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Advise on Boundaries with Family?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

So, husband and I are wrapping up our first experience with fostering.  Our first placement was a sibling set - 2 boys, 5 and 2. 


Here is a brief description of our experience with the family/social worker.  The boys had been placed with their grandparents for a year and a half after removal from their parents.  The grandparents decided they couldn't handle the day-to-day care, so asked for a new placement.  When we were contacted, the situation was described as an open-placement;  the boys would still be able to visit/stay the night with grandparents and these visits were encouraged.  We met with the grandparents and they seemed very nice, so we agreed. Suddenly, it was on my shoulders to negotiate visits.  Nearly as soon as the boys were placed with us, grandma called for last minute visits, nagged about their health, and insinuated we were not feeding them properly (I could run a tangent on this astoundingly expensive supplement she insisted on giving) and the social worker turned a blind eye. 


We told the social worker we were not comfortable with this level of contact, and she said she would take over more, but then immediately had grandma call me to arrange a visit.  Things got worse when the boys mom graduated from rehab; the social worker began asking me to host visits with her at my home, transport kids to visits at her house (a total of 1.5 hours driving for me)  and supervise visits. (In this time, mom has basically abducted the 5 year old from school once, and has been nasty to me on several occasions about extra visits).


Now the social worker is giving mom the choice of keeping the boys with us or going back to grandparents, and we are more than happy to see them go - we very much love the boys, but we are TOTALLY over these interactions.  I see now that this is partly on me for not setting boundaries immediately;  I had assumed the social worker would see we were completely new and help guide us through this process, but instead totally took advantage of us instead. 


SO:  my questions for experienced foster parents:

1.  Is this normal??!!?!?

2.  What boundaries do you set in regards to contact with family?

3.  How do you establish those boundaries?


post #2 of 25

Transport to visits is normal.  Thankfully, I have not had to transport since our first placement, but it can be required.  Anything expensive that parents want the kids to have, they are more than welcome to purchase it themselves and send it to my house.  If I determine that it is an appropriate thing, the kids can have it.  I would personally not be comfortable hosting or supervising visits.  I mean, I might be if I got to know the parents and liked them.  Otherwise, that is the job of CYF.  I really really really like the aspect of having a neutral third party to supervise; I think it works better for everyone.  


We just took a training about visits last month and one of the trainer's suggestions (she is also a foster parent) was to have a visit arrangement cut-off window.  No last-minute visits!  Arrangements must be made x number of hours ahead of time, including cancellations.  X number of last-minute cancellations results in a suspension of visits for a time.


For the most part, I think that visiting once per week is enough.  Parents also like to pick about things like appearance and health.  Think about it: they have totally lost control over their children's lives.  Complaining may make them feel better or they may think it makes them look better to others.  I try to do the things parents want, but I can only please so much, esp when dealing w/a v picky parent.  I do the best I can and let the rest roll off.


A lot of social workers are, uhh, not that great, so I'm not terribly surprised by what you have said.  Consider yourself better prepared for your next placement!

post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 

Dogreto, thanks for your thoughts!


I just read over my post and I think it sounds a bit more naive and bitter than I actually feel;  just written in the heat of the moment after the boys can back from a full day visit, w/o naps, and my own son didn't sleep either, so 3 cranky boys made for a cranky mommy.


When we started this adventure I expected parents to react the way the family has (a little resentful, a little jealous) and expected to be the target of this sort of criticism; I just also expected the social worker to provide a bit of a buffer so I didn't have to experience it first hand so much.  I left a job teaching special ed. to be home with kids; I am familiar with unhappy parents... 


I also expected to transport with reason;  the first visit was at the DCFS office;  I dropped off and was supposed to pick up 2 hours later (mom was a no show, so I just took them home).  In NV, one office places kids for all counties except the 2 largest.  I could have kids from hundreds of miles away.  These two were from another county; hence the longer drives to visits at mom's house.  I quit teaching in order to be available for whatever the kids needed. 


