Foster family can become a child's 'real' ohana
Grace Gabat has shown great courage to voice her concerns about the new policy directives of the Department of Human Services ("Gathering Place," Oct. 25
). Our hats off to her for stating publicly what so many believe but haven't said for fear of a negative effect on their jobs or, perhaps, on a state contract. Her concerns are echoed behind the scenes by numerous social workers, guardians ad litem, foster parents, service providers and, yes, even relative caregivers. Workers are questioning whether they can remain in a job that is requiring them to "follow policy" rather than make professional decisions based on safety, permanency, well-being and best interests of the child.
For example, a child might have been removed from his birth parents due to serious abuse as an infant, with several broken bones and other assaults to his little body. He is put in a foster home while the department works with the parents to assist them in achieving the possibility of providing a safe home for this child. The foster parents prepare the child for visits with his parents, send pictures and updates and support the goal of reunification.
At the same time, though, the foster parents nurture, love and care for this child because that is what children need. They take the child to the doctor, celebrate his milestones, care for him when he is sick, read to him, celebrate his first birthday, celebrate his second birthday. They are saddened when the courts decide that the parents will not be able to do what is needed to provide a safe home for this child and parental rights are terminated, because they believe that in the ideal world, all children can be raised by their birth parents.
But after having cared for and nurtured this child for more than two years, the foster family knows that this child views them as his own family. He knows their smells, their foods, the other children, their voices -- all the things that connect us with those who love and care for us. They are prepared to make the lifelong commitment of adoption. But under the new policy directives, the social worker must search and search, in fact up until the day of adoption, for someone who is related by blood to this child. When this person is found, the policy suggests that the child must now be removed from the only home he has known, from the parents and siblings whom he calls his own, and go with this stranger. Because it is in the best interest of the child? No, because it is policy.
In the "best practice" world, children would be placed with capable, caring relatives from the start. But do not ask social workers to hurt children by unnecessarily moving them and shattering their attachments to the family they have come to identify as their own. These children have already lost one family. Why would we ask them to suffer this loss again?