Peter A. Kenny's Adoption and Foster Care Law Blog
Foster parents are especially vulnerable to charges of child abuse and neglect. Charges may be leveled by the foster child, the birth parent, the caseworker, a neighbor, or a stranger. The reasons are many and the allegations may be exaggerated or patently false, often motivated by resentment. No matter the source or the merit of the charges or how absurd they appear, they must be taken seriously right from the start. Don’t wait..
Once substantiated, they can be very difficult to counter. Here are ten practical and common sense steps to take.
- Anticipate. Be wary of placements that have failed. Find out why before you take a child. If the most recent foster parent has been charged with abuse, you may refuse the placement or at least be prepared.
- Prepare. Expect that you will be accused of abuse at some point. Keep a daily journal. Document everything.
- Know the welfare policies. Learn beforehand what constitutes abuse by a foster parent and what happens when abuse is investigated.
- When you learn you may be charged with abuse, write down everything you can think of about the incident.
- Take accusations seriously. Losing may cost you your foster care license and prevent you from working in any job that involves contact with children.
- If you plan to contest the charges, contact an attorney, one experienced with welfare policies and abuse investigations. Explain the situation and follow his or her advice.
- You may want your attorney with you at the initial interview, depending on the seriousness of the charges. Assume they will also interview your foster child.
- Err on the side of brevity. Answer the questions but don’t volunteer information. Don’t feel you can charm the investigator with how concerned you are for the child in your care.
- Don’t discuss the matter with others, not even your caseworker. If they question you or accuse you, tell them to talk to your attorney. That is why you have one.
- You will want your attorney present at any administrative law hearing. The administrative law judge will be interested primarily in the answer to two simple questions: Did it happen? Did it rise to the level of abuse and/or neglect?
Foster parenting is a tough job. Taking care of troubled children is difficult enough. Being vulnerable to charges of abusing them makes it even harder. Following the above steps to anticipate and deal with such charges will help you avoid wrongful substantiations.read more
by James A. Kenny, Ph.D
For too many people, discipline is equated with punishment. This creates a special problem for foster children who have already suffered from abuse and neglect.
In actual fact, punishment is a rather ineffective method for obtaining compliance. There are other methods that work better. Here are a few ideas:
Begin with a focus on the desired outcome. Be concrete and specific. Select behaviors that can be observed and counted. Goals like “attitude” and “respect” are too vague and general. Instead, look to goals like coming home on time, the absence of certain unacceptable words, and teacher reports on completed assignments. Find quick and simple ways to achieve these goals.
Consider a whole range of non-verbal or word-free responses. (We don’t mean spanking. That violates DCS policy.) Words take too long and provide secondary gain. It may help to imagine you have duct tape over your mouth. What can you do? Distract him. Have pre-planned games or activities. Go and get her. Separate combatants. Confiscate the cell phone.
Anticipate trouble areas. Post the house rules, including chore lists and curfew times for everyone. Have a written policy on cell phone use and abuse. If necessary, lock up money, valuables, and liquor. Do your own detective work and don’t ask children to incriminate themselves. If you have reason to doubt where they say they will be, check for yourself.
Make it fun. Wise parents can sometimes make discipline a game. If you want the room picked up, play “Beat the Clock” or “Beat the Song.” If you need quiet, play “Shazaam!” Everyone who is quiet until you say “Pinocchio” gets one M&M. If kids are fighting, play “Magic Chair.” Blow the whistle and everyone who goes to their previously agreed-upon chair until you blow the “all clear” whistle earns a tiny but immediate surprise.
Finally, set a good example. Be a model of the behavior you expect. Don’t use words you don’t want your foster kids to use. Don’t shout at your spouse or kids. Don’t smoke. Drive within the speed limit. Fasten your seatbelt.read more
Many different subsidies are available for Indiana foster parents who wish to adopt. They include continuing your monthly payments, providing health insurance, reimbursing you for some of your adoption expenses, a federal income tax credit, and help with college tuition. Your new child is entitled to all the financial support that is offered.
Eligibility: To be eligible for most subsidies, the child must qualify as having special needs. Most foster children fit the definition. If the parents feel they have been treated unfairly by the agency, or in an untimely manner, they can request an administrative hearing.
Continuing Monthly Payments: The federal (AAP) and state (SAS) governments work together in an effort to continue to match the per diem payments you received before you adopted your foster child. Adoption per diem can continue up to age 18 and longer in special cases. The IRS does not count this subsidy as income.
Health Insurance: Children adopted from foster care are generally eligible for Medicaid. Children who receive AAP or SAS subsidy are also eligible for Medicaid benefits. Continuing Medicaid coverage is critical for most children who are adopted from foster care.
Adoption Expenses: Non-recurring adoption expenses (NRAE) are one-time expenses directly related to the finalization of a child with special needs. The current maximum reimbursement is $1500 per child.
Federal Income Tax Credit: Since 2003, families who adopted a child with special needs from foster care can claim a federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses.
College Assistance: A foster child who was adopted after age 12 can apply for tuition relief as an independent student (FAFSA). For additional information on the tax credit and college tuition, contact NACAC's Adoption Subsidy Resource Center at 800-470-6665, 651-644-3036, or e-mail at [email protected].
Negotiating: DCS attorneys begin negotiations for the post-adoption payments by offering the minimum amount, sometimes zero. They are trying to save the state money. However, you need to know the maximum to which your child may be entitled. Because of many competing interests, foster-to-adopt parents should hire their own attorney to help negotiate the subsidies. Get an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable about adoption subsidies.read more
I want to share my mother’s reflections. She has written the following on “The Power of One.”
In my mother's words: We raised twelve children, both “homemade” and adopted, and people often ask, “How did you do it?” But last week I met Ralph, and Ralph is the one who makes me ask, “How do you do it?”
Ralph is a single parent, a divorced dad whose children are now grown. Five years ago Ralph decided he needed a challenge. He viewed a web site where older children are available for adoption, and he chose 10-year-old David. Like most children who have been in foster care for many years, David had collected a lot of baggage which he brought to the new relationship. “I knew it would be a challenge,” says Ralph. “I just didn’t know how much of a challenge.”
Through David, Ralph has been introduced to the police more than once. He has been called to the school more times than he can count. He sometimes gets an uneasy feeling that others are judging him. If David has problems, do others assume he is failing as a parent? Does Ralph himself worry that he might be failing as a parent?
But Ralph is not put off by the difficulties. David is now 15, and after five years as Ralph’s son there are some bright moments. Ralph knows that children are not raised in a vacuum. “I take all the help I can get,” says Ralph. David’s “Big Brother” reaches out to him, even arranging for him to be the ball boy for the Pacers one evening. Discovering that he can play football and that he is good at it has motivated David to take more interest in school and to do better at his studies. His football coach takes a personal interest in David and gives him much more than coaching skills.
Five years and counting. One single dad. One troubled child. One child who now has someone he can trust, someone who will never give up on him. David now has the potential to become an adult who is comfortable with himself and who can give to others. Can Ralph or any of us take on a more important challenge?
Peter A. Kenny, Attorney for Adoption and Foster Care
Executive Director of ACT (Adoption in Child Time)read more