So, when you get a call for a child needing a placement, do you discuss with the social worker right away what your expectations are?  Do you find you have to assertively advocate for yourself with social workers? 

post #4 of 25
Originally Posted by jes h View Post

So, when you get a call for a child needing a placement, do you discuss with the social worker right away what your expectations are?  Do you find you have to assertively advocate for yourself with social workers? 

I am in Europe and the system in my country is quite different. Yet, with only one foster baby who has come and left so far, I came to some of the same conclusions you seem to be coming to. Namely, I need to make certain boundaries and stick to them. The baby's social worker wanted meetings 3 times a week. Meanwhile, foster parents here must agree to only 2 and with babies it is often only once. So, I had to say right there, in front of the parents, that I am not coming to meetings 3 times a week. Then the locations of the meetings were not what they normally would be, because the parents refused to go "so far." Thus, I had to drive the baby all over the place twice a week. With a child of my own, with hobbies in the day time, this was much more inconvenient than what we had been told at the training. There was other odd stuff, also, that I can't really talk about here. 


Anyway... We decided to continue after the first placement, but I will be less "wow, we got the call" and more "do we fit what they are looking for" when the next call comes. We take short term placements, only, so I am not so much looking for THE child, you know. I loved life with the baby, but all the travel was really too much, especially with a little one that did not like the car until the very end. In my case I also had to ask my parents for help more often than I wanted, because of my daughter's hobbies. (On top of the meetings twice a week, there were also other meetings with the social workers. It was just more than I had expected.)


When it comes to the birth family and their reactions, even the social workers may not have any idea beforehand. In your case I think someone could have imagined that grandma had thought things through before voluntarily giving up the kids. Instead, it sounded like she wanted you to be more like a daycare and have you take orders from her. It is almost as if no one had explained to her what it means to have the kids in a foster family. In a case like that, I do think it is up to you to set clear boundaries, from the very beginning. You know, grandma most likely had never been through this before, either, so she needed to be taught how things work. (Whether she would listen, or did, is a whole other matter.) If you have a supportive social worker, great. However, I would not expect the social worker to come "rescue" you, even if I think they should. It is just how it is, unfortunately... 

post #5 of 25

In my state, what you described would be very abnormal.  We don't transport to visits and we (in my experience) never arrange visits with family.  Our daughter was a kinship placement and they were very clear that we were not to visit anyone without DSS's permission.

post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 

LessTraveledBy, you are absolutely right.  The grandparents thought they were prepared for the separation, but really, how can someone prepare for that.  Honestly, when they don't totally drive me nuts, I have a lot of empathy for the mother and the grandparents.  There is a huge extended family that is missing out on having the boys due to the mother's drug use.  I have sisters who all are clean, now, from meth use and know what it is to deal with a using family member first hand.  To add the separation of the kids, yikes.


Pumpkingirl71, that makes so much more sense;  when the boys are at their grandparents, their mother has complete access, which isn't surprising, but after the first week my husband and I had strong suspicions that mom had unsupervised access when they were there;  the oldest would talk about staying with his mom.  It blows my mind that the social worker doesn't suspect a thing.  I really feel the mom had not followed through with many of the requirements made by the judge and DCFS because she has access to the kids already anyway.


The real bummer to me is that this situation COULD have a great ending;  Mom is clean for 60+ days so far, and motivated to stay clean.  She REALLY lacks parenting skills, but could be developing them with guidance from social worker and the therapist for the oldest, but instead it seems like the social worker is pushing her to have more time with the kids than she can really handle;  they are all going back to the old behavior patterns of the kids running wild while she appeases them till she yells, and now the boys will be with her mom, who she doesn't really get along with (but feels obligated to send the boys back to as a family obligation) and that will add another dysfunctional dynamic.  It is just a bummer to see a situation that could go well go, mediocre at best, and have no real influence on it. 


