Living in a Fishbowl!!

One of many realities with being a houseparent is living in a fishbowl.  Everybody is watching everything that you do.  Unfortunately people aren’t always watching to see all the great things you are doing, they often times are watching to see when you mess up so they can point it out to you or somebody above you. 

My most recent fishbowl experience happened last week, though I didn’t find out about it until Monday this week.  At the facility we work at we drive all our children to school and pick them up in the afternoon.  I drive one of two mini-buses with our facility logo plastered all over the side of it, and since the other one was in the shop on the date we received the complaint, it had to be me.

Anyway, I was driving to school that morning with 13 young children in the bus approaching an intersection with a traffic light.  I was being distracted with something the children were doing in the back.  I looked up into my big mirror to see what the children were doing and kind of last track of the light and intersection.  I suddenly realized that the light was RED and traffic was coming just before I entered the intersection.  I was able to stop without hitting anybody and my bumper was only about 3 feet into the intersection.

I was shaking very badly after realizing the tragedy I just missed, in fact I can’t remember what it was that even distracted me now.  Though I do remember the GLARE of the woman in the white car I almost hit.  When the light turned green I continued driving to school, shaking the entire way and just being thankful I didn’t hit anybody. Eventually I stopped shaking and didn’t think anymore of it, until Monday when I got a phone call from the Business Office.

She told me that somebody called and complained about this crazy nut driving one of our buses.  That I had no business driving children around, and she knew because she used to drive a school bus.  That I was speeding (which wasn’t true, because I am pretty obsessive about traffic laws) and was going to hurt somebody.

I told the manager my side of the story, and that I am sure that lady had never been distracted all the time she drove a bus and never had a close call.  I continued that I would take my reprimand or firing if that is what it takes.  She said no, I just wanted you to know that people are watching us.  My reply was, “yes, I know.”

The Houseparent and Administrator Perspective Surveys

I reset the Houseparent and Administrator Perspective surveys tonight. They have been running since October 2002 and the information that was entered back then probably isn’t representative of what is going on today.

I am asking everyone to complete the survey again with their current situation. That way the results will be more current and therefore more accurate.

If you are a houseparent click here to complete your Survey

If you are an administrator click here to complete your Survey

THANKS!!

Being a Good Birth Parent Won’t Make You a Good Houseparent!

As, I believe, the successful parent of two birth children I have to say that being a successful parent does not insure that you will be a successful houseparent.

I have spoke with many people that were interviewing to be first time houseparents tell me how being successful as parents of birth children will help them to be great houseparents only to come to me about three months later and confess how wrong they were. That parenting other people’s children is very different from parenting your own.

Unless you have successfully parented birth children that have been abused and/or neglected, lived in extreme poverty, been raised in a family where crime was not only condoned but encouraged, or had behavioral disorders you are probably going to have to learn a whole new set of parenting skills.

Additionally, the children you care for will not have the same relationship with you that your birth children have. Their blood bond will not be with you but with the abusive, neglectful or dysfunctional family they are not currently living with yet in most cases will continue to love.

Not that your previous parenting skills will be worthless either, they will be very useful in other areas of household management like scheduling, working with schools, etc. What I am referring to is how you will need new skills to deal with the many new behaviors that you probably never had to deal with raising your birth children.

The only solution is training. Either through your facility or on your own, but being a good houseparent takes training. Most facilities provide initial training that is very important. Pay attention and participate. You will also want to attend any additional training that they provide and if they provide reimbursement for outside training I would take advantage of all that time would allow for.

If your facility does not provide training or only minimal training and you want to continue to stay there, you need to get the training on your own. There are several books I can recommend: No Such Thing As a Bad Kid!: Understanding and Responding to the Challenging Behavior of Troubled Children and Youth — By: Charles D. Appelstein and Respecting Residential Work with Children -By: James R. Harris Jr., M.A. are two very good books to start with. There are also several others that I have read and reviewed on my site. Buy them from me or from somebody else, but please don’t fall into the I don’t need any extra training trap. There are also usually several opportunities to attend seminars in the community. You can find them through local colleges, schools and family service organizations.

If you are thinking about becoming a houseparent and want to get ahead start on training you might want to sign up for foster parent training either through your local family services department or through a private agency. Before my wife and I became houseparents we were foster parents and the training we received during that certification process has been invaluable throughout our houseparenting career.

Training and experience will make you a good houseparent!!

