Question #16 – 4/5/2007 First time worker seeking advice.

 Mine is an unusual situation. I was raised in a children’s home from age 4. It was a state run facility. I still love the place and have served on the alumni association – doing things with the kids now and then.I have just accepted a residential mentor position at that same facility. I will initially work night shift – monitoring the children – doing bed checks, etc. Things are MUCH different today than when I was a resident. Houseparents lived with us back then. Now residential mentors are employed in shifts. When I was a resident, children called their houseparents and teachers Mr. or Miss or Mrs. Apparently, now the kids call their houseparents by their first name – not sure I agree with this. When I was a resident, we might have occasionally went to stay with a relative on the weekend, and we generally went away on the holidays for vacation. Now the kids seem to go away most weekends and the facility is more like a boarding school than a children’s home.

I have fond memories of two houseparents when growing up at the home. One was young, very much a tomboy and would take us outside and play sports with us. She was great fun, but was also quite firm and we knew not to cross her. We respected her. She was there many years and eventually became the girls dean.

The other houseparent that I remember well was an elderly, small lady that was soft-spoken and sweet. A grandmotherly type. She was kind and affectionate and we wanted to please her.

I cannot remember most of the others, probably because they were less involved with us. I understand that you can be involved or you can just go in and do your job. It’s up to you how much you want to do.

So, over the seven years that I lived at the home, two houseparents stood out in my memory for good reasons. There was also one houseparent that was quite cruel – but she was the exception to the rule – thank heavens!

I want to be a positive influence on these kids and this is why I am seeking your experienced advice. I do not have a sugary-coated idea of what the work will entail. I KNOW that I will be dealing with moods, manipulations and frustrations, etc. Kids are kids are kids – and these kids are no different – just acting out more because of more difficult circumstances. I just want to do what I can to make a difference in their life. I don’t have expectations of them – I just want to do FOR them.

Eventually, I want to work on the long weekend shift (3 long days on) 4 off. This may take several months as this particular schedule is generally offered to existing mentors. The newbies usually work nights – earning their stripes and easing into the understanding of the role of a residential mentor. It’s important so that I can still have the time to work on my farmhouse, garden, etc.

I’m a tough cookie, so I will ride out whatever difficult situations I encounter. I will not give up.

I’m seeking advice from folks that work on shifts at similar facilities.

1. How did you establish yourself as a houseparent on your first job? Some do’s and don’ts would be much appreciated!

Mike’s comments are in BLUE!!

I can honestly say I made a few mistakes the first time I was a houseparent. I received no training so I had to wing it.  I didn’t know what to do so I too often, let the children tell me how it was done.  The best thing you can do to establish yourself is make sure you receive training.  Get to know the facility, not only the rules but also the philosophies.  If you know the rules and philosophies it is much easier to establish yourself, just follow them.  Don’t let your desire to be friends with the children impair your judgment.  You want to have a good relationship with the children, but it is a lot better to have mutual respect than friendship.

Don’t ever accept, “This is how our old mentor/houseparent did this.”  My usual response is, “I am not your old houseparent.”

Always try to be fair and honest.  Most of the children you work with will be very good at lying, they are also very good at spotting somebody else that is doing it.

I could probably write a whole book just on this question, but I think you get the idea.  There is a bunch of other material elsewhere on this site that will give additional tips.  Read the Forum Archive and Houseparent Articles.

2. I was formerly a company director, so wore a lot of dresses – which is most comfortable for me – the only jeans I like are bibs – will this pose a problem with the other staff? Will they think I’m too dressy? I can’t afford new casual clothes at the moment.Wear what you have until you can get what you need.  However, you will want to do your best to try and fit in. 

You don’t need to have new casual clothing.  Some people think I’m cheap, but I buy more than half my clothes at thrift stores.  My wife gets many of hers also.  In my less financially secure days, it was the only way to get name brand clothing.

3. I was reading that you cannot hug a kid. How do you all show affection whilst obeying this policy? Advice please? What if a kid hugs you?

