29 May Foster care caseworkers need your support
Speak Up: Voices for Foster Care Reform® provides a microphone for children in foster care to be heard.
Last year, thousands of people across South Carolina joined together as one voice to encourage the legislature to hear and respond to the needs of children in foster care. The legislature indeed listened and enacted into law key reforms to the system and children rejoiced.
As child welfare advocates, we know that better outcomes are dependent upon a system that is healthy and whole. A destructive narrative about DSS foster care workers is oft repeated, but deserves to be challenged. We are not deluded to the fact that poor casework exists, the same as poor work exists in all professions. However, based on our frontline experiences, caseworkers are very much like others in the helping professions: they did not get into social work for the pay, but rather to impact and improve the lives of the children and families they serve. Unfortunately, we lose or burn out our caseworkers, because we collectively fail to support them properly.
Please allow us a moment to walk through what foster care caseworkers are asked to accomplish in a typical month. Supposing the average caseworker has a caseload of 30 children, how does their month breakdown?
One home visit to every foster home where children are placed. Presuming two hours per visit (including travel), this requires 60 hours per month.
Two family visits with each family on the caseload. Presuming two hours per visit (including travel), this requires another 120 hours per month.
Court hearings or trials typically require the caseworker’s presence one or two days per month. Conservatively, this will add at least another eight hours per month.
Foster Care Review Board hearings also require the caseworker’s participation once or twice a month at least. Presuming two hours per hearing, this requires another four hours.
Now, a standard 40-hour work week equates to approximately 173 hours per month on average. However, based upon these calculations, a caseworker has approximately 255 hours committed before they even begin to take time to write reports, attend staff meetings, stay current with training requirements or possibly take a break. How much additional time might those activities demand? And is their pay commensurate with these demands on their time, not to mention job pressure and stress?
However, based upon these calculations, a caseworker has approximately 255 hours committed before they even begin to take time to write reports, attend staff meetings, stay current with training requirements or possibly take a break.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. What is the cure? We must begin with hiring enough well-paid and well-trained caseworkers so the most vulnerable among us are safe and their families can be healed and restored.
Now, some of you are likely thinking, “How much is this going to cost?” As a citizen and taxpayer that is valid and worthy question. However, we must also consider: “How much will it cost if we do nothing?” The Casey Foundation reports that every child who ages out of foster care costs taxpayers $300,000 in future liability. Furthermore, hiring additional caseworkers also means that families heal faster and children return home sooner; and if so, then the State saves even more dollars, in addition to the many other non-monetary benefits. And we all know it is neither smart nor conservative to save a dollar today only to spend five dollars tomorrow.
So what can you do? Call your legislators and let them know you care about children in foster care. Find a caseworker and ask how you can support them.
So what can you do? Call your legislators and let them know you care about children in foster care. Find a caseworker and ask how you can support them. You can begin by thanking them for their work. Seek out a foster family and offer to bring them a meal. Find a father or mother with children in foster care and offer support. South Carolina is a beautiful place with people who deeply care about children. We are convinced that our system struggles not because our people don’t care, but because our people don’t know. We welcome your support in making our foster care system the model for the rest of the nation to follow.
Dan Bracken is director of policy for Speak Up: Voices for Foster Care Reform®, an initiative of Fostering Great Ideas®. Trey Ingram is director of legislative research.