Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A dilemma in need of solutions

There are many teens who cannot live safely in a family setting. They go in and out of residential placement and yet still need families even if they can never be home for more than a weekend here or there or holidays.

Recruiting families for these kids and asking them to finalize the adoption does not seem feasible because families would be unable to afford for the children to go back into residential if they "try it at home" and family members or the child him/herself is not safe. However, as adults these kids will still need a parent.

What are various states doing to address this issue? How can we recruit families who will provide permanency to kids who cannot live safely for long periods of time in a home setting?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in the answers to this question. When The Hub and I originally decided to adopt from foster care, we were certain that, if we were allowed by age restrictions, we would adopt teenagers. But we do have concerns about our ability to provide the proper setting, ie RTC if needed, after finalization. We're becoming involved with my husband's college, which has a support program for kids coming from foster care, but we're hours away, which limits what we're capable of.

Bottom line, we'd be interested in something like this if available. We'd still adopt traditionally, I think, as we already plan on adopting more than once.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Michelle, a Texas adoption worker, shares:

Some facilities will have "sponsors" who will be able to take those children off campus and do things with them. In Texas, a home study would have to be done for the children to stay the night at the sponsors house. As long as a CPS history check and a DPS history check has been done, it would be ok for the sponsor to take the child for the day.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Kelly, mother of 17, writes:

A solution that has been discussed, but not yet implemented in our area is the idea of assigned resource parents for teens - not only those in longterm residential placements, but also those in independent living situations. Each teen would be assigned a long-term foster parent who would agree (through a contract) to maintain a relationship with that teen or sibling group. The family would visit, participate in family therapy (if necessary), take the child on outings or home visits (if possible) and have holiday celebrations. The foster parent would receive a monthly stipend, similar to a foster care board payment.

I think this solution is very strong. It allows a family to legally establish and maintain contact with a child, while still allowing the state to cover the exhorbitant costs associated with residential placement living. In my experience, many foster families have been discouraged from maintaining contact with teens who are expected to remain in RTC's for a long time. This would not only permit continued contact, but would encourage it.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Claudia said...

I agree with Kelly. That's a great plan but I would take it a step further and explain to them that they needed to make a lifetime commitment to the kids. I realize that is a lot to ask, and recruitment could be difficult, but every kid needs at least ONE adult who will commit to them for life long after the stipend is gone.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Kate, foster and adoptive parent, has several possible solutions:

