Childcare… Or How to Improve the System

Childcare

One of the biggest barriers for current foster parents, or people interested in becoming foster parents, is access to childcare.  As discussed in You Get Paid for This, Right?, the reimbursement rate provided by DHS in Oregon does not cover the expenses associated with providing for and raising these children, and it has no stipend for child care.  As any parent who has looked into infant care, daycare, after school care, or babysitting has realized, child care is expensive, sometimes prohibitively expensive. As a family of two working foster parents, we rely heavily on childcare to make being a foster parent possible.  Although paying for child care definitely takes a toll on our monthly budget, we also understand that we are extremely lucky/privileged to be able to afford child care for our kiddos. We also have family who live very close, and help with child care needs as well.

There are many people in our community who would make amazing foster parents, and so many of them would love to be foster parents…but they work, and would need childcare for their kiddos.  Realizing that DHS does not provide any reimbursement, stipend, or support in regards to childcare can be a major deterrent to so many potential foster parents. These people want to help, but they also work, and do not have the financial ability to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for child care.  This childcare dilemma can be especially burdensome for single individuals interested in becoming foster parents as well as working couples.

Obviously, finding and paying for childcare is a difficulty for many parents, foster or not. This is not a post to argue about the pros and cons of having your children attend childcare, or whether or not it is more beneficial to have a stay at home parent, this is a post about how DHS may be able to improve the system and recruit more foster families through minor tweaks to the system.  Although childcare is an issue for many families, we feel it is important to address some additional factors that can make it especially difficult for foster parents to find childcare, and why childcare is important for foster parents.

“This is not a post to argue about the pros and cons of having your children attend childcare… this is a post about how DHS may be able to improve the system and recruit more foster families.”

Immediacy

First, there is the immediacy of the need.  As discussed in Four Hours, there is a lot of uncertainty that comes with a placement.  Placements can come to you quickly, and you may not have a lot of time to plan and get logistics figured out.  In our city, finding quality, affordable childcare with vacancies is difficult if you have 9-months to plan, and nearly impossible if you have only hours or days.

Uncertainty

Second, there is the unknown timeline. Sometimes, there is a safety need to remove a kiddo from their bios, and they need a place to stay for a few days or a couple weeks.  Other times, a kiddo may be placed with you for “a weekend”, but it turns into months or years.  Finding childcare is difficult enough, but finding childcare that is flexible and understanding of your uncertain timeline is damn near impossible. Many want enrollment for the year, large deposits, cancelation fees, etc.

Adjustment

Third, there is the unknown of how your kiddo will handle childcare.  Many kiddos in foster care are perfectly happy in childcare and school, they enjoy playing with peers and trust their teachers or care givers. Others, however, may have never been to school or childcare, or played with their peers, some will have behavior or trust issues, and may not be capable of attending a typical childcare. They may get sent home repeatedly, or asked not to attend any more because their behaviors are disruptive, or the provider is not equipped to handle your kiddos needs. Often times, even finding a babysitter that is competent enough to handle the behavioral issues of your child on a one-on-one basis can be difficult and expensive. Having to leave work early and immediately to pick up your kiddo can be a deal breaker for working foster parents and their employers.

So, not only is childcare often cost prohibitive for potential foster parents, even if it is not, it can be logistically prohibitive. We believe DHS is missing out on some of the best potential foster parents because of this child care dilemma. Many people familiar with the system and the current crisis in Oregon, realize that child care for foster parents and kiddos is an issue.  So how do we fix it? Obviously, DHS is strapped for cash (funding), and foster parents are not asking for reimbursement for in Au Pair, nanny, or even the local Montessori pre-school. Instead, we are just asking for a little support with childcare to make being a foster parent, with all of the challenges listed above, and then some, a little more manageable.

“We believe DHS is missing out on some of the best potential foster parents because of this child care dilemma.”

How Can This Childcare Dilemma be Improved?

We believe DHS should establish day care programs for foster children at their branch offices, or at multiple centralized locations. The foster care crisis is real. The need for individuals, couples, parents, and families to become certified and open their homes to the vulnerable children is enormous.  The barrier of entry for many to become foster parents is the childcare dilemma. It is time for DHS and the community to get creative to remove this barrier of entry and improve our community’s ability to care and provide for the most vulnerable in our society.

How Would This Work?

DHS, which already has visit rooms, play areas, and more at their branch offices, could do some minor remodeling and reorganization to create a childcare facility in their branch offices.  If this is not feasible, they could establish child care facilities at an offsite location, possibly even partnering with an established local child care provider.  The program could be offered, for free, or possibly at cost, to foster parents. Participation in the program would not be mandatory, and if a foster family opted out of the program, it could be possible for DHS to provide them a rebate for services not used. It wouldn’t be much, but it would increase the minimal reimbursement rate currently provided.

