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Suppose you had the afternoon off and had an opportunity to go to the Social Worker Mall over in Government-town. What kind of social worker would you shop for? What qualities would you want your ideal social worker to have?

Although each person will have his/her own wish list, I would imagine that somewhere near the top of your list would be someone who was

  • sympathetic to you and your child's needs,
  • cooperative,
  • willing to take time to listen, and
  • willing and able to give you respect for your skills and the job you do.

Unfortunately, my super powers as a social worker are not great enough to allow me to wave my hands (the battery on my magic wand is dead and there is no money in the budget for a new one) and transform my colleagues into the ideal Mr./Ms. Goodworker. All I can offer is my view on what I have seen in my particular system and make some suggestions that you might want to try to improve working relationships.

First of all, let me say "up front" that most of my colleagues are dedicated, hard working, individuals who are very concerned about the children in their care. Most agencies are woefully understaffed, work has to be prioritized, and paperwork to insure funding and legal documentation must be done. In plain English, that means that there are not enough bodies to do the job, that the Child Protective Services investigations (and removal of the child from risk) will get done before ongoing foster care cases. Because of that factor, that all-important ingredient of nurturing the foster parents/foster children relationship often doesn't get the attention that it should. I know you have heard this sad tale before but it is not an excuse, it is a reality.

Also a reality is that the social workers' stress level is high, their time is short, and they function on a "catch as catch can" basis, going from one crisis to another. This means that many will not think to give you praise or say "thank you", to take extra time with you, or to do things that would make your life easier. But let me say it once again... most are not bad, evil or incompetent people, they are trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Join (or form) a foster parent association and PARTICIPATE!

There is information, support, and help there but most importantly, there is strength in numbers. This strength can be used to influence the local office, legislation, and lead to an increase in community support. Advocate for yourself and the children!

Use the above and other initiatives to create a helpful environment.

Volunteer to help the agency/social worker to recruit new homes, help in training, stuffing envelopes, or whatever would improve your individual community's system. Brainstorm with other foster parents for ideas to help each other, as well as the agency.

Be media and public relations aware.

But always remain positive. Being negative might get some things done in the short-term but over the "long haul" it can only further degrade your relationship. Let them know what a good job you are doing. Develop a good relationship with a reporter, legislator, social worker, or whomever and work to see that they understand your needs. Foster Parenting is an important job that most people realize but just don't think about, so they have to be reminded... over and over again!

What One Person Can Do

There are many more system ideas that can be formulated and hopefully, the above will get you thinking. If you are not a joiner, think about what you or you and one other person can try. I know I'm going to sound like Mr. Goody Two Shoes (does anybody know what that means?) but I firmly believe that one person can make a difference. You have done that over and over again... each time you have had a placement. You have the skills necessary, just refocus and adapt them. Try nourishing the social worker, maybe they will respond to your good example.

Often in this business we say that the child is not bad, just the behavior. I think the same could be said of all of us. We all become tired, stressed, and frustrated and say and do things that perhaps we shouldn't. But the job can be made better if we all work together and try to remember the one who needs us most... the child.

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