Sense of Entitlement

It is funny, the peculiar kind of funny, to watch a child that was previously homeless enter a children’s home or the foster care system and quickly start thinking they are the child of some rich person and DESERVE all the benefits that entails. Several years ago, I had a young man that had lived in foster care the majority of his life tell me that the home we both lived at needed to sell the van and purchase a BMW to drive him to school in.  The same child was nearly impossible to clothes shop with because he wanted the $150 sneakers, $100 jeans, and $50 shirts and would whine the entire time, because I chose to stick to the mandated budget, not that I would have bought any of that for him if we didn’t have a budget.

I have witnessed this several times in my career but have recently discovered a logical explanation for it.  Dr. Richard J. Delaney, Ph.D. discusses it in his book “raising cain – Caring for Troubled Youngsters/Repairing Our Troubled System”  He says that some of the children that enter care have come from such limited means that they have developed a “watch out for yourself if you are going to survive” attitude and are used to taking what they can, from whoever they can, whenever they can.  Suddenly being put in a place where food, possessions, and attention are suddenly plentiful can be like turning a squirrel loose on a pecan farm.  They are still going to horde, except now there is more to horde.

With these children you deal with the behavior by setting limits and following those limits consistently and fairly.  They may continue to want the BMW and $150 sneakers, but they will eventually accept that you are NOT going to give it to them.

I have come to accept that I will see this behavior in many of the children that I care for, but where I struggle the most is when I see it in houseparents, or begin to start feeling it myself.

One of the things we had to do (several years ago) at a home I worked at was to go to people’s homes and pick up items donated for use at the home or to sell at the thrift-store.  I on many occasions witnessed houseparents rummaging through the trucks a soon as they arrived back on campus to get the best stuff for their personal use.  I have seen houseparents that will swarm on items that are left at the office by donors and will grab the best stuff for themselves or their cottage whether they needed it or not.  When special food items are donated, I have seen houseparents snatch up a three month supply not at all worried that some of the cottages now won’t get any, and just so my readers won’t think I am all self righteous or something, I will admit there were days when I circled the boardroom like a vulture circles a dying animal.

I realize that we are not perfect but, we need to be aware of the behavior we model for the children in our care.  If we have a sense of entitlement ourselves how can we expect the children not to.  This sense of entitlement can also be our attitude toward the things we are asked to do as if the home is privileged to have us in their employment and whatever they pay us is not nearly enough for what we are expected to do, so there is no reason to do it.  We have to set the example for the children and, if needed, for other houseparents.

Dealing with Lice

I was asked about dealing with lice in the “Ask Mike” section of my website, but I would like to share it here also for those that might not read my “Ask Mike” Section.  Lice are kind of a pain, but they are not that hard to deal with.

Although we have been lice free for about 3.5 years there was a 1 year period before that when we  were having to deal with lice every month.  We had one group of children that would come back with lice every time they went home on a visit.  So we got pretty good at treating it.

We would use the commercially available lice shampoo to wash their hair. Then I would comb out their hair with a lice comb every day for 10 days and wash it again one final time.  We purchased the metal lice combs and reused them over and over again. 

My wife would wash all the clothing they took with them on the visit.  She would also wash their bedding and their clothes everyday during that 10 day period we were treating them.  Anything that couldn’t be washed, we would spray with lice killer and store in a plastic bag for a week or two.  That was usually enough to do away with the lice.

I found that the most effective part of that for us was combing their hair daily with the lice comb.  It seems that you can never get all the eggs out with just one combing and the shampoo doesn’t kill all the eggs.  Combing daily removes any newly hatched lice before they have a chance to lay more eggs.

We also have some very hard and fast rules to keep lice from spreading to all the children and staff.  My wife has gotten lice, twice from the children since we have been houseparents, I don’t have enough hair.

Rule #1: Everybody has their own comb or brush and nobody shares, ever!!!!

Rule #2: Bedding is washed weekly and nobody shares personal pillows, ever!!!

I would also like to add that you never, ever shame the child for having lice and try not to get all creepy around any child that has lice.  They don’t need the blow to their self-esteem and it’s just not nice.  Considering the environments that many of our children come from it’s amazing that more don’t have lice.

I Can’t Even Imagine

I am from out west and have spent most of my days living in a COLD climate.  The year before we left Montana was one of the worst winters I have ever endured.  We probably got about 8 feet of snow that winter to go with our bitterly cold temperatures.  I think that winter we had almost 90 days of Zero or colder temperatures and almost 4 weeks colder than -20 degree Fahrenheit.

I have lived in Mississippi for the better part of the last 7.5 years and the summer we are having this year is almost unbearable.  We have had more 100 degree days this year than I have ever seen, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.  The only semi-comforting thing is that the humidity has been low, do to the severe drought we are having, otherwise it would be like living in a steam room.

