Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Child Welfare Wednesdays

Ok, time to get serious about keeping up on this blog! : )

I'm going to try to reserve Wednesdays for a Child Welfare 101 post - I am passionate about family preservation, foster care, etc! I want others to better understand how the "system" works - mostly in hopes that they will get involved!! There are so many ups/downs/misinformation about families who are involved with Child Protective Services - that caseworkers are "baby snatchers", all the parents are "bad", the kids are all "messed up" and that foster parents are "in it for the money". I don't believe any of this to be true - though I do believe that the best of intentions are not always enough.

I think that parents often go into bringing babies into the world with a lot less information, support and resources than are necessary to be good parents. We haven't done a very good job of reassuring new parents that it is okay to need help or that they should confidently ask for support when it is needed. In fact, much of the information about support for new parents is mixed up in fears about having their children removed from them - and not all of that fear is unfounded. So, parents get more overwhelmed, more desperate, and more hopeless. By the time the system steps in, parents already feel like failures - is it any wonder that many are never able to recover enough to have their children returned to them?

I believe that most foster parents have admirable reasons for signing up - they love kids, they are hoping to adopt, a family member needs placement, or even simply because they have raised kids of their own and see this as a way to "help out". I don't believe most do it simply "for the money" - no more than some daycare providers do it "for the money". The money isn't that good! They believe that they can care for kids while also having some income. I don't think any of those reason are horrible in and of themselves. However, what most are unprepared for is the elevated needs of the children and the intensity of the system itself. Caseworkers, home inspections, micromanaging rules, court dates, and the sheer ambiguity of the situation is overwhelming to foster parents. This creates power struggles, resentment and defensiveness - who wants to deal with all of that? Even if it is in the "best interests of the child"?

The children aren't "like other kids" - come with trauma, attachment issues, and divided loyalty. They haven't always had structure, stability or security - and whatever they did have is now completely disrupted by being removed from their families. They miss their parents, their siblings, their room, and their school friends. At the same time, they get attached to new families, teachers, and routines - because kids are hardwired to attache to caregivers - only to often be uprooted time and time again. After a while, they don't even know which way is up - so why try to fit in anywhere at all?

Social workers all pretty much start out going to school in order to "help people" - it doesn't take us long in Child Welfare to figure out that many people don't want our help! At that point, we should be able to maintain our objectivity and do what is best for our clients regardless. Then add high caseloads, pressures from all sides, lack of training, and often inadequate supervision to the pool and being objective is easier said than done. "Helping" seems impossible - so how do we continue to do our jobs?

And the system itself - I'm sure the original idea was to "protect children".... but aren't really doing that so well sometimes. Children are often damaged just as much as a result of being in foster care as they were in their original families. Reunifying families is the first goal - but the barriers are often so complicated that we don't even know where to start. And when families can not be reunited - then begins the process of finding permanent homes for the children. Sadly, there are not enough appropriate adoptive families to provide these homes - which all too often means a child ages out of foster care with no true supports to help them as they move into adulthood and becoming parents themselves. See how that cycle is about to repeat itself all over again?

So, Child Welfare 101 posts are my attempt to look critically at some of these issues, to provide information about some of the more complicated procedures and protocols within the system, and to assist those already involved in the system in some capacity.

Please throw out suggestions, questions, etc - I know you all have some!

(All Child Welfare 101 posts can also be found in the Blog Series Tab up above!)


  1. Could you please explain how a social worker with no kids of her own becomes the expert on parenting to the point where she can enter a family's home and tell them how to live their lives and raise their kids, and make God like decisions regarding the lives of all effected, without having to go through the experience of parenting themselves?

  2. In recent years, it seems that by the time CPS actually pulls the kid out of the home, a lot of them need more intensive services than foster parents can provide.

  3. I really have to hope that all social workers have the same mentality. I'm really quite perplexed at the process that many agencies in our state operate under, as there seem to be vast inconsistences even between the counties themselves. For instance, "S" County will remove based on something that seems very trivial (to me anyway), but yet "O" County has a repeated history of abuse and never removes.

    Add to the mix that there are private agencies performing on behalf of the governmental social services agency, and again, are not consistent.

    On a side note, I recently made a brief, but powerful statement on my blog that there is such thing a successful reunification.

    And I really must be honest in that I wonder what state you're in.

