Although I'll agree that a certain amount of discontinuity is inevitable, especially when there is no thought given to matching foster children with appropriate homes. In our county, a kid comes into care, and the social worker needs to find a bed. There are too many children and too few beds, so workers traverse a list hoping that a family will say "yes," often without any knowledge of what services a child might need.
That lack of care in placement sets kids up for failure and being bounced from home to home to home.
I think a bigger problem, though, is the lack of continuity when it comes to caseworkers.
From the time our daughter was taken into foster care until she "graduated" and was adopted, we ended up with a total of nine workers involved in the case:
- On-call worker - This was the worker who happened to be on call when our child was taken into care. Although she was involved in the case only for one night in the very beginning, she periodically paid visits to our home when other workers were busy.
- Investigative worker - This worker took over the case in the beginning and it was her job to investigate and to make the determination as to whether or not abuse had taken place. She was on the job for perhaps a week or 10 days, and then she passed the case to the next worker in line.
- Court worker - It was this worker whose job it was to see the case through the court process. It was she, who I dubbed "The Mistress of Unfair Remarks," because she told us that our child was probably mentally retarded and would never learn to read, catch up in school, or amount to anything. This worker was on the case for a month or two.
- Generic worker #1 - This worker didn't do anything, and was on the case for perhaps a month.
- Generic worker #2 - This worker had designs on becoming a therapist and soon quit after she learned that she wouldn't be able to get any internship hours until she had been with the county for at least a year. She was on the case for about a month. It was this worker who gave us the "agree to adopt or we'll move the kid, you have 90 days to decide" ultimatum. At this point, our kid had not been in our home even six months.
- Generic worker #3 - This worker took over for worker #2 after she unexpectedly quit. She was thrilled when we agreed to adopt, but promptly disappeared when she was transferred to another office. We thought she'd started the ball rolling to put us on the adoption track, but found out much later that she'd done nothing of the sort.
- Nasty Number Seven - This worker took over after after generic worker #3 moved on. This is the worker who was on the case the longest, only because she opted to fight for a removal. Once we found ourselves embroiled in legal action, she couldn't be taken off the case. She stepped in just after our child had been in our home for barely over a year, and stayed on the case until roughly six months before the adoption was finalized.
- Generic worker #4 - We were told that the case was going to be reassigned, and this worker showed up for a visit. Sadly, we later found out she was filling in for Nasty Number Seven, who was ill.
- Adoption worker - This worker was the ninth professional to be involved in our case in three years. She had the case for roughly the last six months and was probably the most decent of the workers who were assigned "long-term" to the case.
Given that most kids don't know whether they are coming or going during that time period, and being taken into foster care is traumatic, does it seem right that kids should find themselves being bounced, not only from bed to bed, but from worker to worker?
I can remember our first foster teen being very upset by the fact that not only did she not know who her worker was, nobody else in the Department seemed to know either.
Why should a kid have to keep track of who is in charge? This is tough enough for a teen, but what about for a younger child who has been ripped from her family and is now staying with strangers?
The logic, at least in our county, is that workers are trained for different specialties. The investigative workers investigate, the court workers fill out court petitions and testify, and the generic workers handle the day-to-day business once a child has been taken for the foreseeable future. The problem is, the kid is left with nobody to hold their hand through the process, and as workers change, nobody knows who is in charge.
It seems to me that kids should get one worker, who is in charge of the case from day one. If the worker needs help investigating, she should call on an investigator. If she needs help with the court process, there should be a specialist available to act as a resource. However, the kids need to have a steady face in what is a very unsteady and upsetting process.
Granted, assigning a single worker won't completely eliminate the problem of worker turnover, since people will still be reassigned or quit. However, I think it would go a long way to reduce the problem. Certainly I think nine workers in three years is eight workers too many. For our daughter, all it did was to convince her that workers weren't going to be around long enough to really help her, and even if they were, they certainly couldn't be trusted.