By Laurieann Thorpe, President, Foster Families of Utah
As a foster parent, you might face a child abuse or neglect charge. Are you ready for that kind of emergency? Would you know what to do?
At the National Foster Parent Association Conference, I learned what foster parents can do in the event of an abuse or neglect allegation.
Did you know that as a foster parent, you are at a greater risk for an allegation of neglect or abuse? Lana Freeman, a foster/adoptive parent, child welfare trainer, and the President of Oklahoma Foster Care and Adoptive Association of Oklahoma, presented a class titled, “SOS . . . All Hands on Deck for the Inevitable False Allegation.” She says foster parents are at a greater risk of allegations than biological families because they are scrutinized and held to a stricter parenting standard by their communities, and because biological families may make allegations of abuse to disrupt placements.
The possible consequence for a foster family who faces an allegation could include suspension or closure of the resource home, placement of the foster parent’s name on the child abuse registry list, criminal prosecution, or civil lawsuits.
You hope to never experience any allegations but you should be prepared, just in case!
Below is a short list of what to do if an allegation is made against you:
-First, call Foster Families of Utah (801) 252-5395. We can walk you through what to expect and what to do.
-Stay positive. Assume that the charge will be proven false, and try not to presume guilt. 65 to 70 percent of allegations are false. Child protection has to investigate to be certain the child is not being abused.
-Document everything. Start a notebook to record details of every phone conversation, interview, and correspondence related to the allegation. Write in pen, preferably in a notebook that does not have tear-away paper, and be prepared to use the notebook to back up your story in court. Request copies of the written charge against your family, and the letter that formally states the allegations were unfounded.
-Educate yourself. Get a copy of Utah’s foster care rules and laws pertaining to allegations and abuse, and learn about agency policies and procedures. Find out what will happen during the investigation, what your rights are, and how you can appeal an investigator’s determination.
-Cooperate with the investigation. Work with, not against investigators. Be professional but forthcoming. Tape-record or have a witness to every interaction with investigators.
-Communicate with your partner. Allegations, especially those of sexual abuse, an drive a wedge between partners. One thinks, “How could they think I would possibly do something like that?!” The other wonders, “Could it possibly be true?!” If not openly discussed, these questions can pull couples apart.
-Know your rights. Don’t be afraid to appeal, request a waiver, and learn how the grievance procedure works. Hire legal counsel, especially for sexual abuse allegations.
Ideas for this article were compiled from materials in Lana Freeman’s class, the article, Adopting and Advocating for the Special Needs Child by L. Anne Babb and Rita Laws, and an article Allegations Happen: How to Prevent and Survive Them by Diane Martin-Hushman with NACAC.