What You'll Learn This Week
- What the foster care team is and what roles great foster parents play within the team.
- How to maintain professionalism within the team.
- How your documentation helps the team with decisions.
What is a Foster Care Team?
The foster care team differs from state to state and sometimes from county to county within a state. But there are some basics that can be easily covered and discussed.
Usually the team involves more social workers than foster parents will know what to do with – the list may include the child and biological family's social worker, a support worker, your foster care licensing agency social worker, and some supervisors. The team may also include, a therapist, the biological family, including grandparents and others within the family; a Court Appointed Special Advocate and/or GAL, and a Court Services Officer to name a few.
As a foster parent, you become an expert on the child's needs because you are with the child all day, every day. It is your job to care for the child, meet safety needs, manage the child's behavior, document the child's behavior, and if there are other needs that need to be met regarding education, medical, and emotional.
Maintaining Professionalism While Working with the Foster Care Team
Unfortunately, some feel that foster parents are little more than babysitters for the state. We may not be able to change everyone's views on this, but there are some things we can do to help change that image.
- Dress professionally when attending meetings. I try not to look "above" the birth family in my dress, but I do want to be taken seriously by the other team members.
- Keep boundaries with professionals. Some team members may be tempted to cross professional boundaries. Maintain your own and don't allow friendly banter, lunch dates that don't have anything to do with the case, and phone calls that are off topic. It may not burn you today, but odds are it may in the future. Social workers are supposed to maintain the boundaries and it's not a burden we as foster parents are supposed to carry, but in my opinion and from experience, some workers may not be the best at keeping boundaries, so establish your own.
- Advocate for the foster child within your home without whining, threats, tears, or other forms of dramatics. If you feel the child needs therapy or other services, or to be reunited with birth family sooner, rather than later, here is where your documentation and observations of the child will help prove your points.
- If the team does not agree with you, that is just part of foster care and part of working with a team. What you feel is within a child's best interest, may not be what the team feels is best. That happens. Cry or complain to a good friend later, but keep it out of the team meeting.
The Importance of Documentation
Documentation is crucial for the foster child's case. Documentation means noting a child's behavior changes, grief cycles, medical problems and emotional needs. This is when you as a foster parent are sharing valuable insights and information with the foster care team. The social workers may not know that the foster child suffers from night terrors and has nightly for weeks. This may mean a needed referral to a mental health professional or medication evaluation.
- A calendar - to note behaviors, incidents, or things that are said on the day it occurred.
- File, folder or 3 ring notebook for each foster child. – to keep the child's information all in one place. This is where you will want to keep reports, letters, medical cards, medication logs, school papers, testing results, etc.
- Email – if you've been utilizing email as a communication tool between team meetings, you've already got a head start on keeping a log of what is being communicated. Remember to print out hard copies to place within your file or binder.
- Any forms utilized by your foster care agency – some agencies use their own critical incident reports, mileage logs, or even daily or weekly logs.
This Week's Assignments: Get Professional and Get Organized!Get Professional!
Read our article on working with social workers as well as the list of ideas above. Assess how you've been doing in this area. Think about anything you'd like to change about how you're working with the team and make a decision to change those things. What can you do to be more professional?
Some have a hard time assessing their own strengths and needs; we can be either too hard on ourselves or too easy. If you have a good foster parent friend, ask that person how they think you are when it comes to professionalism. You may even ask someone at your licensing agency.Get Organized!
How do your files look? Are you documenting? Some people are just better at it than others, but soon you will be one of the greats! Gather up all your paperwork and get busy organizing them into files, folders, or a binder. Some foster care agencies provide a binder, if so, be sure to utilize the tool that was provided to you when the child was placed in your home.
You're off to a great start toward being a great foster parent!