Almost Time for School Again

I can’t believe it but, school starts again on Thursday.  Our summer vacation was only 2 months and one week this year.  I don’t fully understand that one, when I was a kid we got out of school the first week of June and didn’t go back until the day after Labor day.

We are also on our last days off before school starts so we have decided to spend the weekend in Birmingham, Alabama shopping and playing and being frustrated with city driving but that’s another story.

Back to school – something I actually look forward to.  I enjoy the routine of a daily schedule, predictable bedtimes, mealtimes, and wake up times.  But I also enjoy doing things with the kids.  Sports, band, science fairs, etc.  It’s all good.

Can’t wait!!

Big Ol’ Vans

The vehicle I normally drive while on duty, a 2005 Chevy 15 passenger short bus, is gone to Florida with another cottage because theirs is broke down in the shop. While it is gone, I am forced to drive an old 91 Dodge 15 passenger van with the rear seat removed to make it 11 passenger.  I can honestly say that the two drive very differently and I started thinking about the vehicles that we drive as houseparents.

One of the things that has always humored me is how much new houseparents hate driving houseparent vehicles, especially housemoms.  I have seen houseparents pile kids into their personal vehicles to avoid driving the vans.  I even know of one set of houseparents that finally had to quit being houseparents because neither wanted to drive the vans, and one absolutely refused.  I do have to hand it to my wife though.  She was “skeered reel bad” the first few times she drove, but she kept driving and now drives a short bus as well as she does our mini-van. 

Here are some thoughts about the vehicles that houseparents and other residential staff usually drive:

Though some places have started using mini-vans (my wife worked for a facility that had two 8-passenger mini-vans. When regular staff was on duty they had to go everywhere in two vehicles.  There were 7 kids and 2 houseparents) most still use full size vans, either 12 or 15 passenger.  Some insurance companies have stopped insuring 15 passenger vans so many facilities are removing the rear seat and making 11 passenger vans, like ours.  We also have two 15-passenger short buses, which are larger than a 15 passenger van, yet they are supposed to be safer and less roll over prone than the 15 passenger vans.

The average length of a full size van is about 18-20 feet long compared to a minivan that is about 15.  They are also at least a foot wider than a minivan, and are much taller (there are few ATMs you can use without getting out).  They have to be driven differently.

You will need to take right turns wider than with a regular car.  We have one turn near the home that drops off about 2 feet into a ditch.  I have skeered my wife real bad a few time when I have had to cut it close.  Your rear end will not track in the same line as the front tires, they will track about a foot or two inside the front tires depending on how sharp you turn.  It is more pronounced on right turns because you are turning much tighter than on left turns, that explains all the times I have and you will hit the curb.

You also have many blind spots with a large van.  There is a huge one between the front and rear doors on the passenger side. I have on several occasion come to an intersection that is angled to the street I am crossing and will lose sight of about 50 yards of road.  I have to lean far forward to see in the blind spot.  You also have huge blind spots on the sides of the van.  We use small fish-eye mirrors on both sides to help see in the blind spots when changing lanes. 

You also don’t have the acceleration that you would have with a regular car, especially when you are loaded with kids, so you need to have extra space when crossing lanes of traffic or making turns.

I have also discovered that vans are very susceptible to strong cross winds as well as the turbulent air coming off of large trucks when they pass you or you pass them.  There have been times I have been driving along and it feels like that vans moves suddenly to the side about three feet.  That is a shocker when you are not expecting it.  It’s also really weird when you get behind a semi-truck and it feels like you have about a foot of play in your steering wheel.  At those times I will always have two hands on the wheel.

Parking is another issue.  Most parking spaces were not intended for a 20 foot long 9 foot wide (with Mirrors) vehicle.  With my bus it is even worse because it is about 24 feet long and over 10 feet wide with mirrors.  The best advice I can give here is be prepared to walk.  Although I have seen many a houseparent pull into a space I wouldn’t park my mini-van in (I’m not a fan of door dings), I usually park at the ends of the row far away from the store or building I am stopping at so I can take up two spaces or be where somebody probably wont park next to me.  I would rather walk an extra 50 feet than have to explain to somebody why their car is hooked to my bumper.

Allow extra time and space for braking.  A fully loaded 15 passenger van can weigh over 8,000 pounds compared to about 4,500 pounds for a mini-van. 

I view driving and the safety of the children I transport as a huge responsibility that takes a great deal of concentration.  I don’t even want to imagine the grief I would have if somebody was hurt because of my carelessness of lack of paying attention.  I don’t allow horsing around in the van, hollering, yelling, etc. and always make sure everyone wears a seat belt properly (Not easy with the teenagers).  When they ask why I explain that driving a large vehicle is difficult and if I am having to pay attention to them messing around in the back, I am not able to pay attention to all the other things going on around me.  The kids know I will stop and sit on the side of the road for however long it takes to get things back in order, that is how serious I am about their safety.

