In the Mood for Controversy

I often hear from people that say, “we need to look at being houseparents less as a job and more as a ………….(feel free to fill in the blank).”  I will agree that we need to look at it less as a job, but we should look at it more as a PROFESSION!!!!

I believe it is totally appropriate to look at it as a ministry, or as public service, but it absolutely needs to become a profession.  At many facilities you can be hired and put on the job with little or no training and with a lack of a criminal record as the only thing in your past experience.  I have seen several marginal houseparents that have not worked out at one facility, simply move to another and easily find positions because there is such a shortage, and they had experience & interview well, only to fail again 6 months or a year later because they were unprofessional.

I have talked with houseparents that think they are experts in the field (and would be great if those administrators would just leave them alone) that have no idea of what laws, court cases or issues affect their position as houseparents or residential childcare in general, like: “In Re Gault”, “CAPTA”, “ASFA”, “IDEA”, “Continuum of Care” etc.  If your are wondering what in the world any of that means, I would recommend doing a little research or you can wait and read about the above named federal laws and court case here.  I am planning to write some explanations for them.

 I have known several houseparents that were far more interested in recreation with the children than they were with helping them with their anger or attachment issues, teaching them life skills, or other things they will need as adults. Simple things like how to do laundry, how to wash dishes and load a dishwasher, how to keep their area clean, fill out a job application, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, healthy recreation is important, but there is far more to helping troubled children than playing with them all the time.

Well there’s part of the problem, if only I had the solution.  Raising salaries may attract more people to residential care and reduce the staff shortage, thus raise competition for available positions and filter out some of the less qualified workers but the last I heard funding is becoming increasingly more difficult to come by both by government agencies and the vast majority of private ones.  Increasing supervision and training would go a long way in helping the situation and I believe many facilities are trying to take this approach.  However additional supervision doesn’t necessarily weed out the nonprofessionals.  I have heard administrators say something like, “I am not happy with all my staff, but I think it is easier to deal with the issues they have than take a chance on getting someone worse.”

I will agree, being a houseparent is far more than just a job, but it needs to become a profession.  A profession made up of people that have character, compassion, work ethic, specialized training and education, maybe even mandatory certification and licensing. A profession indeed, but with the current staff and money shortage, who knows when we will see it happen.

Note: I realize I am probably preaching to the choir here.  If you are reading this you probably are not one of the examples I used above.  I just felt like venting a little.

An Interesting Quote

I have seen several variations of this, and many might consider it cliche but I think it is very true.

Child Welfare is not rocket science. It’s harder than rocket science.
David Liederman”CWLA Adoption Conference, 1998

In addition to being a houseparent, I am also a webmaster, mechanic, HVAC technician, fabricator, and handyman.  Beside houseparenting all those other fields have several things in common:  They are very absolute-an 8′ piece of steel is going to remain an 8′ piece of steel unless you cut.  A web-page will look exactly like you want it to if you use the right html tags.  They have procedures that basically remain constant- a starter or alternator is pretty much replaced the same way every time.  And the procedures for charging an AC system are basically the same regardless of the system.

Working with children and their welfare is much more complex.  You are dealing with beings that given the exact same stimuli will react very differently.  For example: you give one child a hug and they will accept it as normal affection, another child might interpret it as a precursor to sexual abuse. 

Unlike a computer they are often not very good at understanding or following directions. 

Personalities – there’s a complication.  Some kids will have personalities you will totally mesh with.  Others will have personalities that totally clash with yours.  Some kids no matter what you do will never like you, and believe it or not there will be some kids you won’t like and will have difficulty working with.

Communication – very complex and includes much more than speaking.  Tone, body-language, inflection, attitude, comprehension, cultural differences, prejudices (yours & theirs) all add to the complexity.

Finally and probably most important are relationships.  Trying to build trust with people that have been betrayed many many times is a very complicated process.  Many children will test your loyalty and act out severely to see if you will bale on them like others have in their past.  You have to be able to provide security and structure, something many of the children we work with have never known, while at the same time providing for their needs and not your convenience.  You have to believe in what you are doing, because these kids are very street smart and can easily spot a phony.