Thankfully most of our kids are back in school so they have something to keep them busy besides sitting in front of the TV or playing Xbox.

I work at a home that has been in existence for over 110 years.  TV, Video games, Computers, and Air Conditioning are all fairly new luxuries.  We have only had a swimming pool on campus for less than 4 years.  I Can’t Even Imagine what it was like for our predecessors at this home and what they did when it was this hot, without those other things to take your mind off of it.  I wonder if the kids and adults whined as much then as we do now about the uncomfortableness of the heat.

I find it funny that in Montana you have to deal with the kids driving you nuts in the winter because they are stuck inside the house all day, but in Mississippi the kids drive you nuts in the summer because they are stuck inside the house all day. 

I am NOT sure which is worse.

Relationships with Administrators

Relationships with supervisors in a position where you are on duty 24 hours a day for days at a time is very different from a person that works a 9-5 job or something similar. You spend so much time together that often times you forget about the employee/supervisor relationship and begin to think you are friends.  In my personal opinion this is a very wrong thing to do, and wish I would stop forgetting it.

I think it is totally appropriate to be friendly with your supervisor and to have a good relationship but I don’t think you can ever really be friends.  You may do or say something on a personal friendly level and the other person can easily receive it on the employee/employer level and then there are hurt feelings.

Let me give an example from my personal experience.  This incident happened to me several years ago.

I had developed a friend relationship with my supervisor.  At the same time I was going through several things emotionally and spiritually.  I had been away from my home for almost two years, living in a part of the country that was very foreign to me.  My wife was also homesick and we had some difficulties with a program we had started.  We also had a former employer trying to recruit us back to a place we really enjoyed but didn’t pay much so it would have been a financial struggle to accept.

One day I was in my supervisors office discussing a situation in which I didn’t think policies of the home were very fair toward my birth children.  He started going into how he was going to stop hiring houseparents with kids and how houseparents with kids are such a problem.  I was looking for a friend and he went all supervisor on me.  I felt a little hurt.  Though it wasn’t the reason we accepted that other position, it was one of the final straws that pushed us over the edge. 

Thinking back, I realize how stupid of a decision it was.  You should never make career decisions based upon emotion, but thankfully things all worked out.  I am now very good friends with that supervisor, however he is no longer my supervisor.

We had another situation today with our current supervisor to help me get my perspective back.  But that is probably a good thing it was probably a little out of focus anyway.  Friends are friends, supervisors are supervisors.  One can’t be both.

Question #6 8/5/2006 How old is to old to get into houseparenting?

I/We are considering making a career change. We have been in business for ourselves and are looking to do something totally different with our lives. Next year my wife and I will turn 50. Our youngest will soon be in college. My question is. How old is to old to get into houseparenting? –  D. R.

This is a question that has to be decided by each individual and their workplace, however my personal opinion is that the age is much higher than 50.  I currently know a set of houseparents that are over 70 and the housedad is almost 80.  I hope I am not a houseparent at that age but you never know.

I (my personal opinion) think from the age 40 to 60 is the perfect age to be houseparents.  Normally, you have finished raising your family, but still have plenty that you can give to other children.  You have reached a point in your maturity when you realize you don’t know everything and probably never will.  You have come to realize that perfection is unattainable, and good enough will do.  You have tons of life experience and wisdom that you can share with others.  And many have the financial security to be houseparents because they want to, not because they need a job.  This allows you to accept positions that may not have the best pay, but may have greater opportunity to make a difference.

Health is a much bigger factor than age.  Being a houseparent can be very physically demanding depending on the type of facility you work at.  The stress of dealing with numerous children with behavioral issues, their families, the court system, other staff members and administrators you may not agree with, etc. can wear you down emotionally and physically.

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

Submitted by tigger (9/2/2006):

Age is a state of mind & if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter!! My husband & I are 57 and have been houseparents for over 14 years. Our current facility has asked us to move into management. We are doing both jobs until they find our replacements. We have been having second thoughts about the management because we really enjoy being houseparents. I would say if you have a heart & love for helping kids, go for it, & do it as long as you know this is what the Lord wants you to do!! When my husband & I train other staff, we tell them that when they dread coming back on duty, it’s probably time to move on.

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.

Question #5 8/5/2006 How do you deal with lice?

How do you deal with lice when you have 12 kids in the cottage? I have never dealt with lice in any way, shape, form or fashion. The two who arrived with it, got prescription shampoo from doctor. But do any of you real experts have an opinion on how to stop it from spreading? Thanks. –  S. S.

