Becoming Social Worker Savvy

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Getting along with social workers is part and parcel of foster parenting. Foster kids and social workers come together. You cannot choose your child's worker and quite often, they didn't get to choose you, either. Yet, the child's happiness and well-being is directly related to your ability to work well with this worker. Here are a few realities and tips to help you on your way:

Start with an open mind - Assume that the child's worker is going to be an advocate for the child's needs. You don't have to love their personality, nor do you have to see eye-to-eye on every little point. However, if you enter the relationship with the view that you are each members of a professional team and your sole responsibility is to the best interest of the child(ren), you will be successful.

Don't complain, inform - If things seem a little touchy with your worker, you might take a moment to see how you are bringing issues to the table. For example, if you feel helpless to deal with a toddler who screams at the slightest provocation or has fits that last half an hour, don't complain about how this child makes you want to gouge your eyes out. Try another angle, like, "Lily is showing signs of post-traumatic stress. I have looked into counselors who accept medicaid. Is it all right with you if I have someone meet with us?"

Conversely, if the worker has not come through on a promise, say arranging a resource, think about how to broach the subject. Instead of casting blame, try offering straightforward support, beginning with a question. "I haven't heard from Early Childhood Intervention. Have you had time to make the referral?" or "I left you a voicemail last week about Mark's therapy. Did you have a chance to get that information I needed?"

Ask questions and ask for suggestions - Don't be afraid to ask questions. "Is there anything I need to know prior to our family visit next week?" "Do you have any concerns about how Mary is progressing in our home?" "Kay has been having such a hard time falling asleep. Here is what we've tried (etc). Do you have any insight into how to make things easier for her?

Be an advocate - Remember that you are the primary advocate for this child. Your worker may be advocating for 50 children. Be willing to do some of the legwork in order to speed up the services your child needs. Be tenacious and don't give up until the child's needs are met. If you aren't happy about the decision that was made in the child's ARD meeting for example, let your worker and the committee know your concerns and then call another meeting. Don't wait for the worker to do that for you. If you feel the child is taking too much medicine, ask the doctor to look at them and then provide an unbiased report to the worker.

Appreciate his or her humanity - Not every caseworker is going to be at the top of their game. There are burned out workers. There are grumpy workers. There are inept workers. There are workers who are just having a bad day. If you are in a relationship with this worker, it can be challenging. Keep the above points in mind and advocate for the child. That said, you can improve the relationship by acknowledging that no matter what, this worker is a human being who is fundamentally lovable. They may be having a bad week, but they are still human. You can hate what he is doing but still care about him as a human being worthy of respect. Be respectful. If the child's fundamental needs are being met, you may have to pick your battles. Consider who can also advocate for the child, like their attorney ad litum or a CASA worker. Be thick-skinned.

Acknowledge your own limitations - You are also a human being worthy of love and respect. You can advocate for the child's best interest as you see it, but you can't make the worker necessarily see it your way. Choose what matters most, pursue it vigorously and let the rest go. Remember who you are and that you are acting out of love. Remember, too, that even the most vulnerable children are amazingly resilient. Love them with all your might and trust that love, alone, is enough to impact their future in an irrevocable way. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you raise your voice or overstep your bounds own it. If you simply cannot get along, refocus your energy on the child and let it go.

The field of social work is expected to expand 25% in the decade leading up to 2020. This does not mean there are going to be more workers per child so they won't be so pressured and overworked. It means the demand for social workers is going to become even greater because the needs are going to dramatically increase. Thankfully there are foster parents willing to shoulder some of the responsibility for changing a child's future!

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