Complicated, complex, ambiguous yet also very rewarding when you make a difference in that child and family’s life.

George Washington and Personal Convictions

I was reading the paper today and it had a special section to commemorate Presidents Day.  There was a section on President Washington the father of our country.  It talked about how he was a slave owner but, later in life he began to believe that slavery was wrong and as a result left in his will that his slaves be freed after the death of his wife. 

I did some further research on the internet and learned that it was about the time he became president that he really believed slavery was wrong, but that he didn’t do anything publicly about it because he was worried it would harm our newly formed country and cause what would eventually happen 74 years later.

This whole thing has forced me into a quandary. Is it OK to ignore something you personally believe to be wrong for what you believe to be the good of the country or in the case of most of us a home, organization, business, community or state. 

As far as our personal lives, to believe something to be wrong but wait until our death, when we wouldn’t have to live with the discomfort of doing the right thing, to do what we believe to be the right thing.  Had president Washington freed his slaves at the point he believed slavery to be wrong, he probably would have lost a good deal of his wealth, because paying labor costs was much more expensive than owning slaves, though he did also in his will provide for his freed slaves financially (the children until they became of age, and others into old age). 

I again have to look at my life and personal convictions and determine if there are convictions I am overlooking either to protect something/someone or for the greater good of whatever and if there is; is it something I can live with?  There probably are some I can and some I can’t, but I would venture to say that every person that reads this would be in the same boat if they really thought about it. 

Definitely something to think about!  And I hope you will with me.

Back and Ready to get at it.

I am back from Daytona.  My favorite driver won his first Daytona 500 at my first live NASCAR race.  It was pretty exciting and I had a wonderful weekend with my 15 year old son. 

I am however totally tired of travelling and all I want is to spend time at home, with the family (which includes the cottage children).  I have driven over 10,000 miles in the last two months through 14 different states including two of the three largest ones, seen both oceans and the Gulf of Mexico,  spent over 3 weeks in strange beds and eaten more restaurant meals than I care to count.  You really can have to much of a good thing!

As far as the website goes, I am planning to work on putting together a “Members Only” section again at the request of several users of the site.  In the “Members Only” section you will be able to view the job listings by state, post and view resumes, have web address and E-mail links in the directory, and other features.  It will probably take me a couple of weeks or even months to set everything up.  I will have to purchase special software and configure/test everything first; I am going to do it differently this time.

I am also working on a couple of new articles and I just finished reading another book, so a book review is soon to come.  Please stay tuned.

The Daytona 500 NASCAR Race

This entry doesn’t have a lot to do with residential childcare other than to say it’s OK to have somethings that you do that are fun to do with the children but also something that can be an escape.

Normally, the children and I after church on Sundays, spend the afternoon watching the NASCAR race and cheering for our favorite drivers.  It is something we look forward to and enjoy doing as a cottage activity.  It can get pretty wild because in group as large as we have, there are several different drivers that are being cheered for. 

However, this weekend the children will have to watch it on TV by themselves because I won a pair of tickets to the Daytona 500 and will spend the weekend in Florida watching the racing action live and in person.  Also there will not be any updates to the website over the weekend.  I will be back Monday evening and should have something new then.

I am starting to feel like a world traveler having been on three different trips in the last two months, but it all comes to an end this weekend.  Then it will be back to the push to finish out the school year, helping to keep the short timers focused on their behaviors and school work in anticipation of going home this summer, and preparing for awards banquet,  a busy summer of camps, visiting work groups, and all the other PR events that will be coming up. 

We’ll be busy, but at least we’ll have our weekly break on Sunday afternoons as we each cheer our driver to victory lane.

Sentences and Essays as a Consequence

If at your facility you use sentences and/or essays as a consequence for inappropriate behavior I have a suggestion.  When you assign sentences or essays always focus on the positive behavior you would like for them to do rather than the negative behavior they have done. 