One reason I left teaching was because I felt like I had a lot to offer kids with bad situations, and trying to address their needs in a school setting was just burning me out.  I knew this would have some parallels, but I guess we just need to remind ourselves that we can only do our best with the kids placed with us while we have them, just like in the classroom.

post #7 of 25

My son came to me as a foster placement after having been in a foster home and then placed with his grandmother. She also was unable/willing to raise her grandchildren full time even though she loved them dearly. After C. moved in with me, I was able to schedule visits with her directly. She was also able to visit with the kids at their preschool. After a few months, the kids birth mother moved in with her. She wasn't supposed to be alone with them but the kids could be there with her. There was no concern about anyone being a danger to the kids in their situation and everyone was very respectful of the needs of each foster family.


DS's adoption was final 3 1/2 years ago and we see his bio grandmother and mother 2-3 times a year. His birth mother is doing well and parenting her almost four-year-old.

post #8 of 25

If the kids were coming from far away, or the visits would be far away, I would expect transport.  I have two other kids, I'm not traipsing all over the state for visits.  Here, foster parents do not get a say in how many visits the child gets, the judge does.  If judge says three per week, three per week it is.  We get some leeway on days & times b/c, hello, we have lives and commitments.  Also, if the birthparent is in a facility, the facility has its own internal rules and will call a judge if the visit times/hours/days do not meet their rules.  That part is annoying.  Thankfully we have a really good visit schedule right now.  I think once per week is plenty, otherwise it's too disruptive to our home life.


I'm not very upfront about anything b/c each case is different.  We have also only taken newborns so far, so there is no established pattern.  It is certainly within your right to tell your own caseworker that you expect transportation.  Our cw is v supportive of this b/c of our other kids.  Ask your cw about it and see what s/he says.  If s/he is supportive, s/he will push for transport when the child's cw is reluctant.  Our county has really moved to have all visits use transport, so it's kind of become a moot point.  They need the case aides to supervise.


It's okay to come off of a placement with negative feelings!  Our first experience was def less than stellar b/c of the child's cw.  Birthmom and I bonded over our mutual dissatisfaction, lol.  I actually called her supervisor to complain about her.  She happened to be in the room, so I was able to tell her where I thought she had dropped the ball numerous times.  Our current dfd's cw is great, LOVE her.  Between her and our cw, we are well taken care of :)

post #9 of 25
Thread Starter 
Ok, trying to type this on the IPad, and it looks a little goofy, so hopefully it will come out OK. All your comments have been very helpful so far, it is nice to hear all your perspectives. My husband and I were just discussing that it seems like there is a steep learning curve in this; we already feel more prepared for next time!

I really don't mind transporting, it is just a sort of icing on the cake with the other frustrations we've had.(two new phone calls today... The CW is on vacation, so they call me...) Agreed that once a week visits would have helped; right now it is three visits per week, plus two weekends a month overnight with thegrandpants. We transport halfway on the overnights, and the cw transports on the week day visits because I am not willing to disrupt my own son's routine that regularly ( of the three, he is probably the most temperamental and needs the nap. Skipping one nap a week would be OK, but not three!). This week I am transporting and supervising, because The CW is on vacation and I didn't want the kids to miss their visits; it would crush them. However, this many visits really does interfere with their ability to adjust between our house (with rules/expectations) and their moms. They are getting better at it though.

One thing that I have heard from friends here with more experience is that every CW is different and that has a huge effect on how all this goes down. Pretty interested to see how this goes next with a new case worker!
post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 

Insomnia = time to go to the real computer and see how that post turned out.  Yikes!  I really have a much better grasp on writing conventions that that post let on.  Sometimes the IPad catches the funny typos, and sometimes it doesn't. 


thegrandpants = the grandparents...  eyesroll.gif

post #11 of 25

Jes, we had two placements in 2011. Both were RU'd with kin (one with cousins, one with mom). Both times, we felt the outcome was good (although the hiccups in the process caused unnecessary stress and suffering). Both times, we saw that the worker was just treading water, not actively wishing the children ill or anything like that, but at the same time, not as on top of their cases as the circumstances merited. 


