Retention is an ever challenging issue for foster care agencies; the retention of keeping good, positive, and healthy foster parents.
According to 58 % of foster parents surveyed, foster parents feel that they do not receive the training or the resources they need from their caseworkers. To be sure, that is a troubling percentage, and may help to explain why retaining foster parents is an issue today.
Yet, is that the only reason why? Why is there a problem with retaining good foster parents? Why do so many agencies across the nation, both state funded and private, struggle with the challenge of foster parent retention? Over 400 foster parents from across the nation in 2016 took part in a survey conducted by The Foster Care Institute. The makeup of survey participants included a wide range of experienced foster parents. 8% of those surveyed had only been foster parenting for one year or less. 34% of foster parents surveyed had been fostering between 1 and 5 years. 29% taking part in the survey had been foster parents between 6 and 10 years, and an additional 29% had been caring for children in foster care in their homes for over 10 years.
The survey found that foster parents feel very strongly about the relationships they have with their child’s caseworker. We shall examine the results of the survey in full in this regard. First, though, let us look further at the description of a caseworker.
One of the key elements to retaining foster parents is the relationship they have with their caseworkers. Indeed, foster parents often rely upon their caseworkers for a great many things, including support, training, assistance, updates, and much more. In order to be a truly successful foster parent, one will need to work closely with one’s foster child’s caseworker and the child welfare agency. It is important for the well being of each child in foster care that foster parents work alongside the caseworker and the agency, and help to build an effective partnership and strong working relationship with both. With this strong relationship, each will have a much better chance of guiding the child in need through the many difficulties and challenges he will face, as well as work together to see that his future is as bright and successful as possible. To be sure, this is a team, and how a team works together is important for success.
Caseworkers have a most difficult job, as they work in what is a difficult and stressful environment. While your foster child is your main focus in regards to the child welfare agency, caseworkers have a large amount of children in their caseload. They will see, on a daily basis, children who have been abused and neglected. They will have the responsibility of taking a child out of a home, against the strong wishes, and sometimes hostile conditions, of both child and parent. They will be required to work with the birth parents, instructing them how they can be reunited with their child. At times, caseworkers will sit in a courtroom, as attorneys and birth parents battle over the custody of a child. The amount of paperwork that corresponds with each caseload can be daunting, as well.
A caseworker is an employee of the child welfare agency who is assigned to the foster child, generally for the entire time the child is placed under the care of the agency. Caseworkers will work in conjunction with the state, as well as the court system, as they place the child into a foster home. The caseworker selects a foster home placement for the child, attempting to find the best suitable home situation for both the foster child and the foster parent. Foster children are often enrolled in a new school when assigned a caseworker to assist them in the foster care process. Eventual reunification with their parents and family is the hoped for goal. Caseworkers are specifically trained to provide mental health relief, as they often work with troubled children. Caseworkers ensure that the medical needs of the child are met.
Caseworkers are required to visit the home of each foster child once a month in an attempt to see how the foster child is progressing, as well as to gather information from the foster parents and answer any questions they might have. Caseworkers also work alongside the child’s teachers, therapists, doctors, and any other caregiver. A caseworker will often times have to testify in a juvenile court of law in regards to the safety of the home the foster child is placed in, as well as provide information about the child.
Difficult working conditions, poor compensation, larger caseloads due to reductions in staff, and the responsibilities of providing continuous support to the birth parents, foster children, and foster parents result in many caseworkers failing to continue employment in this line of work past the first year. Along with this, caseworkers often deal with children who have serious behavioral problems, and those children who are emotionally depressed due to the situation they are in. Caseworkers may also have to work with angry birth parents who blame the child welfare agency, or even the caseworkers themselves, for the removal of their child, or for their own personal issues.
Trust between a foster parent and a caseworker is essential to the wellbeing of the relationship. 66% of those surveyed by The Foster Parent Institute indicate that they feel their case worker trusts them, while 70% feel as if their case worker respects them. 20% feel as if they are not respected nor appreciated by their caseworkers. When it comes to feeling comfortable enough in regards to approaching a caseworker with a problem or concern, 57% feel comfortable in doing so, while 41% hesitate or do not feel comfortable enough.
