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Foster Parenting: What Case Workers May Not Tell You
Foster Children Learn the System Early
It doesn’t take a foster child long to learn to work the foster system; foster kids learn early how to be non-compliant, manipulative, and passive-aggressive. For them, these are positive goals; learned for emotional survival and to get their needs met. Usually they begin to learn these first in their family home situation.
Child Protective Services Case Workers
In a year, one of my foster children had four different caseworkers. Every time we had a new caseworker I had to go over... and over... my foster child’s case history, filling in missing and misunderstood information from my child’s case file. Child Protective Services (CPS) case workers have a long history of career related burnout mainly because of an overwhelming caseload, departmental budget cuts, and compassion fatigue. High worker turnover rates in the field create more problems in family case files already filled with chopped up, missing, and sometimes just plain wrong information.* Don’t misunderstand. Case workers work hard for their money and put up with a ridiculous amount of aggravation, not just from their own bureaucratic agencies; but, from the families under their care, attorney and doctor offices, and even the foster children themselves.
Case One: Runaway
As a brand new foster parent, I had a foster daughter for one hour. At age 16, she had our county foster system in a mild panic for two months. She came to our home and we settled her into her room, showed her where everything was, and told her how much we were looking forward to having her with us. A short while later; I went to check on her and she was n- o- w- h- e- r- e. I asked the other children where she was. Apparently she had her boyfriend pick her up from our driveway. She got into his car and off they went. She was thoughtful and called her case worker from every state she visited to let her know she was okay! Several months later she was picked up and put into a group foster home for teen runaways.
What the case worker should have told us: This child was a habitual runaway. The case worker’s reasoning, though misguided, was based on the usual problem placing teens; the foster system in America is overrun with teenagers and there are not enough families for them.
Case Two: Oppositional Defiant Disorder
My son aged-out in the foster care system. Twenty-five years ago policies forcing an early resolution for parental negligence were not yet in place. Since he was part of a sibling group that was not available for adoption together, he made the decision against being adopted by us (though he is as much our child as our other children). When he came to our door; red-headed, freckled, tears running, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself and asked if he could stay with us for a while. Yes, of course he had our hearts forever in that instant.
What the case worker should have told us: This wonderful young man, who became our son in one moment, had oppositional defiant disorder. A young boy without any control over life’s circumstances was developing into a young man who refused to allow anyone any control over his; good, bad, or otherwise. He fought his way through his early life and later on, with us, through middle and high school. We got to know our local law enforcement officers. The case worker’s reasoning in failure to disclose his diagnosis was affection for the child, hope for a good home for him, and again, no available placements for a pre-teen boy with anger and behavioral challenges.
How do you handle temper tantrums in a young child?
Case Three: Brain-Injury
Children’s hospitals are known for the stellar care they offer to children and their families. We learned this well over the period of a year when we accepted the placement of a newborn girl who had been abused physically. Weeks were spent with the nurses learning her complex feeding procedures, care of her newly implanted shunt that allowed cerebral fluid to flow out of her head and into her abdomen, and how to watch for symptoms that could cause brain damage and death. We had two case workers for this child...a local county worker as well as the worker from our private Christian child services agency. When we arrived home, round the clock care was the order of the day. A precious time for us; we watched day by day new milestones in health and normal baby happiness in our girl. We were told several times by the county case worker that she saw no reason for us to be unable to adopt our little foster child as the agency had begun the process to terminate parental rights (TPR). Months later she was placed with a relative. Our hearts broke.
What the case worker should have told us: CPS was contacted by the child’s aunt who requested a kinship foster placement with her, while the child was still in the hospital. Our private agency worker was as surprised by the news as we were. The county case worker’s reasoning in failure to disclose this information was...it was not really our business to be told. State agencies may give you the courtesy of knowing certain information, but they are under no obligation legally to give foster parents personal family information relative to a foster child or their family.
Your Goal as a Foster Parent
Be aware that CPS agencies may or may not provide you with relevant information on your foster child, nor are they always going to give you the motivation for their decisions. As a foster parent, your goal is to provide a child with love, a home, and protection to your best ability. Stay informed as much as possible and ask many questions to many people involved in the welfare of your foster child.
- Foster Parenting-Is It Right For You? 15 Questions You Should Ask Before You Foster a Child
Before you make a decision to foster children be sure and ask yourself some pro and con questions. Explore your family's strengths and weaknesses before becoming a foster parent.
*Office on Child abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau., Salus, Marsha K. “Supervising Child Protective Services Caseworkers.”U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2004. <https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/supercps/supercpsi.cfm> (accessed August 2013)