WHEN YOU STAND ACCUSED
by Caryl Harvey
THERE IS A KNOCK ON THE DOOR. YOU ANSWER TO A STERN-FACED CASEWORKER. SHE IS THERE TO INVESTIGATE…YOU. YOU HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF CHILD ABUSE.
In 1997, data showed that a foster home’s
chances of having false allegations made against it was 1-in-10.
Within 5 to 6 years, that homes chances were
50/50. THE LONGER YOU ARE A FOSTER PARENT, THE GREATER YOUR CHANCES OF BEING ACCUSED.
IN ONE OHIO
COUNTY, THE INCIDENCE OF CHARGES OVER
A 5 YEAR PERIOD ROSE 400%.
Of these allegations, 2/3 are considered unsubstantiated.
NOT UNFOUNDED OR UNTRUE…JUST UNPROVEN.
So, it isn’t a case of “if”
you face charges, it is only a question of when.
IT MAKES SENSE TO PREPARE FOR THE EVENTUALITY.
In the 1960’s, families were encouraged
to build fall-out shelters to protect them in the event of a nuclear attack. And many did. They stocked it with drinking water
and food and blankets, medical supplies and the all-important battery-operated radio.
If you are a foster family…BUILD A SHELTER FROM ALLEGATIONS.
First: KNOW YOUR ENEMY.
Social Services. They rely on state funding to care for the kids in their custody. And child abuse does occur—even
in foster care homes. NOTE: ABUSE IN FOSTER CARE HOMES IS AN ABBERATION…NOT THE RULE. IF IT WERE COMMON, IT WOULD NOT BE SUCH A DRAW FOR THE TABLOIDS AND TELEVISION PRODUCERS. Caseworkers are limited by regulations.
Even though they may know in their hearts that you are not guilty of any infringement, they have to go by the book. They have
to cover their own backsides.
the child who makes the allegation. There are no normal kids in foster care. You know it and so do I. Just the fact they
have been taken from their homes is enough to cause some traumatic emotional responses. And they may view making allegations
as a way to get “back home.” Or as a way of controlling their out-of-control world. Or as retribution for boundaries
and retracted privileges. The kids are not your enemy. BUT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ANTICIPATING THAT THEY MAY CAUSE SOME
( not enemy) is THE SYSTEM.
The system says that you don’t have the
right to face your accuser, or even know who made the allegations.
The system assumes you are guilty unless you
are proven innocent.
The system has the power to remove not only your
foster children, but your biological children if they put stock into the charges.
Second: Inform yourself.
This starts when a child comes into your home.
FACT: Charges are more likely to be made about or by older children than younger ones. Some foster homes have changed their
profiles, stating they will only take babies and toddlers. The average age of a child in foster care is 10.
ASK for the child’s history: how many out-of-home
placements have they had? Are they “truth-challenged” or antagonists? Have they ever made false allegations? IF THEY HAVE MADE OTHER CHARGES, ASK THE CASEWORKER
TO GIVE YOU A WRITTEN HISTORY OF THIS AND KEEP IN THE CHILD’S FILE. If you don’t ask,
you won’t find out
If the child is developmentally delayed or sexually
abused…physically or mentally challenged…BONE UP ON YOUR TRAININGS. REVIEW
WHAT IS NORMAL FOR CHILDREN SUCH AS THE ONE YOU ARE TAKING. As an example, if
a child has been abused by the men in her life, then it probably isn’t wise for a male to be a prime caregiver. You
might expect such a child to be anxious about and perhaps to lie about a male in order to get out of that uncomfortable situation.
Realize that kids who have been in the system
for some time KNOW HOW TO WORK IT. They are often better equipped to do battle
than you are.
If, after doing your homework, you decide you
can’t handle a certain child, DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO TO THE PLACEMENT. You
aren’t trained to handle all types of behaviors or all types of kids. Neither am I.
YOU WOULDN’T SIGN ON TO A TRIATHALON IF YOU COULDN’T SWIM.
There are many things you are required to document:
medical visits, immunizations, medications, school conferences…
But I’m talking about behaviors. Document that a child refuses a shower or a bath. (It could point to sexual abuse, etc. prior
to her placement with you)
Document that a child pinches or spits at your
husband ( or your wife)
Document that a child lies about simple unthreatening
Document something unusual or something edgy
that you have done. (I had a 15 year old child who refused to wear deodorant and I got complaints from the school. I tried
to put the deodorant on her and she moved. The stuff ended up on her teeth. I IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE CASEWORKER AND REPORTED
IT MYSELF. That took the power away from the child and, if a charge was later made, DSS would already have an idea of how
the incident occurred.)
