Once Upon a time, not so long ago, I worked as a Program Director for another foster care agency, and I was elbow deep in paperwork preparing for our quarterly review with a committee known as ‘Youth for Tomorrow’. These folks read a foster child’s file and determine their ‘Level of Care’ which can be of four groupings… Basic, Moderate, Specialized, and Intense. As I am sure you can surmise, that as the level of care increases, parental fortitude increases depending on each child’s unique set of needs/behaviors.
An agency usually takes 3-4 weeks in preparation (if they are worth their salt) to prepare these files to send off into the mysteries of the Youth for Tomorrow committee. (I only say mystery because human perception and paperwork often tell different stories depending on who you ask, although you may reference YFT’s website if you would like to take a look at their official measuring stick.) When you are helping your team scramble around for paperwork and documentation regarding the activities of every child regarding every aspect of their life, you are often not surprised to see ‘work time’ slipping in to ‘home time’ and very often ‘dream time’… which led me to remember a dream I once had…
I fell asleep exhausted, but I suddenly landed in a very much Harry Potter-styled round room, much like a court room (a la Ministry of Magic, for you Potter fans) surrounded what looked like several supreme court justices with robes and large white wigs. There were piles of paperwork in front of each of them and I suddenly realized that my 12 year old son, Jack, was standing right next to me. The main judge, with a white wig larger than the rest, I am sure to make him feel more important, cleared his throat and let everyone know that, ‘based on the documents reviewed, you ma’am are parenting a child at the level of…….Moderate.’ And down came the gavel. I gasped in my dream, and I Scarlett O’Hara style fainted to the floor and I woke up in a cold sweat.
First thought. ‘I AM A TERRIBLE MOM, MY CHILD IS MODERATE!’ Second thought, ‘If my son found himself in foster care NO ONE would take him.’ Third thought, ‘How could no one want my son, he is the best thing that has ever happened to me.’
That year, Jack was having some troubles, and we did find our way into counseling. Jack has his way, and I am pretty sure that after an incident last year, if he were in foster care, ‘PYRO MANIAC’ would be written all over his hypothetical foster care file. But I look at my son, and I think, ‘He is NORMAL’.
Over the last couple of years, Foster Care in Texas has experienced some changes which is more than I could write here now, but one thing they specifically wanted to change was to ensure that ‘Normalcy’ was practiced in all foster homes. They want kids to feel as normal as possible in a very abnormal situation; So, they introduce words such as ‘Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard’ and require 2 hours of training on the topic. I even got to sit through a training last year, and feverishly took notes because that training was so eloquently delivered, I thought surely, I could find a way to pass this message along to others. And one thing that was said during this training about Normalcy is that sometimes when you allow your children to be ‘Normal’ they mess up. The old way ‘mess up’ by a teen in foster care might give him a one-way ticket to the Residential Treatment Center, Psychiatric hospital, or a shelter. Now, with Normalcy we can say ‘it’s ok’.
Here is an example. Most parents might reasonably say it’s ok for a 16 year old to learn to drive? What does our level of care tell us though? If you are parenting a child who might be Specialized or even Moderate, you may not want to risk teaching this child to drive. But why? If we are practicing Normalcy and the child you are caring for proves responsible, and is making the effort to want to learn to drive, shouldn’t they have that right? And shouldn’t you as the parent be able to make that decision? YES!
When I was 16, I was in a fender-bender, my fault, and it totaled my car. My parents did not ‘over react’ like we often do in foster care. They didn’t automatically assume that I rear-ended a car because I was angry, or defiant. I didn’t get a psychiatric diagnosis, and they didn’t reject me and send me somewhere else to live. They didn’t have CPS knocking on their door to make sure that a thorough investigation was done to ensure that my parents did not somehow cause the accident, or that they were not somehow bad parents for letting me drive in the first place. It was an accident. And guess what? I learned my lesson because it took me an entire summer to earn the money to buy a new clunker.
Every day, I think about why I decided to start Harbor of Hope. It’s because of situations like this. I want Normalcy to be practiced and followed through with all my heart. I want to be that agency that stands up for foster parents and their children to demand Normalcy. I don’t want future foster parents to be scared away by the tiered system approach to defining kids. Who are human. Who are more than paper and the adolescent struggles. If we think hard we have all been there and had them. A foster kid’s life is burdensome because those struggles follow them around, and decent and good folks who have room at their table should look to protect those vulnerabilities. In what ever capacity they are able. I work every day to find foster parents that do have an empty seat at their table, but I also want people on our team that can help in other ways. Babysitters, Respite Providers, Mentors, Supporters. Sometimes people question whether they have the aptitude to take on such a challenge, and I would tell that person that the fact they question already qualifies them as wonderful foster parents. ‘Normal’ folks are needed to take on this task to give a child a home.