If a child lies, have them write something like, “I will be honest in all I say and do”  rather than “I will not tell lies”  If a child steals, they could write something like, “I will respect other people’s stuff” rather than “I will not steal other people’s stuff”  It is very easy for the child to overlook the NOT in the sentence and focus on the negative behavior.  If they are required to write positive sentences, overlooking a word or two will not reinforce a negative behavior.

If you assign essays, use the same principle.  It would be much better to have them write an essay about why it is right to be honest rather than why it is wrong to lie, steal, or whatever.  Why it is better to be sober rather why it is wrong to abuse substances.  I think it is always better to spend less time pointing out what is wrong and more time pointing the children in our care in the right direction.  Try it and see what happens.

Note: Always follow your facility’s policy when giving consequences.  Use suggestions posted here only if it would be appropriate to do so at your facility.

Weekend Retreat

If you were wondering why there has been nothing added to the site in almost a week, here is the reason:

My wife and I went on a childless & computer-less retreat to Gulf Shores, Alabama to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We spent the weekend walking on the beach, having romantic dinners, talking, and just being together.  It was so very relaxing and we both feel renewed and ready to go back into the cottage to care for all our children.

After more than six years since we were last without any children for more than a day, I can honestly say it was very good therapy for people that spend everyday with many children.  Sometimes the only thing that can rejuvenate you and give you a fresh perspective is when you take some time away.  After this weekend I have come to the conclusion that this is something we need to do more often, and hope to do at least once a year.

If you are feeling tired and worn out, take a break.  If you have birth children, leave them at home also (with proper supervision of course, and just spend some time relaxing, reflecting and rejuvenating.

I hate having to Communicate!!!

It sucks, it really does.  You have all these thoughts you would like to share with others and they sound really good in your head, but when you say it; it’s not exactly what you meant to say. Or you say exactly what you meant to say and the person listening or reading it; doesn’t understand it or misses the context.

People continually make judgements based on attempted communication and it seems that we often get it wrong.  We also hurt people’s feelings with our communication, not meaning to.  We say the wrong things to children, not meaning to be hurtful.  We yell at our spouses out of frustration.  We totally misunderstand what other people say to us, or what we think they said to us. 

Being a good talker doesn’t make for good communication; the hearer has to be able to understand what’s said.  Nor does being a good writer; the reader has to be able to get the message.  Being a good listener doesn’t help if the speaker isn’t able to say what they mean, and being a good reader is useless if the writer uses the wrong words. It seems that communication is an exercise in futility, yet it is something we must continue to try to do.  Without it there is no family, community or society, there would only be individuals.  So, I guess I will just press on, and hope that we all get better at, or come up with some collective consciousness that transfers thoughts without errors. 

Note: for all those that didn’t get this and think I have lost my mind; this is my attempt to communicate using sarcasm & humor, I hope you understand.

Where are the Orphanages?

If you found this page because you were looking for an orphanage somewhere in the United States, I have some news for you.  There are thousands of children that are abused, neglected or homeless living in facilities all over the country, but I don’t know of one single place that would be considered an orphanage. 

 Fact is, there are very few true orphans in the US.  Modern health care, plus safety improvements in industry and every other area of modern life has greatly reduced the number of orphans.  Additionally, modern communication makes it extremely simple to unite what few orphans there are with their extended families wherever that might be.  I have been caring for children for almost 10 years and in that time I have only cared for one true orphan.

 The lack of orphans has done nothing to reduce the need for places that care for children.  Though most of the half million children in the foster care system live in foster family homes, there are thousands that live in residential group care in facilities all over the country.  Children live in group care for many reasons, of which only a very few include: children have special behavioral or physical needs, there are no foster homes available, or to prevent having to split a large family into several foster homes.

 I could go on about the history and evolution of children’s services in America but, you can find out much more by viewing other parts of my site, or by reading one of several books.  If you are just looking to help children, I can assure you there are thousands of opportunities.

