Strong relationships between foster parents and social workers ultimately benefit the children.
Foster parents must interact with social workers frequently and rely on them for many things, including information about the children and the case, consent for various needs of the children, help and problem solving when issues arise, and most importantly advocating for the safety of the children.
Even though we email, text, and see each other face to face every month or more, I realize there is so much about the caseworker’s job, responsibilities, and life that I don’t know. I believe that knowing these things and recognizing everything they do can help improve the relationships between foster parents and social workers, which will ultimately benefit the children.
“To say that social workers have a difficult job is an understatement”
Being a foster parent is no walk in the park either, but I cannot imagine the things that social workers deal with day after day. One social worker told me they had been shot at while at work, another was physically assaulted, and most if not all have been verbally assaulted. Another caseworker told me they didn’t feel safe going to the building where our foster child’s parent lived, and I am sure that was not the only place she visits that makes her feel uneasy. I had not realized just how dangerous their jobs can be.
As a foster parent, I learned about secondary trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines secondary trauma as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.” Almost all the kids in our care will have experienced trauma and just hearing about it and knowing what these children have had to endure can leave us traumatized.
I had not thought about the caseworkers also experiencing secondary trauma, but of course they do. Caseworkers see a lot more children than we do and often they will know more details of the case and the children’s history than we know. In some cases, they may have witnessed the abuse or neglect firsthand or have been the first one to have noticed.
One day our caseworker called us to cancel her visit for that day because an emergency came up. I later found out she had been at the hospital and one of the children on her caseload had passed away. I am sure she dealt with secondary trauma on that day, among many others.
In addition to the dangers and stress of their jobs, caseworkers often carry large caseloads. The workload varies by state, county, agency, and specific positions, but most caseworkers in the foster care system will tell you they are overworked. They are overworked due to the rise in number of kids in foster care and due to the high turnover rate of social workers in the field. The turnover rate varies in each state, but I’ve heard numbers anywhere from 25-50% or higher in some areas.
It’s difficult to evaluate how heavy a social worker’s caseload is on numbers alone, since there are many factors to consider. One caseworker told me she might have 30 cases, but they are not all equal. A single case could involve multiple children – sometimes up to ten kids – living in multiple houses, with multiple biological fathers, grandparents, and other family members all involved. Therefore, the caseworkers have additional visits with the children, foster families and biological family members, additional meetings, court appearances, supervising visits, transportation, phone calls, emails to answer, and paperwork.
Caseworkers also reported feeling a lack of support from their supervisors. You would think that after everything caseworkers do, are responsible for, how dangerous their jobs are, and how overworked they are, that they must at least make a lot of money. Why else would they do all this? Reality is that social workers do not get paid a lot and by the time you factor in all the hours they put in past the typical 8-hour work day, they are making very little per hour.
I can only assume social workers choose this field of work because they care about the children and have a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
There are many more things social workers do, but this should give you a glimpse into their experiences. Perhaps this helps you understand if they don’t call back immediately, if they are late for a visit or cancel completely, if they seem to be having a bad day, or if they are new and still trying to get acclimated. Maybe you can appreciate that there are things about the case they can’t tell you for good reason and not just to be difficult. Try to recognize that your caseworker may be dealing with other emergency situations or crises that they can’t tell you about. Hopefully, you can see that your caseworker truly does have the best interest of the children in mind. Not all social workers are perfect. Foster parents aren’t perfect either. But next time you get frustrated with something your caseworker says or does, try giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Next time you see your caseworker or any social worker, thank them for all they do.
If you are a caseworker, let me thank you right now. Thank you for continuing to show up to work when it’s hard. Thank you for continuing to put the needs of the children before your own and sometimes even before your own family. Thank you for supporting the foster families and biological families. Thank you for praying for our kids. Thank you for understanding when we get impatient, overprotective of our foster children, and get angry at the system. Thank you for crying with us. Thank you for celebrating with us. Thank you for not giving up on our kids. And thank you for everything else you do that I don’t even know about. Thank you!
In the comments, share what your caseworkers do that you are thankful for.