I am a social worker working in Minnesota in
foster care. I am having difficulty working with one of my families who are
very conservative in their worldview.
Due to the length of this query it has been posted at http://www.cyc-net.org/threads/peterdelong.html
I shall be grateful for your comment.
Wow, what a dilemma. On one hand you're there to support the youth to grow gain perspective, and also to support the foster home with how this placement affects them and their own family system. It also sounds like the residence foster parents are grounded in their personal views, whereas you are much more open minded and understanding of how history impacts behavioral choices with youth.
I am a Child and Youth Care who fosters and I have had many, many youth reside with me over the last 19 years. For the most part, this has been a job that I have enjoyed many aspects of, however I do maintain a degree of distance between myself and my agency. Not that they are unsupportive...they are; when I holler, they are incredibly responsive :). However, there is an underlying constant intrusiveness in fostering that is very difficult to balance; to have a support worker may increase this sense of intrusiveness.
I would be very hesitant to want this youth to return to a situation that may no longer support her needs, and it sounds like she may benefit from a staff supported environment. Some youth do. It sucks and all the constant moves with youth make their outcome much less positive, however perhaps you can support her to understand that this also may not be the best placement for her; that her needs may dictate a different type of placement. When I have a youth that I realize will not fit for whatever reason, the worker and I will work together to assist the youth to understand that they have a right to have their needs met and we are going to support them to meet those unique requirements, and this may include moving on.
Not sure if this helps at all, from what you've
written there's probably a whole lot of insight into both situations that
we as the reader may not get, however you've done a great job of helping us
understand the situation and the difficulty you encounter from both
perspectives. Our youth need someone with passion and understanding,
thank goodness she has you to support her through this difficult time.
Good luck – let us know how it turns out,
I have picked up your request for dialogue while at Cape Town Airport as I prepare to return to Glasgow where I live and where I work as a consultant with Foster Care Associates (UK) and also with Key Assets Fostering (New Zealand).
There is so much in your request that it is difficult to know where to start. To begin with, I would venture the suggestion that the selection, training and supervision of foster carers where you work sounds rather
different from that to which I am familiar in Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. We would be very careful about appointing foster carers who hold very staunch religious views or adopt the 10 Commandments as their primary guide to work with challenging young people.
Second, we place a great deal of emphasis on
matching carers with young people. While you didn't say as much, it
sounds as though this young person was placed in this particular home
because that may have been the only placement available. If so, that
is a challenge because it suggests that the system does not have
enough foster carers available to do careful matching.
Third, training and supervision of foster carers in our
services is ongoing, and we also do training with the children and young
people of foster carers. All up, placing a young person in foster care
can work very well, but if the three elements above are not present from the
first golden hour of opportunity, we can easily set young people up to fail.
You might like to check out some audio podcasts at www.sepodcasts.org where you will find interviews with young people in foster care, care leavers talking about what worked for them, foster carers and others supporting foster carers talking about their approaches to this work, and a whole lot of other cyc-related materials. These podcasts are all free and may also give you some suggestions.
Finally, at the CYC-Net website, you will find a book advertised called Quality Care in a Family Setting: A Practical Guide for Foster Carers. We are told that this is a very practical and helpful volume of use to people
Most of all, practise your deep breathing and keep the faith!
May I offer just a couple of thoughts that may or may not be helpful? I have spent a lot of time counselling families as you describe "very conservative". I think the biggest issue for you to think about (as large or
small as it may seem to others) is that you have lost their respect as a professional because of the swearing. Some professionals will think this is a small thing but to this type of family, this is massive. If you want to
learn anything from this, this may be a starting point.
While I applaud the desire of this foster family to help troubled kids, working as I do in the United Kingdom, I don't know how foster families are assessed, trained and supported in Minnesota. I think you asked the right question if they are fully prepared to meet the needs of the girl you describe. I believe you are right to keep the channels of communication open with the family (it seems at some cost to your own esteem) and persuade them - though I wonder if at this stage it is possible - to look at the whole child and not just the specific behaviours which you point out with, in my view, insight and eloquence. I don't know how successful you'll be but at least it will demonstrate that you are not closing yourself off to them in the way that you are asking them not to close themselves off from the girl. I agree with the observations and suggestions that both Diane and Leon make.
For me the episode you describe demonstrates why altruism and the desire to help is not enough. Life space workers (and I would include foster carers in this) need sophisticated training and this includes developing the capacity for reflection and examining personal prejudices critically.
Expecting carers to provide the level of acceptance and
emotional holding your 't-shirt girl' needs when the carers have little or
no experience or insight of loss, abandonment, multiple rejections, chronic
abuse, poverty, cultural difference, intense insecurity and how these
influence the development and the behaviour of children is like
hauling anyone you see off the streets and commandeering her or him to fly a
passenger jet over the Atlantic. I apologise for making such a florid
statement but this is so obvious and yet so many people with the opportunity
and influence find it expedient to deny it.
Peter, I would feel at a loss facing your dilemma but I think you are doing a great job in very difficult circumstances. I admire your commitment to the girl and your open stance with the foster family.