Document each time you call about an incident
and can’t reach the caseworker ( as little as this occurs.)
Fourth: Know your state’s and your county’s policies and regulations.
things are uniform in most agencies
NEVER PHYSICALLY DISCIPLINE A FOSTER CHILD.
NEVER RESTRAIN A FOSTER CHILD. (Use common sense here…don’t let the three year old run out in traffic unless
you are having a really, really bad day. Okay…not even then.)
AS HARD AS IT MAY BE, WALK AWAY FROM A CHILD WHO IS ACTING OUT. We took
a foster child on vacation with us, and she was standing in the motel hall screaming at me. I wrestled with her to get her
into the room and—in the process, scratched her. After some time to settle down, we hugged and the child said she knew
it had been an accident. She acknowledged her guilt in the affair. Three weeks later, we imposed a restriction on the child
that she didn’t like. You guessed it: she made an allegation. Next time, I will walk out into the hall, put an incredulous
expression on my face and ask “Whose kid is this?”
You can’t discipline foster children the
way you do your own kids. That’s just fact. But, in most cases, we are “smarter than a fifth grader.” We
can anticipate behaviors and head them off at the pass.
Keep an open line of communication with the caseworker. Follow this link
to see what caseworkers have to say http://ssw.unc.edu/fcrp/fp/fp_vol3no1/what_id_like_foster_parents_to_know.htm
Caseworkers are overworked and underpaid---just
like you probably are. Make a habit of calling or emailing once a week to “check-in.” Don’t just contact
your worker when you have bad things to say. Let them know about small victories also. They can report these to their supervisors…as
feathers in their caps too.
It never hurts to remember a caseworker with
a card at Christmas, a Pepsi at a home visit…GREASE THE WHEEL. Let them have positive feelings when they hear or see
your name, instead of remembering that you call frequently with problems or complaints.
AND IF AN ALLEGATION IS MADE:
BEGIN A JOURNAL IMMEDIATELY. Write down the exact
nature of the charge: date, location, people present, what occurred, Compare it with your documented incidents to see if there
is something upon which a charge might be based. Write down all appointments with police, caseworkers, supervisors, mental
health, etc. DO NOT WRITE IN THIS JOURNAL IF YOU ARE UPSET. KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL.
RESEARCH YOUR AGENCY’S POLICY FOR DEALING WITH ALLEGATIONS: Do they pull children from the
home immediately, do they offer you legal representation,
TAPE RECORD, PHOTO COPY, SAVE TO YOUR COMPUTER, PHOTOGRAPH
any piece of evidence that may pertain to your case…but don’t bring up other issues. Stick to the bare
IF THE CHARGES ARE SERIOUS ( CRIMINAL) : know what rights you have. You don’t lose your rights
just because you are a foster parent. The police and/ or DSS still may not invade your home without a warrant…you do
not have to admit them. DO NOT go down to the police station without legal representation. DO NOT plea bargain just to make things go away. THIS IS YOUR LIFE AND THESE
THINGS GO ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD
REALIZE THAT THIS PROCESS TAKES A LONG TIME--maybe even a year or more. You need to plan for long term emotional support of
both you and the children you care for. If they remain in your home, explain why rules and restrictions may change. Tell them
(in terms appropriate for their age) what is going on, but do not put "on the table" that they may be removed unless you know
that is a probablilty. This is where close communication with the caseworker is important. If the children have been removed,
ask the caseworker to help you maintain contact with them...even if it is supervised contact. The idea here is not to compound
AND AFTERWARDS: CONSIDER---IF GIVEN THE OPTION, DO YOU WANT THE CHILD RETURNED TO YOUR HOME?
CAN YOU WORK WITH THE CASEWORKER AGAIN?
YOU CAN, IF YOU REMEMBER THAT THIS IS
NOT PERSONAL. The child who makes a false allegation does so as a means to an end. It is not necessarily an attack on you. The caseworker who investigates the claim is doing her job. She has no other choice.
Our society enacts laws to protect its citizens, sometimes to the detriment of
other citizens. We go overboard with things like HIPPA which can work to shield a victim or to frustrate efforts to get help
for someone. REMEMBER: IT’S
THE SYSTEM. IT'S NOT THE PERSON
There are support groups and websites
for foster parents who have survived false allegations. Try
AND THE LAST POINT: PLAN TO SURVIVE.
DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF TO BECOME A VICTIM. WHAT YOU DO AND WHO YOU ARE IS TOO IMPORTANT TO SOCIETY. NOT EVERYONE CAN BE A FOSTER
**The Department of Health and Human
Services estimated that of the nearly two million complaints of child abuse by foster parents investigated in 2000, 68 percent
were determined to be unfounded. New York Times July 14, 2002