The Golden Rule

I have been a houseparent for 9 years and have worked at three different facilities and one thing that is common to all three facilities is how the staff can sometimes bad mouth, gossip about and put down other staff. I know I have done, I’m afraid much too often. However, as I mature I hope I am beginning to recognise the destructiveness of it and will hopefully do it much less often.

I have also come to realize that when I make those statements or have those thoughts that I often times have no clue of what the situation is and my perception is usually wrong. For example:

  • I have said or heard said something like, “Why is it that we are always having to work and Johnny is never here helping? He is so lazy.” There were times when Johnny was just being lazy, but there were also times that Johnny was busy doing something else he was asked to do by another administrator and I should have been minding my own business.
  • I have also seen other houses be given something and became jealous, wondering why I didn’t get something similar. Not realizing that they had a specific need for the item they received.
  • I have also gossiped about other houseparents for not following this rule or that rule, paying absolutely zero attention to the rules I felt were insignificant and didn’t follow.
  • I have pondered many times why in a field where we are supposed to be helping others, we often times work so hard to tear each other down. Maybe it’s the stress and pressure of dealing with difficult behaviors. Maybe it’s the fact that we usually live so close together, spend so much time together doing the same things that we just get tired of each other. Maybe we are trying to establish some sort of pecking order. I don’t know, but I would love to hear ideas for building up rather than tearing down.

    I hope that those I have hurt will forgive me, that I will do much better at building others up and less tearing down, and that we all can find unity as we work to help hurting and troubled children

    A Pretty Good Relief

    We are on our 4th day of relief and it has been a pretty good one. I was able to sleep late yesterday. My favorite NASCAR Driver, Jimmie Johnson won the race today. Friday I bought a brand new ATV (A very nice Blue one to match Jimmie Johnson’s Race Car. Sorry but I had no choice but to become a NASCAR Fanatic living in the South) to use around the home and out at the ranch. As great as this week has been for me, I know it has not been so great for others.

    Today, we went out to eat after church. While I was sitting there in the restaurant I saw a sign at another store that said, “WE NEED TO PRAY FOR HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS.” I 100% agree with that sign, however it really got me to thinking and kind of brought me down some. For those of us that pray, hurricane Katrina victims are very good people to pray for. But I think we should also pray for: victims of hurricane Rita, Dennis, Ivan, etc., families that have lost loved ones to the Iraq war and war in general, victims of crime, children that are neglected and abused, people that are sick, wisdom for our leaders, etc. etc. etc.

    Unfortunately there is so much pain and suffering in the world, we will probably never run out of people to pray for and causes to give to.

    Our First Day Off as Houseparents

    Since my theme has been days off, I thought I would talk about our first days off as houseparents. Our first shift should have lasted 10 days, but because the facility we were at was short staffed, it ended up being 19 days long. We probably wouldn’t have gotten days off then, but after the director spoke with my wife on the phone decided he could either give her some rest or find new houseparents.

    Let me set the scene. After our first very stressful week, the following Monday I had to go out to the boys house and help install flooring through out the house. The director had made a deal with the flooring people to get a discount on the job by volunteering the housedads to be his assistants. I think it took us four days to finish the job so I was gone from about 8:00 AM until about 6:00 PM those days. She was left to deal with the girls by herself during that time, and they were pretty tough to deal with.

    The following week there was a missions group that was going to be in town for a couple of days to help us put a new roof on the boy’s house. Since I had put a new roof on my house in Montana the previous summer, I again got elected to help out. We took one whole day to go to Billings, MT to buy shingles and supplies and then that Thursday morning I had to be out there to help with the roof, I was again gone all day.

    While I was gone she had a little incident with the girls. We had an irrigation canal that ran next to the house. It was only about 3 feet wide and about 18 inches deep but the girls liked to hang out by it and dip into it to cool off. In Wyoming we had no air conditioning and it was summer. Anyway my wife was doing some things inside the house and went out to check on them only to find that the five girls that were wading in the creek had disappeared. As freaked out as she was when one girl ran away, you can only imagine how freaked out she was to find 5 missing. She immediately ran back inside and called the director, he told her to drive around the park across the street and the neighborhood just to see if they accidentally wandered off (HAHA!). She did for about 15 minutes and just as she was coming back to the house there they were walking down the middle of the canal toward the house.

