Foster Care Respite

It is a contentious subject but the legalities of the foster care system make this necessary. There are situations that require an authorized place to leave foster children in your care in the care of someone else. Some of these are when you are going to be required to go out of state on short notice. Normally, to even take foster care children out of state requires preapproval from official sources. So in the case of a death in the family or the sudden hospitalization with serious implications of an important family member, that may not be possible.

This need for respite care can be misunderstood and even abused in some situations but for the most part the rules and regulations of the system do prevent that (of course, unfortunate exceptions occur within any system). In a foster care family that has biological children of their own, a plan to leave all the children with a family friend or relative, isn’t a possibility for the foster child. The reason for this is that a foster child can only stay with adults who are licensed to take care of children in foster care. This is where respite care can be very helpful. A child can stay in respite care while their regular foster parents are away and then return to their regular foster family when the foster parents return home.

Examples from current foster carers –  

We have used respite a couple of times. 2 of those times were for adult only vacations, the respite home we used however; was friends of ours that our foster had met before. Our family members that kept our other son couldn’t keep our foster son because they are not licensed. We also have used respite when overnight stays were needed for medical care. I have been a foster carer for almost 3 years and I personally do not know anyone nor have I ever been asked to do respite for children we do not know. We have a pretty good support group that will help each other out and we are not strangers to our kids. I can’t imagine leaving any of my kids with a stranger ever.

I provided respite for a foster friend that was visiting a family that reunited and moved out of state. I have also used it when out of state travel was denied for a little child. It can be reassuring that if you have to be out of town – the child is with someone trauma trained and already set up for foster care. Our state pays $17 per day. In my experience, most people do it for free because they just want to be helpful.

We have been respite provider for other foster carers, Twice they were people who had never met us but they had family emergencies come up and we were recommended by our caseworker. There are a few foster carers near us that we have done respite for, but those kids had been around us and knew us prior to respite care. That made it more like a family friend situation. We have had family members watch the kids in our home but have never left them with strangers.

We never use it as a break. If these were our biological children, we would let them spend the weekend with friends or family. We’re not comfortable doing that with our foster kids, but we made sure to really vet the respite provider ahead of time, and it’s only for a weekend. The couple of times we have is when one of us was out of town and the other at a scout function with our older foster kids. We went through a process to make sure it was a fully trained and licensed respite home and the caseworker had to approve it as well. Both times we used the same place so our younger kids were comfortable. They love it, it’s like a mini vacation for them.

We had to get approvals and back ground check even for any regular babysitter, pre-approval and background check for anyone that invited the kids for a birthday party sleepover, and pre-approval to bring them with us on vacations, if we went out of state overnight. We live in Rhode Island, so is a bit unusual in that it is literally only 30 minute drive in any direction and one leaves the state.

Even so, there is something that is known as Dept of Child and Family Services – “Normalcy and Reasonable and Prudent Parent Policy.” That means that you can allow anyone to watch the foster children in your care as long as you deem them appropriate. They just won’t get paid. And that’s unfortunately the route many foster parents take because they can’t find respite through a licensed family. I had a foster parent reach out to me and ask me to watch a baby for the weekend. I only knew her through a friend of a friend. I could’ve been unsafe for all the person knew and yet they were willing to give me a child for a weekend. I declined and said I didn’t feel comfortable caring for a foster child I had no relationship with. All I could think of was “This is someone’s child. Their whole heart. And this foster parent was willing to leave her with a stranger. So not okay.”

Autism and Foster Care

Children with autism are more likely to end up in the foster care system. Long- and short-term outcomes for children in foster care are not good: Children who spend any amount of time in foster homes are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school and more likely to end up homeless, in the criminal justice system or in long-term residential care. Foster care may be an even less desirable place for children with autism, given their special needs. Although foster parents may receive some specialized training, it is generally not nearly enough to help them adequately care for these children.

7.3 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children with autism were in foster care in a 2008 study. This is well above twice the proportion of all Medicaid-enrolled children in foster care. The prevalence of children with autism in foster care started out at 7.5 percent in 2001. It climbed to 10.5 percent in 2005 and then declined to 9.1 percent in 2007. Children with autism were 2.4 times more likely to enter foster care than a typical child.

Raising a child with autism is stressful for families, as the condition is unusually difficult to manage effectively. Some parents may simply not have the skills and resources to do so. This may result in neglect or abuse — and placement in foster care. Alternatively, families may voluntarily place children with autism in foster care because they can’t handle the children’s behavioral problems. Third, parents may relinquish custody so that their children can obtain Medicaid-funded or residential care that they otherwise cannot afford.

I will always be for family preservation. To lower the chances that a child with autism will land in foster care, clinicians working with these families should talk openly about the stresses of raising a child on the spectrum. They should ask how that stress is manifesting in the family, and assist the family members in getting the support they need. All US states should offer home visits from professionals or short-term breaks for parents of children with autism. (Only a handful currently do.) Home visits and respite services have been shown to lower the chances of psychiatric hospitalization among children with autism, and also may reduce the risk of foster care placement.

Foster care arrangements can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 in taxpayer funds per child per year. That money could be more wisely spent supporting the needs of these families. Society has an ethical obligation to help families care for their children with autism. We can and must do better to help these most vulnerable children and their families.

Thanks to David Mandell and his essay in  LINK> Spectrum News for today’s blog. I started with an interest in how neurodivergent issues relate to foster care and a google search ended up with that essay.

Bridging A Detour

Still raising awareness about Foster Care issues.

A request for guidance or advice – my wife and I have 4 foster kids. We get along great with the biological mom and they’re actually going to be reunified in the next month which is a huge win.

The biological mother has come to us and told us she is pregnant again, this time with twins who are due in December. At 25 years old, she is doubting he can handle 6 kids. She is asking us to adopt the twins.

We said “yes” of course but are wondering now what ?

Differences of opinion – focusing on the biological mother’s motivation to reunify with her children. Being pregnant with twins and faced with a total of 6 children, could feel overwhelming. This coming from an adoption reform and family preservation perspective.

This person wanted to know what the barriers were for this biological mother to keep and raise ALL of her children.

Yet, the group where this occurred, is made up of hopeful adoptive parents who offered the usual pro-adoption narrative line – “She is making a loving choice.” They were more focused on offering advice related to pursuing the adoption.

I really liked this response –

Of course, she is overwhelmed. I’ve been there. At 28 years old, I have 6 kids. Yes, it was hard but we’ve made it work.

Another person reflected on why this story is disappointing.

The foster parents have been doing everything correctly with the biological mother and have been supporting the reunification of the foster care children with their original family.

One can understand the foster care parents believing that this person they care about, needs their help – by adopting these twins she hasn’t met yet.

And I agree with the suggesting that this expectant mother needs counseling before she choses a permanent solution which in the moment is a temporary situation because change truly is constant.

And here’s the suggested response to be truly supportive of this young mother – “It’s going to be hard but you can do this. How about we help with babysitting, meals, grocery pick up, we can watch them overnight a couple times a week so you can sleep.”