Most facilities don’t allow a frontal hug, however they will usually allow a side hug.  In our fist facility we called it the “Sonlight Hug”.  You stand side by side, put one arm to the other person’s opposite shoulder and squeeze.  I still use it today, especially on teen girls.

There are many ways to show affection without hugs, your speech and actions toward the children will speak volumes.  Building a good respectful relationship will go a very long way in showing affection.

If a kid hugs you: #1- follow the policy of your facility.  If no contact is allowed, you have to do what you have to do.  If some contact is allowed and you can use a side hug, move to that position, or place your hands on their shoulders, or hold hands.  Sometimes only a little contact is all that is needed.

Best wishes,Gooby

I hope you find this useful and that others will share their ideas. 

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Question #15 – 2/19/2007 Are there children available locally for adoption?

A friend is considering adoption of a child. She’s thinking of going internationally. Are there children available locally? thanks! hd

There are thousands of children in the United States that are available for adoption, yet will spend their entire youth in the foster care system.  According to the most recent AFCARS Report there are 114,000 children waiting to be adopted in the US.  There were 51,000 children that were adopted in 2005 through the foster care system.  That would leave more than half the children still waiting on an adoptive home.

I believe the reason most children in the foster care system are not considered for adoption by many prospective parents is because of their age (most still waiting for adoptive homes are older children) and because of perceived behavioral issues.  I can honestly say that I have seen children with behavioral issues that come from all walks of life including overseas adoptions. I personally believe all prospective parents should first consider the children here in America before looking overseas.  Here is a blog article I wrote a few months ago.  CLICK HERE


Submitted by: momofmanyAnother reason it is harder to adopt in the U.S. is many of the kids are from sibling groups and the court system and CPS do not want them split apart. I know Texas has what is called TARE – I think it stands for Texas Adoption Resource – and you can put in age, sex, race, etc. and it will show you many kids up for adoption. Keep in mind though, it also shows you their siblings. Good luck. 

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Question #14 – 1/16/2007 How do we find out about a family member that was in an Orphanage?

 Hello Mike,
My grandmother, along with her 3 sisters and one brother, lived in a children’s home in Arkansas in the mid 1920’s (maybe 1926 to 1932). I wanted to know if the building where she lived was still around or if I could find more information about that place. I live in CA and would love to travel there. Do you have any ideas? Thank you Marcia.

Unfortunately, many of the facilities that existed in the 1920s no longer exist.  They either closed or were absorbed by other facilities.  However, even if the facility still exists, it may have very little information that would be helpful to you.  I work at a facility that has been open since 1895.  The only building we have that is older than 40 years is our original building, designated a historical landmark and with several remodels over the years it looks nothing like it did in the 20s or even 60s.  All the living areas are now offices. 

As far as records go, our history for the first 50 plus years of existence is recorded in one loose leaf book.  We didn’t start keeping extensive records until the 1980s.  We have more pictures from the last year than from the first 50 plus years, so there is not a great deal of information available.

If you know the name and location of the facility you can try doing a search on your favorite search engine. (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.).  You may be able to find contact information for it that way.  If that doesn’t work, you can try contacting the local chamber of commerce or historical society and see if they might have information about the orphanage. Chances are if it still exists, it has also changed names.  We changed our name from orphanage to children’s home in the 1980s, so you may have to do some serious detective work.  If the facility still exists you should be able to find something, if not, there won’t be much to find.

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Question #13 – 1/9/2007 How do we go about Starting a New Facility?

Do you have some resources for informing us how to go about becoming a privately funded children’s home? Especially dealing with siblings? My heart is overwhelmed with the need to keep children together to grow in an family environment . What are the possibilities of Gov. grants, and do we have to file non-profit first and than pursue the vision of a group home? Any direction would be greatly appreciated
Thanks freedom

You should start by contacting your local government agency responsible for licensing residential facilities.  They are usually the same people that license Foster Homes.  They will be able to provide you with all the regulations and requirements for your state.  Each state has different regulations for licensing facilities.I would next contact other facilities that are located in your state.  Many are willing to share information and give a newcomer a leg up.  I know of a facility in Georgia called Eagle Ranch that has a program for people wanting to start a new facility called the “Wings Initiative.”  You can check out their website at you may want to hire a consultant.  There are several: two that I am familiar with are Charles D. Appelstein and James R. Harris, Jr., 

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Question #12 – 1/9/2007 Where do I find Statistics on Orphans, Foster Care and Abused Children?

