This week's installment on improving the foster care system focuses on an area that I haven't spoken much about in my previous posts. Much of what I've discussed in earlier Improving the Foster Care System posts has covered allocation of resources and money for foster children and the families who care for them.
In this week's post, I'm going to discuss social workers.
I've received a lot of irritated responses to some of my previous posts (both on this blog and my old one) from social workers who have complained that I'm not exactly being fair in my assessment of them as a group. So, before I go any further, I'm going to say that perhaps there are social workers who are well-trained, take their jobs seriously, and aren't simply in the business of snatching children. My comments here are reflective of the situation in my state and county, which may not be representative of our nation as a whole.
With that said, social workers need to be better trained.
In our state, so-called "social workers" who are employed by the state's child welfare system are not necessarily folks who possess an LCSW license or a Master's Degree in Social Work. In our county, the minimum requirement is that workers have a Bachelor's degree. Although it's preferred if these degree-holders have studied psychology or human services, the reality is that the Department does not care. If you are a warm body with a degree in advanced basket weaving, they will take you, especially if you are bilingual. The population of "real" social workers with licenses is far and away the minority of caseworkers.
The majority of the workers we had were perhaps well-meaning, but completely untrained. Many of them were inexperienced and had only been on the job a few weeks or months before taking over our daughter's case. They didn't know how to get things done, they didn't know how to follow procedures, and they often said or did things they shouldn't have said or done. Many of these workers quickly found themselves unprepared or frustrated by the job and its accompanying low pay, and they quit.
During the roughly three and a half years Danielle was in foster care, she had a total of nine workers. The first four were temporary workers assigned to her case as it weaved its way through the initial removal, investigation, and legal processes. The remaining five were assigned during the remainder of her stay in foster care and her subsequent adoption.
Out of that total, only one that we know of had a Master's in Social Work. She was the best of the bunch, but unfortunately she didn't stay on our case very long because it was transferred to other workers. The worst of the bunch, Nasty Number Seven, also had a Master's in something, though we never learned what her area of study was.
Clearly, a high level of college education does not a good social worker make.
We also had at least four workers engage in conduct that was, in our opinion, unconscionable. One worker completely wrote off our daughter and wanted to move her strictly for racist reasons. Another routinely missed appointments and completely lost another foster child's belongings. A third threatened to remove Danielle from our home if we didn't agree to adopt her, even though that decision wasn't yet ripe to be made. The last of this bunch lied in court, misrepresented facts in her reports, and went out of her way to make our lives as miserable as she could for an entire year while our lawyer duked it out in court.
So how do we avoid these problems?
Social workers should be adequately trained. They should be expected to take courses in ethics, tolerance, customer service, as well as their own internal policies and procedures. They need to learn that lying and manipulating is unacceptable behavior, to be tolerant of other religions, cultures, races and sexual orientations. They need to learn that people's schedules are important, and arriving two hours late (or not at all) to a scheduled appointment isn't reasonable.
In addition to training, managers need to pay attention to their workers' behavior. If a worker is caught misrepresenting facts on a report or lying in front of a judge, she should be fired. If a manager receives too many complaints about a worker being intolerant, rude, or frequently late, that worker should find herself on the receiving end of a reprimand. Lousy, lazy, incompetent or ineffective workers should be culled.
But of course the ubiquitous "they" can't do that. The working conditions are so lousy and the turnover so high that it is almost impossible to recruit good people. People with excellent skills and high self-confidence don't stick around. Those that remain are often the workers with weaker skills or insufficient motivation or self-confidence to look for a better job.
Another problem is that the few workers who have their Master's in Social Work don't usually stick around very long. They know that the job stinks, the pay is low, and they are only there to work the internship hours required for state licensure. As soon as they have their required number of hours, they move on to greener pastures.
Once again, this is largely a problem that can be solved by money. If the state spent the money to train and pay social workers decently, we wouldn't have these problems. But again, like so many other problems in the foster care system, nobody wants to pay what it costs to make the system right.
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5 days ago