Vol. 7, No. 1 November 2002
Implications for Foster Parents
dream of visiting Vegas or the casinos in Cherokee and striking it rich.
Foster parents are gamblers of a different kind. Rather than betting
money on the slots, foster parents risk their time, resources, and love
in the hope of winning a better life for foster children.
its a risk worth taking. Under their attentive care, foster children
often stabilize, grow, and blossom. By opening their homes foster parents
give families time to heal and reunite, and they make it possible for
new families to form through adoption. Every day, foster parents put
themselves and their families on the line, and our society benefits.
foster parents are unaware of all the risks they take. Although no one
goes into fostering blindto become a licensed foster parent in
North Carolina one must have 30 hours of preparatory trainingmany
foster parents never realize just how vulnerable they are until someone
alleges they have abused or neglected their foster children. To be prepared
to face this challenge, they must understand the implications child
protective services (CPS) investigations have for foster parents.
being investigated by CPS is a real possibility for every foster parent.
According to the N.C. Division of Social Services (2002) foster parents
are more than twice as likely as other people to be the subject of a
child maltreatment investigation. Most of these investigations do not
result in a finding of abuse or neglect. Indeed, allegations of abuse
and neglect by foster parents are found to be unsubstantiated
(that is, untrue) at least as often as are allegations against other
parents and caretakers.
foster parents do commit child abuse and neglect. The U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services believes that of the estimated 826,000
children who were maltreated in the nation in 1999, 1.5% (approximately
12,390) were maltreated by substitute care providers, a
category that includes foster parents, residential care providers, and
child care providers (USDHHS, 2002). Though it accounts for only a small
portion of the child maltreatment that occurs, this figure is alarming
simply because foster care is a place specifically designed to keep
Why do some
foster parents abuse and neglect foster children? There can be many
reasons. For example, the exceptional stresses involved in fostering
may be too much for some individuals or families, especially in cases
where foster parents are overburdened by several children with serious
training and support from DSS can contribute to these situations. In
other instances, foster children who want to provoke an abusive reaction
from their foster parents may succeed in causing a foster parent to
lose self-control. Another factor can be DSSs lack of information
about a child at the time of placement, which can cause foster parents
to accept responsibility for a child when, had they known all the facts,
they would have known they could not handle the child.
abusive foster parent there are many more who are reported to have maltreated
their foster children even though they have not done so. In a way, these
foster parents are simply part of a larger trendmost maltreatment
allegations in this country are not substantiated. For example, in 1997,
fewer than one in three North Carolina child maltreatment reports was
substantiated (ACF, 1998).
credible sources say that foster parents are at greater risk than other
people of being reported without good cause. These sources include the
N.C. Division of Social Services, which addresses this topic in its
Child Protective Services Manual (2002), and the National Foster Parent
Association, which asserts in a position statement on this issue that
in 1997 foster and adoptive parents had a 1 in 8 chance of having false
abuse or neglect allegations made against thema level of risk
much higher than that faced by the average parent.
Division of Social Services explains some of the reasons for this increased
risk in its Child Protective Services Manual. For example, children
who have experienced abuse and neglect, as well as the uncertainties
and insecurities of years in foster careoften with many movesmay
be wounded in ways that influence their behavior. These children may
use an allegation to get out of a placement, as an act of revenge, as
a way of distancing themselves from caretakers because they fear intimacy
or are unable to trust, or because they believe an investigation of
foster parents will enable them to return to their biological parents.
of abuse may also stem from a general misunderstanding of foster parents
and their role in society. Many people outside the child welfare system
do not understand why someone would choose to be a foster parent, especially
for children with difficult behaviors or handicapping conditions. Some
community members, well-intentioned but uninformed and suspicious of
foster parents motives, may make baseless reports to DSS.
are another possible source of maltreatment allegations against foster
parents. Birth parents may report their childs foster parents
out of jealousy, resentment, or as a way to justify their own past behavior.
Carolina foster parents should understand CPS policies and procedures.
Below is a brief overview, but we encourage you to learn more by following
the links we give and by talking to your licensing worker.
in a CPS Investigation
- The report must meet
the states legal definitions of abuse, neglect, or dependency.
If it does not, no investigation occurs.
- For reports of abuse,
investigation must be initiated by the county receiving the report
within 24 hours; for cases of neglect or dependency, the county must
initiate an investigation within 72 hours. Initiation includes face-to-face
contact with all children living in the home.
- CPS must interview people
thought to have knowledge of the alleged maltreatment.
- Following the information-gathering
phase of the investigation, CPS must decide whether or not the foster
family harmed the child through their action or inaction. (This is
the phase where DSS decides whether to substantiate the report.)
- Report the outcome of
the investigation to the Central Registry and, in the case of a substantiation,
greater detail about this process, please consult Investigative
Assessment in Out-of-Home Living Arrangements in the N.C. Division
of Social Services Childrens Services Manual <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-60/man/CS1416-01.htm#P49_8964>.