 There are many places that could use your financial support, your time or special skills.  Many facilities may have a program where you can be like extended family and provide a place for children to go on holidays and other occasions.  Almost all facilities are looking for volunteers of some sort: tutors, teachers, big brothers & sisters, maintenance work, farm work, etc.  Many facilities look for volunteers to help with special programs like: life skills training, vocational training, respite care, etc.  Many need volunteers for special fundraising events, or help in their thrift stores.  Opportunities to help really are endless.

 If you want to help contact a facility in your area, or one you have a special interest in.  There are over a thousand listed in my directory and that is only a small portion of all the facilities in the country (though I hope to have most of them listed someday).  You can also contact your local government agency that oversees children’s services for information on local facilities.  I hope you have found this helpful.

What Every Houseparent Needs to Know! or I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me! Christian Edition

This is specifically written for those people that are Christian or desiring to work in a Christian Facility which make up a substantial portion of the users of this site. 

Christian Facilities are only a small portion of the total number of facilities in the country.

Looking at the job listings on my website it might seem that most residential childcare facilities are Christian.  The reality is that Christian facilities only make up a small portion of residential facilities.  My theory as to why you see more of the Christian and charitable organizations publicizing is that they are more dependent on donor support.  State operated facilities and facilities fully funded by the state don’t have a need to publicize their existence and I believe they do their hiring through more traditional methods.  However don’t think that their public silence equates to total silence. State run and secular facilities make up the majority of facilities in residential childcare and therefore have the greatest influence in government policy and regulation.

Christian facilities are as diverse as Christian denominations.

 If you are looking to work in a Christian facility understand that their beliefs are as varied as the hundreds of different denominations there are in the country.  When searching for a position you either have to look only at the facilities associated with your denomination or you are going to have to compromise on some of your beliefs.  A few years ago I was unhappy and searching for a new position.  I was contacted by a facility that wanted me for my computer and maintenance skills.  After about the 3rd E-mail, I was told that I was probably too contemporary to work there.  At this facility I would only be allowed to read the King James Bible, could only listen to and sing hymns and my wife and daughter could only wear dresses or skirts.  TV was out, and my wife was expected to do the cooking.  We would have starved.  I decided it was best to continue my search.

 It was then I learned I was much too conservative to work at another facility.  I loved the program, and some of the things they were doing to help youth.  I liked that they, for the most part, worked together as a team to care for the children.  I would really like to see more facilities use their style of program and I really wanted to work there.  We had a really good interview with everybody but the director.  She decided that I was too conservative to work there and chose not to hire us.  In the end it was a good thing, because I’m sure I would have quit because I would have had to compromise too many of my beliefs.

 I ended up not leaving and now I am pretty content with my position, but even so, I have had to decide that I can live with the differences in my beliefs from that of the organization and denominational history. 

Christian facilities may not always seem Christian.

 (Disclaimer: The choices that the leadership of a Chri”stian” facility makes are between them and God.  I am not here to judge them; I am simply reporting what I know.)   This to a lesser degree goes to the diversity of Christian facilities and their beliefs.  The facility that would not hire me because I was too conservative would allow a pregnant girl have an abortion, on the basis that it was probably better to end the pregnancy than have another child living in placement.  Many Christians would consider this not Christian, but the facility that did it, still claims to be Christian.  I have a friend that worked at a Christian facility that had no problem hiring an atheist and did; even knowing that he would share his beliefs with the children.  There are Christian facilities that accept government funding and in order to receive that funding or placements may put restrictions on what you can say to the children and what religious activities they are allowed to attend. That was true at the first facility I worked at.  Additionally in all the facilities that I know of that accept government funding, and depending on the state some that don’t, cannot force the children to attend church.

  You need to decide which issues you can compromise on and which you can’t and stick to that.  It will greatly affect the places you would be able to work.  Find out as much as you can about the facility before you accept a position.  It is better to take your time and know for sure if you can live with the beliefs of a facility rather than have to move in three months because you realize you can’t.  Many Christians prefer working in non-Christian facilities because they feel they don’t have to hold the non-Christian facility to the same spiritual standards as they would a facility that claims to be Christian.  Each individual has to decide for themselves.