I hope somebody finds this helpful and if you have more to add feel free to do so.  You don’t have to be skeered to drive a van just careful. 

(For those of you that are wondering – “skeered” is a funny country way of saying “scared”, I use it to try and interject humor into my writing)

A Sure Recipe for Failure

This blog entry is directed primarily at all the administrators out there working in residential childcare.  I am certain there are several methods and techniques for creating successful and competent houseparents.  However, there is one that I can say will result in failure in almost every circumstance.

I have worked at three different facilities and visited several others and can honestly tell you that failing to properly train and guide a new houseparent or any residential childcare worker will almost always result in them failing in a very short time.  I have seen and spoke with people that have become so frustrated trying to do something that even with a great deal of training and experience is difficult – give up and quit because they didn’t know what else to do.  I have seen houseparents that appear to be miserable all the time because the didn’t have the skills needed to deal with the behaviors that many of the children they cared for had. 

People that didn’t understand the differences in development between their own birth children and that of a child from an abusive or neglectful situation. Didn’t understand how a child will use acting out to express needs.  How to build relationships with children that are detached or fearful of adults.  There are just so many things a person needs to know to be a good houseparent and many do not. 

Please, please, please train and properly supervise your staff.  Not everyone is like me.  You can read about my start in houseparenting by clicking here.  If I were a logical person I probably would have quit after that first week.  Thankfully I am not always logical and decided to stick it out and learn what I needed to be successful as a houseparent, however, most people won’t.

If you are in a staffing crisis and thinking about putting somebody to work without training, ask yourself this question.  Is my staffing crisis going to be any better if these staff members quit in two months out of frustration.  If you feel you can’t justify the expense of properly training somebody ask yourself: Is it really cost effective to continually have to be recruiting new people because we didn’t properly train the previous people and they quit out of frustration? 

I personally believe that improved initial training and continued training after hire will go a long ways in improving staff retention as well as providing better services to the children and families we are entrusted to help.

Houseparents and the Middle East

Houseparents and the Middle East, this seems like a totally outrageous topic but it is definitely something I am thinking about.  I am watching the price of oil rise now over $78 a barrel and with it the price of gasoline.  I honestly believe that if you are not already paying over $3 a gallon where you live in the U.S. you soon will be and I seriously wonder where the ceiling will finally end up, if there even is one.

Violence in Iraq does not seem to be slowing at all and now there is the conflict Israel has with Hamas and Hezbollah that appears it could easily escalate into a regional war to include Syria and Iran.  The resulting loss of life is priceless and there is no value that can be put upon that, but the residual effects on the U.S. economy and possibly the world economy could be far reaching.

I am no economist but I know that the ever rising price of fuel has had an effect on many areas of my family budget.  Not only is it more expensive to fill up my cars ($92 for my Pick-up and $48 for my Mini-van) but my electric bill has become more expensive, groceries are more expensive, and I am totally amazed at the cost to ship a package (last week I paid $55 to have a package delivered).  There has been a definite change to my lifestyle and I suspect if the price of Oil continues to rise my family belt will have to tighten some more.

Knowing that I am not an island I can only assume that it is affecting others.  I also know that many Americans live on very small margins to begin with and have probably way more debt than they need or can afford, which brings me to my point in all of this.

What effect is this going to have on giving and financial support of youth facilities as well as social service programs in general.  This is how crisis in the middle east could effect houseparents. 

If a family has to choose between sending their monthly support check to the boy’s home or paying the extra $20 it costs to fill up their vehicle each week I have to wonder what they will choose.  If the government has to make budget cuts because fuel costs have made them go over budget, I wonder what programs will be cut first.  I have seen in the past that budgets for funding residential youth programs are often the first ones cut.  The first home I worked at closed it’s doors last year because the local county government couldn’t find money in their budget to work with children through local residential programs and instead chose to wait until circumstances were such that they could send them to the state school through the juvenile justice system.

Additionally the monthly fuel and energy costs for the home I work at have skyrocketed, which has had an effect of other areas of our budget and I am sure it is the same for other facilities.

I know that the only real solution is for America and everyone to reduce their thirst for Oil, but that is not going to happen overnight if at all.  Recent news reports seem to suggest most Americans have become used to paying the higher fuel prices and have done little to reduce demand. 

I truly hope that somebody can find some common ground so there can be peace or a truce to reduce the human suffering over there and also the potential suffering to children in need here around the world (I am sure international giving could be affected also).

Question #4 7/9/2006 How do you serve meals?

How do you serve meals? Our table seats 16 – we have 13 total in our cottage ranging in age from 1 to 12. We have tried putting an older child next to a younger child, that did not seem to work too well. We have tried dividing the dish into smaller dishes but that too did not seem to work well. Our table is square. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. –  S. S.