These DHS childcare centers could be ran by DHS staff, such as SSAs, caseworkers in training, and volunteers who have passed the required background checks.

“DHS, which already has visit rooms, play areas, and more at their branch offices, could… create a childcare facility in their branch offices.”

What Are The Benefits?

This approach could benefit all involved. It could benefit DHS, foster parents, children in foster care, bio-parents of children in the system, and the advocates of kiddos in the system.

More Foster Parents

It is not a secret that the foster care system in Oregon, but also around the nation, is in crisis. Oregon DHS is being sued and investigated, for not protecting the kiddos in their care, and for not having foster homes available to place kiddos in.  This proposed program, providing affordable and reliable child care for kiddos, could allow many potential foster parents who have not made the leap into foster care because childcare is a barrier of entry, to finally make the jump to become foster parents. This would greatly alleviate the crisis, by increasing the number of caring homes available for kiddos.

DHS Oversight

Having a centralized childcare location for kids in foster care allows DHS to have more consistent contact with the children in their system. Having children attend childcare provided by DHS allows DHS to easily monitor and observe the children in their care, including routine medical check-ups, screening for lice, ring worm, tape worm, rashes, and other medical issues common to kiddos coming into the system. It also allows them to monitor for potential signs of abuse or neglect in the foster home as well, which unfortunately, is all too common.  Currently, the CW is required to see the kiddos at least once a month, to make sure everything is going well. This centralized child care scenario allows for the caseworker to easily check up on kiddos, and also talk to them when the foster parents are not around, to allow them to speak-up if things are not right at their foster home.

Accommodating Childcare

As mentioned previously, childcare can be difficult to find for kiddos in foster care due to behavioral issues. Having a staff of DHS trained caregivers, who understand the trauma these children are processing, could mean that when a kiddo is elevated, instead of getting sent home, they are receiving the intervention, deescalation, attention, and support they need to process their feelings.  It also means that a foster parent will not have to leave work immediately and race through traffic to pick up their kiddo, and risk losing their job.

Benefits for Bio-family

The bio-family of these children have lives too.  A lot of the time, they are trying to get their lives back on track. Between meetings, jobs, housing interviews, and working with DHS, their schedules can be hectic…but they still want to see their children.  Sometimes, the available visit times offered by DHS, which are often based on the kiddo’s schedule, the foster parent’s schedule, SSA availability, and visitation room availability, but are not the best times for the bios.  Having kiddos in childcare at or by DHS, would allow more flexibility in the visitation schedule.  Bio’s could schedule a visit during a time where their child would already be in the care of DHS, and it would not require the coordination of an SSA or the foster parents.

“The bio-family of these children have lives too.  A lot of the time, they are trying to get their lives back on track.”

Having a DHS based daycare could also provide an opportunity for bio-parents to volunteer in the childcare program, with their kids, to gain parenting skills. Many bio-parents are required by DHS to attend parenting classes, to improve their skills and abilities, and volunteering in this DHS supervised program could allow the bios to gain the hours, practice, and experience they need, all while under supervision of DHS. This would assure that they are truly making the required progress, as opposed to just the required attendance.

Medical Appointments

Many of the children that come into care have faced years of neglect or inadequate care.  Part of the process of entering care is receiving all of the care you should have received previously.  We have learned that it is not uncommon for kiddos to have severe dental degradation, unaddressed mental health issues, unaddressed allergies, and numerous assessment needs.  This adds up to an incredible amount of appointments, so many that we require spreadsheets and multiple calendars to track them.  Between therapy, dental visits, neuro assessments, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and the list goes on, the appointments alone can be enough to make you realize that having a career and being a foster parent is almost impossible.

If DHS offered a centralized childcare approach, they could greatly assist with attendance to these appointments.  There is the possibility of providing these services on site, like having a dentist who accepts the DHS provided health insurance (often hard to find), come to the site once a week to do check-ups and cleanings. The same could apply to all of the various forms of therapy that these children need and deserve.  If bringing the medical professionals on-site is not an option, at the very least, the SSAs could have an easier time transporting the children to and from the appointments, because they would already be at DHS.

Advocate Access

Lawyers are busy. Kiddos in care have lawyers, and these lawyers need to see them on a somewhat regular basis, but especially prior to court hearings.  Trying to schedule appointments with a lawyer, or multiple lawyers, depending on the number of kiddos you have or the number of lawyers each kiddo has, can be extremely difficult. Between the kiddo’s appointments, their school schedule, your work schedule, and the lawyer’s availability…good luck.  If the children are in a DHS provided daycare, it could make it a lot easier for the advocates of the children, including lawyers, CASAs, etc. to visit the kids and have a better understanding of how they are doing, what their needs are, and what the plan going forward should be.