It is also
worth noting that Casey Family Programs and the Child Welfare League
of America (CWLA) are in the process of developing national practice
guidelines for social workers investigating foster parents for abuse
and neglect. It is still too early to say whether this effort, which
is a work in progress, will influence policy or practice in North Carolina.
To learn more about this Casey/CWLA collaboration, go to <http://www.casey.org/cnc/policy_issues/allegations_of_maltreatment.htm>.
You Are Investigated
suggestions are designed to inform foster parents of what you should
do if you are investigated by CPS in response to a report of child abuse,
neglect, or dependency:
that when a report is made all the children in a home are considered
alleged victim children. This includes your own children. North Carolina
law requires this.
that DSS is not only your partner in providing care for foster children,
but also required by law to conduct investigations of reports of abuse,
neglect, or dependency in all circumstances where children reside in
out-of-home care. North Carolina general statutes, administrative code,
and policy also mandate certain activities and interviews must take
place during such an investigation. It is a conflict of interest for
your licensing agency to conduct the investigation. Another, unbiased
agency will be assigned to conduct the investigation.
with both your licensing agency and the investigating agency to complete
the investigation and resolve any issues of concern.
- Ask questions about the
allegations and the process of the investigation until you understand
to your satisfaction. It may help to write down the answers to your
- Make sure you and all
children living in your home are available to be interviewed by the
CPS social worker. These interviews are required by policy and administrative
code, since all children living in a residence are considered as alleged
victim children. Interviews with children may be held in private.
- Allow CPS to visit your
home. Law, policy, and administrative code require this.
- Make any records or documentation
you have kept concerning the child readily available for the social
workers to examine.
- Do not attempt to have
the child examined by a doctor or other professional without the agencys
- Do not investigate
the allegations on your own by questioning the child involved.
- Provide a list of collateral
contacts and witnesses the social worker may interview to gather all
relevant information about your situation or alleged incident of child
and exert your rights, as you deem necessary.
- Consult an attorney.
- Document or record interviews
and conversations with social workers.
- Have witnesses present
during every contact with the investigating social worker. It may
be helpful if this witness is well-respected in your community.
- Request copies of safety,
risk, and strengths and needs assessments completed by the social
care of yourself and your family.
- Call for support from
your local, state, or national foster parent association.
- Join a support group
or seek the emotional support of others (including professional counselors)
- Use your licensing social
worker as a source of support and information.
Remember this is not a win-lose situation and the agency
is not your adversary. Together you and the agency can partner to
maintain foster children in a safe, nurturing, permanent home.
steps may help foster and adoptive parents protect themselves from allegations
of child maltreatment:
a child is placed into your family, write the placing agency and
specifically ask that any history of physical or sexual abuse of the
child be documented in writing. If the child has had several foster
care placements, also ask whether the child has ever made an unsubstantiated
report against a caretaker. Insist on a written response. Keep this
response for your records.
on written placement agreements. Do not accept a child into your
home without a placement agreement stipulating the agencys expectations,
roles, goals, plans, and information on the child.
a pre-placement questionnaire to be answered before
you accept a child into your home. Information you should collect includes:
the reason the child is in foster care, a description of the environment
in the childs home at the time of his or her removal, whether
the child has been sexually abused, the childs previous history
and experiences in foster care, the status of the childs siblings,
words or behaviors to which the foster family should be sensitive, etc.
written records. Take notes on the childs progress and daily
events in your home in a spiral notebook. Entries should consist of
descriptive observations, not opinion (His temperature was 102.5,
not, He was very hot). Use a new page for each entry, put
a date at the top, and mark through the rest of the page at the end
of the entry. Always keep a copy of materials you share with your agency.
a relationship with birth parents. Developing a positive, respectful
relationship may reduce the chances that birth parents will make baseless
maltreatment allegations against you. A good way to demonstrate respect
is to ask for birth parents advice as a means of giving them back
some controlfor example, ask them about the childs food
preferences, or how they prepare the childs favorite meals.
of the team serving the child. Get to know the names and contact
information of other team members. Let DSS know when you have had difficulty
with a child or the child is sick or injured in any waythis is
especially important prior to family visits, when birth parents are
most likely to raise allegations.
child is sexually reactive, acts out sexually, or has provocative behavior,
the adults and older children in the household should always be sure
to have another adult nearby or in the same room for the protection
of the parent and the child.
who have been sexually abused can be more likely to become victims again.
Even if a child has a history of making unsubstantiated reports, always
take new allegations seriously. The child may truly become a victim
of sexual abuse again.
how foster parents become involved with child protective services, the
procedure investigating agencies must follow, and ways to prevent and
survive an investigation are all critical pieces of information for
North Carolinas foster parents. For more information on this topic,
Note: for space reasons, the following material did not appear in the
print edition of this newsletter.
