I remember watching a TV show that involved a hostage situation. They put this trained hostage negotiator on the phone with the man in the bank who had the hostages. The negotiator was kind, was accommodating when he could be, and he was firm. His ultimate goal was to get the people in that bank out as safety and quickly as possible. Something about this scenario seemed incredibly familiar to me.
When we originally got into foster care we were motivated by a desire to be the loving, nurturing caregivers for a child who needed safety and stability. Over the years we began to see our role differently as we realized our involvement with the child was only a small piece in the puzzle of what it means to be involved in foster care. We have had our share of challenging children, but for the most part it hasn’t been the kids that have caused us to question our ability to keep going. Our real struggles have been in navigating a system that doesn’t always seem to prioritize their needs.
We understand the kids have needs. They have unhealthy coping skills. They wake in the night and they cry and they get angry and they have to be taught how to trust. It’s a big job, but we all knew that was what was required of us when we signed up for this. What we didn’t realize was how we would become not just caregivers, but hostage negotiators.
These kids are caught in a system. Sometimes all parties involved work together smoothly to do what’s best to help this child achieve safety, stability and permanency as quickly as possible. As many of us know, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Many times those kids get stuck, just like the hostages in that bank building. They can’t get out and they need somebody kind, as accommodating as they can be, but firm to help them get what they need.
You can be a great caregiver for a child and be contentious with the biological family. That is not a good hostage negotiator. You can be a great caregiver for the child and get along with the biological family and be hostile to caseworkers. That is not a good hostage negotiator. If you want the best outcome for this kid and you’re willing to do what you can to get it, you’ve got to learn how to keep everyone’s needs in balance.
The system needs an effective foster parent who can advocate for a positive direction for their foster child’s case, who can keep the team focused on the end goals, who can keep the child’s wellbeing and safety the priority. This is way more complicated than just taking good care of the kids. Everyone involved has competing needs. The kids need to be safe and have stability. The parents need to prove they are competent parents and are working the plan. Caseworkers need to prove they are doing their job– keeping tabs on the kids and providing services for the family. The lawyers involved need to be kept up-to-date on how the case is going and made aware of any problems that arise. This is where the Foster Parent Hostage Negotiator goes to work.
Are visits happening at a time that interferes with the child’s nap? You know this isn’t good for him and you want to advocate that his needs be respected and given priority. You can pitch a fit (be angry at the caseworker, demean the mom, gossip to the visitation supervisor, complain to the lawyers) if you want, but that’s not what a good hostage negotiator does. You need to make everybody happy with this situation, so you need to look at it from all angles. Can you pull in the pediatrician to speak to the importance of quality sleep so this isn’t seen as you being petty or hard to work with? Can you partner with the child’s family to figure out alternative times that work for all involved and then present that to the caseworker? Can you ask the caseworker about policy issues regarding visits and nap times? Does the lawyer need to be involved as a last step if this child’s basic needs aren’t being prioritized? In all of this communication you need to be kind, be firm, be as accommodating as you can be. Be respectful of everybody involved and be humble. You don’t do all this because you’re trying to make everyone like you or make them all happy, but because you’re trying help this child get what they need.
We need to be foster parents who work as a team. If we want the voices of these children to be heard, we can do it best with diplomacy. When we establish that we are team players and can treat others with respect, that’s when we earn a voice in the system. Then when it comes to the tough issues we will find that we don’t have to fight so hard because we’ve created a relationship of trust. That’s what a good hostage negotiator does and she does it for the benefit of the one who is stuck and unable to advocate for themselves.
If you’re ready to take on the role of hostage negotiator for a child, learn more about foster parenting in Nebraska through Christian Heritage.