Vol. 16, No. 2 • May 2012

Fight Placement Disruptions Using the "Decker Principle"

by Jeanne Preisler

God’s Miracles by Leeann, age 11

I would like to share a story about a time when I had a horrible experience but God was in control.

When I was at my mom’s work, I got really angry with her. I was so angry that I called my therapist and told her I wanted to move.

She said she would see what she could do.

After the phone call was over my adopted mom busted out crying. I felt really bad, but I was still mad, so I didn’t want to admit it.

The next day, I told my mom I did not actually want to leave, that I was just really angry.

A few minutes later we got a phone call saying that I could not be taken away because the adoption papers were finalized.

I was so relieved that I did not have to leave.

That is where I got this title, because I knew it was God’s plan.

In her essay “God’s Miracles,” Leeann tells us about a really tough day she had. On tough days, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and helpless. This is when we might experience a “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, in child welfare a flight response sometimes means the child or foster parent requests a move. The placement disrupts.

Luckily for Leeann, time lessened the need to be moved and her adoption was finalized. She had a happy ending. Her faith was strengthened.

Faith plays an important role in adoption and foster parenting. We take a leap of faith when we trust our agency with all the intimate details of our past to get approved. We take a leap of faith when opening our homes to children in care.

Faith also plays a key role for young people in foster care. It requires faith to believe the “system” will take care of them and not cause them more harm. It takes faith to believe they will be reunified with their birth family or find a forever family. It takes faith to trust the grown-ups to make good decisions on their behalf.

Faith can be especially difficult to sustain when circumstances go against us.

Requesting Moves
A request to be moved by either the foster parent or by the child is understandable. In the child welfare system, it often feels like we do not have any control over what is happening. By requesting a move, we regain control over the situation.

As a foster parent I requested a child be removed once, and although that same child is now my daughter, it was a painful experience for everyone. Unplanned foster care moves are called disruptions for a reason. Webster says that “disrupt” means to “break apart; rupture; to interrupt the normal course.”

Visualize a tornado—that’s what it feels like to the child; bits and pieces of them break apart. It turns their world upside down emotionally, spiritually, and educationally, leaving in its wake rubble that is difficult to sift through and to recover from.

Let’s Adopt the Decker Princple
I am reminded of the woman who successfully protected her children from the devastating tornado that ripped through Indiana in March. Stephanie Decker covered her two children with her body as the tornado crushed her home on top of them. She lost part of both of her legs in the process, but her children were unharmed.

In honor of the courage shown by Stephanie Decker, let’s all adopt the “Decker Principle”—doing whatever it takes to keep our children safe. Let’s do everything we can to protect our children from the devastating effects of child welfare’s tornado: placement disruption.

Before you call your social worker to disrupt a placement, please use every resource available to you to get through the crisis. There are therapists who specialize in working with children and families who have experienced trauma (visit www.ncchildtreatmentprogram.org). Explore respite care options, or seek parent support groups or mentoring programs. Talk with your child’s social worker or therapist to determine what skills you could build or strategies you could use to help you through the situation.

If we have a tenth of the courage of Stephanie Decker, we could eliminate placement disruptions in North Carolina and create more happy endings like the one Leeann experienced.

Jeanne Preisler has been a social worker, kinship parent, foster parent, and adoptive parent.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~