4 Reasons Every Case Worker Should Also Be A Foster Parent.

In the 9 years that we served as foster parents, we met very few case workers who were active foster parents. We always found this odd, especially since we were relying on them to give us guidance and support on the difficult road of foster care.

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I get it. I really do. The foster care system is a mess, and case work is hard, regardless of the state you’re from. It’s hard to find a case worker who is not both grossly overworked and grossly underpaid. The turnover rate is beyond measure.

In our time as foster parents we met some fantastic case workers with energy, passion to love children, and a dream change the system. With nearly everyone like this, however, we became sad because we knew they wouldn’t last. We were certain that in a year, or less, they would move on to greener pastures, better paying jobs, and fresh opportunities, because it was too much. Or too little.

But there were also a handful of case workers who seemed disconnected and distant. They didn’t get what we were really going through as foster parents. It would have made a world of difference if they would have worked a little harder to understand what life was like on the inside.

Which begs the question, why. Why aren’t more case managers also foster parents? Why isn’t this a requirement to work in family services? Perhaps it’s not permitted in some states? We’re not sure. But one thing we are sure of- foster parenting gives you a perspective that college degrees, or professional training, can never give you.

This post is for you- case workers, if you’re not an active foster parent. This is why you should also be a foster parent. It’s not meant to point fingers, nor is it blaming you for anything. It’s a challenge, an encouragement, to join our ranks, and sign on to our team. There are a few big reasons why this is so important to helping us, and you, on this extremely difficult journey.

Reason #1- First-hand Knowledge.

As an active foster parent you have first-hand knowledge of the entire experience. There is no greater knowledge than this when you’re trying to help us. Life in the trenches gives you the ability to authentically speak into the trials, feelings of defeat, frustrations with the court system, and the uphill battle were constantly in the middle of.

Airdropping in and out for a visit every now and then, or having brief interaction before, during, or after a hearing, doesn’t give you the same perspective.

Reason #2- Personal Identification.

When we’re so mad we want to cuss, so tired we want to pass out, so frustrated we want to drink, so pushed to the limit we want to break things, or just quit in-general, you’ll identify with us. You’ll understand because, honestly, you feel the same way about your own situation at times. Taking in placements, especially those from difficult situations, allows you to personally identify with our struggles. And that, my friend, will make our job a little easier and a lot less lonely than it often is.

Reason #3- Exclusive Camaraderie.

We foster parents are an interesting bunch. By interesting I mean, exclusive. Not exclusive like a celebrity or pro-athlete; exclusive like, “We bear the same wounds, could tell the same stories, and find comfort from simply discovering we’re not alone.” There’s no longer a you and us when you sign on to do the same thing we are doing, just an us! And the us is pretty powerful. It helps you get through the darkest days when you want to quit. It stands by you when all you want to do is curl up into a ball and claim defeat.

The reason we lasted for nearly a decade and so many others spend even longer than we did in this messy and backward system, is the camaraderie. The togetherness they find when another hand is on their shoulder, and someone else’s tears drip on their behalf. Fact is, you need this kind of camaraderie and you could find it as a fellow foster parent.

Reason #4- Compassion For Children.

I’m not saying that you don’t have compassion for the children in our care. I’m just saying that you’d have more if you were also an active foster parent. Life in the trenches of foster parenting brings a deep compassion for hurting children. You need this if you’re going to be successful at your job. You’ll also feel compassion for other foster parents. And you need this when you’re dealing with our meltdowns.

Think about it this way- when you first started college, or your training to be a case worker, social worker, or case manager, you would have had a difficult time learning from a person who had not actively served, or was actively serving, in any of those areas. Heck, you might have even dropped the course or changed your career path because you would have realized pretty quickly that the person who was supposed to be teaching or instructing you really had no clue what it was like to do what you wanted to do.

The same is true with foster parenting. We need you to speak into our lives from a been-there-done-that-got-the-scars-to-prove-it perspective. That helps us more than you can imagine. But it also helps you and what you do for a living more than you can imagine. So, what are you waiting for?

Question: Are you a case worker AND a foster parent? How has this helped you relate to your parents? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • I think you bring up some good points here, but do you think it could also go the other way? Like “Why Every Foster Parent Should Be a Case Worker?”

