My first guest blogger is Theresa Frasier. She highlights the struggles and realities of a foster parent and Play Therapist. Enjoy!
Six months ago I had a powerful experience that confirmed some beliefs that I hold dear in my role as a therapist, professor and mother and foster parent.
I am a mother with a few taglines- foster mother, adoptive mother and biological mother. Also, once people get to know me, they learn that I am fiercely protective of my children; all my children. I would like to share the details of this powerful experience but in doing so it would be obvious what child I was discussing and the professional who impacted our family’s sense of safety for at least three months. So I will only share examples which represent themes.
Foster Parents and Play Therapy
In any Play Therapy training program there are a variety of topics covered including models and history, techniques, and special populations. We also teach and learn about ethics and best practices to include topics such as informed consent, confidentiality, counter transference and the list should dig deeper. Some therapists work primarily with children or teens and some also work with families. I love to work with families and my expertise is foster /adoptive families, mostly because I have walked the walk of providing care with kids who have complex trauma experiences and I believe in my heart that if we can empower families to learn how to become the parents their children need them to be- then our Play Therapy interventions and the powers of play can impact the child more quickly.
These experiences have taught me the most about working as part of a multi-disciplinary team and the importance of respecting all members of the team.
When my role in these teams is as a direct care provider, foster parent- mom, they haven’t always been positive experiences. They instead have been experiences where I was talked to disrespectfully, judged or mistaken for someone who would accept being talked down to. These professionals appeared to do so with intention and routine. The power imbalance was clearly felt.
It first happened in a foundational Play Therapy training where the trainer stated that many foster parents aren’t invested in being in the therapy process. It was also inferred that foster parents give up or give in on difficult kids. What wasn’t added to the conversation was that children/teens with complex needs are placed with foster parents to test out how they can be managed with little additional resources and only after four or five placement breakdowns do powers to be search out expensive albeit more intensive programs that were usually believed to be required in the first place.
Foster Parenting Isn’t Just A Full- Time Job
Foster parents are often depicted in media as money seeking uneducated people. Their daily per diem can be broken down to (at the most) $2 a hour. Fostering isn’t like a job that you clock into at a certain time but we have to acknowledge that it is hard work and though foster parents are viewing children as at least temporary family members, the system can’t always view this resource as people providing this most valuable resource with little to no supports.
There are many foster parents who have primary designations such as Child and Youth Care Practitioners, Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists or Teachers. They may have to stay at home if they have foster children with lots of specialist appointments or school issues, all in addition to the many meetings that are scheduled regularly. Many foster families have one parent who works outside of the home and one parent who needs to be available for all of the weekly meetings with collaterals.
A foster parent may feel like it is their calling or purpose. For some it is spiritual or religious but for others it may be a sacred process. It is absolutely wonderful to see a child blossom, learn to read, or be able to shower finally with the door shut. These steps can be steps in healing from their trauma. Some therapists get this but I have experienced others who make unbelievable assumptions, or don’t engage foster parents in information sharing, or make appointments without considering the impact on other members of the family. We had one worker who constantly treated our family like babysitters, and uber drivers and would remind us that all of her decisions were in the child’s best interest. Our response wanted to be- “if it negatively impacts the family then it isn’t in the child’s best interest”. To add insult to injury, this child welfare worker emailed us without warning to communicate that “today” was her last day and requested us to say goodbye on her behalf to the child. This was not in the child’s best interest.
We have had teachers and principals try to intimidate us by threatening to contact the local child protection agency because we wouldn’t accept a difficult child home without legislated paperwork. We have had a dental receptionist state that we are being neglectful if we don’t bring the child for a check- up on a day that is chosen by an out of town clinic even though that time conflicts with being home when other children are finished school and if we aren’t home then we are neglecting their needs. Every worker looks at “their “ child as being important with no consideration for other children or family members.
We are informed and aware of both legislation and policy. When we share this information, we are sometimes described as being difficult. If my partner switched wives four times in a year he would be described as unstable but we have had four workers in a year for a child.
There is an imbalance of power when we are therapists. We have to check our privilege sometimes and not make assumptions. We have to try to treat the direct care workers as the most important members of the team. They in fact are doing the most work and may be the most longstanding “clinician” in the child’s life with the littlest of sleep, resources, and the high cost to their marriage or relationships with other children.
There are foster parents that do not appear committed and do not appear to make decisions that align with those of other team members. However, I challenge all Play Therapists to develop a relationship with caregivers acknowledging that 18 others may have come before you (so just like with the children) they may need some time to develop trust and safety. There are foster parents who are not working therapeutically. All foster parents and all therapists need to be held accountable.
Ms. Frasier is a Play Therapist Supervisor in Canada who wears many hats. She is well known for her work with folks who experience complex trauma and grief and loss. She is launching a web based sandtray training in early 2018. www.changingsteps.ca