What Every Houseparent Needs to Know!
I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me!
By Mike Hyde, The Webmaster
1. Residential child care is huge!!! Counting foster care, it is estimated that there are over 2 million kids in placement nationwide. Every state has several facilities and usually every community over 10,000 people has at least one facility. With that, there is a huge need for qualified houseparents. Salaries and benefits are growing and you don't have to work for $800 a month unless you want to. Do your home work, before you accept a position and you can make a decent living as a houseparent.
2. During the interview, don't believe everything an administrator tells you. They usually embellish. In the very first facility we worked in, the administrator, in his recruiting pitch told us that, "the kids we get here are easy. Here in Wyoming they put kids in placement for smoking cigarettes."
What we found out was that, there never was a child put in placement for smoking. But, they are put in placement for: Drug abuse, battery, burglary, and various other crimes. We had kids in placement that were sexual molesters, self-mutilators, Satanists, and had severe mental illness.
I had an administrator at another facility tell me, "Our kids are easy. We are not a behavioral modification facility and none of our kids are court placed."
That statement was mostly true. But, just because you are not B-mod and your kids are not court placed, does not mean that they are easy. Most kids that come from an environment that requires them to live with somebody other than their family, are going to have some emotional or behavioral problems. Again, we had drug abusers, thieves, kids with sexual problems, and kids that were violent.
What's the point? Parenting is not easy, whether it's your kids or somebody else's. If an administrator tells you the kids are easy, say, "YA Right" and move on with the interview. If you are looking for something easy, your looking in the wrong place. Child care, although it can be very rewarding, is never easy!
3. Administrators are a Pain!! No matter where you are or what kind of facility you work for, you will find that the vast majority of administrators are a pain in the neck! The reasons for this are:
1. A lot of administrators have never been houseparents. They go to school and learn all these theories, then come and tell you how to put them into practice, without really understanding what you go through on a daily basis.
2. State regulations, policies, and court systems cause them to sometimes have to do things that aren't good for the houseparent, program or child.
3. People have different parenting styles - Administrators are people and all people are different. Even with the best, you will not always agree and have to do something you don't want to and that is a pain.
I have worked with many different administrators, some have been a royal pain in the neck. Makes you want to wear one of those neck braces. The good one's are just a dull pain, kind of like a mosquito bite, stings when it happens, itches for a while. But, all were a pain in some way.
4. Children are a Pain! If you have your own children you already know this - If you don't, you soon will.
Even the best, most well behaved children can be a pain sometimes. Kids that come from broken and very dysfunctional families even more so!
My wife and I grew up in not the best of families. My wife was abused by her father. My birth parents divorced when I was two. My adopted father was an alcoholic and physically abusive. I got involved with stuff as a teenager that had I been caught would have surely put me in placement.
We became Christians about six years ago, got our lives in order and decided to give back to society. We became houseparents and thought we could love these kids and give them everything we didn't receive as children and they will just turn their lives around. The problem is they didn't care what we went through and in most cases chose to continue to be the way they were. They lie, cheat, steal, cuss, abuse substances, do poorly in school. They can be sexually inappropriate and a host of other things.
Reading my list you would think that residential child-care was the worst career choice anybody could make. For some, that may be true. But, I can hardly think of a better way to make a difference.
Few houseparents can't name at least one child that has turned their life around while in their care and consider them part of their family. One other reason to become a houseparent in-spite of all the problems comes from a good houseparent friend of mine that is now a pain in the neck administrator. Many times in staff meeting we would ask ourselves why we even bother? His response always was, "If we don't give of our lives and care for these kids, WHO WILL?
5. There is NO childcare Industry. You may find on my site where I have sometime in the past referred to the Residential Childcare Industry. I have since come to learn that there is no industry. In the United States residential childcare along with social services in general is a function of the government. The government regulates it, licenses facilities, and in the majority of cases provides the funding. Furthermore, it is not a function of the national government but of each individual state’s government.
Each state regulates its own social services to include residential and foster care. Further, their regulations will reflect their local culture, philosophy, and traditions. I have worked in three different states, and although there are many similarities there are also many differences. I see advantages and disadvantages to all the different regulations. For example, I think less regulation allows for closer, more personal relationships with the children, where more regulation may provide more safeguards for both the children and staff.
Is one state’s system better than another? I don’t know that’s not my specialty. I do know that national change is a very slow and tedious process that has been taking place since before the turn of the century, the 20th century. Is it right for people in one state to try to force another state to do it the way they do or vise versa? Probably not. Can somebody, bring reform through out the entire country? Maybe if they are willing to wait for their grandchildren or great-grandchildren to finish it. Even with federal mandates, change is slow!!!! And it still has to be done one state at a time.
6. No facility is Perfect. I have talked with hundreds of residential childcare workers from facilities all over the country and many could have said the following statement. “The two best facilities in the country are the one I used to work at and the one I am getting ready to move to.” Facilities are very different, and opinions about those facilities will vary greatly. If you were to poll the staff at any facility about a ¼ of them might say that it is the best program in the country, another ¼ might say it is the worst and they can’t wait to find a new position and the rest would be somewhere in the middle.
I have in the past at a facility talked with two different houseparents and gotten two totally different impressions from the conversations. One hated the place; the other thought things were almost perfect. It’s like the blind men and the elephant, we all have a different perspective. There are exceptions, and if a facility is breaking the law or state regulations something should be done. And if you think you have betters ways of doing things, share them, especially if you have the experience to back it up.
But, you may have to realize that the problem may not so much be how bad the facility is in your opinion but that you might need an attitude adjustment or that you don’t fit the program or facility, which leads me to my next point.
7. There is no perfect fit all program for all children. I will admit that there are probably programs/facilities that are horrible and should be closed the same as I know there are some excellent programs. However, there is no one program for all kids. If there was, that facility would have zero dismissals and a 100% success rate. Some kids will do great in less structured programs, while others will need the security of a more structured program to work through certain issues. Some may need several different programs to work on several different issues. There is room for diversity.
I have seen children make profound lasting change in programs I didn’t agree with or like, even though others did. Just because you don’t like the program, doesn’t mean it is wrong. If you are in a program that you can’t support, find one you can. Kids can spot fakes. As far as the program goes, if it is so bad that it can’t keep staff and the kids are always blowing out, it will either change or close.
I would like to end with this story:
When I was fairly new and much more idealistic (expecting perfection) than I am now I was complaining to one of the more senior houseparents about how screwed up our facility was. He listened to my complaints and how I was planning to go look for a new position. He agreed with me that there were problems but added that if all the good staff just got frustrated and left, who would be left to help change anything. I took that to heart and several years later, there were still some problems, but I was part of a group of people that was able to help make things better. The facility I work at now is not perfect, and there are probably some people that think it sucks and can’t wait to find another position, but I’m not sure I would be a houseparent any place else. Besides if I wasn’t caring for these kids who would?
Check back for additions to this list. I will also welcome input from other houseparents to include in this list.