  4. I do think that we need to have a cultural shift in the way we use and view child protective services and the way these professionals perhaps also view families. One of my children is adopted from a situation where the children were removed, though I was a foster to adopt parent, not a foster parent per se. I have worked hard to try and open doors with the extended members of the first family who would be safe to be in relationship with him. The adults have been hard to build connections with as I was for many years I think viewed as the evil gay white woman who stole their 'cousin,son,brother,nephew etc' However one recently has had some good dialog w/ me and she said that my son's mom had shut out her own extended family and that none of them had ever ever known what was really going on or they would have done something. I suspect mental illness and/or addictions in the family may have made that statement at least partially true. I also suspect that given the backstories of some family members they felt powerless to be in the kids lives because they would not pass background checks. Which is a longwinded rambly way of saying that if our culture viewed family preservation as a first goal and not a nice thing that happens if mom is smart enough to "finally get her act together," someone might have helped my son and his siblings sooner. I'd have missed a really great kid and so that sentence is tinged with sadness for me but I do see this as a real issue for us all.

  5. I have been reading your blog for probably close to a year and never commented because I agree with somethings and not others and I am not a confrintational person but I like to read because it is nice to see what my soon to be son's social worker thinks because sometime I don't get it over there. I went into this wanting to adopt only infants then I kept looking on all these state websites of all these kids that need home. I decided to be a foster parent hoping to adopt at 28 years old I fostered this sib group of 2 young kids and I feel in love with them they wanted to stay with me. Well the court ordered the parents to do some work on there end but everytime visitation came by the kids were different and scared and mad and the parents did what the court ask the kids went back to them. I have always thought of those kids then I decieded I can only foster to adopt if the rights are likely to be terminated because those kids ripped my heart apart. I got a call about my little guy that is was likely the right will be termed now that his parents rights are finaly terminated on but dad sent an appeal and it has been 6 months and it is like come on you made a decision with in 2 weeks of court to terminate then it takes over 6 month for the appeal to check for any errors. My little guy misses his mom deaply but has been doing excellant in our home after much work with him we have had him for over 9 months and you would never know. He is fearful of his dad adn when we seen dad in court he basicly had no emotions didn't even really miss his son and acted like he just wanted him because he is his and not anything else. So we are waiting for this long process that I think is kind of rediculous to play with this poor boy because he is scared he might go back with dad and he is trying to feel stable and they are making this poor little one suffer and I don't think it is fair. My little guy has gone as far as to tell us he wants to stay here forever and he wants his last name to be our last name and his middle name to be my husbands without us saying anything he really wants to feel stable I am feeling. Well not only that but I come to find out the 2 young sib's that we fostered did go back into the system and they never told us when we told DHS to call us if that happens we would take them right away and then went back to family and now rights on parents are termed and they may be adopted with another family when we asked for them to call us since we already fostered them. I think that was quit messed up and upset me. I am very greatful for my little guy but I was so broken hearted over those kids and the worker didn't even make it a point to put that anywhere that we would want them if they came back into the system. We originaly fostered them in August 2009 so it wasn't that long ago either. The system just sucks as a whole if I can jsut vent. They make it hard on both sides of the fence. I understand were you are coming from a lot of time but being on this side is very different as well. Just like when you said when you go in the home you are not looking for it to be really clean or anything but when you were going to foster you started franticly cleaning you house that is how foster parents or at least I feel all the time trying to please them and help.

  6. LK, I am not going to even dignify that question with a post. I've made this point before, but I'll make it again:

    Does every doctor have to have had an illness before they can appropriately treat it?

    Does every lawyer have to have been a criminal before they can represent a client?

    Does every firefighter have to have his house burn down before he can put out someone else's fire?

    No. Of course not.

    Sometimes the person IN the situation can not see things as clearly as someone on the outside. I have been educated and trained to work with families who have a variety of issues - the same way doctors are educated and trained to work with patients who have a variety of illnesses and injuries. I don't need to be a parent to know that whipping a kid HURTS THEM, leaving them alone is DANGEROUS, and not having food is UNHEALTHY. I don't ever assume that I know what it is like to be a parent - but that doesn't mean I can't help them take care of and interact better with their children.

  7. Great post, I'm looking forward to Wednesday now!

  8. Hi courageous Social Worker, I’m new to blogs so forgive me if I’m out of line. I agree with all you said about all parties involved with THE SYSTEM. I was a Foster Parent in the golden state. I say: was because I had an anonymous complaint (claim ) filed against my son, and as a result my license has been frozen. Supposedly till he is 18 and or out of my home. I had done this to keep siblings together as I was a licensed home for with 4 beds. I had only had one other case; good case was the sisters went home to Mom and Dad. My second case, the brothers were 5 yrs. and 7yrs twins. I had built a good rapier with the boys and the school, TBS works, Physical. and their worker. I have been searching for advice for foster parents on how to find out the outcome of the hearing and get no real answers. I’ve been told “I had to reword the claim”, “I have a lot of other cases to close still”, etc…. I don’t even know what the original complaint was, so I don’t know how to ask for a hiring. I also don’t know what to look for when searching for advice. I would love to move on but I don’t know how much of my life is effected by this on my back ground checks. Do you know of an organization the helps foster parents deal with the system? I have no Idea of my rights other than my basic rights. When I was not trained for foster parenting I learned all about how to help and care for the kids, the services available for them but I never dreamed nor was I told were I could go should things go wrong for me. I know that every Gov. System has rights and responsibilities for all parties involved. Do you know where I can find them for my state? It took only 1 hour to take the boys out of my home on a whim and a year and a half latter I still don’t have any answers. HELP PLEASE!!!!!! Nana Lydia

  9. It's no surprise that I have thoughts about this. From my perspective as a foster to adopt parent, I have seen many sides of the child welfare system.

