When my husband and I were going through foster parenting training, we heard time and time again what a great need there was for foster parents. We knew it was going to be difficult, which is probably why it was hard to find willing victims, errr, participants. This was not shocking to us.
What we did find shocking to learn was that, in Tallahassee, every foster parent who had been certified the year before didn’t continue with foster parenting for the current year.
What was the reason? We wondered. Was it improper training? Lack of support? Were the kids just THAT difficult?
Having been a foster parent for a little over a month now, it boils down the same thing that causes companies to fail and marriages to fall apart.
I’m talking about communication.
Everything I Needed to Know in Life I learned in the 1st Grade
I distinctly remember my mother teaching my brother, sister and me the 5 W’s when we were homeschool kids growing up in Alaska. As a refresher, they are Who, What, When, Where and Why.
And it makes sense. If you could succinctly answer these 5 questions, you have all the information you need. I know this because when I got to college, guess what they were teaching in my Journalism 101 class? You guessed it – who, what, when, where, why (and how… I guess they save that one for the 20 year olds).
But don’t take MY word for it. Take Hallmark’s. In every birthday and wedding invitation, what information is included? The 5 W’s. Because can you image getting a save-the-date with the date left off?
Verbatim Email from a Case Manager (Illustrating Poor Communication Skills)
I would bet that it’s not the improper training or the lack of support or the difficulty of dealing with children with severe behavioral issues that causes foster parents to quit the system. It’s emails like the one I received, which I will share below. But first, a quick backstory…
Right after H arrived, we took him to the dentist. We found out he has 8 cavities. As it turns out, his insurance doesn’t include any pediatric dentists in Tallahassee. So, he has to go to either Niceville or Panama City (both 3 hours away) to get his teeth fixed. After a couple of weeks of back-and-forth, I received this email, at 5:22 PM on Monday:
So, let’s break this down:
H, our foster son, has a dentist appointment in Bay County at 3 PM. Great…ON WHAT DAY?! Tomorrow? In 2022? Who knows! Furthermore, “a transportation worker” will pick him up and someone with a first name will drop him off after the appointment.
Parents, y’all are cool with sending your kids with adults you don’t know, right? Like it’s TOTALLY normal for you to NOT KNOW the first name, last name and phone number of the adult responsible for your kid, right?
Didn’t think so. And neither am I.
The Reason Foster Parents Quit Is Due to Poor Communication
I sent an email response back. I called and left voicemails on the Case Manager and Case Supervisor’s phones, texted them and called the after hours emergency line. Then, I called the nurse practitioner (who answered, God bless her) and she said the appointment was on Thursday.
But wait! There’s more!
At 9:11 PM on Monday I got a text back from the Case Manager saying “Yes it is tomorrow” (meaning Tuesday — not Thursday).
So the fun continues. I get to respond “Are you sure? Because when I didn’t hear from you I called the nurse practitioner and she said it was Thursday (not Tuesday).”
I’m still waiting on a response.
In the foster system, it’s either the lack of communication or the poor communication that will kill you. It sucks up your time, your most precious commodity. It drains you of your energy, it’s a unique form of torture – to know that the solution is so simple yet completely unobtainable and completely out of reach.
This is why foster parents drop of out the system. It’s why they struggle to retain “normal” people. Because something as simple as a dentist appointment or getting the last name and phone number of the adult who’s driving the child in your care requires 2 emails, 3 phone calls and a half dozen text messages.
Want to know how to improve the system? The same way you build strong companies and strong relationships. Improve the communication.
UPDATE: The appointment wasn’t Tuesday OR Thursday, as it turned out. It was Wednesday. The Case Manager and Case Supervisor did call to apologize.