I’m not a social worker, though I count several of them among my friends. And I believe that whatever role we each play in the foster care system, we can always benefit from hearing from another’s perspective. This can open up communication, improve compassion and understanding, and help us all work better together to meet the needs of those at the heart of this system—the children in foster care.
With that in mind, I asked several social workers that I know and trust: what do you wish foster parents knew or understood? This is what they said.
1. We have legal processes and regulations we need to follow.
For foster parents deeply invested in nurturing the children in their care, and especially as the people who deal with the day to day impact that living in foster care limbo has on our kids, it can often seem that biological parents are given too many chances to make the necessary changes. But in most cases, social workers are required by law to work towards the goal of reunification for a certain length of time. They have guidelines and regulations they must follow so that if the plan for a child is eventually changed to adoption, the court can agree that reasonable efforts were made to safely reunify the family.
Not only that, but most social workers I know do not make decisions in a vacuum. Everything from court recommendations to visit schedules and processes is approached as a team.
These legal regulations can also apply to others in the case, such as child’s lawyer. Knowing and understanding each person’s role in your foster child’s case is essential to setting reasonable expectations and working well with them.
2. Things will probably not progress on your timeline.
The entire timeline for a child in foster care, from placement to reunification or adoption, can seem interminably slow. Too many children seem to spend too long waiting for paperwork, waiting for court filings and hearings to be scheduled, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Yet, it is important to remember that while social workers may be able to influence timelines a bit, they can only do so much. And again, there are legal guidelines they need to follow. Bottom line: nothing will happen as quickly as you think it should.
3. I am only one person.
Foster care social workers are responsible for many different cases, and at any given time, one or more of those cases can require a lot of their focus and attention. The scope of their job is pretty wide, and many work long hours to try to get everything done. Still, sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day. If your foster child’s social worker seems unresponsive or doesn’t do what he says he’s going to do on a regular ongoing basis, that might indicate a problem. But if it’s just a few times, try to cut them a little slack. You have no idea what other emergencies or crises they might be handling.
4. I love your foster child, too.
Social workers spend a lot of time with the foster children on their caseload and work hard to get kids to trust them. When a child is grieving another disappointment from their birth parent, the social worker is heartbroken, too. When their plan changes to adoption, they celebrate and grieve, just as the children do. When a child is reunified with their parents or adopted and their case closes, they suffer that loss, miss seeing them, and wonder how the kids are doing.
Certainly, every social worker is different, but most chose their career because they care about others and want to help (just as most foster parents chose to foster because they care about kids). We all have a different but important role to play, and if we try to see things from each other’s perspective, we can find common ground and work together to achieve the ultimate goal for each child—a safe, loving, and permanent home.