As indicated earlier, over 50% of foster parents feel that they do not receive the information and resources that they need in a timely manner. Along with that, those foster parents surveyed also feel that they do not hear from their caseworkers enough. 54% state they only have contact or communication from their caseworker once a month, with only 21% stating they hear from the caseworker more than once a month. When asked if they feel included in and all decision making in regards to the child in their home, only 24% feel that they do, while 47% state that they sometimes do, and 29% stated that they never do.
During this survey, The Foster Care Institute asked foster parents, “What does your caseworker do that helps you the most?”, a number of varied responses were received.
Following are a sample of these responses:
#3 “He trusts us I guess? We do not see him or hear from him very often.”
#11 “Listens, asks questions, and spends sufficient time in my home.”
#14 “She is very up front about her direction with the case.”
#15 “Explains what's happening, steps ahead, and role of the various people involved..”
#26 “When the caseworker keeps us up to date on the plan; when the caseworker refers us to resources like foster parents night out; and when the caseworker volunteers to help with paying for extracurricular, like swimming lessons.”
#32 “Nothing at all.”
#35 “Attends court and keeps us updated on changes.”
#43 “It’s hard to get in contact with them.”
#48 “Nothing. She was a complete waste. She even said, I don't do paperwork! She never followed thru on anything. She lied.”
#55 “Takes an interest in our child, family, and then answers our questions or finds answers to our questions (he is a great advocate).”
When asked “How can your child’s caseworker help you better?” some of the responses included:
#6 “Return my phone calls or emails in a timely manner, i.e. 24 hrs.”
#7” He can communicate with us more and visit child more often.”
#8 “Be more forthcoming with information.”
#14 “Sometimes, not all workers put himself in the child's position, as in having a normal childhood and being able to participate in activities. Usually it is just a yes or no reply instead of seeing what can be done to involve children in activities.”
#15 “Pay attention to case plan and make sure it’s appropriate.”
#16 “Check in a little more often. Maybe once a week, shoot an email or text just to let the foster parent know they are available and care.”
#23 “Respond to emails in a more timely manner, especially for health-related concerns.”
#28 “I have the most amazing caseworker she can do no better! Really lucky.”
#56 “Better communication - Just respond when an email is sent promptly, even if it's "I'm tied up, but will get back to you within 48 hours...."
#62 “More information on child before placement, specific information/training as situations arise (self-harm, etc.)”
Finally, foster parents were asked “What would you like to say about your child's caseworker, and your working relationship?” Some of these responses are as follows.
#1 “He backs us up on the tough decisions we need to give the children to help them learn healthy boundaries.”
#11 “They could be more understanding of what we foster parents go through with these teens and less judgmental of us too. And when we advocate for our teens don't be so nasty to us.”
#22 “We have traditionally had a very warm relationship with our caseworker. But, overnight, the case worker got a new supervisor, and all of the sudden, the relationship got very icy. The case worker, who had previously praised our care when we followed up for extra services for our child, all of the sudden chastised us for getting a specialist medical opinion without her prior consent. (It turned out that we did get her consent -- she just forgot.) She also started refusing to tell us what the agency's plan was for the case. All of this changed without any explanation. When the caseworker turns on a dime like that, and refuses to share information about what the agency is doing, it makes us feel like we're not part of the team, and makes us want to quit fostering.”
#47 “Current caseworker keeps me informed and tells me if she can't tell me something. She treats me as part of the team. Past caseworkers did not keep me informed and appeared to resent any input I gave.”
#54 “Feel like she doesn't value my time or opinion.”
#61 “It is strained; I have to overlook her rude comments.”
#62 “I feel that our case worker does not listen or value the input we give her. She puts it off indicating that everything we see relating to our foster child behavior is due to transition rather than considering that it just may be due to the fact that his birth mother beat the daylights out of him.”
#63 “It is good. Most importantly my caseworker really seems to care. Her caseload may be too great and that is why she can't be more proactive.”
#81 “They are heavily worked, just like the foster parents. Thank you for all that you do.”
Like any healthy relationship, it is important that the relationship with between foster child’s caseworker and the foster parent is an open one, and is built on trust and mutual respect. It is important that foster parents share all information with the caseworker and the agency about the child in care. Caseworkers have the responsibility of documenting everything when it comes to each of the foster children in their caseload. Foster parents should not be afraid of holding any information or concerns. Instead, the more they share with the caseworker, and the more honest they are, the stronger this important partnership will become, which only benefits the wellbeing of the child.