Foster parents are the backbone of our child protection system. Foster parents provide safe and stable homes for children, often to see the children removed from their homes for various reasons.
Sometimes the reasons are for the benefit of family reunification. Sometimes the reasons re not so clear, like someone calling in a complaint about the foster home.
If you are a foster parent, you need to know what is in your record as a foster parent:
1—Get your official licensing records!
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families maintains all foster care licensing records. If you are a licensed foster parent, you will have a record. You may think you know what is in the records, but unless you have a copy, you don’t really know. Your records will include licensing studies, some emails, possibly copies of text messages, and other things. Because some agencies don’t show foster parents the licensing studies, the studies could have things in them that will come back to haunt you. I had one case where the agency did not tell the foster parents about any problems, but in the home study recommended limiting their license.
To get your records, file a public records request with the State DCF. The email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just write an email stating that you are a foster parent, and for your own records,
you would like a copy of all of your licensing records. This will come as a PDF. If you do not need records about financial information, such as rate-setting, the records will be less voluminous.
Every subsequent licensing cycle, get a copy of your licensing report, not just a copy of the license, as well as your records from that year.
2) Gather and save any communications that you have had from case managers, licensing workers, or other professionals who have dealt with you and any foster children.
Why? The official records don’t have everything. Nothing requires a case manager or licensing worker to save every email. The saved emails tend to be the negative ones. Go through your emails and print out, complete with the date stamp, any and all communications from licensing workers, case managers and any other professionals dealing with the children, especially any complimentary emails (emails like “you are a great foster parent,” “These kids would be nowhere without you.” “We have no problem with your placement, we just want to move the kids be with family members.” “You are an adoptive resource.” Etc.)
Get one of the many app’s available to download and save text messages as PDF’s and save all text messages with case managers. The advantage of the app’s is that the text messages have dates and times, and show who is communicating. Again, you will not know when something becomes important.
Although technically, licensing and family case management are separate functions, licensing workers often work closely with the family case managers and rely on their information. If you take foster children from an agency that both licenses you and places children in your home, they tend to work as a team.
3—Clarify expectations and understandings about any problems with your placement.
You may not know if people behind the scenes are questioning your placement. This may come out in the future. A way to keep communication clear is by asking direct questions. For example, if you are invited to a staffing or meeting, make sure that you ask (through email) what is going to be discussed at the meeting so you know what to expect. If the meeting is to contemplate moving a child, be sure to ask if the child is being moved due to problems with your placement, or for other reasons. Kids get moved a lot, especially for family reasons, but sometimes officials look back on these staffings and put reasons into them that weren’t there at the time. Also make it clear that you always support the best interests of the children.
If you follow these three steps, then you won’t be surprised. If you find things in your record that surprise you, you have an opportunity to discuss them with your licensing worker before they become problems. You would have a chance to solve problems in advance instead of reacting to them in the future.