I went into this believing that direct contact between foster parents and biofamily was unwise, and my experiences have very much supported that. We were also pressured to supervise visits (SO inappropriate, aaargh), but we declined. I met the moms of both my foster sons - one at the child's birthday after the kinship placement, and one in court when the RU was ordered. They were nothing but polite and grateful to me. But those contacts didn't help the children, and they DID eliminate us as an adoptive resource for both children, because even though we never gave our surnames, we are now identifiable. In the case of my first foster son, his kinship caregivers even know our last name and address - WTF was I thinking? So stupid. If I wake up one night to find a relapsed junkie walking out with my TV set, I have nobody but myself to blame. I had empathy for the families and I failed to protect my own family and I will probably worry about it on and off for a couple of years. 


Anyhow. In your next placement, if you make it clear up front that your name and phone number are to be kept private, and find good reasons to be unavailable for burdensome transport, I think you'll get more of the joy of fostering and less of the frustration. There's so much about the situation that you can't control - but you CAN make your home a shelter from the storm to some degree. 

post #12 of 25
Thread Starter 

Smithie, thanks for your comments!


I have been hovering on here for a while and have read bits and pieces of your story. 


I think you are absolutely right. 

There are many things we have liked about this first placement;   We had planned on staying younger than our son, at least at first, but the boys have been wonderful together (all three, the two boys in care and our son).    On a day-to-day basis, this has been a very good first experience.  I am also glad that this placement is ending kind of early for my son;  he loves having the two here, but having them come and go, and then another child come in will help reinforce to our son that 'friends' (how we explained this to him) are going to come in and out of our home.  I think this would have been harder for him if the first placement was a very long one. 


We are really looking forward to the next placement.  I love that even if I didn't start this one off well as far as making my expectations clear, I will get a fresh start with the next placement and we'll try again.  Since the only other situation I know of is teaching (as a former teacher)  it is kind of like the first year teaching.  There is a huge learning curve, and the first class always has a special place in your heart, but every year you get to start all over again.


BTW, Amen on the whole relapsed junkie out with your TV thing.  Our boys mom has our address, and it is 3 blocks from where her drug group therapy sessions are (small town), so I am sure she has driven by many a time.  She's doing well now, but my own experience with sisters on meth reminds me how easy relapses are.  Our house has pretty shoddy front locks.  Hubby is getting that taken care of this week.  We had the same 'what were we thinking?!' moment!

post #13 of 25


In the case of my first foster son, his kinship caregivers even know our last name and address - WTF was I thinking? So stupid. If I wake up one night to find a relapsed junkie walking out with my TV set, I have nobody but myself to blame. I had empathy for the families and I failed to protect my own family and I will probably worry about it on and off for a couple of years.


honestly i think this is SO rare as to be something to not even give more than a second's thought to. Sure there are occasional cases of bfamily showing up to a foster family's house, that make the news (trying to kidnap the child back or something)...but why in the world would someone come to YOUR house when their child isnt even in care anymore? because they know your address? they could walk down their street and rob someone, why would they need to come to your house? i'm seriously confused over that one. All of my kids' bfamily (including two bparents) know my last name and could EASILY find my address as a result, and i'm not worried. I've given it a thought or two over the past few years but nothing that i would consider being a "failure to protect my family." But as i have posted before on the subject, it is routine where i live for foster parents and birthfamily to at least know last names (we all signed in on the same sign in sheet, i suppose i could have used an initial if i wanted, but then the workers call everyone "Ms. Lastname" anyway...)


To the OP...transport varies region to region, where i live its pretty much expected that the fp will transport for all visitation unless there is some exceptional reason why that cannot occur. But it is considered the FPs responsibility to figure it out. Visits are fairly standard: one time each week for one hour at the agency, unless the judge has ordered something else. If the FP has to miss a week, they must make up that visit as soon as possible. I would think it would be highly unusual to have the kind of situation you describe where the FP is transporting to a relatives home, where the child will have access to a birthparent like that. With my agency, all visits were supervised by a worker or case aid. And by supervised, i mean literally she sat in the same room (or just outside the door, the visiting rooms were super tiny, barely enough room for a couple of people) and watched everything. Its not like my kids' bfamily were dangerous or anything. The foster parents sit outside in the larger main waiting room and wait for the visit to be over. Once my (crappy) worker asked if i would supervise the visit with the dad since she had to leave, but i told her no. There was plenty of other staff people there, and since the dad never even spoke to me i wasnt comfortable with it. The mom, i would have had no problem, in fact towards the end she chose to have visits in the main waiting room with my son and myself present.



