Friday, February 03, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Permanency Conferences: A Foster Parent's Voice

Q: True/False - Foster parents do not have a voice in the future of their kids cases?

A: True. And False.

I haven't actually heard anyone ask this question.  I've found this often comes up as new foster parents become experienced with the system and begin learning some very hard lessons.  If you come from a family that generally functions well and who has never dealt with the social services system you are probably shocked to hear how some of these things go.  That is true of foster parents as well - they often don't realize how the system works until they're part of it.

Generally speaking - aside from the day-to-day business of foster parenting, foster parents don't have much say in the actual cases of the children and therefore what happens to them.  This is especially true of foster parents who aren't very involved in the cases - those who for whatever reason do the bare minimum participation.  It's now wonder so many foster parents feel like they don't have a voice on behalf of their kids - they really don't.

That being said, there are opportunities for a foster parent to influence matters of the case if the foster parent is willing to get involved.  The more the foster parent attends meetings, staffings, conferences, hearings, and generally sticks his/her nose into the case the more often he/she will have the chance to get information.  Therefore, if a foster parent really wants to say something, there is often a way to get it done.  Of course that's not to say that you will be heard or considered and it is almost guaranteed that you will not get as much priority as other people in the case like CASA, caseworkers, and family attorneys, but I've found it's still worth the shot.

Any type of visit is typically the best way to get involved in the case.  I've talked about many of these visits before, but generally they include caseworker home visits, CASA home visits, ad-litem home visits, and of course the kids visits with their parents.  Obviously when the caseworker, CASA, or ad-litem visits the home there is the opportunity to ask questions and provide input.  I don't wait for them to ask mie questions...I simply  make statements about my opinions and take it from there.  I ask lots of questions - about whether parents are working services, about the timeline of the case, about potential kinship placements and the timing of their homestudies, and generally whatever I'm interested in knowing.  Usually the more I ask the more information I'll get.  The worst thing that will happen is that they'll say "I'm not supposed to share that", but even more often they'll say something like "I'm probably not supposed to say that but ..." or "I think it's ok for me to share that because they said it in a public forum...".  So, I take my chances.  I also try to take my kids to visits myself when I can rather than using an aid transporter.  This helps me to have an extra chance to talk to the caseworker and, even better, the parents.  When I form a relationship with the parents I get to learn ALL SORTS of things.  This relationship can also be beneficial if the parents are considering terminating rights - I've had several where they have dropped the kinship request so their kids could stay with mie during the case and having that type of relationship gives you a better advantage if they end up looking for a permanent home outside reunification.

Outside of visits, there are 2 other types of case events that a foster parent typically has the opportunity to attend.  These include hearings or court dates and staffings or permanency conferences.  Generally in a hearing the foster parent has no voice.  In my experience, a foster parent might be invited to be available to testify by CASA or the state, but generally they won't call you and then you have to state your name for the record - I'm not going to become unanonymous to just stand before the judge and not have a chance to say anything.  So, though I try to go to court cases I typically sit in the gallery and listen.  I usually have a chance before and after to talk to all the people in the case, including any extended family that might be there and that is very helpful.  Alas - during hearings you honestly have no voice before the judge and many foster parents don't usually go.  I usually "amaze" the caseworkers, attorneys, and CASA when I show-up.  Especially when it's an hour away.

The other event is a staffing or permanency conference.  These conferences are usually mediated by a 3rd party and are more informal than court.  Nevertheless the same parties are typically involved with the addition of random people from the state or agency.  Usually you'll see the caseworker's supervisor and then some other people.  The most recent one I attended had members of the county's advisory board and the program director.  In a permanency conference, any one with significant interest in the well-being of the child is invited to attend including the foster parents and any extended family members.  I've seen this happen well (#3) and not at all (#4).  I've also seen it happen part-way as in the most recent one where CASA, the kids ad-litem, mom's attorney, and dad didn't even show up.

I love PCs.  The purpose is to do a formal update on the status of the case on a regular interval outside of court.  Typically they happen within a few weeks of a permanency hearing (at court) but that's not always the case.  They usually happen at a child advocacy center or the county CPS offices.  Everyone sits around the table and they follow a predictable pattern:

  • Discussion on the reason for removal
  • Presentation on required services 
  • Discussion on how mom and dad are doing on the services
  • Discussion on permanency goals & potential kinship placements
  • Update on the kiddos
  • Next steps (hearings, etc.)
With this format, I get to sit and listen to all of the "gossip" of the case that a caseworker or CASA might not otherwise share.  A foster parent is allowed to know the reason for removal and other information pertinent to caring for the children but as it comes to the parents and how they are doing there is a level of confidentiality that the CW's try to adhere to when dealing with foster parents.  Things like medical diagnosis, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and criminal history (often found online) in addition to the history of extended family are all usually off limits to foster parents except during a permanency conference.  Though I admit this information fulfills an inner desire to be nosy similar to reading a trashy magazine or watching TMZ, more importantly it helps mie to get a better feel for what REALLY is happening in the case and if the case will REALLY be heading toward reunification, kinship placement, or TPR with adoption.  That helps mie to prepare myself and all the kiddos for what may be coming in the near future.  Because there is no judge involved it is nearly impossible that the kids would be leaving THAT DAY even if they decide they need to be moved.  This stuff is important for foster parent sanity.

After you get to hear all the juicy details it then is time to discuss the kids well-being.  This is the time to share not only how the kids are doing currently but also how they've changed (good or bad) in your home.  Also, now that you know about the history of the case you can also present how their history has affected them.  For example, I've had kids who struggle with food issues and I can talk about how previous parenting has influenced their current struggles.  Because it isn't a formal hearing, there's less stringent rules on what you can and can't say and I have no qualms about sharing my "expert" opinions on things.  This is where I take every opportunity to advocate for my kids in the system, no sugar coating.


Anonymous said...

Since you seem very knowledgable as a foster parent, I thought you could help me understand a situation. We are brand new foster parents of two children who have been in our home for 30 days. There have been no visits with mom because she either says she can't make them or now no one can get in touch with her. They scheduled a permanency conference for today that they wanted me to attend by phone only. I did not get a call but emails from CASA stating that they waited for an hour and left. CASA says they didn't even see the people who arranged the meeting and I don't know if mom made it or not. I feel as if they are hiding a lot of information from me and I am curious as to what we should expect moving forward? I know they will reschedule the conference, but If mom continues to be a no-show, what will happen? She did show up for the first court date where the attorney stated that mom wasn't understanding how serious the situation is but since then no one has heard from her at all.

Mie said...

Hello Anonymous! I'm sorry it took so long to get back to you. If mom continues to no show permanently they will likely terminate rights and move forward with adoption. That being said, a lot can happen between now and then and it really depends on the county you live in (and the state). Being a no show for a couple months seems almost normal. Unfortunately it's not uncommon for a parent to be gone the entire case and then show up right before termination and sometimes get their time reinstated and start over! For that reason it's hard to know what will happen in your case or your county. I'd love to be here for you during the journey though...please feel free to email me at lettinggoofmie at gmail dot com.