As a foster parent I've had great relationships and not so great relationships with case workers. I've also been a listening ear to other foster parents and case workers as they attempt to develop partnerships. So, I decided to take a step back and really look at what worked for myself and my friends as we have tried to build working partnerships between foster parents and case workers.
Respect is very important when working to build any effective partnership. The respect must be reciprocated both ways, respect for the case worker and the job they do as well as respect for the foster parent and the job they do. Often times communication problems between a foster parent and a social worker can be avoided if handled with respect and before a crisis occurs.
Foster parents - Do you know the size of the case load of a typical social worker in your area? If not. Ask.
Foster parents and Case workers - Do you know the amount of stress that goes into the day-to-day job of being a case worker or a foster parent?
Case worker - Do you as the case worker know all of the duties and responsibilities placed on a foster parent? Do you keep in mind the fact that many foster parents work outside the home and every time their foster child is suspended from school or sick, that foster parents has to leave work? Do you consider that they may have other children in the home and a foster child's behavior or actions may be adding stress to the family?
Honesty is another important component to a working relationship. Be honest with your worker about any and all concerns about the foster child, the child's school, and the end goal for the child and the birth family - whether that be reunification or an adoption plan. However, keep in mind that just because you disagree with each other doesn't mean that the relationships is not working. Can you still work together and maintain the honesty and respect? You might find, as other foster parents and case workers have that once they have worked through a disagreement or two, the working partnership is stronger.
Maintain a professional boundary. This is truly the case worker's responsibility, but sometimes they forget as well. At those times, it is up to you as the foster parent to help maintain that boundary. Nothing good comes from crossing it. It may seem great to create more of a friendship with a case worker at first, but in the long run, it's not in your or your family's best interest to be too friendly with a case worker or any member of your foster child's team of professionals.
Be prepared and timely. Show up to meetings on time and prepared to share with the team about how the child is doing. Bring proper forms or other information regarding doctor appointments to all meetings. Make sure that you get your foster child to all visits with family on time. Also remember that case workers need your documentation and reports completed in a timely manner as well. All these pieces work together to make a case that the social worker must submit to the court.
Remember the main goal and help the team reach that goal. Usually the first goal of any foster care situation is that of reunification with birth family. So, work that goal. If the goal changes to adoption and you are not the adoptive resource, then work the goal of adoption and be a team player. Help the child and the new family make a connection and integrate into a new family unit. That is what foster parents do, and sometimes, it's a tough job. If you ever decide that it is no longer a job you can handle, then take a break. Maybe a rest from the pressure of being a foster parent will help rejuvenate you. If not, then give up your foster care license and focus on other ways to help children in the foster care system.
Advocate for the child, keeping main goals, professionalism and boundaries in mind. This point encompasses many of the above ideas. It's also an important point, and a difficult one too. It is tough to be an effective advocate, while maintaining boundaries and professionalism, but it is possible. If you remember to not take personal offense when someone on the team doesn't agree with you, then all should be well. Above all, remember - you don't have control. If you can't control the outcome, then don't bring more pain upon yourself worrying about something you ultimately can't change. Know that if you can say that you've done your best, said your peace and did so without tearing down other team members - you truly have been an effective advocate. Continue taking care of the child and looking for the little moments that make it all worth it. Sometimes it's the only thing that keeps foster parents going.