I don't think California is doing anything to address this issue. In fact, most teens who COULD live safely in a home setting go to residential placement simply through lack of foster homes. I know of many excellent group homes that do prepare the teen to live as an independent adult, teaching them life skills, how to use public transportation, get a job, etc. However, the key word is INDEPENDENT adult, not CONNECTED adult. These kids enter the adult world without a family, without a support network on which to fall back. I think this is the issue addressed by this question: how do we find forever families for these young adults? I have several ideas.
1. Don't throw away the families they may already have! True, in some extreme cases, the child leaves a foster home in which he/she has been the victim or perpetrator of abuse and there is fear and animosity on both sides. But most situations are more like mine. Arlena (name changed), 12, had lived with us for 2 years. Puberty and the stress of dealing with a manipulative birth grandmother became so difficult for her that she began hitting & threatening to kill the younger foster children in my home. It was clear she needed a higher level of care, and the county they placed her in a group home, at which time I ceased to exist, from their point of view. Since I was "just" her foster mother and that relationship had ended, I had no legal right to be informed of her whereabouts. When she was switched from foster home to group home placement, her social worker also changed & no one at the county would hook me up with the new worker because I had no legal right to continued contact with Arlena. But here's where the old adage comes in: If you love someone, set them free. If they love you, they will come back. Over the next four years and several placement changes, Arlena managed to phone or email me occasionally, I suspect without permission as she wouldn't give me her address or caretaker's name. When she was 16, she was moved to a foster home where the foster Mom was very willing to let Arlena have contact with me & even spend the occasional weekend. By that time I had a full house of adopted kids, no longer had a foster care license, and could not have qualified to foster or adopt room, and my hands were full on a daily basis. But I could handle one more on the occasional weekend or holiday, and I don't think it hurt Arlena to sleep on the couch when she came over on Halloween or Thanksgiving and re-joined the family she still loved. Arlena lived with her foster mom until she was 18, then the foster mom moved out of state. Arlena enrolled in a local college, where she lives on campus, and continues to see her other family --- myself & my kids --- on holidays and other occasions. We will be her family forever or as long as she needs & wants us. Why couldn't the county have recognized that this was a GOOD thing?
2. Many families are put off by the intrusive questions and restrictions necessary to get a foster care license, even if you only do respite. I realize these rules are for the safety of the child, but c'mon, it gets ridiculous after a certain point! Why not have a special program for families who want to parent a teen who will live full-time in a group home? Yes, the parents would still need to pass background checks, child abuse index, etc. But what if they don't have a separate bedroom for the teen? If the teen is only going to sleep over on Christmas & the occasional weekend, why not let them sleep on the sofa? A lot of the visiting and parenting would be done by the "part-time parents" at the group home, so the condition of their house would not be as important as the condition of their hearts. Or what if the parent's finances are shaky...the teen will be fed & clothed at the group home, so perhaps the rules don't need to be as strict as they would if the parent sought to adopt. If the child was later deemed adoptable or appropriate for foster home placement, the "part-time family" could then be evaluated & given the chance to qualify under the stricter permanency standards.
3. Don't get caught up in legal mumbo-jumbo! I once had another foster parent bemoan the fact that the county did nothing to help foster kids once they aged out of the system. Her foster son was about to turn 18, and he'd have "nowhere to go." I asked, "Why?" Well, she faltered, "the system" was putting him out on the street. No, SHE was putting him out on the street! There is no law that says you have to turn your back on your adult foster child...and no law that requires you to keep your 18-year-old birthchild under your roof! Yet people seem to think that because an 18-year-old is not your biological child, you can't help him even if you want to, while you are somehow obligated to put your own kid through college. The fact is, both 18-year-old ADULTS are free to go where they choose, and you are free to allow any ADULT to live in your home, whether or not he pays rent. It would be nice if the government could afford to pay people to allow former foster kids to live with them past the age of legal adulthood, but realistically, this probably won't happen. So if you have the money, the spare room, & the desire to help one of these young adults get on her feet, just go for it!
4. In-Home Supportive Service is a government program that gives elderly, disabled adults money to pay a caregiver to help them with chores, shopping, etc so that they can stay at home instead of going into a nursing home. The catch is, it doesn't pay for a fulltime, live-in caregiver, and it doesn't pay for companionship. Many of these elderly adults are not dying, they are simply depressed and lonely, and they have extra rooms. Why not hook up the IHSS program with emancipating foster youth? This could be an ideal solution: the foster teen would get a place to live (for free); a small IHSS salary; and could provide companionship & supervision for the elderly adult in excess of the limited hours paid by IHSS. IHSS social workers could screen the foster youth, weeding out those who might abuse the elderly; and, in the IHSS program, social workers continue to monitor the elderly client and watch for abuse by the caregiver.

5:25 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Jennifer, an adoption worker in Missouri, tells us what happens in her state:

In Missouri, residential treatment can be provided by the Adoption Subsidy Program so even if a child is adopted and needs treatment the parents are not responsible for the cost. They retain legal custody and are expected to participate in planning activities, family therapy, visits and provide for the child's basic needs such as clothing, toiletries, school supplies.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Deborah Hage responds, "

You have touched a button on me with this one!" and goes on to say:

What are states doing? Almost nothing! Families are going bankrupt finding appropriate services that will keep them and their family safe while providing help for their emotionally and behaviorally disturbed child. Many of the families I work with live in fear and anguish while they wait for their angry teen to emancipate out of their home. They watch their healthy children deteriorate. Sometimes the parents live separately so one can live with the disturbed teen and the other can live with the healthy children. Sometimes they place their healthy children with relatives as no one will take the disturbed child. Whatever they do, money is a bottom line issue. I can no longer, in good conscience, promote the adoptions I used to say were worth the risk.

My families are tired of meetings with staff people whose job is apparently to not provide services under the guise of appearing helpful! They are tired of psychiatrists in the state provided mental health offices who are unwilling or untrained to provide appropriate medication management. They are tired of therapists in the state provided mental health offices who are unable or untrained to provide appropriate therapeutic services. They are tired of putting their child in psychiatric hospitals for 24 hour or 72 hour holds knowing the child is going to return home without having been helped in any meaningful way. Yet, these teams of people meet endlessly and write copious reports in a totally useless format guaranteed to simplify the tracking of the meetings but irrelevant when it comes to providing needed services.

7:20 AM  

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