Friday, February 18, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XIV

Although I can't say that I know a huge number of foster care alumni, those I do know frequently talk about how many times they were bounced around in the system.  Most of the foster alumni I know were moved through many foster homes, group homes and even mental institutions, while different social workers drifted in and out of their lives.  They weren't told what was happening with their case plan, and they were often left wondering what would happen next.

To make the foster care system work for the kids in it, we need to cut down on the "bounce."

When I say "bounce," I am talking about the number of times that children bounce from foster home to foster home, from social worker to social worker, or from case plan to case plan.  It's confusing, it's disruptive, and it doesn't create much of a sense of stability for a child whose life has already been blown to smithereens.

So how do we do this?

Foster Homes
  1. Reduce the reliance on shelter homes.  Put children directly into waiting foster homes, whenever possible.
  2. When moving a child, make every effort to match the child's needs with the foster home's strengths and abilities.
  3. If a child begins to have serious problems in a foster home, provide support to the foster family before the placement is disrupted.  Have appropriate training, interventions and respite available.
  4. Pay foster families a living wage.
Social Workers
  1. Increase the training social workers receive.  They should know what they are getting into before they accept their first case.
  2. Reduce the average caseworker's load to a reasonable amount.  Make sure they have adequate time to do all their home visits and the myriad other things they do in a day.
  3. Assign children to a permanent worker who will be with them through their entire stay in foster care.  Use resource workers to provide expertise in specialized areas when necessary.
  4. Pay social workers a living wage.
Case Plans
  1. Require social workers to be scrupulously honest.  This means that they must be honest in their dealings with birth parents, foster parents, children, service providers and the court.
  2. Make social workers accountable for the number of times they move children.  The default assumption should be to leave the child where he is (preferably with his birth family if at all possible) before making a change.


  1. Hear, hear! Our son was just as traumatized by the moves and changes in social workers as he was by his birth parents. His memories of the moves consist of being met by his current social worker at school with all his stuff already packed, never saying goodbye to the foster parents until the time he moved in with us, his permanent home. If his SW was changed, same MO. No warning, no info, nothing for transition. And this was between the ages of 3 and 7. WHY on earth anyone in their right mind would think this is a good thing is beyond me! So, today, in our home, we deal with a kid that was traumatized by the people who should have cared for him (his BPs) AND the people who should have protected him as much as possible from further trauma (his CWs).

  2. Another thing that is important is that foster families and social workers need to stop lying to the foster children.

    If social workers know that reunification isn't going to happen, tell the child at an age appropriate level. Don't claim you don't know, or that maybe... Be upfront and honest with them.

    When it comes to older children, listen to what they want in a foster family, especially when religion or sexuality come into play.

  3. You wrote something that struck me, "Require social workers to be scrupulously honest. This means that they must be honest in their dealings with birth parents, foster parents, children, service providers and the court." As a foster parent, I attended every court hearing my foster child had or the bio-parents had. I heard what their attorneys, the bio-parents, the SW and the GAL had to say. I never found the SW or GAL to say anything that wasn't true. Further, when the judge would ask for our input, we always told the truth as well and kept a journal with anything that needed to be addressed.

    Because of my foster care experience, I went back to school and got my BS degree in Human Services in hopes of being able to work with foster children again. If I became a social worker or any other type of worker where I dealt with bio-parents, SWs, GALs, judges, attorneys, etc., I would NEVER lie. I would have no reason, need or desire to as in the end, the children are the ones who must deal with the consequences of any lies or mistruths I would tell. I want to help be a voice for foster kids and I would be doing them a disservice by being dishonest with them or anyone else.

    I see no reason for DCF, SWs, GALs, attorneys or anyone else to lie when kids lives are at stake.

  4. Thank you very much for your interesting blog.

    I read your blog with great interest because it gives an insight into the day-to-day reality of foster parenting with traumatised children. I am sure it is not easy and might drain you of all your energy.

    Do you think, with regard to your experience, that people who are not professionals in dealing with traumatized children can take up such a responsibility?

    The "blogosphere" seems to reflect a reality where many foster parents just are not able to cope with emotional reactin, physical violence, etc from their children, which often leads to a termination of a placement (when they feel that their phyisical security is threatened).

    So maybe the foster system should just stop "giving" foster children to people who do not really know what they get themselves into.

    It is so heartbreaking to read your story and others, where people take in a foster kid, hoping for the best, and a few months or years later it turns out they cannot or will not keep them.

    Reading your blog I just realise that ousiders have no clue what it takes, what it means.


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