    Their story was that somebody’s shoe got washed down the canal and they went looking for it and lost track of where they were. (I actually think they went to smoke a cigarette.) She had apparently called back the director and during that conversation the director determined that she needed a break. I know this because not five minutes after I got off the phone with her listening to her story about the incident as well as her questioning here ability to continue this career choice, he called to tell me that he had arranged for us to have a day off the following day and we were directed to take. When I tried to make objections because of the roof not being complete and the value of my presence as well as the shortage of staff, his response was, “I can find somebody to put on shingles, people to work the houses are hard to find. Give your wife a break or she’ll be moving back to Montana next week.” I took his words to heart and the wife and I took a day off.

    I would like to add that during that first summer as houseparents we had a total of 6 days off, and still we stuck to it. I have to wonder how long I would stay at a facility today if I only got 6 days off in three months. It’s amazing what we will do when we are new. The good thing was that after that very lean summer, the facility we worked at went almost 3 years fully staffed.

    Way Worse Than PMS!!!

    My wife and I work at a Basic Foster Care Facility in Mississippi. Our shift is about 2 hours short of 29 days long and right now we are at day 27 and change. The last few days have been really tough for us. We have found ourselves to be very short with the children and each other. Physically we are exhausted; mentally we are drained. Wednesday at noon seems like an eternity from now. We are sure there is no named ailment for this condition so we decided to name it ourselves: Pre Relief Stress Syndrome (PRS) and for us the only remedy is our scheduled relief time and vacations twice a year.

    I can honestly say that my wife’s mood is way worse than anytime she has had PMS and she says that’s like the “pot calling the kettle black.” I have talked with some of the other houseparents we work with and they have similar symptoms. One houseparent that checks, says her blood pressure skyrockets about three days before relief. Strangely, it also goes up on the last day of relief. That would be Not Enough Relief Syndrome (NERS).

    The Symptoms are not dependent on shift length. When we worked in a therapeutic group home, we got roughly the same symptoms on day 8 of a 10 day shift. And again the only cure was our scheduled time off.

    My First Week Continued

    Days 3 and 4 were fairly uneventful days for us. Most of our house was on restriction and the rest went back into the honeymoon period and pretended that we were OK people. However on day 4 preparations were being made by the youngest girl in the house to cause our next big stressful crisis and learning experience.

    The youngest girl in the house was 13, she had been there about 3 months and was our one girl in summer school. She had originally been placed short term after being removed from an abusive situation, but committed a crime while in placement and ended up adjudicated. She came home that Thursday and asked my wife to make her something for a party they were having the next day at school. Wanting to show how nurturing she could be, my wife baked here some muffins and bought here a two liter bottle of soda.

    The next morning we dropped her off at school not realizing anything was up. At noon my wife went to pick her up. She ended up waiting outside for over 30 minutes before she went inside to check on her. The office people said that she had not been in school all day. My wife came back to the house in a total panic. I tried to calm her down and called our administrator. He acted like it was no big deal and was very calm about the whole thing, which I guess was a very good thing because I am not sure I could have handled all of us being freaked out.

    He instructed me to drive by the school again, then to go to some of the local kid hang-outs and see if I could get lucky and find her. I did as he instructed, to no avail and repeated the process at least three times that day. My wife got her first opportunity to complete an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) report. The NCIC system is a national data base that law enforcement uses to track fugitives, missing persons, and runaways. I have to confess that the system works quite well. We had kids that have run away to different parts of the country and get picked up by local law enforcement. When they checked the NCIC they would quickly find out they were runaways and we would go and pick them up. We were able to find kids in California, Texas and several other towns and states by filing NCIC reports.

    I can honestly tell you that experiencing that first runaway was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I was way more stressful than finding 7 knives on my second day as a houseparent. I kept having images in my mind of her trying to hitchike somewhere and being picked up by some psycho that would rape and kill her. I spent a good part of the day Saturday driving around looking for her, thinking I was just wasting my time. (I later learned it wasn’t necessarily a waste of time to drive around right after you find out someone has runaway. We have actually caught several kids doing that.)

    On Sunday afternoon I got a call from the director to tell me she had been arrested and was in the local county jail. (They didn’t have a separate youth facility, they housed juvenile offenders in a separate section of the county jail) He asked if I wanted to visit her with him and I said sure, because I wanted to know why she had ran.

    When we arrived I quickly saw that she did not look like the very beautiful young lady that she was on Friday (She had the looks that could have made her a pretty decent living as a model). She had taken her long blonde hair and cut it off with a knife and had completely shaved off her eyebrows. It was also very obvious that she had been using drugs and had slept very little the three days she was gone.

