Be an Advocate for Your Foster Child

 Photo by Brian Norcross

Photo by Brian Norcross

There is one entity that I have found in the foster care system that truly appears to have the children’s best interest at heart. That is the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. According to state guidelines, the primary goal of CPS must be re-unification with the biological family. Their plan B — if you will — must be to unite the children with a relative, although abuse is a cycle that is often rampant throughout generations of the family. In addition, many of the relatives may have witnessed the abuse and done nothing about it.

 Independent licensing agencies receive children and thus funds from CPS. They often do not want to cross CPS even if it is in the best interest of the children and they seldom do so. I have even heard CPS referred to as the mother hen by one of these agencies. In addition, they are often none too happy if you divulge any kind of information to your CPS worker before them. It is almost like a competition where the only losers are the kids in “care.”

As if this were not enough, when it comes time for one of the children to be in counseling or have a psychological evaluation done, CPS will give you the name and number of someone to contact whom they have a contract with. Thus, these few counselors / psychologists / psychiatrists often have far too large a case load. (They have more patients because Medicaid doesn’t pay as high a rate as private insurance.) In addition, they have far too much dependence on CPS. In other words, many don’t want to oppose CPS or any independent licensing agency even if it is in the best interest of the children because they are afraid they will lose their primary client base. They will vehemently deny this; however, I have witnessed it myself.

One particular instance concerned a conversation with one child’s counselor, whom this child had been seeing for the past 2 ½ years, about the strategy for treatment. Everyone was in agreement regarding the strategy in the best interest of the child. A short amount of time passed, and our independent licensing agency made it clear that they were absolutely opposed to this particular strategy as it involved temporary residential treatment. Oddly enough, the counselor changed his mind and didn’t seem to remember his previous opinion. This was when I knew that I must go to battle for the children and their best interests regardless of the opinions of those around me.

I began to sort through records that described the past history of this child and found that during the five years he had spent in care, he had been moved a total of nine times, including being pulled from the biological home, placed back in the biological home, removed from the biological home again, and placed in emergency respite twice.

In addition, three years prior to my research there were three separate psychological evaluations on this child. Two were done by psychologists; one was conducted by a child psychiatrist. All three strongly recommended the same strategy for treatment that I believed in, as well as his CASA. Within weeks after these psychological evaluations were done, he was removed from his placement at a children’s home and was moved to a foster home. The counselor changed as well as his caseworker, and all of these recommendations were “lost.” I were made aware of none of this at the time of or prior to his placement. I only found out through rather extensive research. In addition, his counselor, caseworker and CASA said that they were unaware. Furthermore, none of the recommendations were followed that were made three years before.

I made three-ring binders that contained all of this information and brought them to the caseworker and counselor as well as their supervisors during a meeting they had called. In addition, I placed in the notebook notes from three counseling sessions that his current counselor had written on him over the course of a year. They were exact copies of one another. Only the dates had been changed. The exact same words were written on the exact same places on the paper — even where they had run out of room and written below the line. The goals and insight had not changed one bit in over a year’s time! I gave our licensing agency, CPS, CASA and the counselors involved a copy of the notebooks I had prepared. I stood my ground at a meeting with approximately fifteen people who disagreed with me — with the exception of our CASA. The CASA assigned to us was always on the side of the kids no matter what. In fact, our CASA and I have never disagreed about what was best for the kids.

This is my point. While there are a few mental health professionals that are absolutely fantastic who work with CPS children, there are also many who are overbooked and place far too much emphasis on the recommendations of CPS or a licensing agency instead of what is best for the child. In addition, according to the statistics listed on the website for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, CPS has a turnover rate of 23.6, 20.9% of their employees have been there less than a year, and 50.2% of their employees have been there between one and three years.* This means that even a well-meaning caseworker probably has not known that child long enough or well enough to know what is best for the child. You are there to parent, not to be the friend of CPS, your counselor, your licensing agency, or anyone else. There will be times you have to stand up for these children or stand by and shake your head as they become victims once more while you mutter something softly about how much you love them. Do not be afraid.

*Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Annual Report and Data Book 2009. 18 March 2010.
http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/documents/about/Data_Books_and_Annual_Reports/2009/2009combined.pdf2009.

Posted on September 15, 2014 .