Several months ago, I made a “contract” with my teenage foster daughter. After she had been here about a month, it became apparent that there were some serious issues that nearly caused a placement disruption. We were dealing with issues common to kids in foster care like stealing, lying and deception. Initially I handled the situation badly but after using emergency respite for the weekend for she and I to cool off, I asked a social worker to come to our home so we could talk over one possible way I would agree to talk about a way the placement might work. The tool we plan to use is called a “contract.” This is nothing new of course; we all use these in our daily lives. But for kids coming into a new home, they can be an important tool to keep everyone on the same page. Every home operates differently and has different expectations. Kids coming from disfunctional homes may find that any kind of structure feels oppressive and overwhelming. In order to help them feel in control and help the foster parents feel sane, a contract can be used to spell out the expectations and consequences (positive and negative) of abiding by or breaking the contract. I did quick search on Google trying to find a template for such a contract because I’d rather not recreate the wheel, but was unable to find one so I wrote our own. Below is a description of the four parts of our contract, a sample of our contract, and the template I came up with.
Part 1: Basic Information
The first part of the contract is simply a basic outline of who the contract participants are, what the nature is of the relationship, and the length of the contract.
Part 2: The Agreement
The second part of the contract is the terms of your agreement.
In our case, first I chose to outline state required rules of foster parents that were of specific importance to our foster daughter in order to build trust. I didn’t feel the need to outline all of them because that is a lot of rules and we are already obligated to do/not do those things by virtue of our contracts with Children’s Services. What I was trying to do was demonstrate to the child that we are REQUIRED to do certain things that the adults in her life did not do or did only occasionally. I used this as a tool between us and our foster daughter but also with the social worker and counselor. I asked these other adults to act as 3rd party to make sure we are all keeping our part of the deal. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but were hoping to build trust and teach her about boundaries in healthy relationships.
Next I outlined the house rules and specific expectations that pertained to this foster child. I don’t think a blanket contract would work for every foster child as every one of them will have special issues that they need help and confidence to overcome. I think some parts of the contract can be the same for every child but some definitely need to be customized
Part 3: How They Get Their Wants Met
Third, is our agreement on how to meet the specific needs of this foster child. For example, some kids to participate in extracurricular activites. Others want to talk on the phone or be able to make the choice to buy new clothes over second hand. Some kids want to have their own money to spend or have a chance to go participate in some special activity. With my own bio and adopted kids, I verbally tell them how they can have the opportunity to do the things they want or earn money, but in this case, it is being written down to be a reminder and to build trust between the child, foster parents, social worker and counselor.
Part 4: Consequences of Breaking the Contract
Lastly, our agreement spelled out consequences of either party not keeping their part of the bargain. In this category, we kept the consequences general because we wanted to have the freedom to adjust easily. However, wanted the child to know that she was not being held here against her will. If we weren’t treating her with respect and keeping our word, we want her to know that she could talk to the worker or counselor to help mediate or in a worst case scenario, ask to go to another house. Kids in foster care often feel powerless. Giving them the opportunity to feel a part of the process can help them feel more stable and learn healthy relationship skills.
Below I’ve copied the contract we chose to use. In the end, we did review it with her in the presence of the social worker so that she could verify that we were in fact obligated to do certain things for her and we would do so knowing that we would be held accountable. We did not end up signing it. In the past 5 months, we’ve never needed to review it…not once. Most of the issues we were having disappeared when we put in place this contract so that she knew she had a way to have her needs met and that they would not be rejected.
This contract is entered into between (foster parents/first party) and (foster child/second party).
The term of this Agreement will become effective on (today’s date) and will continue until (foster child) leaves foster care in the (foster family) home. (specific date or time frame)
The Specific Terms of this Agreement are as follows:
1. Foster Parent Requirements – As licensed foster parents, (names of foster parents) are required to do many things. Their first priority is your safety. In addition to that, they are required to make sure that you have food (3 meals a day and snacks), a bed to sleep in, and enough clothing (see the checklist), toiletries and school supplies. On top of this, they must make arrangements for doctor, dental and eye doctor appointments and provide transportation. When needed, they must arrange counseling as well.
2. House Rules & Special Rules for that Child –We do require that everyone be respectful (in how they speak and how they act toward others), be kind and be pleasant. In keeping with those rules, ask before taking or borrowing items. If you need or want something, please say so. If we do something that offends you, please say so.
3. How Needs and Wants are Met– Children’s Services give (foster parents) money every month to meet the needs of the child. Foster parents have a lot of discretion in how that money is used to meet those needs, but $60 every month is allocated toward meeting your clothing needs (see checklist). We agree that whatever money is left at the end of the month after meeting your required needs will be given to you to spend on extra things you might want. (snacks, makeup, etc). When possible, we will give you the choice to buy the required clothing new or second hand so that you can maximize the amount you have left at the end of the month if you choose.
If you have items that you want to buy that go beyond your current budget, the proper step is to ask (foster parents). If the item is permissible, some steps to obtain it may be to do a job to earn it or save money available after clothing purchases.
If there are activities you want to participate in, please ask. Foster parents cannot read minds but do try to help you achieve your own personal goals.
**This part of the contract really only addressed the areas where we were having an issue. Therefore we did not address meeting needs like food or shelter because those were not areas we were having problems with.This could easily be customized per kid.
4. Consequences of Either Party Not Maintaining the Contract – Being in foster care can be tough. Many decisions are made for you that you may not agree with or get to participate in making. However, in this home, if (foster parents) do not keep the agreement, the following steps should be taken: (foster child) should talk to (foster parents) – somethings things are overlooked accidentally or not done correctly and they would like the opportunity to fix the problem. If that does not resolve the problem, talk to your social worker and counselor. They both have copies of this agreement and have agreed to mediate disagreements. Lastly, if no agreement can be reached and the problem cannot be resolved, (foster child) may ask her social worker to find her a new home.
If (foster child) does not keep her part of this agreement, (foster parents) will talk to (foster child) about the problem. If the problem is not resolved, they will talk to her counselor and social worker. If it cannot be resolved, they may ask (foster child) to leave and go to another home.
In consideration of the agreement detailed above, the (foster parents) agree that they shall provide the agreed upon care and will respond as described in resolving problems.
In consideration of the agreement detailed above, (foster child) agrees that she shall understands the foster parent’s responsibilities and the behavior expected of her as well as her options in resolving problems.
This contract can be modified in writing if the need arises.
It is agreed. By signing below, the Parties agree to be bound by the terms of this Agreement.
Signature of (foster mom)
Signature of (foster dad)
Signature of (foster child)
Date: _______________, 20__
A Final Note: We are not legal experts and if you are concerned about that should consult with your local Children’s Services. They might want you to amend what you include or how you offer it to the child. Our foster daughter’s next option was a group home and she knew it so they were fine with us giving this a shot. Like I said, we didn’t end up signing anything but verbally going over it was a huge stride in the right direction.