My thoughts for this blog arise out of recent conversations I’ve had with foster parents and staff from foster care agencies. Let me begin this blog by stating that I believe that CPS/DFCS/DCFS case workers (different states use different acronyms) have the hardest job in the world. My belief is based on my previous three decades of work in the mental health field, with a portion of that experience working as a community Mental Health Liaison to a local county Department of Family & Children Services (DFCS) here in Georgia. First, DFCS caseworkers are largely overworked—I know of cases where DFCS workers had to spend the night in their office with a child because there was no place for that child to go. Second, caseworkers are often underpaid. Many see their job as just a “pay my dues”, entry-level role, so they often have their eye toward greener pastures. This creates a continual revolving door effect. Who pays the price for this?—The foster parents and the children. Third—and this is my opinion—caseworkers are woefully undertrained. I could write a book about that last one.
Readers, please understand that I’m not wanting to throw caseworkers under the bus. They are just doing their job. The majority of them are outstanding in their roles—I’ve known some of them personally. Some are mediocre. Others should not be working with people. Where the real problem lies, however is the inflexible, complicated, and often double-messaging administrative bureaucracy in many state and county systems that ties the hands of caseworkers. This creates a “CYA” (and we know what that acronym means) mindset among caseworkers which, in turn stifles trust and creative problem solving.
But enough about the bad news! What foster parents need is some good news—or at least some reaffirmation about the great job that the large majority of them do. If you are a foster parent, here are some helpful hints and reminders (some of which were shared with me by veteran foster parents with many decades of experience) regarding your interactions and relationship with caseworkers and the DFCS/CPS hierarchy.
*Always keep in mind that seldom is the caseworker is “the bad guy.” Their decisions are often predetermined by their supervisors’ decisions, making it difficult for them (the caseworkers) to think and strategize outside the box, for fear of being reprimanded.
*Document EVERYTHING in regard to your contacts with caseworkers, school personnel, your child’s visits with his or her biological parents, etc.
*Keep copies of every email, text or letter that you receive from any caseworker or any person affiliated with CPS/DFCS, etc.
*Be a part of a foster parent support group and/or your local Foster Parent Organization, where you cannot only air your concerns and frustrations with the system, but gain insight and encouragement from veteran foster parents. However, be careful not to buy in to the whining and complaining that sometimes comes from other foster parents.
*Be aware of your own stress level when you receive a visit from a caseworker. If you’re having a rough day (and foster parents as well as caseworkers have their share!) it will be hard for you to interact objectively if you can’t monitor your own feelings. Just honestly sharing with the caseworker that you’re having a bad day will actually help you to be more objective in your interaction. Do your best to be a team player.
*Keep in mind—and I know this sounds depressing, but you are likely already aware of it—that as a foster parent you are dealing with a chronically flawed system at the administrative level (which is the case at least here in Georgia). My personal opinion is that this fact will likely not change, but I honestly hope I’m wrong. However, what you can control is the critically important role you play on a daily basis in the lives of these children—and at the end of the day that’s what really matters. Foster parenting, I believe is a sacred calling. Don’t let your frustrations with the system discourage you from the life-changing work you do with these precious kids. You may not feel this way when you are in the trenches, but believe me you are making a positive difference!
I welcome your feedback!