5 Qs to Ask at the Start of a New Placement

Last week, I posted a new video on YouTube in which I shared five questions I would not have thought to ask at the start of a new placement, but, over time, I have learned to ask. Those questions are:

  1. Has this child (or these children) been in care before?
  2. When is the child’s birthday?
  3. Are their parents involved and engaged in services?
  4. Could you give the parent my phone number?
  5. Where does the child go to school, and are McKinney-Vento services in place?

I encourage you to watch the video for the full scoop on why I ask these questions—the first story will break your heart (but don’t worry—it has a happy ending!)

But I wanted to take it a step further in this blog post, because a seasoned foster parent who watched my video offered some additional suggestions for questions to ask. I’m grateful for her input, and wanted to share it here!

A viewer named Emily shared,

We also ask about how they are with animals because we have animals in our home. We ask about how many visits they have and what the transportation expectation is. We have said no to a placement because the kids had 2 visits with mom and 2 visits with dad each week; it’s great for kids to see their parents, but we couldn’t transport to 4 visits a week.

Emily makes two fantastic points.

First, if you are a home with dogs, and the child you are being asked to take is afraid of dogs, it would only add to their trauma to bring them into your home. You are not the right placement for them.

Second, Emily is so right—we all have a limited capacity, and while we support reunification efforts, including parental visits, four visits a week is a big ask—especially if you as a foster parent are expected to provide transportation. It’s sad when it comes down to that, but it is important to be realistic and honest about what you have the capacity for and make decisions about placements accordingly.

I’m curious to know what you would add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Recognizing Restraint Collapse

Today on YouTube, I am sharing about a concept that every parent will deal with at some point in time, whether they know it or not. It’s called “restraint collapse,” and it is the source of many struggles for foster youth and foster parents alike.

Counselor and parenting educator Andrea Loewen Nair first coined the concept of “after-school restraint collapse.” Nair writes,

It takes a great deal of energy, mental motivation, emotional containment, and physical restraint to keep ourselves at our best while at work, daycare, or school for other people. We push ourselves to not be snarly, crabby people where doing so might have seriously negative consequences like losing our jobs, getting sent to the principal’s office, or missing sandbox time. How many times during the day do you wish you could just tell someone off or walk away and cry in the bathroom? But we don’t – we do what we need to in order to “be good” or keep the peace. After we’ve don’t that all day, we get to the point where we just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.

“7 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Their After-School Restraint Collapse,” Andrea Loewen Nair

While Nair offers this concept in relation to the after-school meltdowns many parents deal with, I think the phrase “restraint collapse” and the way she describes what is going on is a perfect way to understand what is happening in many children in foster care. They have to hold it together in a new home with a new family. They often have to hold it together in a new school setting (most of the school-aged foster youth in my home had to change schools mid-school-year). They have to hold it together during family visitation, sitting in a small visitation center or public space for hours at a time so they can see their parents and other family members. Eventually, as Nair says, they get to the point where they just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.

A common phrase in the foster care world is “the end of the honeymoon period.” In fact, I used it in this post before revising my perspective for this post. When a child is first placed in a foster home, things look fine for a bit. The child is on his or her best behavior, as are the foster parents. But after a time—perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, even a bit longer—everyone settles in, starts to feel a bit comfortable, and stops trying so hard not to rock the boat. Kids begin to test boundaries or just let their big feelings out, parents grow irritable and impatient, and pretty soon, a volcano erupts.

A better term for this phenomena is “restraint collapse,” or perhaps, “new placement restraint collapse.” While “the end of the honeymoon period” is very foster-parent centric (it sure doesn’t feel like a honeymoon to the child!), “restraint collapse” is much more accurate and validates what is actually happening to the child: they have tried as hard as they can for as long as they can, but they cannot hold it together any longer.

Of course, a new placement is not the only time that a child will experience restraint collapse. In fact, that is the point of my latest video. Restraint collapse, while common for many children from stable backgrounds and secure attachments, is all the more common for children who have experienced a history of trauma, disrupted attachment, and transition.

In my experience, recognizing restraint collapse for what it is goes a long way in helping parents respond with compassion, rather than frustration, when the wheels come off. It also helps us spot our own vulnerabilities and deal with our triggers before we reach our own collapse.

While it is impossible to completely predict and circumvent circumstances that lead to restraint collapse, awareness is half the battle. Once we are aware, we can take steps to predict and plan for those challenging moments. In addition to the video below, I also produced “5 Tips for Anticipating & Responding to Restraint Collapse.” This video is available on Patreon.

Top Photo by Marco Albuquerque on Unsplash

Bottom Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Communicating With Your Foster Child’s Family

When it comes to communicating with your foster child’s family, I encourage foster parents to make every effort to connect. The goal of foster care is reunification, and data shows that parents who have contact with their children while they are in foster care are more motivated to do the hard work required of them to get their children back. This may include parenting classes, outpatient recovery programs, inpatient treatment, and more. But even if the parents themselves are not involved, contact with other members of the child’s family—aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents—can help the child stay connected and keep a sense of their identity and sense of home within that family.

I have found that you can expect the interactions to look one of four ways.

First, and ideally, there is the mutual relationship between a foster parent and their foster child’s parent(s) or family members. This is when all of the adults involved in the child’s life—from your home and their family of origin—recognize the benefit of their communication for the child who is in care. I have experienced this several times, to varying degrees. It may mean touching base by phone, keeping the parent update with photos and texts, and even meeting up in person for park playdates. In one case, I developed such a good rapport with a woman whose daughter was with us that I wrote a letter to the judge on her behalf, and after the little girl was reunified with her mom, we continued to see each other periodically. In another case, we became friends with the aunt and uncle of a child who was in our care, and over the course of time, we actually visited one another’s homes, sharing meals together and celebrating milestones in the child’s life.

The second and most common communication I have experienced as a foster parent is a one-sided relationship. This is when a foster parent sends updates to a parent without much/any response from the parent. For a variety of reasons, parents of children in foster care may struggle with being in touch with their child’s foster parent. Shame, grief, substance abuse, and fear are all contributing factors to why a parent might “go dark.” Still, I encourage foster parents to do their part to stay in touch and keep sending the parent updates, either directly (if you have their contact information) or through the case manager.

The third and least common communication I have experienced as a foster parent is hostile communication. This is when a parent treats the foster parent with open hostility, lodges unmerited complaints or accusations, threatens the foster parent, or otherwise makes a mutual relationship impossible. I have only experienced this one time in my years of foster parenting, but it definitely left an impression! We faced allegations of neglect from parents we had never met. We were cleared of all allegations, but the experience of being under investigation made it impossible for us to be in touch with that child’s parents or have any kind of fruitful dialogue.

The fourth style of communication I have experienced with the parent(s) of children in our care is the absent or unresponsive parent. Sadly, I have experienced this a number times, and in my experience, those cases typically go to severance, or termination of parental rights. This is the case where the child is scheduled for visits that the parent does not show up for, phone calls with the parent that never happen, or the parent otherwise going off the grid and making no contact with their child or case manager for months at time, if ever. This is very hard for the child in care, as they are left to wonder about their parent’s well-being and progress.

Ultimately, a foster parent can only do so much. But in as much as it is up to the foster parent, I encourage pursuing a mutual relationship if at all possible. Will it get messy? You bet it will. Awkward, uncomfortable, and frustrating? Sometimes, yes. But if a child can experience a good rapport between her mom or dad and her foster parent, that child has a solid shot at getting through her stint in foster care without as much damage as she would otherwise.

If you are a foster parent, I would love to hear from you. What has been your experience when it comes to communication with your foster child’s family?

Top Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash