Rules in the Foster Care System (and when to break them)

4 year old boy blowing bubbles in the backyard

Last Monday H went to Panama City Beach for a visit with his mom and siblings. 

Around noon I got a text from his mother saying she was working across town and there was an accident. She arrived 15 minutes late as a result. Apparently, the visitation center policy is: if you show up 15 minutes late, they cancel your visit. 

There are many reasons why visits could (or should) be canceled. If the parent isn’t progressing in their case plan, cancel visits. If a parent is habitually late, cancel visits. Obviously, if a parent shows up inebriated, cancel visits. 

I (a lover of rules) get that this is the rule. They are trying to teach negligent parents about responsibility and showing up on time. They also don’t want to waste their staff members’ time (visits require supervision by staff).

But imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine if I was supervising visits and we were meeting at the park. I wait 15 minutes and pack it in just as the parent pulls up. Can you IMAGINE the wrath I would get from the parent, the case manager, possibly even a judge if I just took the kid and left a FOUR HOUR VISIT because the parent was 15 minutes late?

There are Exceptions to Every Rule

As with everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. And this should have been one of those times

Photo of our foster son playing in bubbles outside on Easter Sunday. We made an exception to our no candy rule, and let him eat some for lunch.
Throwback to Easter Sunday, when we made an exception and let H eat candy for lunch.

First, most foster kids get to see their parents twice a week (or more) but because H is 3 hours away, he only gets to see her once a week. 

Second, the mother was literally leaving a court mandated activity (a job) to go to another court mandated activity (a visitation). And while her previous actions (or inactions) may not have been satisfactory to the case manager, in this particular instance, she was doing her best. She was 15 minutes late, not an hour. She hadn’t been drinking. She wasn’t strung out. She simply got caught in traffic and was 15 minutes late, which has happened to us all, I’m sure. 

In fact, if one’s parenting ability was tied to timeliness, my husband would have been placed in care from the day he was born. I love my father-in-law, but I don’t think he’s ever arrived on time in his life. And my mom may have had some issues too…

Finally, who, once again, suffers from this policy? A 4 year old boy. That’s who. And a mother, who already distrusts the system, has even more incentive to hate it. 

In the eloquent words of my husband, after hearing my diatribe, “slow clap for the system. Way to suck at your job.”

A New Foster Care System Policy Proposal

And since I have a small obsession with solving problems, here’s how to handle tardiness for visits next time:

  1. Since the kid is already there, let the visit take place. 
  2. After the child has left, pull the parent aside and give them a verbal warning. 
  3. If it happens a second time, give them a written warning that they must sign in acknowledgement.
  4. If it happens a third time, reduce or cancel visitation SINCE (I would argue) A CANCELED VISIT IS MORE EMOTIONALLY DAMAGING TO A CHILD than no visits at all. 

When H got home that night, he walked over to the window where his dinosaur dream catcher hung. He painted it with his mom during their last visit. He reached up and touched it. Then he turned to me and said “I didn’t get to see my mommy today” and slid open the glass door and walked outside.

5 thoughts on “Rules in the Foster Care System (and when to break them)”

    1. I stopped wearing makeup because at least that way if I sporadically start crying, no one will no after 20 minutes since mascara isn’t all over my face.

      1. This absolutely breaks my heart for H. The system is causing these stressed children even more horrible trauma. How can these supposed experts in child care not see this!! Love to you …your solution is a good one Lucille

  1. I worked in government for 30 years, and I’m almost certain there is in fact an “exception” policy (written or not) but often staff doesn’t want to take the time/trouble to invoke it because it is easier for them to “just say no.” Maybe it is paperwork on their part, the fear of “giving an inch’, etc.

    Maybe you can tactfully check on that? And if in fact there is no “exception” policy, that doesn’t mean one can be established with parameters for dealing with abuse, such as no more than one “exception” within a specified period.

    If you are dealing directly with a state agency, there are regulations, which can be changed through rule making which agencies do periodically. A letter to your legislator on this can go along way. If it is a private agency, then those are just “policies” which can be changed or modified or ignored based on a worker or supervisor’s judgement. The private agency may be working with written regulations set by a state agency so then it is the state agency you’d have to work on.

    1. Thank you! This is great advice and I am going to figure out who to send the letter to. I think it may be someone based in Panama City, rather than Tallahassee, since the case originated there.

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