Educate and Enlighten – Part One

Together, we can educate and enlighten members of our community about the real needs of those affected by foster care. We recently discussed the broad reach of foster care and that almost everyone has the opportunity to make a difference.

Before we examine needs, we should consider who is affected by foster care. While most of us are involved with foster care, we are not all affected by foster care. Those affected are those immersed day-to-day, moment-to-moment with the realities of foster care. This includes children and youth in foster care, foster families, bio families and the DSS staff serving them.

Let’s begin by recognizing the realities faced by DSS staff serving the children, their families, and the foster families.

One reality is that each and every person who chooses to make a career of child welfare does so because they want to positively impact the lives of children and families. It is possible the pre-employment notion of the every-day life of a caseworker looked something like this:  Arriving at work each day with a plan in place for the children on my caseload to visit, going through each of the 15-20 case files to ensure services are being provided and progress is being made toward reunification goals, ensuring each foster family hosting a bio family’s children has everything they need to enroll the children in school, daycare, medical services, etc., leave at 5 pm or shortly thereafter to pick up one’s own children. Then, make dinner, help with homework and other typical evening activities.

An actual day in the life of a caseworker:  Arriving at work each day with a plan in place for the children on his or her caseload to visit…and that is where the similarities between perception and reality end. The reality is often:  Arrive at work after having left late the previous night because there weren’t any homes willing to take all four siblings that had come into care that day – making this case number 30 on the caseload. Able to go home after finally finding four different homes to take placement of the children (with two of the homes being only overnight for one night) and arranging transport because the four children ended up in four different counties, the caseworker’s children were already in bed and homework was left undone. (We won’t even try to describe the stressful time spent making arrangements for daycare pick-up and babysitting for the caseworker’s children.)

The next morning, after picking up the two children whose placement was only overnight, the caseworker takes them back to the office after stopping to pick up food for them, (for which the caseworker must use personal funds) the caseworker works with staff to find placement for these two for the current night. The visits planned for a different sibling group of two end up having to be postponed to a different date at the last minute because the caseworker will not be able to make it to the two different homes in two different counties for these children at the appointed time. In addition, the caseworker wouldn’t be able to get back to the office before 5:00 even if the visit times could be changed for later in the same day. The caseworker must be back by 5:00 in case placement isn’t secured for the two children who have spent another day in the DSS office waiting for someone to accept placement. One of the foster parents of the sibling group of two for whom the visit had to be postponed had taken off work to be home for the caseworker’s visit. That foster parent is very angry and vows never to accept placement of another child on this particular caseworker’s caseload because this is ridiculous…the caseworker should have let the foster parent know the visit would be postponed the day before, or at the very least, early morning on the day of, so that foster parent could have gone to work. The caseworker offers for the foster parent to speak with a supervisor. The caseworker apologizes, but not profusely enough, apparently…probably because the caseworker needed to get busy helping find placement for the two in the office. And the caseworker will do just that once the phone call with law enforcement is completed about a child on the caseload who ran away from her foster home last night. Want to try and guess what time this caseworker (and others involved in these cases) arrived home to their respective families that night?

Are you exhausted by reading this? Imagine living it. This is reality. There are many issues that can be ascribed as contributing to the chaos described above; none of which are the fault of the caseworker, but that is not the point here. The purpose for outlining a typical day in the life of a case worker is simply to recognize needs that could easily be met that would encourage, uplift and support Agency staff as they go through day after exhausting day for the benefit of the children.

While there is no argument that having siblings (siblings are one case, regardless of the number of siblings in care) placed in the same home would be ideal and at the very least being placed in close proximity of one another would lessen the travel burden for Agency staff, that is a topic for another day. 

While grateful for the families who say “yes” for the overnight placement, it stands to reason that it would be better for everyone if the placement could remain stable and consistent until such a time the child is moved to either be with siblings or go with relatives. This, too, will be a topic for another day.

What, then, you may ask, could be done to encourage and support the caseworker in the scenario above? The easiest way to encourage them would be to give a little grace when something happens in their world that inconveniently affects our schedule or plans. Due to confidentiality and in an effort to be professional, it is unlikely you will be made aware of all the circumstances involved in making it necessary to postpone a meeting or visit. Chances are, if we maintain a positive attitude and friendly disposition, it will be met with the same. But, regardless, it is the right thing to do. Another way of meeting actual needs would be providing gift cards for food for children being transported at meal time so caseworkers do not end up using their own money. In addition, snacks and drinks could be provided to the local county DSS offices and regional Adoption offices for the children awaiting placement.  Local FPAs, churches and ministry groups often look for ways to help. These are real needs that can be met by anyone willing. Lastly, if you are a foster parent, one thing you can do to greatly reduce the anxiety surrounding placement efforts is to say “yes” without limits.

These children and youth do not need to be sitting in a DSS office day after day after day and going to a different home each night. They need the stability of one home and need to avoid getting further and further behind in school. In addition, we’ve examined the importance of building self-esteem in children.  Try to imagine how it must feel to be away from family, away from siblings, away from anything familiar and know that the reason you go back to the DSS office every day is because no one wants to take a chance on you longer than a few hours at a time. There are all sorts of reasons, of course, for not saying “yes” without limits. What are yours? We welcome any opportunity to help find solutions so that every child may have a stable and nurturing home during their time in care.

We will assess the real needs foster families serving the children in care. Stay tuned and thanks for following. Please share with people in your community and help them understand the realities of foster care!

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