I am looking for statistics on how many orphans are currently living in VA, how many children were victims of abuse in 2006 under the age of 18, how many children under 18 are currently living in foster homes in Virginia. I am trying to build statistics to present to VA Rep. to show that we need more help/funding with children in VA.
Thanks!  rlw

Finding statistics for 2006 will be near impossible, there is usually a two or three year lag in compiling those statistics.  The government provides a very good site for getting statistics at the Administration for Children & Families.  They provide statistics from three reporting systems: Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS).

Click Here for the Administration for Children & Families Statistics Page

There are tons of statistics and other information.  You could spend days exploring the site and only view a fraction of the information it has.  Most information is available back to 1998, before that data was collected sporadically. Like I said above statistics are usually not available until two or three years after it is collected.

The only problem I have with the site and I have had it with three different computer systems is that I CANNOT view the site using Internet Explorer.  I have to use Firefox to view the Administration for Children & Families website.  The only thing I can figure is there is a conflict created by my virus software or one of my browser toolbars that blocks the site.  If you are getting an error page that says the page can’t be displayed, try downloading the Firefox browser and using it.

UPDATE:  I found out what was causing the conflict.  It was my Alexa Toolbar.  I removed it from my machine and I am suddenly able to access the AFCARS website.  I have another machine that still has the toolbar and it still doesn’t work.

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Question #11 12/18/2006 Questions about being a houseparent Energy/Quite Time/Personality?

My wife and I have been considering houseparenting for a couple of months and have been researching and contacting some places. My wife has a dream of working with teen moms and although I don’t have as specific a vision, I am completing my MS in Counseling and want to work in a counseling role of some kind. We have a 4 month old daughter and a 7 year old daughter (step-daughter for me)and are willing to move from NJ for the right opportunity.

My question is about my personality and energy level. I am more of an introvert than extrovert and get recharged by having time to spend on my own. That being said, I also like working directly with people and would not want to be stuffed in an office crunching numbers or working solely with ideas and concepts all day. I guess I am concerned about the energy needed to houseparent and wonder if introverts make it very far and if there are any tips on how to incorporate a personal quiet time to recharge into the busy life of a houseparent. Any suggestions?
Thanks Tim

You can be a very good houseparent and be an introvert.  I think that I am and I have know several others that have been also. 

As far as time alone, it depends greatly on the facility that you work for.  Many facilities provide a great deal of alone time, especially during the school year.  During the summer and school holidays it gets more difficult.  We work at a long term facility and work with younger children that are not always in school so personal time is a little more difficult to come by.  We have to rely on nap times, getting up early, or staying up late to get alone time.  We also rely heavily on relief time to regenerate.  This is something to discuss thoroughly during the application process prior to accepting any position.  That way all parties are clear as to what is expected of you.

As far as energy goes.  I don’t think it requires a lot of energy to be a houseparent, I do however think it takes a lot of energy to be a GOOD houseparent.  I will be honest it is a very hard job (if you want to call it a job), the hours are long, it is emotionally draining, and some would say it is spiritually draining.  Those that try to make houseparenting a laid back job, usually don’t make it long.

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Question #10 12/18/2006 How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control with relief staff?

How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control (disrespectful, disobedient, mocking, as well as taking on a “pack” or “gang” mentality) while in the care of relief or alternate houseparents?
Thanks!  Tawnya

The answer to this question depends on the perspective from which you ask it.  If you are asking from the perspective of the primary houseparent then I suggest that you number share your expectations for their behavior with the children prior to you leaving on relief or days off.  We don’t have much of an issue with our children trying to get over on our regular relief staff because we have worked together for years.  But, we are very clear with our children that if they try and get over on emergency/vacation relief they will receive consequences when we return.

You should also share as much information as you can with your relief staff.  The more they know about your rules and routines the easier it will be for them to maintain them.  Write as much of it down as you can, that way if the children tell therelief staff that they are doing something wrong they can show the children your notes.

