Wednesday, April 8, 2009

35 Minutes, and Then They're Gone

The interview toward accreditation went basically like I had expected. In the last couple of hours before she arrived, I had a sudden fear that I would be asked to share MY files, similar to the way they go over agency files. That was an intimidating thought, for sure -- and I'm glad it didn't involve anything like that. The interviewer was female, from a mountainous state to the west. I was surprised to hear that she was a volunteer. She asked me my thoughts, rather than specific questions, but many were close to what I had expected.

She asked about our training, and what I thought of it. I responded saying I liked that we are allowed to get 1/2 our training hours from outside sources, so I could attend trainings specific to my children, especially those with medical needs. (I did not say that the trainings offered by the agency were often boring and repetitive, unless they were presented by someone outside the agency, from new material. I was trying to be a good team member.) She also wondered about my role as a trainer of new foster parents, and how that was structured. We team-teach: a degreed social worker, counselor, or other professional, along with a foster parent. (We provide the color commentary to go along with the play-by-play.) She delved a little further into that, getting assurance from me that our practice is full involvement with the training, actually presenting half the material, not just dropping by occasionally.

Another question was about mentoring of new foster parents. Although we do a lot of mentoring, some of it arranged by the agency, and some of it naturally occurring by active foster parents and through the foster parent group, there is no official mentoring of every new foster family that I know of. It has been mentioned, but is not in regular practice.

She also asked if I felt I was part of the team (definitely, and I remember the time, years ago, when that was not the case), and if the agency is responsive to concerns (also a definite yes answer). In fact, with the new administration in our agency, we now have regular meetings to share foster parent concerns with the administration. Naturally, we have some complaints about things not on the local level, but I believe they're doing what they can, locally. A little more flexibility would be nice, but we can't have everything.

I was asked the one thing I'd most like to see changed, and then the one thing I enjoy most about what I do. My biggest concern is lack of new foster parents, and foster parent retention. The more families we have, the better the matches can be made, and the more successful placements will be. Along with that -- actually the basis of retention of foster parents -- I think is feeling supported by the agency. The key to this is knowledgeable workers - seasoned workers who have some experience under their belts. In this area, we are a college town, and have many new graduates who begin their careers in our agency, then move elsewhere. The constant turnover is a downfall, but I'm not sure what to do to prevent it. The thing I enjoy most is seeing a child's success -- those little daily things, having a child experience growth through something he's accomplished that he didn't belive he could. That's all I need - just a smile from a kid, and an occasional pat on the back from the agency.

There were a couple of other subjects that I can't think of right now -- I'll edit later if I remember them. The team left here to meet with an adoptive parent, and then a young man who aged out of the system.

All in all -- it was a good experience. I hope they get the information they're looking for, and our agency can get back to the focus of serving the children in our care, rather than meeting accreditation standards. Paperwork is important, but not the most important thing, by far.

Special Visitors

Today I am expecting visitors at home. Coming this afternoon will be the caseworker who licenses and supports foster parents with higher-than-typical-need foster children (my supervisor), her supervisor, and an out-of-state person who will interview me about the state children's services agency and the local county and circuit. Our state agency is undergoing an accreditation process, and our county and circuit is one of the last to be assessed in this process.

I haven't understood the exact reason our state agency wants/needs to be accredited, but I imagine it involves money, somehow -- possibly access to funds from the federal level. Whatever the reason, better practices never hurt any agency. One of the things we've noticed recently is a reduction in cases per worker. Fewer cases should mean better service to the children. My strengths don't lie in statistics, or legislative or fiscal matters, but I'm happiest right here in the trenches, with the kids in our home and family. However, in recent years, I have become a little more involved, because I see what a difference it makes to advocate on behalf of our children and others in foster care.

I don't really know what to expect from this visit. Maybe questions like: "How long have you been a foster parent, and how many kids have you cared for?" "How often do the workers visit you, and how often do they visit the children?" "How is your relationship with the agency workers?" "What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of this agency?" "What are your training requirements?" They may also ask to see a foster child's bedroom, but I really don't expect this meeting to be a "house inspection." Nevertheless -- I have sorted and put away some paper-work piles, and the clutter that so quickly accumulates. There's no reason not to try to make a good impression!

Because we've been foster parents for so many years (29), had such a wide variety of kiddos, and I work with the local foster parent support group and train prospective foster parents -- we have a fairly broad perspective. As I've said before, "I may not always be right, but I always have opinions!" ;-)

We'll see what the afternoon brings . . . .

I'll be back to let you know how it went.