    The one thing I remember from our conversation is asking her why, and her response was, “I don’t know, I just wanted to run.” After meeting with her the director decided she was too much of a run risk to take back and that was the last time I saw here until she was almost 17 years old. She spent the next several years in various placements and in the state Girl’s School.

    Dealing with runaways eventually got easier, though they still cause me a great deal of stress. Especially when it is a girl, because they have a tendency to run farther and put themselves in greater danger. We were eventually able to move on and now joke that my wife not only let her run away, but gave her food to do it with.

    This will be the last chronological entry of my early years. After this it sort of becomes a blur and I remember several events but I couldn’t possibly tell them in order, so I won’t try. Please check back as the story continues.

    The Big Burger

    After seeing a TV commercial about a 4 pound cheeseburger several times I decided to try something similar for my kids and they loved it.

    I started talking about it a few days before I made it just to see how they would react. As I figured, they got real exited. In fact the day I made them, it was pretty much all they talked about. I even had several other kids on campus come up and ask me if I was really going to make a 3 lb cheeseburger.

    For the buns I used Hawaiian Bread that I bought at the store. When I sliced it open, I made two cuts and removed about an inch of bread out of the middle so that the bun was not so thick. The only other needed ingredient was a lot of ground beef. When they were done, I cut them like a pizza and they fed 9 of us.

    Here are the Burgers Before I cooked them. They weren’t quite 3 lbs each, but they were close.
    The Burgers Before I cook Them

    Burgers on the Grill
    Burgers On The Grill

    Here they are just about finished. It took 6 slices of cheese to cover it. I have a couple of kids that don’t like cheese so I only covered half of the other burger.
    Burgers are Almost Finished

    The Finished Product.
    The Finished Product

    (This is another post that I originally posted in my Forum. I had thought I lost it when my Forum was hacked, but found it in another forum when I restored my back-ups. I hope more people will be able to find it easier being posted here.)

    “Ya, or We Could Just Stay Married!”

    My wife and I were watching a rerun episode of “Roseanne” last night. In this episode Dan her husband had decided to purchase a motorcycle shop even though his original partner had backed out. This business required at least two people to work it and Dan was trying to figure out how to make it work with just him. Rosanne suggested that she quit here job and then, they could get up together, go to work together, take coffee break together, have lunch together and come home together. Dan’s response was, Ya, or we could just stay married. That episode really hit home this morning as I was storming out of the cottage, hollering over my shoulder, I’m going to work outside.

    Those of us that work as houseparents with our spouses, have something most normal couples do not: Virtually zero time apart. Even when we are running in separate directions with appointments and school events, we are so synchronized as a team that there doesn’t seem to be any separation.

    I could never understand why a couple would even consider taking separate vacations until I became a houseparent. Now, though I love my wife very much and would never trade her for anyone else, even if I could possibly find somebody that could stand to be around me for any length of time, I very much look forward to the occasional weekend fishing trip, or when she takes our daughter on a weekend Mother/Daughter trip. We spend so much time together that we really do need time apart. Separation really does make the heart grow fonder.

    You Can’t Compete with Birth Parents!

    The very first thing we learned on the very first night of Foster Parent Training, that can also be applied to residential childcare, 11 years ago was this: Children don’t want to be in placement and with few exceptions would rather live in a nasty studio apartment, with no electricity or running water, have very little to eat and little physical affection with their birth parents, than with you in a 5000 square foot house, with all the luxuries and amenities; where they are cared for, nourished, and receive constant affection. I can truly say that in the years since I first heard this it has proven itself on countless occasions.

    Most recently by a young lady in our cottage who has just had a birthday. She has basically lived with us since she was a toddler (over 6 years) and can’t even remember living with her birth mother, but if you were to talk with her she would tell you that her birth mom was the greatest person in the world and it’s not her mother’s fault they are not together. It might be the courts fault, or it might be the homes fault, but in her eyes it will never be because of the choices her birth mom made that caused her to be in placement.

    She has very nice sponsors that take her to their home at least once a month, and threw her a very nice party with wonderful gifts and lots of fun. Other home supporters have provided her with numerous cards and gifts, but her most prized birthday gift was from her birth mother. It was a plastic case, probably from the dollar store, that had several toys that you would find in a children’s meal from various fast food restaurants in town. Her mother wasn’t even allowed to deliver it because of visit restrictions. However, the young lady could not have been any less excited about that gift. Her response was, “This is wonderful, and she knew exactly what I wanted for my birthday.”