Finally pick your battles.  If your relief staff is new or less than competent there are going to be disruptions.  You just may have to live with some things until they learn the ropes or leave.

If you are asking from the perspective of relief staff, I would first like to say that being relief staff is the hardest position there is in residential childcare.  I was relief staff for a year and wish never to do it again, I am just not cut out for it.  Relief staff need to be flexible, and in a sense submit themselves to the desires of the primary houseparents, while working with children that you have very little time to build relationships with and may only see for a few days a month.

When dealing with children that seem to be “out of control” while you are on duty as relief, you need to make sure that you do not communicate that you are intimidated or just a “baby sitter.”  You need to portray to the children that you are confident in your abilities, won’t put up with crap, will be fair and respectful to them, and that you also expect them to be fair and respectful to you. 

You also need to communicate with the primary houseparents and administration as much as possible both before and after relief.  With out their support, you will always have struggles.  Also don’t expect the primary houseparents to be the bad guys.  If a child breaks a rule while you are on duty, give them consequences.  The children will never respect you if you always say, “Wait until your houseparents get back.”

Realize that time is on your side.  The longer you stick with something the easier it will get.  If you are new, you are going to have to establish yourself in the house and that may take until many of the children that are residents of the house when you started have moved on.

Finally, if you can’t get support from the primary houseparents or administration it may be time to look for a new position.  There are too many good facilities that will train, equip and support their staff to continue to work for one that won’t.

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Question #9 10/26/2006 Would it be Appropriate to Bring a Hostess Gift to an Interview?

My husband and I are visiting a children’s home for an interview and will be staying at one of the cottages/homes. Would it be polite or inappropriate to bring a hostess gift? Would it be best to bring it and just leave it behind with a thank you note or present it up front? Thanks!  heidismom

This question is totally out of my area of expertise, so I asked my wife and my neighbor, whom I consider my etiquette expert, and this is what they say:

My wife felt that it wouldn’t be inappropriate, but she wasn’t really sure it would be necessary either.  We have never left a hostess gift at any of the facilities we have interviewed with, however we are also from a less formal culture where hostess gifts are not usually given.

My neighbor said that it depends on what the gift is.  If it is something that is consumed it should be given up front so they have an opportunity to share it with you.  If it is not something consumed, she would probably leave it with a thank you note when she left.

They both felt if a gift is given, it should be something simple.  You don’t want to give the impression that you are trying to influence anybody’s decision, by giving gifts.

Hope this helps!

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Question #8 10/26/2006 Where to Begin – Starting a Home?

I live in N.J. and have been trying to get information in regards to opening a residential care program and have not been successful.  Can you please if you know tell me where to begin?

Thanks Kattia

The very first place to begin is with the licensing agency in your state.  They are usually the same people that license foster homes and deal with foster placements, however there could be an exception depending on which state you live in.  You might start with the state agency listing in my government agency directory.

 You may also want to contact other agencies in you state for information, many are more that willing to offer information about the home and state regulations. One facility I know of has a program to assist others wanting to start their own home.  You can find out more information at

Finally, you can hire a consultant.  If you are unable to find the information you are looking for in the other sources, contact me and I will give you some names you can contact.  I don’t know how much their fee is, but imagine it could be substantial.

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Question #7 10/19/2006 Is this some sort of Drug/Gang Slang?

I work in a high school and recently had a student ask me to watch his hat (children are not allowed to wear hats in school). The hat had 765 written on it. I asked the student what it meant, he laughed and said it was our area code. I have to tell you, I didn’t quite believe him. Is there some significance to these particular numbers or am I being a little bit toooooooooooooooo cautious. Thanks, Nannie

Area codes are sometimes used to identify the more prominent drug and gang cities, for example 313 for Detroit, 213 for Los Angeles,  and 817 for Fort Worth.

I would say in your case your student either has short term memory loss and needs his area code written on his hat so he knows what it is to call home, or he is more likely a wanna-be that wants every one to know his turf is suburban Indianapolis.

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

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