Tom Lyons: System doesn’t always foster good parenting

Sarasota Herald
By Tom Lyons
Herald-Tribune Columnist

A foster mother wrote a long criticism of a column about so many foster kids being put on prescribed psychiatric drugs without the required documentation and approval.

In short, she bristled at my suggestion that many of Florida’s foster parents may be too quick to embrace medication of children as the answer to behavior and emotional problems.

Most foster parents are dedicated and caring and not inclined to drug kids just to make their jobs easier, she informed me. And, she said, my column could scare away good potential foster parents.

Actually, I never said anything critical of most foster parents. I’ve written in the past about the importance of having enough good ones. Kids taken into state custody are usually in dire need of good parenting and should not be saddled with a set of substandard adults they aren’t even related to.

So, as I explained to my critic, if she’s one of the really good ones, I sincerely applaud her. Please keep up the good work.

But the system never has enough good ones. And she can’t possibly know enough foster parents to dismiss the implications of the Department of Children and Family’s own statistics on psychotropic drug prescriptions for foster kids.

The foster mom had another issue, too. It is related to my view that the system might be responding better of late to studies that show children fare better when more effort is made to keep them with relatives. She is afraid it goes too far.

She is worried that her foster child might become a victim of that effort, because the child might soon be given back to the birth mother despite the woman’s mental problems and behaviors that make this seem like a bad idea.

But she couldn’t give me names or details, because of rules and confidentiality issues.

I understand that, and I’m sorry she’s in that spot, but it highlights another issue: Confidentiality means outsiders rarely know beans about the system’s decision making, good or bad. And, some of the most caring foster parents get the boot because they are often the ones least able to keep quiet when they think the system is failing a child.

Speaking out isn’t just likely to break a rule. It also tends to anger decision makers who don’t want their judgments questioned.

And so, the system tends to become well stocked with foster parents good at keeping quiet about problems, a skill that doesn’t make my top 10 list of favorite parenting traits.

Tom Lyons can be contacted at tom.lyons@heraldtribune.com or (941) 361-4964.

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