    You would think that as often as I have seen that scene repeated with other children I would be used to it, but I’m not. I have however learned that the best thing for me to do in that situation is keep my mouth shut and smile. That is not the best time to point out the faults of their birth parents. We are very upfront with the children we care for and don’t whitewash what their birth parents have done or do. But, I have also learned that we cannot make the birth parents our enemy. Once you start bashing the birth parents, you instantly make your job about 10 times harder. That said, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed when I see children placing their birth parents on a pedestal, even when their greatest accomplishment is giving birth to the child I am allowed to love.

    My Second Day as a Houseparent

    Though is was summer, our day started early because one of our girl’s was in summer school and we wanted to talk with our administrator about our alarm situation. We called him shortly after the office opened and explained what happened the night before and his immediate response was, “It wasn’t the cat, those girls are up to something.” He explained that we needed to call all the girls downstairs in the living room and then my wife and the assistant director that just arrived took each girl into our room checked each girls pockets, shoes, socks, etc. After they checked each girl for contraband, my job was to check the upstairs in their living area.

    His instructions to me was that I should be as thorough as I possibly could. Check every pocket of every piece of clothing (clean or dirty), Pull out all the drawers, check under all mattresses and box springs, basically move everything. It sounded like a whole lot of fun, so up the stairs I went.

    In the very first room I checked lived a girl that was on a higher level and was allowed to have a pet guinea pig. Next to the cage was a large bag of cedar chips that was used as bedding for the little rat like creature. I figured that could be a pretty good place to hide something so I stuck my hand in and started fishing around. I felt something hard. So I grabbed it and pulled it out to find a kitchen knife with about a 10 inch blade. I stuck my hand in again and found another and another and another. I had a total of seven knives when I stopped finding them in that bag.

    Since I had been a houseparent for just over 24 hours I must say that I was a little freaked out. We called our administrators and they came right over (Our assistant director had just left). After questioning the girls it was discovered that they had taken the knives about two weeks earlier. Their plan was to take the boy’s house mom hostage and force her to drive them out of state in the group home van. Problem was they lost their nerve and didn’t know how to go about putting the knives back before we got there. Our administrators did a very good job calming us down and reassuring us that the girls we were caring for really weren’t violent.

    I went back to searching and ended up finding about a dozen cigarettes, a couple lighters, and some contraband music cd’s and magazines. I also discovered that one of the special wires in the bathroom screen had been cut and that was why the alarm wouldn’t set back up again. They new that by cutting that screen we would have to bypass that sensor to get the alarm to set up. Then after we went to bed they were able to remove it and throw their cigarette butts out the window, which I also found that morning. It cost about $250 to have that screen replaced because it had to be specially made. Needless to say, when they built the new girls house they used a different type of alarm sensor.

    The best part of that day was that most of the house ended up getting dropped to the lowest level and had to be to bed by 8:00 PM, so we were able to get some peace early in the evening.

    Things I learned that day was: 1) Lock up the kitchen knives. 2) Pets can’t cut screens. 3. Cedar chips belong in the shed. 4) And this was NO easy job!

    Why can’t people respect other people’s stuff?

    After a particularly stressful last two weeks which has me in one of my negative moods anyway, I wake up this morning to find that somebody from an IP address that is from South America has hacked into my forum and deleted one of my topics. They obviously were just trying to show that they could break in and annoy me, because they could have just as easily deleted the entire forum. Apparently this same thing has happened to other sites with the same forum software because I found some posts on the support site by people with the same problem.

    I have been running this site for almost 6 years and it is becoming increasingly more frustrating to keep things going. I get almost 300 pieces of spam everyday because spammers get my e-mail address off my website. It is a constant struggle to adjust the filter to keep out the spam while letting my real E-mail pass through. Just about the time you get the settings right, spammers change their strategy and all of a sudden your either loaded up on spam or filtering important E-mails.

    I have had my directory (hundreds of hours of research) stolen and posted by an individual that claimed to be a Christian on his own website in an attempt to compete with me.

    I have had my forum hacked a few times, and they have never left it in better condition than when they found it. It is days like today that make me wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to sell this site and let somebody else have the headaches. I probably won’t, but I can say that venting does make me feel better.