Some communication problems between foster parents and social workers occur due to what may seem like a lack of respect and perhaps unmet expectations when each assumes what the roles of the other are within the foster care system. To best avoid these communication problems it is important to establish roles and expectations early on in the relationship.Discuss up front the following with your foster care worker and see if it helps in avoiding communication problems in the future:
Find out which method of communication is preferred - phone message or email.
I can tell you as a foster parent I prefer email as it is then instant documentation. Your worker may prefer both, a phone message and an email.
Ask your foster care worker how long you should wait for a response. Ask if the response time may be shorter when the message is regarding a family crisis.
Ask for clarification on what your social worker would consider a crisis. Then explain how you would define a crisis, if it differs.
Ask your worker about the number of cases on his case load. This may help you put into perspective the number of families and foster children he is supporting.
Make sure to let your foster care worker know what you juggle on a given day and what priorities you hold within your family. Does your worker know that you work full-time or enjoy volunteering at your child's school? Your worker needs this information. There might be times when he is in a position to advocate for you when the team is scheduling visits or doctor appointments.
Communication problems can be avoided when we as foster parents and social workers keep a level of respect for each other. For example:
Lack of respect is a problem when a case worker isn't empathetic to a foster family and has the attitude of, 'well, the foster parent knew what they were signing up for when they chose to be a foster parent.' They are in effect, deciding not to have a working relationship with the foster parents. The social workers at this point are missing out on an opportunity to work in partnership with the foster parents and help problem solve and meet needs of the foster family.
Lack of respect is a problem when a foster parent feels that they are in a crisis as a family and calls their case manager for assistance and expects immediate contact and resolution from that case worker. They too are not partnering or having respect for the worker. Keep in mind numerous families may be in 'crisis' on any given day and it's up to the case manager to prioritize those crisis calls. Yes, it is a problem that Timmy got suspended for smoking at school, however, in another foster family, Billy has just sexually assaulted another child within the foster home. Which call would you concentrate on first?
Hopefully the communication tips above will help avoid these issues in the future and help with the development of a strong supportive relationship between a foster parent and a foster care worker.