post #14 of 25


Originally Posted by queenjane View Post


In the case of my first foster son, his kinship caregivers even know our last name and address - WTF was I thinking? So stupid. If I wake up one night to find a relapsed junkie walking out with my TV set, I have nobody but myself to blame. I had empathy for the families and I failed to protect my own family and I will probably worry about it on and off for a couple of years.


honestly i think this is SO rare as to be something to not even give more than a second's thought to. Sure there are occasional cases of bfamily showing up to a foster family's house, that make the news (trying to kidnap the child back or something)...but why in the world would someone come to YOUR house when their child isnt even in care anymore? because they know your address? they could walk down their street and rob someone, why would they need to come to your house? i'm seriously confused over that one.


post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 

Emily & QueenJane,

I'll add that our concern is really a more tongue in cheek sort of 'yea, we should probably take care of that'  concern.  You'd think that after $400 worth of microphones and a sound board (a huge piece of equipment...) went 'missing' from my husband's recording space at my parents house while a sister was living there  (while using) that DH would be motivated to take care of the locks... but not so much. 


Honestly, while I am very proud of all three of my sisters for staying clean so long now, and I am very glad that the boy's mom is clean for 60+ days so far, I don't put anything past someone using meth (note; my concern is for the possibility of bad behavior if they relapse, not currently).  Statistics are not in favor of staying clean long term, though I I am proud of my sisters for beating the odds so far.  Users steal from people they know because they know what is available in that house, when no one is home, and where to find the goods. 


Please note, once more, I am not actually super worried about this, but just reminded that I should probably take care of the whole door-lock business, as much to protect our stuff from my sisters, and (protect my sisters from temptation), as much as from others.

post #16 of 25

"...why in the world would someone come to YOUR house when their child isnt even in care anymore?"


To steal our stuff, to sell, to buy meth. My first foster son's "dad" (mom's boyfriend, but loves J and has lived with him for years) recently relapsed and attempted to rob a relative at knifepoint. J is going to tell him all about our computers and iPads and video game systems. It's a big part of his story of living with us, that he got to enjoy those toys. I worry. I don't panic, but I worry and I wish that I could go back and do it differently. 


Meth is a hell of a drug. 

post #17 of 25
Thread Starter 

Just had a phone call with the CW.  Boys are officially moving out this Saturday and back to their grandparents. 


I'm feeling a little misty-eyed, and a tad concerned about our own son handling the change, but overall, looking forward to trying again with the next placement!



post #18 of 25

I'm not sure about setting up boundaries. We have a separate mailing address that we give out that is NOT our home address. That's one thing. I think a separate phone number might be helpful. I would advise new foster parents to set up a separate phone number purely for foster parenting issues. A lot of people do that. We didn't do it because we didn't want the added expense but looking back I think it is a smart idea.


I wish case workers could be counted on to transport or arrange visits and just generally be more helpful, but they can't. They are overworked and sometimes incompetent. Our caseworker cannot install a carseat. She just can't do it right! I don't understand how it happens that someone with an education in child welfare can't figure out how to take basic measures to protect against the most common form of DEATH for young children, but that's how it is. She can't install her own carseat. She can't even find someone else to do it right either. She shows up with a carseat installed wrong. So I don't trust her to transport.


We have visits with other foster families (sibling visits) AND with bio family and we're responsible for ALL the transportation. I wrongly assumed that foster parents would be expected to split the transportation in half since we're all compensated the same and it's expected that we transport. But no, some foster parents get special treatment. Right now we have three visits a week that eat up about 13 hours of our time each week and about 200 miles per week.


If we got into this strictly to foster parent then I think it wouldn't bother us as much. But we got in this to adopt. We were very clear about that from the beginning and that's still the plan. So weekly visits aimed at moving or reunifying are really difficult for us emotionally as well as financially and physically. And there's no real support for that.


