06 Jul Foster Parents & Case Workers | On the Same Team
A recent conversation with a caseworker confirmed a burden I’ve carried for several months. For the foster care system to be whole, it requires that the fractured relationships between caseworkers and foster parents to be functional. What is the status of foster parent and DSS relationships? What causes the divide? How do we make it work?
Several years ago, during a foster care review board hearing, I blistered a DSS supervisor over their handling of a foster care case. After my verbal lashing, we cleared the room, and the supervisor looked at me and said, “I agree with everything you just said, but here is the policy we have to follow, here are the resources we have available, and this is what we have to do.”
I now cringe at the manner in which I handled myself. Nearly a decade later, I’ve learned that caseworkers are much like teachers. They didn’t get into social work for the pay. Most chose the profession for the same reasons I chose to be a foster parent. They’re drawn to care for our most vulnerable children. The relationships between DSS and foster parents are often distant and full of mistrust. Our fractured relationships lead to burnout and high turnover. Ultimately the child we both care deeply for loses a chance for the stability they desperately crave and need.
Our fractured relationships lead to burnout and high turnover. Ultimately the child we both care deeply for loses a chance for the stability they desperately crave and need.
What causes this divide? Entire blogs could be written about a lack of resources, communication deficits, and passion. For now, let’s focus on what we can take responsibility for as foster parents. Have you already created a mental list of the ways your caseworker has wronged you? Good! It is a natural response for someone who is on the front lines fighting for a child. Have you considered that a DSS worker reading this blog has done the same? Why? It’s a natural response for someone on the front lines….but you’ve heard this before.
Both parties care about the child, but many times we don’t invest enough energy to see or hear the caseworker. Therefore, we fail to see their perspective or passion.
How can we heal these relationships?
The next time your caseworker visits your home, ask the following questions:
Why did you decide to become a caseworker?
How many cases are you currently handling?
How far geographically are your cases spread out?
How do you prefer to communicate?
What can I do as a foster parent of this child to make your job better?
If you are reading this post and don’t find yourself in either of these categories, consider this an opportunity to act on a (potentially) new awareness- being a foster parent is hard, working as a DSS case worker is difficult. You may not be on the front lines personally, but what ways do you need to step up? Both foster parents and DSS workers need love and support. They have needs that you can care for.
For the Christian foster parent, we can’t say that we stepped into fostering as a result of our faith and then behave in a way that betrays what we believe. When you think about your relationship with your caseworker, which of the following characteristics apply: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to lay down when a wrong occurs. However, I am inviting you to be what you believe- to bring peace and restoration. The vulnerable children you care for are depending on you.