘services’ for ______, well actually for DHHS, since that is where the money comes from. Now for them, and for the DHHS worker, this is all ‘work’, and if you don’t ‘work’ you don’t get paid, and one of the more difficult things for us, was that our home was now someones workplace, and if we didn’t want them there anymore, then they would not be working as much, or getting paid for working in our home by DHHS.
This situation is very open to manipulation. and we probably kept ‘services’ going longer than we needed too, because it is difficult to say to someone you see in your home regularly, who help you and someone you love, to say to them ‘I don’t want you in my home or life, or the life of _____ anymore. And this is what they can play on, if they are less than scrupulous. Now of course all of our workers were and are wonderful people, but sometimes, you cannot help but suspect that is some situations, foster parents are manipulated into accepting ‘services’ under the guise of ‘help’ which they don’t really need, and may be better off without. Well after getting some good advice from a good friend in the field, our in-home services have been much reduced, and we have been returned to almost our old level of privacy, and lift is finding a new normal, again.
But in the early days, I developed quite a few pet peeves, and one of them was keeping track of the lingo. As we were from outside of the field of Child Welfare, we were completely out-of-the loop when it came to the phrases that were thrown about the table at the regular ‘team meetings’, from referring to services by the rule section which authorized them, to referring only to the initials of the program, So I did my best to appear stupid and forgetful and pretend each time that a phrase was used, that I had forgotten the meaning, and interrupt the speaker to ask them to explain the term again. Unfortunately I was unable to break them of the habit, but I did become fairly adept at the jargon, and so I have been manipulated into joining their exclusive group by use of the exclusive language, oh boy.
The other thing which surprised me was the location of the team meetings. As the first meeting we went too was at the DHHS building in ______, when I was told we would have regular monthly meetings I naturally assumed they would also be there, and was rather surprised to discover as part of being a foster parent, we would also host the regular team meetings, So that means that at as well has being fairly presentable on the three days a week a ‘worker’ was coming into the house, we also had to make sure the house was not a complete bombshell on another day of the month when we would host the team meeting. Now I know many people have beautiful homes, everything beautiful and coordinated, spotlessly clean and dusted, I have seen some of them, however I do not live in one of them. I live happily and comfortably, in a more typical family home, you can see the carpet in the common areas, the kids rooms are best left to the kids, once they leave for college, just put everything in a dumpster. This again is more manipulation, they come over once a month to make sure you personally are not loosing it, you still clean up before they come, you aren’t slumming around in your robe all day, that sort of thing.
So I said all of that to say this, as a foster parent, the State has a file on you. It classifies the ‘type’ of household you run, what sort of parenting approach you use, how effective it is, your personality type and the personality type of everyone in your family. While I understand why this is done, they need to ensure the well-being of the child placed in your home, it is a little disconcerting to think that people you don’t necessarily know, such as DHHS supervisors and case reviewers, can look at your file, where assessments of you are written, and make judgement on you. Of course the file is not open for anyone to get access too, they would need permission and a valid reason, I am just not so happy knowing that this file exists.