    Not trying to defend or nitpick, but I know in our state (probably like everywhere across the country), case workers are severely overload with sheer numbers and bureaucracy.

    • Absolutely. It definitely goes both ways but since there are more foster parents than case managers, it makes sense for them to join the ranks of foster parenting. I’ve known several FP’s that have become case workers and it has brought some healthy perspective to case management. Thanks for your comment. It is appreciated and a great perspective.

    • heidisaxton

      Not all foster parents have the educational background to be a social worker. However, I do agree that it would be helpful for more active foster parents to get involved in the training of new foster parents.

      • Linda Kauffer

        Amen!

  • Sheryl Hackel

    I’m a caseworker who was a foster parent. I parent 3 adopted children with emotional challenges. No way could I possibly emotionally handle full time casework or even part – time if I worked directly with children. (I work part – time with kinship resource (foster) parents.) I do find that some caseworkers have very unrealistic ideas about foster parents!

    • Sheryl, it’s definitely not feasible for everyone in every situation. I understand the emotional toll. We know many foster parents (one who lives just down the street) who works in an awful job all day long and then has to come home and have the emotional energy to care for his family. It’s so tough to watch him walk this road. But you are right…there are some who have those unrealistic expectations. Thanks for your words.

  • Linda Kauffer

    First, let me thank you for your wisdom and honesty, and your passion for children. I read your blog religiously, and many times print off a copy (with full credit and your blog’s url) to share with the to-be treatment foster parents I train in pre-service. I also do most of their homestudies-they become “my families”. I am responsible for their on-going training once licensed as well. Before I moved into my agency’s training department, I was (and still am, if needed) a case manager for my private, not-for-profit agency, in the foster care department.

    That said, let me say that I have been, while I was a case manager, a treatment level foster parent. I chose to give up my license after two years, because as I single person, I was faced with being a good foster parent or a case manager. It was impossible for me to be good at both, given the treatment needs of the child in my home and of the children on my caseload. And, since in my state a foster parent has to have proof of income, my choice had to be a practical one. But, you are right, with every thing you said. In fact, I have even said the same. I have persuaded the powers that be at my agency to require that new case managers take our pre-service training. I know it is not the same, but it is closer than it was.

    We have two case managers in our treatment foster care department who are full time foster parents, and have been for some time (9 years and 13 years). They are able to do so because they have equally as invested spouses who are stay at home primary caregivers. Another big plus for them is my agency is VERY family friendly. Perhaps that is one reason why some case managers don’t become foster parents. It is extremely difficult, as I found, to do a good job at both. And I, for one, will not be less of a foster parent, and be in the way of a child getting the help they deserve, as much as I would love to be a full-time foster parent, which I will do when I retire in a few years. Another reason maybe some case managers and case workers don’t become foster parents is because their spouse isn’t on board…that would really be a bad scenario…and then, of course, there are those who never would, no matter where they worked…and there are some states that won’t allow it.

    I also think that administrators of child welfare organizations should take time every year to hit the front lines and do what their social workers do, out in the field. Then maybe caseloads would get lower, or pay higher….yeah, I know, dream on…and hope that those social workers who “get it” license when they retire.

    • Hey Linda, thanks so much for sharing our blog with others. It’s there to be a resource, but most importantly, a voice! So, thanks! We are grateful. I love the words you share here. You are right. This is a tricky balance. The invested spouse is so, so true. You may have just sparked a future post for us. 🙂 🙂 Thanks for all you do for families and children! We are cheering for you.

    • Allisonm

      I worked in the legal end of juvenile dependency for years before we became licensed and adopted our children as a sibling set. The training and experience of having to get the myriad services our children needed (after five years in care before placement with us for adoption) changed the way I approached my job in so many ways. Because my children’s needs were on the line, I dug in and learned the public mental-health system, rather than relying on case managers and others whose knowledge didn’t cover what I needed to know. The continuing ed for foster-parents was far more effective than the agency legal training when it came to getting things accomplished. Knowing the law helps, but understanding how things work practically is invaluable. I left that job to stay home for my kids. Those were two full-time jobs that couldn’t coexist without one of them suffering.