We live in a co-ed cottage that has children from age 4 to 15 and have found that family dining does not work for us.  Passing food is just not practical for us, we have too many young children in our cottage.

What we do is: Eat Buffet Style.

  • We prepare plates for all the children in kindergarten or younger before calling everyone to the table.
  • Everyone comes to the table and sits quietly (sometimes) in their chair. After everyone is seated and quite we will say “Grace”
  • We then pass out the plates to the younger children.
  • Once the younger children have their food, either the older boys or older girls will next prepare their plates; this limits the number of children that could potentially be messing around near the food and cause a mishap.  (We usually alternate each meal with boys going first and then girls, however I will sometimes let one or the other go first two or three times in a row just to prevent too much of a routine.)
  • My wife and I usually eat last so that we can help the children that might need assistance preparing their plates.
  • Condiments, seasonings, and napkins are passed around the table in a normal way so that children (and us adults) can practice using manners and passing items.

I hope this helps and that others will add their own solutions to your situation. 

If anybody has any other ideas or you would like to add something, just register and add your comments.
If you would like to ask your own question CLICK HERE to go the submission form.

Ponderings About Being a Houseparent

Last Friday we had a professional clown visit and perform for us and the children as part of a national show that is coming to the area.  The kids had a great time and frankly so did I, even though I figured out how he made the hankie disappear.

Somebody asked him if he enjoyed his job and he said he loved it.  He used a quote that he attributed to Ben Franklin but I have also seen it attributed to Confucius and anonymous (while researching it this weekend),  “do what you love and, you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  I had probably heard that before in one variation or another but I can’t think of any particular time.  Anyway, I have been doing a lot of pondering about being a houseparent and why somebody would want to do it lately, as you have probably read in some of my recent writings.

I have come to the conclusion that to be successful at it you have to love it, or at the very least love helping kids.  And though there are definitely days when it is work, there are many, many days when it doesn’t seem to be, for example.

  1. Friday, watching the kids faces being entertained by the clown.
  2. On the days when a child discovers they can accomplish new things.
  3. On the days when children discover they can be successful at school.
  4. On the days when children discover they are loved (Even big, bad teenagers in a delinquent home).
  5. On the days when children realize they can be successful, contributing members in a family and society.
  6. and on a lighter note – on days like today when I get to dress up in my funny red plaid shorts and grey Converse All-Stars and drive a bunch of teenagers to camp, while they are totally embarrassed by the way I look (for about the first 5 minutes).

Passion vs Desire

Pretty much everybody that knows me knows that I am a NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) fan.  Some would say I am truly a fanatic.  My son got me hooked on it about 4 years ago, and it has become something I truly enjoy.  He is also a NASCAR fan and has told be me that he wants to be a professional driver when he is an adult.  He has told me that it is his dream to drive and would do whatever it takes to get there.

The problem is that although he has the desire, I strongly question whether or not he has the passion to carry it out. I have heard some of the stories about how NASCAR drivers had to work their way into racing and make great sacrifice doing it. Even children of drivers whose names end with Petty, Earnhardt, etc. have had to sacrifice to make it.

There are stories of some ofb them spending every waking moment they weren’t in school working to raise money to build a street stock car to race at their local track.  Having as their only friends people at the track, missing out on all the extras at school like sports, proms, dates, etc.  At least one driver almost missed his own graduation because he was out of town racing, trying to get his big break into racing.  They all had the passion that it took to achieve their dream, not just a desire to do it.

As of right now it doesn’t seem that my son has that.  He is a great kid, works hard, is liked by most kids as well as most adults, and is very responsible, but would rather spend Friday and Saturday night with his friends than spend them working on building a car.  He would rather spend the money he makes working hard on cell phones, video games, and fast food than put it toward the several thousand dollars we will need to build our first car (a competitive street stock car costs about $9,000 to build and the expense climbs considerably as you move up in classes not to mention up-keep).  He won’t read any of the books I have bought, or visit any of the websites I have found to learn about racing.  I have to wonder if he thinks that somebody is going to come into our house and see him playing NASCAR 2007 on the X-box and offer him a contract driving a car in the NEXTEL Cup.

By now I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with being a houseparent.  Here it is:  I have found that the success you have as a houseparent and the longevity you have doing it is directly affected by the passion you have to help children. 

You may have a desire to help children which is good but unless you have more than that you will probably quit the first time it becomes difficult.  It takes passion! It is the passion to make a difference that keeps you going when things get tough.  It is the passion that draws you to learn new techniques and about the different behaviors the children deal with.  It is the passion that gives you the strength to try again every time you see a child fail when they go back home to their community.  It is the passion that helps you love a child and be patient with them when it seems everybody else has given up.

Virtually every houseparent I know that has been successful and has lasted more than a year or two had a passion to make a difference.  What about you?