Part II: How collective bargaining will improve foster care. It's about better placement options for kids.

Chip Shields

In my post about foster care below, a commenter asked a fair question.  He wrote, “Since collective bargaining focus is mainly on working conditions, pay and benefits, please help us understand how those three areas are going to make foster parent nightmares such as the one you focused on disappear.”

Here’s my response: It’s all about having better placement options for foster kids. Often caseworkers have a dilemna because the options are between two poor placements.

And unfortunately, good options for kid placement are declining. The Oregonian article said there were 416 fewer foster homes in 2007 than in 2006.  It's a growing problem nationwide as more foster parents burnout.

There will be more foster parent placement options for kids if more high-quality foster parents are recruited and more importantly, retained, in the system. More high-quality foster parents will be retained in the system if working conditions, including training and pay, are improved. In my experience, working conditions, including training and pay, are more likely to be improved through collective bargaining than by bargaining individually.

For more on the importance of foster-parent training and retention, you can listen to the testimony of Michael Orlans and Dr. Terry Levy at the October 2008 meeting of the Public Safety Strategies Task Force by clicking here.

Their presentation hand out from their book Healing Parents can be read by clicking here.

So how do you get well-qualified foster parents to enter the system and stay in it? I suggest that how you find and keep good foster parents is not much different from how you find and keep good help if you are in business. You train people properly to excel in their jobs. You provide a way for people to meet their basic financial needs. You give them easy access to the information they need to do their jobs. You make word-of-mouth your best recruitment tool because others have had a good experience working for you. These things don’t happen like they should in the foster care system. And it’s difficult to change such a huge, complicated system by taking it on alone.

If you are a foster parent, you don’t have much leverage when negotiating with the Department of Human Services or the Oregon legislature on issues of training and compensation. If you want to fix the system, you don’t have much chance of that either because you are acting alone. But by coming together, your negotiation position improves. Your ability to change things improves. Your political clout improves because you will be better able to act collectively to help elect people who respect and value what you do (or unelect those who don't). Paid, experienced negotiators can negotiate for better training and remuneration so that you can better meet the needs of the kids. Your union dues may provide for representation in the capitol to help you pass laws that will improve foster care.

Will it increase the cost of foster care? Yes. But if it results in better recruitment, training and retention of foster parents, and more options for foster-care placement for kids, then foster care will be improved and we save in the long run.

Caseworkers will have better options for kids. And more kids will get the healing foster parents they deserve.

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