    LK's question has merit. It's a good question. I have felt the defensiveness that comes from a social worker telling me how to manage my Younger Kid. She did not have a child whose early life left him traumatized with half a dozen mental illness diagnosis. It's easy for me, as a parent, to perceive a well-meaning SW's comments as judgement. Then I am defensive. That's real and it's valid.

    And I liked your answer SW 24/7. I liked it because you sounded defensive too. You are human! All social workers are. I love our current worker because she is not afraid to display her humanity. I respect that.

    It's my opinion that the system sets up social workers and parents to have adversarial relationship. Like it or not, the balance of power in our relationship is not equal. Even in a voluntary placement, sometimes the best a parent can hope for is to have some credibility and influence.

    Parents and Social Workers have to work together. It's about building a relationship with someone you are hesitant to trust. But, it must be done. We have to do it for our kids.

    SW 24/7, I imagine you are a good worker. You do respite care or something like it and share what you know on your blog. I love that about you. Sharing what you know builds trust. Trust builds relationships.

    Stepping off soapbox now....

  10. In truth, I don't believe LK was asking an honest question - I think he was making an accusation. I have had this question asked a lot and I am not generally offended. But when I sense that the question is really an accusation, it does make me defensive.

    The reality is that just giving birth (or fostering/adopting) doesn't automatically make someone an expert on raising children either. Some do it very well, others struggle, and a few can not manage to interact healthily no matter how much support, education and modeling are offered to them. By the same respect, not every person who goes through grad school and recieves a social work degree is an expert on working with children either.

    I am very confident in my ability to work with parents with generally "typical" children. Despite not being a parent, I have worked with children in pretty much every other capacity - from nannying to teaching to therapy. I may not have parented, but when a mother is looking for someone to help her figure out how to discipline her toddler - who better to ask than someone who once spent 10 hrs a day in a classroom with 10 of them?

    I also have worked with closely with enough traumatized children to believe I am fairly good at offering suggestions and advice for their parents as well. Goodness knows that I have had to de-escalate and restrain more children than many parents when they first start fostering! I do not claim to know everything. There are some types of children that I do have much experience with and would not try to advise the parents - I would refer them to someone who had expertise in that child's specific issues.

    Even still, I am not someone who believes there is only one "right" way to parent - but I certainly can give a variety of tricks that have worked for me in the past! More importantly, I would never interfere in parenting that is working well for the parent and the child - even if I didn't personally think it was the best way to deal with a situation. Being "good" at parenting is a fine blend of instinct, education, and luck in my book!

    The bottom line is that parents don't know everything and neither do social workers! But I think we would all do a lot better if we tried working with each other instead of against each other.

  11. Interesting points and I look forward to your input and postings. I don't want to adopt, I haven't raised children of my own - we decided to foster because we felt we could offer a safe and comfortable environment for a child in a difficult situation (we do short-term fostering although 'short term' has just passed the nine month mark!!) as for 'for the money' - honestly, I can say it's cost us more than we have been recompensed - which is absolutely fine by the way but it isn't something that I would have been able to do without a reasonably well-paid job - especially as our agency require one foster carer not to work so as to be available for the child.
    Also, although I've been qualified and working as a social worker for 10 years, I have learnt so much in the past year from the children that we have had the pleasure to foster, about social work practice - good and bad - that I think it makes me a far better and more sensitive practitioner.
    I know a lot of the difficulties that exist for professionals but still, I have to comfort a crying child at 3am who just wants to be with their mother - regardless of the situation that has led to them not being in the care of their mother.
    I think the amount you learn about resilience, working with 'services' as a user rather than a provider and just finding solutions to the day-to-day problems and working with the power balances that exist in social work interactions has been an enormous learning curve.

  12. Great post- and what Lee has to say in the comments is spot on! The federal government is taking some step to prioritize kinship care and I'm curious to see where child welfare is in a few years.

  13. Well written. I appreciate your writings. I am also curious to see how child welfare changes over the next few years. I used to work in foster care in Utah and I must say that although the system is by no means perfect, I appreciate the difficult decisions that caseworkers and CPS workers have to make.


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