Agencies Can Help Foster Families
Carolina foster families who have been investigated for child abuse
report feeling uninformed, abandoned, and betrayed by child welfare
agencies. As a result of this experience, some foster parents choose
to stop fostering altogether. Even those who remain involved with DSS
may feel hostility and distrust towards the agency. Although county
DSSs must comply with state law, rule, and policy, there are things
they can do to educate, prepare, and support foster parents investigated
by CPS. These steps, adapted from a presentation by the N.C. Division
of Social Services Donna Foster, Sherry Dillard, and Sara West,
Your Agency Understands and Correctly Applies State Policy. The
Childrens Services Manual (Chapter IV, 1213, Section IV, G2b)
states that Although it is necessary not to contaminate a child
abuse or neglect investigation, in most cases, it is important to support
foster parents through an investigation of alleged child abuse or neglect.
The manual explictly states that agencies can and should maintain regular
contact with foster parents being investigated by CPS: The supervising
agency may provide reassurance to the foster parents throughout the
period of time it takes to conduct an investigation of child abuse and
neglect by making regular contacts with the foster parents, offering
explanations and clarifications for delays and other activities.
This section of the manual also lists several ways agencies can support
review agency practice, policy, and procedures with all foster parents,
placing special emphasis on any changes. Clearly communicate about
the agencys expectations of foster parents and the rules the agency
itself must follow. Offer to support foster parents as they work to
meet agency expectations.
workshops to enhance foster parents skills. Ongoing in-service
courses on a wide range of practical topics, such as the use of positive
discipline, communication techniques, and understanding the child welfare
system, will improve parents ability to cope with the challenges
and honest about the CPS implications for foster parents. All foster
parents should understand the following from the beginning of their
relationship with the agency: child abuse reporting laws, investigative
procedures, agency and state policies regarding reports of child maltreatment
in foster homes, foster parents legal and procedural rights, and
what legal assistance (if any) is available to foster parents undergoing
continual communication. Agency staff should provide support and
communication with the foster family before, during, and after a CPS
investigation. It may also be useful to cultivate a trained allegation
support foster parent or other person to offer support to families,
even if it is only listening.
with foster parents and foster parent associations. Foster parent
associations that know how to provide objective support to foster parents
under investigationwho can listen to them, comfort them, and inform
them of their rights without taking sidesare perhaps the best
way to ensure that families survive an unsubstantiated investigation
and continue fostering.
Services for Foster Parents
for child abuse or neglect, it advisable to consult your attorney. If
you dont have one, an organization such as Pre-Paid Legal Services
can make legal fees much more manageable. This service makes it possible
for ordinary foster parents to have access to an attorney to answer
questions about their rights and to be at their side when they need
legal help. The Foster Parent Plan, which is offered through
Pre-Paid Legal Services, a national organization, provides timely legal
counsel for all your foster and non-foster care (traffic violations,
wills, etc.) related needs. Two representatives of this service operating
in North Carolina are Amy S. DAprix (919/672-5914) and April Harris-Britt
for Additional Information
The N.C. Division of Social
Services Childrens Services Manual <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/>
Chapter IV 1213
Standards and Procedures for Licensure
Chapter VIII: Protective Services Table of Contents
Foster Parents Association
& Howell, J. (Accessed August 29, 2002). Allegations of abuse: Prevention
B. (1996). Allegations: The Freddy Gruger of foster parenting. Foster
Parent Community. Online
Foster Parent Association
Foster Parent Coalition for Allegation Reform
Innoculation, article Online at the New York State Citizens Coalition
D., Dillard, S. & West, S. (2002, March). CPS implications for
foster parents. Workshop presented at the N.C. Division of Social
Services Annual Childrens Services Conference, Asheville, NC.
& Bray, S. (2001). Allegations against foster carers: An in-depth
study. Child Abuse Review, 10(5), 336350.
Foster Parent Association. (May 2, 2002). NFPA position statement on
false allegations of abuse in foster care. Online. <http://nfpainc.org/BoardBook/BB2.html#2-4o>.
of Social Services. (2002). Investigative assessment in out-of-home
living arrangements. In the N.C. Division of Social Services Childrens
Services Manual. Online. <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-60/man/CS1416-01.htm#P49_8964>.
of Social Services. (2002). Standards and procedures for licensure.
In the N.C. Division of Social Services Childrens Services
Manual. Online. <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-40/man/CSs1213.htm#P1179_64589>.
Parent Association. (2002a). False abuse allegations. Online.
Parent Association. (2002b). Dos and donts if youre
investigated for serious allegations. Online. <http://www.ncfpa.org/>
N., Bean, G., & Denby, R. (1998). Why foster parents continue and
cease to foster. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 25(1),
for Children and Families. (1998). Child welfare outcomes 1998: Annual
report (North Carolina Context Data). Online. <http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cb/
2002 Jordan Institute for Families