“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” So goes the expression, and one that I have often suggested as a mantra for foster parents in their dealings with their Department of Social Services (DSS) caseworker. You see, as foster parents, my clients occupy rarefied space, without precise legal definition. Foster parents cannot demand answers from the caseworker. The legal limbo of the foster parent status is too ambiguous for that – instead, in order to obtain information about the health and well-being of the child in their care, or the infractions committed by the child’s birth parents, or whether the DSS plan is for reunification or perhaps TPR – this information must be obtained gently, but methodically, by building rapport with the caseworker. It shouldn’t have to be this way: much of this information is owed to foster parents and is not, as many observers contend, privileged. And yet, foster parents are often the last to know vitally important information about the child they care for each day, and inevitably, grow to love.
So, what is the best approach to take? Build rapport through mutual respect. This respect is likely to be engendered based on the foster parents’ relentless child advocacy, and the gentle, yet persevering nudge from the foster parent to the caseworker, that day in and day out, the foster parent is going nowhere, and that the foster parent will respectfully, yet relentlessly, ask the caseworker to be accountable.
[This post is available from www.CreatingaFamily.org, the national adoption and infertility education and support non-profit. The mission of Creating a Family is to provide support and unbiased information before, during and after adoption or fertility treatment to help create strong families. You might also be interested in the Adoption A-Z Resource Guide which includes numerous resources on all aspects of adoption].
To the caseworkers who may read this post, thank you. We know that DSS social workers are overworked, underpaid, and have the weight of each child’s world on their shoulders. To foster parents, thank you. Through you, these children will experience, perhaps for the first time, unconditional love. Together, caseworkers and foster parents can make all the difference in a child’s life.