A few people have asked me to elaborate on my thoughts on the differences between relative and foster placements for kids. So I have thought a bit more about my comment and come up with this imperfect analysis:
Relative placements are, in most cases, best for kids. It is with someone they (usually) already know and trust, in a home they are familiar with, and with people with whom they (should) have an unconditional bond with.
So what’s the problem? In my (limited) experience, patterns of problems have come up. One, is that parents misdirect their frustration/anger/sadness/resentment of not having their child with them onto the relative caregiver. This can naturally lead to lots of problems, including the erosion of the relationship between the caregiver and the parent. This can also be harder to control because communication is not usually restricted as it is with foster placements.
Another problem is relative placements usually don’t have a good understanding of the process and expectations of being involved with the child welfare system. This, usually, reflects a failure of social workers of making sure the relatives understand what is going on. It seems that sometimes we social workers just forget that they don’t know or are just too caught up in making sure that this kid has a placement at 9 pm.
And related to that, is that I am finding that relatives are often minimizing the problems and issues going on with the family. It is very typical/understandable for relatives to want to keep the issues within the family and not have these strangers involved in their lives. I think this can be very dangerous and can ultimately delay kids and parents getting the services that they need. (And to be honest, it is also annoying and makes my job more difficult.)
Foster placements, on the other hand, are usually quite seasoned and often have more experience with the system than the social worker. They often approach the placements with professionalism, which is enjoyable. The week when I was doing all of my home visits, I found foster families making themselves available very quickly and found them even eager to speak with me about the kids. Some relative caregivers seem to either want me to be their personal social worker telling me their life story or want nothing to do with me ever.
Some foster parents do, sometimes, seem to be a little overzealous about the kids, however, and you can almost feel the hope they have to adopt the kid. This is tough (for them, obviously, because they love the kid) but also for the social worker because we have to tight rope our way through conversations. They are entitled to some information, but not all. And we want to know that folks are long-term resources, but we don’t want to get their hopes up. I am still not sure how well I am doing at balancing all this.
And then on the other end, I guess there is always the issue that foster placements may see the placement as too much as a job and therefore be able to leave it (the job and therefore the kid) a little too quickly.
So, there you go. My very rough, unpolished, early assessment on the differences between relative and foster placements. Now if you asked me if I would prefer to have a case with a relative or foster placement, I think I would have to say, it depends. Like most things in life, there are good and bad relative and foster placements. I have seen examples of all. And this is also just a social worker perspective. I know I am an outsider and not seeing everything. But I am noticing some trends, which I find interesting. I wonder if they will remain consistent.