for Foster Parents
Standing in the Shadow of the Law
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Invisible Foster Child
The Little Known
“DIRTY TRICKS” of DCFS/CPS/DSS
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If you are the target of an allegation:
Related Site: Allegations:
Prevention and Survival
Allegations Happen: How to Prevent
and Survive Them
from Spring 2002 Adoptalk
Consequences of Allegations
How Support Groups Can
"It’s the worst thing
that’s ever happened to me," said one parent about the time her
foster daughter filed an abuse allegation against her. Most often
false, allegations of abuse against parents who foster and adopt
children with special needs are frighteningly common. When parenting
these special children, it is in our best interest to prevent
situations that could be construed as inappropriate, and seek out
help when an allegation disrupts our lives.
Whether false or
confirmed, allegations arise for different reasons. We hope that
children who are abused by their caregivers will notify a teacher,
social worker, or someone else in authority. But sometimes children
whose backgrounds include abuse are highly sensitized to triggers
that they associate with abuse. You may just be leading a child to a
time out after he kicks his sister; but the instant you grab his
arm, your foster son may flash back to times when he was dragged to
a room and whipped with his birth father’s belt. As children age
through the foster care system, and grow in street wisdom and anger,
many also learn that allegations are a ticket out of a placement, a
means of getting attention, and a way to keep parents who are
starting to get too close a safe distance away.
The general public is
concerned about child abuse and neglect, but not very knowledgeable
about how parents must try to deal with some very difficult
behaviors presented by abused children. The media is quick to shine
the spotlight on a few foster and adoptive parents who abuse
children in their care, and say little about those who are
diligently working to improve children’s lives. Once they happen,
allegations are hard to live down.
Consequences of Allegations
When I was a social
worker, a 13-year-old girl in my caseload alleged that her
71-year-old foster grandfather had sexually abused her. The
grandfather had a heart condition and I thought the reports would
kill him! After looking into the charges, investigators discovered
that the girl was distorting the situation and reenacting a previous
abuse situation with her birth grandfather.
substantiated, the charge became part of the family’s case file, and
the stress family members experienced lingered on. Many parents
describe allegations and the subsequent investigation as a process
of loss and grief. Parents may lose their sense of identity, their
self-esteem, and their trust in the worker or agency. Children may
be removed–another painful loss for both the children and parents.
Even after child protection closes the case, a parent may feel that
the family’s good name is forever tarnished and the episode will
never be resolved.
uncover licensing violations or substantiated abuse claims can cause
additional stress. Depending on the severity of the infraction,
foster parents may be placed on probation, be issued a correction
order, or have their license temporarily suspended or permanently
revoked. Serious allegations may result in a criminal charge that
could land a parent in jail, and forever ruin chances of fostering
or adopting another child.
Foster and adoptive
families who have lots of children, including children of different
races, and who have been fostering for a long time are at greater
risk of being reported for alleged abuse. All families who care for
children with special needs face some risk, and every parent can
take steps to keep situations from turning into allegations. Below
are some ideas for parents to consider.
limits. If you are not comfortable handling children with
certain challenging backgrounds and behaviors, don’t set
yourself up by bringing such children into your home.
Learn all you
can about each child before placement. You have a right to
know about previous abuse and allegations. Ask: "Has this child
been abused? In what way? Who were the perpetrators? Have there
been any abuse allegations?" Had the foster family whose
13-year-old girl charged the grandfather with abuse known about
her abuse history, they would never have left the foster
grandfather alone with her.
Make sure that
men and boys in your house are never alone with a girl who has
been sexually abused. Proactive precautions are very
important in this situation, especially at the beginning of the
placement. Talk with your partner and others in the household
about this safety plan, and stay proactive.
sexually abused child his or her own bedroom. I know this is
difficult, but why put another child in your home at risk? If a
child’s boundaries have been invaded, he or she needs to
re-learn proper boundaries.
clear about rules for dress, privacy, touching, etc.
Caregivers must agree on house rules, boundaries, and
consequences. Each child comes from a different culture of
parenting, sexuality, sleeping habits, dress, touch, and more,
and needs to learn what is appropriate. As a foster mom, I
talked about sexuality as one of the house rules. "In this
house," I would say, "my husband gets his sexual needs met with
me and only me." Sound crude? Yes, but I said it in a
matter-of-fact way and set a very clear boundary that the
teenage girls we worked with really needed.
physical discipline. Corporal punishment is not allowed in
foster care, but I know some folks think that once the kids are
adopted, physical discipline is okay. Don’t do it. Children with
a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse often
misinterpret physical discipline and an allegation is likely.