I have to say, we will NOT do this again. Foster kids are great but the system is so messed up that I can't handle it. I refuse to subject myself to this emotioanl abuse again. When this is over it's over. No more foster parenting for us.

post #19 of 25
Thread Starter 
Yikes, Marsupial-Mom! That sound like a very frustrating experience!

When your little ones were placed with you was the agency clear that reunification was possible? I know when we went through our licensing process it was an option to only have kids who's parent's rights had been revoked - or is this possible reunification with other family members? Three visits a week seems like tons of visits if the intention is to eventually adopt! I know that for us, three visits weekly makes it really hard for the boys to really feel that they belong anywhere - our house or the family's.
post #20 of 25

Just in general, I have found that the foster caseworkers will abdicate as much responsibility to you as you are willing to take on. When you holler, "No!" they will stop, but not until then.


My advice would be not to let yourself feel threatened that if you don't want to take on all this extra responsibility, that the kids will have to go back to the grandparents. Maybe you don't feel that way, but I think I would. You are in charge. I assume you are doing a good job of caring for the children, so you are exactly what they need. They need you to demonstrate how to set boundaries because these are life skills they will need to develop as well. It's hard to go up against a social worker when it *feels* like they have some power over you getting placements or not, but you are in charge.


I'm being a little cynical because I just came off a set of frustrating experiences with what I feel were workers not doing their jobs and me doing them for them. My sister who fosters is in the same boat. We found that they will push as much onto you as you will take. I'm sure not all caseworkers are like this though.


With my first placement, the mother was really flaky about showing up extremely late for visits (which became an issue when it was the baby's feeding time, do I feed him or keep waiting for her?). Sometimes she didn't show up at all. For the first six weeks we had six different visit schedules even though they were supposed to be set for specific days then left that way. I was a little scared to rock the boat because I felt like getting this baby placed with us was a gift and I didn't want to do anything to make myself seem pushy or annoying. I finally stuck up for myself when I realized it was better for him to have visits go much better. It was hard on him to be driven to the agency, wait in a parking lot for a half hour, then turn around and go home. Even though he was just a newborn, it was not good for him to have the whole family routine disrupted every time the visit schedule changed. I was also dragging my two bio kids around and disrupting their homeschooling for this. Finally I proposed that visits be on any two days the caseworker and mother chose with the exception of Friday (to show I was willing to be flexible). Anytime after 9 and before 3 was acceptable, otherwise it would interrupt the baby's sleep (and my other committments!). Then we would need to stick to this schedule. If a visit needed to be changed for a reason the caseworker deemed to be valid (mother came up with some excuses we felt were lame sometimes), I needed to know at least three days in advance as I had other appointments to change if possible. When the mother started missing visits more and more, I drew a firmer line in the sand. I knew the mother lived less than five minutes from the visit location, yet I was 20 minutes away plus 10 minutes to get everyone's coats on and in the car. I said that it was too difficult for the baby to travel for nothing, so I asked the caseworker if she could have the mother arrive 30 minutes before the visit time was to start and the caseworker would call me if she showed up. I would be generous and wait for 15 minutes past the allotted time just in case she was running a little late, as we all do sometimes. Otherwise, I considered the visit cancelled so we could open up our schoolbooks and get going with our day. I had to be firm in enforcing this. A couple times the mother was 20 minutes late (really 50 minutes since she was supposed to be half hour early, and again she lived two miles from the agencyh). I am a more passive person when it comes to conflict, so it was hard, but I made myself say to the caseworker, "Oh how disappointing for her that you will have to remind her the visit is cancelled because of her tardiness. We will plan to see you on Thursday if she arrives on time and you call to let me know she's there."


One thing you can say when you communicate boundaries to the caseworker is the phrase "in the best interest of the children." I have found it quite empowering. It is in the best interest of the siblings in your care to have a regular visit schedule. It is in their best interest to have time to prepare for visits at least two days ahead of time (or whatever is acceptable to you). It is in their best interest to expect they will see so-and-so on such-and-such date.

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