One of the (many) things that surprised me when I first started getting involved in the world of foster care was the sheer number of people involved in a child’s case. Out of all the adults involved, however, the most important person to work well with as a foster parent, is your child’s social worker. Here are a few tips on how to create a solid working relationship with him or her.
Know your role.
There are a lot of people involved in a child’s case – lawyers, judges, social workers, therapists, foster parents, and many others. Each player is an important part of the team, and just like any team, it’s critical for each person to understand their role in order for the team to function at its best. As a foster parent, there are some things you will be able to control, some things you will only be able to influence, and other things over which you have no control or influence. You need to know how to differentiate between things in each of these categories so you can focus your time and energy where it is most useful, and so that you can let go when that’s appropriate. For example, the ultimate placement for a child is not yours to determine. You can influence this, certainly, but in the end, someone else will make that call.
It’s also important for you to understand your social worker’s role. They, too, have things they can control and things they can’t. They answer to their supervisors and to state laws and agency policies, and in the end, they don’t have final say in the placement for a child either.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
I can’t stress this enough – you have to communicate with your child’s social worker. Don’t wait for them to get in touch with you. Reach out to them if you have a question or a concern, or if you just want to give them a heads up on a new behavior, or share a progress report from your foster child’s teacher. I’ve found very few circumstances where sharing more information is a bad thing.
It’s also important to figure out the best way to communicate, and this should be driven by both your preferences and those of the worker. Are misunderstandings common? Perhaps a phone call or face-to-face communication is the best bet. Does your job or the activity level in your home make phone calls difficult during the day? Use email or text. Also, remember that while being a foster parent is an around-the-clock gig, being a social worker isn’t. Choose a non-intrusive way to communicate during off-hours for things that can wait until the next business day (I use email and tell my social workers that emails are never urgent).
Being a foster parent is not an easy job, but neither is being a social worker. Be accommodating whenever you can be, whether it’s with transportation, family visits, or scheduling home visits. Try and make their job a little easier, and it will go a long way toward establishing the fact that you’re on the same team.
Assume the best.
The foster parent/social worker team is like any other work team – there will be some people with whom you get along easily, and others where it is more of a struggle. You might have personalities that don’t click or wildly different philosophies on foster care or reunification. Perhaps one of you is detail-oriented and the other sees the big picture but struggles with managing their own to-do list. You may even encounter a social worker who is overworked, overwhelmed, and burned out. (But then again, this can apply to foster parents, too.) Sometimes the best thing you can do is strive to assume the best intentions, and then pick your battles.
Fellow foster parents, what would you add? What are some things you’ve done to build a good relationship with your foster child’s social worker? What are some things you wish you would have done differently?