Physical discipline can also undermine attachment.
horseplay, wrestling, and suggestive language. These are
acts of intimacy, and intimacy is just what abused children
often resist. In addition, the child may get a different message
than you intend during the close physical contact involved.
sexual acting out in writing. Send reports to the child’s
social worker and therapist. Then, if another incident comes to
light, the worker and therapist can see that there might be a
pattern to the child’s acting out that perhaps relates to past
behavior patterns. When a child enters your home, use a
calendar to record changes in the child’s behavior;
inappropriate words or actions during birth parent visits; the
child’s behavior following visits; the cause of scratches,
bruises, or other injuries; and any patterns of behavior that
seem to follow specific events or times of the year (like
anniversaries of certain past events).
a support group. As foster and adoptive parents of children
with special needs, we need to share the struggles and joys that
are a part of our lives with those who can empathize and support
us. We need folks who can laugh and cry with us and really
understand foster and adoptive parents’ journey.
personal time to reduce stress. Know what really pushes your
buttons, and establish a calming plan. Post 20 calming tips on
your refrigerator and model stress-reduction techniques for your
children. Then, make plans for a weekly–yes, weekly–time away
from the children. Take care of yourself; you are the child’s
Sometimes, despite a
family’s efforts to prevent them, allegations will happen. Maybe
things are going a little too well with Jimmy–a 12-year-old with a
history of sexual abuse–and he starts to get scared. The week after
a lively game of Twister with his foster dad, Jimmy tells his worker
that the foster dad was touching and pressing his body against
Jimmy’s. Jimmy claims it was sexual abuse, and soon child protection
opens a case file to investigate Jimmy’s allegation.
The foster family is
looking at weeks or months of investigation, and Jimmy moves to an
emergency shelter. What can the parents do to take care of
Try to stay
positive. Assume that the charge will be proven false, and
try not to presume guilt. Statistics I’ve seen say that about 65
to 70 percent of all allegations are false. Child protection has
to investigate to make certain that the child is not being
abused. The best thing you can do is cooperate.
everything. Start a notebook to record details of every
phone conversation, personal interview, and correspondence
related to the allegation. Write in pen, and be prepared to use
the notebook to back up your story in court if need be. Request
copies of the written charge against your family, as well as the
letter that formally states that the allegations were unfounded.
yourself. Insist on getting a copy of your state’s foster
care rules and laws pertaining to allegations and abuse, and
learn about county or agency policies and procedures too. Find
out what will happen during the investigation, what your rights
are, and how you can appeal an investigator’s determination.
appropriately. During interviews, make your point and then
stop talking. Speak with confidence, and be factual, honest,
respectful, and business like. Avoid emotional language when
telling your side of the story. It may be extremely hard, but
you must try to be objective.
people who are gathering information. If an investigator
asks to meet with you, don’t keep her waiting. If you need to,
bring along a friend or someone from your support group who can
give you perspective on how the meeting went.
with your partner.
Allegations, especially those of sexual abuse, can really drive
a wedge between partners. The husband thinks, "How could they
think I would do something like that?!" The wife wonders, "Could
it possibly be true?!" If not openly discussed, these questions
can pull couples apart just when they need each other’s support
rights. Don’t be afraid to appeal, request a waiver, and
learn how the grievance procedure works. If need be, hire legal
counsel. I would especially recommend hiring a good attorney for
sexual abuse allegations.
How Support Groups Can Help
In addition to
counseling new foster and adoptive families about taking conscious
steps to prevent allegations, support groups can be very helpful
when a family is going through or has just concluded an allegation
investigation. Sometimes, the best help is just being there. To
support family members who are going through an investigation:
sympathetic ear. This is a time when families really need
the support group! Make them feel welcome by respectfully
It is not the group’s job to fix the problem. There are many
sides to the story, and the group should be objective. Agency
bashing helps no one.
information. Encourage members to talk about their
experiences with allegations, and share local allegation policy
and procedural information with the entire group.
resources. Direct the family to legal services and suggest
how they can obtain agency policies concerning allegations.
mentor. Parents going through an allegation may have an
easier time talking to one person who has experienced an
allegation rather than the whole group. A call from someone who
can say, "I’ve walked the walk," can mean so much during this
investigation is over, ask for help to regain your equilibrium,
rebuild, and move on. Take really good care of yourself. Think hard
and give yourself some time off before bringing a child back into
your home, or accepting another placement. Take care of the children
still in the home. Difficult times can be therapeutic and healing,
showing children that we can have tough times, but as families we
are strong and resilient. If you can’t prevent an allegation, at
least do what you can to survive, learn, and thrive.
American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
If you are interested in joining our support
group, use the link below to subscribe.
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