Although we have been lice free for about 3.5 years there was a 1 year period before that when we were having to deal with lice every month.  We had one group of children that would come back with lice every time they went home on a visit.  So we got pretty good at treating it.

We would use the commercially available lice shampoo to wash their hair. Then I would comb out their hair with a lice comb every day for 10 days and wash it again one final time.  We purchased the metal lice combs and reused them over and over again. 

My wife would wash all the clothing they took with them on the visit.  She would also wash their bedding and their clothes everyday during that 10 day period we were treating them.  That was usually enough to do away with the lice.

I found that the most effective part of that for us was combing their hair daily with the lice comb.  It seems that you can never get all the eggs out with just one combing and the shampoo doesn’t kill all the eggs.  Combing daily removes any newly hatched lice before they have a chance to lay more eggs.

We also have some very hard and fast rules to keep lice from spreading to all the children and staff.  My wife has gotten lice, twice from the children since we have been houseparents, I don’t have enough hair.

Rule #1: Everybody has their own comb or brush and nobody shares, ever!!!!

Rule #2: Bedding is washed weekly and nobody shares personal pillows, ever!!!


Submitted: CCCIn regards to the lice problem. The best tool I have found to use is the electric comb. A small, harmless electrical charge is transmitted through the hair which not only kills the lice but also the larve in the eggs. This method has been proven so effective that school districts have established a “no-miss” policy when a youth is found to be infected. (Actually, this was a condition of the health department which furnished the schools with these combs but the program has been highly successful). This is far and away the best treatment for lice and saves the youth from the damaging effects of chemical treatments and the social stigma of other, less effective, methods. This is one link for the product although I am sure there are other resources out there to purchase it. http://www.schoolhealth.com/shop/pe_90273.asp#order 

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.

 

Children Acting Out During Relief

We got back from relief on Tuesday to find that a couple of the children were somewhat disruptive and did things or tried to do things that they normally wouldn’t do with us or our regular relief staff.  We went on relief a week early so that we could be on duty for the first day of school (our twins started kindergarten today), so we had substitute relief staff cover the cottage for us. 

My wife was somewhat offended that the children would try to get over on the relief staff and do things they knew were not acceptable and would never think to do if we were on duty.  I on the other hand was not nearly as offended, though I think we gave appropriate consequences for their behavior.  The difference in our responses has a lot to do with the kind of children we were and in turn the kind of adults we became.

She was a very compliant child, the hero in her family.  If there was a rule she, for the most part, followed it no questions asked.  She still does, and has a hard time understanding why everyone just doesn’t follow the rules!

I on the otherhand preferred to push boundaries, and did many of the very same things our children do.  In the religion I was raised in, we were not allowed to shop at all on Sunday, it was considered a violation of the sabbath.  However, I remember a time when I was about 10 or 11 that my parents had to do something on a Sunday and left us with a babysitter.  Knowing exactly what the rules were, I chose to convince the babysitter that it was OK for me and a friend to go to the store and buy a large can of Ravioli to eat for supper instead of what my parents had left, with money I had previously stolen from my parents. 

My parents happened to return before we were able to finish the Ravioli and get rid of the evidence; I was totally busted.  I can’t remember what the consequence was, but I am sure they were severe.  Thinking back on the situation I am certain it wasn’t something I was trying to do to get back at or aggravate my parents with.  It was just something I thought I could get away with, so I tried.  I have grown into an adult that does a much better job staying within the boundaries so it couldn’t have been becasue I was a bad person.  Knowing that, I actually find the situation with our children somewhat humorous and someday my wife will also.

My advice is this:

We all know that relief, days off, or whatever you call it is a disruption for the children.  They have to deal with different staff, possibly a different location, and usually different rules.  And if not different rules, a different interpretation of those rules. They will act differently with relief staff, and may act badly.  Accept it because it is going to happen.  Especially if the staff covering your time off is different from the staff that normally cover for you or are new.  The things our children did while we were gone, were things they never would have tried with our normal relief staff.

Give appropriate consequences for their behavior.  If they act negatively give them negative consequences so they know that behavior is not acceptable.  However, you could also give positive consequences to those children that didn’t misbehave while you were on relief.  Unless your facility says otherwise, you could have a later bedtime, a special movie, or something else for the children that didn’t act out while you were gone, to show that  positive behavior is rewarded. 

Don’t take it personal.  In the vast majority of incidents I have dealt with, the children were just trying to get away with something, they weren’t trying to purposely aggravate me.

p.s. My wife wasn’t that aggravated or offended and she has gotten much better over the years, infact she was even able to accept that turning in her paperwork a few hours late this week because of computer issues wasn’t going to bring an end to the world.