I have had my foster son for six months now and am having trouble with the caseworker. I completely disagree with her decisions related to my son’s case and believe the mom should have no contact with our son. Birth mom still has no job and is living in a shelter; I can’t imagine that reunification is possible. It is really upsetting to see him go to visits and come back hopped up on sugar and so angry and sad. The caseworker says this is normal, but it feels like we are torturing our child. What should we do?
It sounds like you are really discouraged and having a hard time, I am so sorry. Visits are a very emotionally draining time for everyone: the child, the birth parent, and foster parents. I don’t know that there is ever a visitation situation that does not complicate a foster parent’s life. Your little paragraph was full of many common problems for foster families and there are a few different angles I would like to answer your question from.
Let’s start by taking a look at disagreeing with the caseworker’s decisions. There are a few important key things to remember. First, the caseworker has certain procedures they have to follow, so what happens when it comes to visits is not always up to them. Second, the caseworker may be keeping details that you are unaware of to herself because of her requirement for confidentiality. Third, remember God placed your caseworker in your life. It does not matter if your caseworker is 100% wrong, if you are called to foster care then you are called to love, encourage, and be respectful with that caseworker. That does not mean if your caseworker is truly doing something that is hurting the case (such as not returning phone calls for 3 months) that you do not talk to their supervisor, but it does mean that no matter what we need to be kind, patient, gentle, and gracious with our very over burdened caseworkers.
As far as visitation goes, it is important to remember that visitation is a parent’s right. Do we really want the government taking away the rights of parents prematurely? Prior to the legal severance of the birth parent’s rights, it would be alarming for the government to take too many measures without a trial or hearing that prevent a parent from seeing their child. Severing a parent’s rights is a big deal. As time drags on, it can be frustrating, but try to free yourself by accepting this is completely out of your control. The judge decides and God is never surprised by the judges decisions.
As far as sugar goes, you can do your best to encourage birth mom not to load their child up on sugar, but pick your battle. This mom is feeling incredible guilt and shame. For whatever the reason, she lost her child to the state government. She is only seeing that child for a short period of time each week and may not be emotionally healthy enough to even use that time to parent or pay attention to her child. But deep down, she has parental instincts and what parent does not want to see their child happy? In her limited capacity due to her own upbringing, drug/alcohol addiction, recovering from domestic violence, or whatever landed her in this situation—sometimes the only way she knows how to make her child happy is by giving them everything they want. I think this just has to be one of those things you overlook, withhold judgement & endure.
Regardless of whether reunification happens or not, birth mom/dad/grandparents are part of your life too (even if you never see them again-they become part of your families story). In fact, I bet God put them in your life as an opportunity to show them grace and love. Perhaps God chose you to be their foster family to not only provide safety and love for their child, but for you to be a loving testimony of the good news of Jesus to the adults involved. It is easy to love children. If that is all there was to foster care then we probably would not have a foster parent shortage, but it is challenging and sometimes painful to deeply love the adults involved. It will cost you your pride, your opinions, and sometimes your reputation, but in exchange you gain an opportunity to proclaim and live Christ crucified. Hard work, no doubt, but possible when we look to the wonderful example of Jesus Christ.
So if you want a short answer to your question, “What can you do?” I guess all I can say is step back, be slow to speak, and love, love, love. I know that may not be practical or helpful, but it is the only way to endure the many challenges of being a foster parent in a way that brings great glory to God. Make sure you reach out to other foster parents and supportive friends for prayer and encouragement as you walk through these challenges.