10 Things Case Workers Wish Foster Parents Understood.

Over the last few years we’ve written several posts geared toward helping case managers and workers understand the perspectives of foster parents. The content gave thousands of people in the trenches a voice. But in the process, we had many case managers reach out and share insightful information that would help foster parents on the journey.

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In our nine years as foster parents, we have had the privilege of working with some amazing caseworkers. They patiently walked alongside of us as we navigated the foster care system with 22 children. Four caseworkers in particular stand out as the very best. They were the kind of people who fought for the best interest of each child in their care.

They treated us with respect. They treated our children’s birth parents with dignity and they treated our children with kindness. Recently we asked them what things they would tell foster parents if they could. Here are a few of their insights…

  1. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. We might have to move a child suddenly. We might not be able to give you all the details or share our own emotions and we might even cry on our way home.
  2. We invite these children into our hearts too. We love them and we are concerned for their wellbeing. We are so thankful when we have foster parents who love our children too. When you give them all the things you would give a biological child, it brings us joy. We need you to allow them to have all the opportunities your biological children have. (slumber parties, shopping trips, Christmas presents, sports, day care, preschool, haircuts, school supplies, doctor appointments and transportation.) We need you to love them unconditionally.
  3. Sometimes we might not call. We are really busy, and we are sorry for not keeping in touch as much as we would like to. Don’t hesitate to send us an update. The very nature of our job is to be a mediator in a situation that is deeply sad, when we receive a friendly email, a picture or a funny story it makes our day. We love seeing our children happy. Invite us to sporting events, birthday parties or school programs, if we can make it, we will.
  4. Sometimes things come up. We know you have a schedule to keep too. We respect your time. Please understand that sometimes we can’t tell you what’s going on. We may be involved in an emergency with another family. We may have been stuck in court all day. Please be patient with us. Breathe. You’ve got this. Sometimes we can’t respond to you right away, we know it’s frustrating. Often we have emergencies that are more pressing. When we have a good family like yours we know we can trust you. If we aren’t responding right away, it means we know you don’t need us to hold your hand. We are thankful for families like yours.
  5. We need you to do things you wouldn’t have to do for your biological children. (Keep documentation of diaper rash, falls, tiny bruises etc. Keep records of doctors appointments, vaccinations, changes in eating habits.)
  6. Please do not treat these children like puppies. They are people. Please do not try to find a better, cuter, more well-behaved one. Give the child that has been placed in your home your very best.
  7. Show respect to the child’s birth parents. If it is possible, build a relationship with them. Remember that our first goal is always reunification. Reunification may not always be possible. No matter what the outcome of the case the child’s first family will always be a part of who they are.
  8. We need more of you! There aren’t enough foster homes. Shout it from the rooftops, share your good experiences with friends and family.
  9. Don’t give up! Things are going to be hard and it will take a lot more than love to do your job. There will be visits, difficult conversations, and IEP meetings. There will be therapy, court hearings and children who act out. This will be the hardest, most rewarding thing you ever do. Please, don’t give up.
  10. Adopt. Sometimes reunification can’t happen. Be the one to provide the home they never have to leave.

One of the most beautiful snapshots of the foster parenting journey is seeing case managers and foster families work together, and hold the same value- loving a child unconditionally. We have been blessed to see that over the past decade. Our hope is that the insight shared in this post encourages and equips. Most of all, our prayer is that it brings continued unity!

Question: Case managers and foster parents, what else would you add to this list? Share in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Allisonm

    Having spent thousands of hours in court sitting next to case managers, I can attest to the fact that the job is difficult and complex. There are few moments in that job when there isn’t someone who is very unhappy with you, whether it’s a judge, parent, lawyer (including sometimes their own lawyer), GAL, CASA, foster parent, child, therapist, police/probation officer, or a relative/friend of the child or parents. If you have fifty children on your case load and the state has wiped out overtime for budget reasons, you are in a serious bind, since you will be fired for violating wage and hour laws by working off the clock. If you fail to appear in court because it would be overtime you are not allowed to put in, you can get held in contempt and fined or jailed. I’ve worked with hundreds of case workers, from the unbelievably competent to those who are clearly in the wrong job. Be kind! That right-brained worker who brings such compassion, caring, and creativity with them may struggle to keep up with paperwork and deadlines. That left-brained worker who is so efficient may have trouble with the intuitive and emotional aspects of the job. In addition, caseworkers sometimes struggle with secondary trauma arising from all that they witness. It affects their productivity. And they aren’t allowed to talk about it.

    So be kind. There is a kind way to address the issues that concern us as foster/adoptive parents. We can be the zealous advocates our children need without being unkind. I have watched far too many excellent caseworkers leave because they are burned out. I have also watched caseworkers have a rough start in the job yet become amazing, given time and room to get the hang of it. Kindness slows the burnout and speeds the learning process. (We all know how well our kids [don’t] learn when they are scared!)

    • What a great challenge Allison. Thanks for these awesome words.

  • Colleen Ncrew

    I would like to see this written backwards…10 things Fp wish the case worker could understand. I once had a worker come to meet the kids in my care at the nine month mark…really, nine months and you come and introduce yourself…I believe a lot more people would do #10 if they could. Very valid points and the turn over rate, is because of the “crying in the car on the way home” this jobs tough, and I can’t imagine how one can stay for any length of time, in protection.