Monday, April 09, 2007

New federal law requires concurrent planning

Foster parents step in to help kids who've had a tough beginning
Nugent, Mary. Enterprise Record, April 9, 2007.

Liz Griffin knows what trained foster parents can do for babies and young children who have had a tough beginning. "These foster families are unbelievable," she said. "They open their homes to children who come from the most dire situations."

Griffin, who has worked several years as a senior social worker in charge of foster care licensing for Butte County, is talking about the foster parents who are trained through Butte/Glenn Options For Recovery. The program trains people to be foster parents for infants through children age 5 who have been exposed to drugs and/or alcohol or are HIV positive (see side story).

"The county has taken a proactive stance with the drug endangered children's program, to ensure foster parents are trained to recognize problems in the youngest children," said Griffin during a phone interview from her office in Oroville.

"Some are born to moms abusing drugs or alcohol and have to withdraw. Their nervous systems are affected. They feel things too much: light or sound or motion or texture. There is a lot more to it. There are behavior problems and when they start school they may be learning disabled, those sort of things. We need to address it early on."

She said the reasons foster care is a necessity are not complex.

"The primary reason is neglect. And the number one reason children are removed from their parents is the mom, or the mom and dad, are using or abusing alcohol or drugs,"
said Griffin.
"In our county, meth (methamphetamine) is the big one. Meth is devastating for the brain. These parents think they're doing a fine job but using drugs makes them delusional, gives them an exaggerated sense that everything's fine. But these children are languishing with no food, inadequate everything."

Griffin said a new federal law requires "concurrent planning — That we do all we can to reunify a family but look at what we can do if a family can't reunify. It's working two tracks at the same time."

When children are removed from a home, parents must demonstrate they can become responsible to raise their children.

"They have to prove to the judge they are making significant progress. If they do nothing, the judge can terminate parental rights and that opens the door for people who want to adopt children."

Birth parents are given six months to improve their situations. With a "good faith effort," said Griffin, they may be allowed a second six months.

Some birth parents do succeed. "Foster parents have to realize if the birth parent succeeds, they will have to say good-bye (to the foster child)," said Griffin.

People are willing to take the challenge, she said. "The more the word spreads, it's becoming more known this is a means for potential adoption," said Griffin.

The risk of adopting a child with problems through Options is not any greater than the risk of adoption in general, she said.

"People spend huge amounts of money to adopt a foreign baby, but there are no guarantees with any adoption. These (Options) kids can be affected very minimally, while some are significant."

When children have been affected by alcohol, the disabilities are the most serious. "That's mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome. Facial anomalies identify these children, but you could have a little of this or a major affect, where a portion of the brain has not developed. With alcohol exposure, it gets to a point where they can't improve.

"With drug exposure, a lot can change and there can be improvement."

People who go through Options to be foster parents and possibly adopt are screened and trained. Wanting to adopt a child is not a requirement to be an Options For Recovery foster parent.

Griffin said she is impressed with the people who foster children through Options. "In my foster parents, I see it changing to be a younger group of people. Gay couples, single people — all kinds of people can adopt."

On an average, 160 to 200 children that are newborn through age 5, become a part of Butte/Glenn Options for Recovery each year. These are children who are generally neglected because of their parents' drug and/or alcohol abuse and have been removed from their homes. They also may be HIV positive.

They go to foster parents trained by Options for Recovery to care for children with problems specific to drug and alcohol exposure. "Of 160 children, about 30 are from Glenn County. Butte County is just bigger," said Sandra Tonjes, who coordinates the program.

Options for Recovery plans a training for foster parents April 24 through June 19. Classes will be 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays at Butte College Foster/Kinship Education, 2491 Carmichael Drive in Chico.

Classes will feature topics relevant to caring for substance- and or alcohol-exposed babies and young children. They will include addiction, childhood development, foster parent testimonies, newborn and infant care, nutrition, contagious diseases, infant massage, HIV/AIDS and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, boundary setting, first aid, grief and loss.

Speakers and presenters will include social workers, early intervention specialists, teachers, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians and marriage and family therapists.

Options for Recovery is always seeking foster parents because the need is always there, said Tonjes. In 2006 in Butte County there were:

-- 30 adoptions

-- 250 family reunifications

-- 34 guardianships

-- 32 emancipations.

"These figures come from Butte County Children's Services and include all the children in the county who were detained," she said. "They include adoptions that have been finalized, but not the ones that are pending." No figures are available about Butte County adoptions specific to the Options for Recovery program, she said. There are more than 700 children, birth through age 17, in foster care in the county.

Options for Recovery started in 1991 with a consortium of counties, and Butte was one of them. A pilot project, it was one of 11 counties in California that offered the program. In 1997, Options for Recovery became a permanent program of Butte County Social Services.

For information about foster parent training, call 538-7896.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz Griffin was the most thorough and strict licensing worker. She let nothing pass, and I worked HARD to make my home adequate. Sandy Tonjes. was there for me every single step of the way. I had her number memorized. She gave her all in her job. I miss Liz as she is no longer licensing and I miss Sandy as she lost her life way too early. You both will always be mentors to me ~Holly Ratliff

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