It Can Be Good For The Kids

It isn’t always fun to be different than everyone else. To not be able to talk openly with your peers about issues you are dealing with, because they have never experienced them.  It can be hard when your foster parent walks in to the class room to pick you up from after school care, and your best friend says “Is that your Dad?” and you don’t know what to say. It can be hard to be surrounded by peers who have no understanding of why you are “the new kid” at school, and can’t understand why you aren’t “happy”.  Being at a childcare center with other children who are experiencing the same difficulties and can relate to the trauma you have experienced can be beneficial to kids in foster care. It helps them understand that they are not alone, that this awful thing is not happening to them alone, that it is not their fault, and that there are others who can relate to them.

Separate but Equal (Segregation)

We should address the elephant in the room. Is centralized DHS childcare actually a form of “separate but equal”?  At face value, it is easy to make this comparison. Yes, sending all children in foster care to a childcare facility that is exclusively created for children in the system, no matter how quality that facility is, is “separate but equal”. What we are discussing though, is not a requirement to send children in foster care to these programs, but merely an option. In fact, best case scenario, a foster family does not need to exercise this option, and instead DHS increases their monthly reimbursement rate for not using the service provided. This is an option, an option that could provide a lot of benefits to the children, to the system, to the bio-families, to the advocates, and to foster parents, and perhaps make a dent in the current crisis and shortage of homes.

There is No Good Answer

There is no good answer. No matter what we do, no matter how much money, training, support, etc. we put towards helping bio-parents who are struggling, there will always be children who enter the system. Although foster parents are not provided adequate financial assistance to provide for the children in their care, substantially increasing the reimbursement rate is not the answer. It could create problems that the system has experienced previously (like foster farms), that have created this current crisis, leading to kiddos in foster care being abused and neglected for money.  The best answer we can think of, is creating an eco-system that encourages those who want to and are capable of being foster parents, but are currently unable to because of careers and child care costs, to have the ability to become foster parents. DHS provided childcare seems to be an option that could make this a possibility.

“The best answer we can think of, is creating an eco-system that encourages those who want to and are capable of being foster parents, but are currently unable to because of careers and child care costs, to have the ability to become foster parents. DHS provided childcare seems to be an option that could make this a possibility.”

There is a crisis. The crisis has occurred because for too long, people who are not capable of loving, caring, and providing for children in the care of DHS, were handed child upon child. The only way they could make it work was through “economy of scale”, by taking on more children then they could responsibly care for. Now, these homes are being systematically shut down (as they should), but it is creating a crisis is our system, as there are now more children than responsible homes and beds available.  DHS is being sued  for housing children in their offices and in hotels for nights, weeks, and months.  The lawsuit is correct, these children have the right to a better living situation. Unfortunately the lawsuit does not appear to provide a solution to the systemic problem. Suing DHS brings attention to the problem, but it does not solve the problem.  DHS is acutely aware of the crisis they have on their hands, but the solution is not a class action lawsuit, the solution is bringing more qualified, competent, compassionate, and caring people into the foster care program.  Our opinion is that the majority of the people who meet this criteria, would be able to become foster parents if care was more affordable and more accessible for foster parents.  We believe this could be achieved through a centralized childcare program through DHS, which would benefit the children, foster parents, bio-parents, advocates, and DHS.

Thanks for reading, if you have questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.  To receive updates when a new post is published, click the “Follow” button, we appreciate your interest in our journey.

6 thoughts on “Childcare… Or How to Improve the System”

  1. I love this idea. How do you put this in front of legislators or the state reps? Having an open forum to address this might be another excellent idea.

    1. Thanks Lorna. I have no idea how to get this in front of the people who can make change happen. I was hoping someone who reads this might be able to assist, or maybe I can get it as an OpEd to start a larger discussion. Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

  2. Obviously, every state is different. My brother and sister-in-law have been foster parents for years. Even now, while in their 60’s, they are taking care of 3 and 6 year old siblings. Thought you might find this interesting about how Connecticut takes care of its foster kids. Copied from CTWorkingMoms website:

    “Being a foster parent is not something you do to get rich or support yourself. That being said, the state does do a good job of providing financial support for the children in your care. They provide a monthly stipend to cover clothing, food, activities and other kid expenses. They also provide childcare assistance, full medical and dental care, and respite (babysitting) coverage.”

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