Monday, 9 June 2014

Should foster carers have rights?

There is a continuing story in our local media about a woman who has become "Mum of the year". She and her husband fostered a child with multiple disabilities. The child died.
In itself that is tragic but what makes the story worse is that, under the law here, the foster parents had no rights at all. Having loved and cared for the child they were told, "Now that he is dead he is nothing at all to do with you."
Instead his parents, from whom he had been taken at birth and who had shown no interest in him at all, were given all rights. They wanted nothing to do with him even in death.
Even then the foster parents had no rights to organise a funeral, invite others who knew the child to attend - or even be told the cause of death.
Another foster child was recently taken from her foster family, not because they had done anything wrong but because the child experienced a small problem at school - the sort that any child might experience. The foster parents did as they were expected to do and advised the department - and the child was removed. Why?
It had nothing to do with the way the child was being cared for - which was, from all accounts, exemplary. It was apparently considered that the child was getting too attached to her carers. They had even made inquiries about adopting her. 
There is something very, very wrong with this. We have all heard horrendous stories about foster parents but the reality is that many of them are good, caring people. They grow fond of the children they care for and the children grow fond of them.
Yes, there will be problems. These children have had a rough start in life or they would not be there.
We had "state wards" in two of the schools I worked in. They were profoundly disabled children and they lived in the boarding section of the school. If it had not been for the staff taking them out for days and, occasionally, an overnight stay they would not have seen anything much of the outside world. Looking back now I realise that those overnight stays were probably not strictly legal - and perhaps even the days out were not strictly legal either. The institution would have been expected to inform the department and the department would have been expected to "vet" the people who wanted to give the child a day out. I suspect all the requirements were simply ignored because, if adhered to, nothing would have happened. Those children would have spent Christmas Day sitting in an institution.  I wonder what happens to such children now? Are they fostered? Are they moved from one place to another?
And it happens to adults too. I know someone who is a "carer". One of the people she was caring for in his own home was a Vietnam war veteran. He had multiple medical issues and he was dying of cancer. She had become very fond of him. He was, despite all his issues, apparently polite and pleasant to help. He had a sense of humour and she enjoyed his company in the way a friend might. He had no family so her family became his.
His social worker made a sudden decision that they were "too close" and that the relationship was "inappropriate". He was, for the last few weeks of his life put into hospital. The carer was told she could not even visit him - despite the hospital staff saying he was asking for her to come. The department did not inform the carer of his death and there was no funeral service.
"I was told that all I wanted was whatever he had to leave. He had almost nothing, a few clothes and the like, and they knew that. I wasn't even allowed to say goodbye. Why?"
Fortunately the hospital chaplain became aware of the problem and organised a small memorial service for them - against the wishes of the department. It was, I believe, the right and proper thing to do.
I think carers should have some rights. They are being asked to take on responsibilities that are greater than those of parents or partners. If you care for someone, and you care for them well, then you cannot simply walk out and leave them.
I have been thinking about this recently. The "external" social worker at the hospital told me, quite kindly, that I was not to worry about my friend "she's our responsibility now". No, she isn't. I have signed the piece of paper that makes me and my sister her guardians. She is also my responsibility now.


Helen Devries said...

I feel as you do...and wonder what it is in the training of social workers that cuts out and distrusts love and kindness.

jeanfromcornwall said...

I find what you describe chilling. It is denying all the goodness and humanity in the situations, and reducing the patients/clients to something subhuman. There was a subhuman, evil, person in Europe who took that attitude, and more recently in Cambodia.

Anonymous said...

Then they wonder why finding people who will become carers has become difficult. Lack of care by the department about the people involved, both those who need the care and those who offer the care, is inhuman.

catdownunder said...

It is chilling Jean - and, as Judy and I both know, it makes it so hard to find good foster homes here.