This is a note from the James Payne, the Director of the Indiana Department of Child Services
January 29, 2008
Social and Extracurricular Activities for Foster Children
I have been concerned for years about our handling of children who come into our care and our desire and responsibility to allow them to have a normal life. This is more apparent and appropriate the longer the child is in care and probably the older the child is while in our care. But it includes all children.
I addressed this at the Foster Care Association meeting several months ago and committed to get this Directors Note out. I indicated at that meeting that we should give children the opportunity to participate in Boy Scout or Girl Scout activities, school activities, dating, overnights with a friend, the Prom, band camp, soccer and other sport activities, faith/church functions and other similar activities. Theconcern has been expressed that, while the children are in our care, we have an increased obligation and responsibility to keep them safe. While that is true and safety is always our paramount and first concern, they still deserve the right to be children.
I believe every child has the right to participate in age-appropriate social and extracurricular activities. It is our responsibility as an agency and as foster parent's or caregivers to work to give children that opportunity and to make sure that they are safe and protected during those times I also believe that foster parents and caregivers must take reasonable steps to determine the appropriateness and safety of those activities. As a note, the recent MARC Report comparing foster care per diems of every state indicates that Indiana ranks third in the nation for paying an appropriate amount for foster care. We therefore have the right to have the very best people serving as foster parents and other alternative care givers and to have high expectations of their care for our children.
As we do this, I believe it is important to state that we can expect foster parents and caregivers to exercise a reasonably prudent standard of substitute parental care that is characterized by careful and sensible parental decisions for children who we place in their care. Since we entrust foster parents and caregivers with our children in their home environment 24 hours a day, seven days a week, , we have to be prepared to trust them to make good decisions about where those children may stay or who they are with during social and extracurricular activities. All this is done with the goal of normalizing the lives of children who are in the foster care system by allowing them to participate in those activities - for example, school sponsored field trips or sports, sleepovers with friends, scouting, group meetings with friends, the Prom, etc.
Foster parents and caregivers should take reasonably prudent steps to ensure that children are safe while engaged in those activities. Those include:
- Having the right information about the child and the child's history to make those informed decisions consistent with the prior activities of the child as well as his/her ability and safety.
- Take into consideration the child's ability, mental and physical health, and behaviors.
- Consider when the activity will be held and make sure that it does not interfere with other responsibilities of the child and those responsible for the child.
- Ask all the right questions- is the activity age-appropriate, does it enhance the treatment plan of the child, is it reasonable for the child, what are the benefits that the child will receive, etc..
- Evaluate the risks involved in the activity consistent with the child's overall circumstances- no high risk activities.
- Ensure that there is adequate and appropriate supervision by talking with adult supervisors and being assured of their appropriateness. This does not mean conducting a criminal background check.
- The activity should have reasonable age-appropriate supervision and careful thought and reflection should be given when there is limited adult supervision- dating, Prom, etc. Priorities should be given to group activities.
In conclusion, the goal again is to permit children to be children within reasonable parameters that ensure safety, limited or no risk of harm or injury, and meet the guidelines above. These activities should be reported to the case manager and included in any communication with the parents, foster parents, child and family team meetings, and to the court.
Let's let children be children and support and encourage activities and events that allow them to grow up as normally as possible under the circumstances and time.