Through the Eyes of a Caseworker

A sad teen girl being counseled by an encouraging caseworker

I believe it is imperative for families in the foster care system to have a compassionate, knowledgeable caseworker who can display empathy towards families.

Many families coming into the foster care system are dealing with an array of emotions from being angry, fearful, hurt, and disappointed with themselves. It important for a caseworker to be sympathetic to the needs of families when they come in. The casework should understand that they are not angry with you, but they are angry with the system that they feel has taken their child.

Starting Out

In the beginning, a worker needs to establish rapport and a trusting relationship with each family on their caseload. Each family’s situation is unique. If this is not established initially, it will be difficult for the family to trust and see the worker as a partner in the reunification process. In 95% of the cases, reunification is the goal. During the first encounter with the family, the worker needs to allow them to express their feelings. The caseworker should validate their feelings and try to make the family feel at ease with the process.

Many parents have unrealistic expectations regarding the reunification process. Parents need to understand the reunification process early on and that it could be a long process. They need to understand the role of the caseworker and what their part is in the reunification process.  

Psalm 121:1-8 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. …”

Every family has strengths and areas in their lives that need additional supports. Thus, it’s crucial during the first encounters to identify the supports that the family has and what’s missing. Then the caseworker can immediately help the parents to determine how they can utilize their support systems and resources during the process. If a family belongs to a faith-based community, it would be great to identify how the faith-based community can be a support to them. Some churches allow parenting time to take place at their churches. While others offer parenting classes, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings.

The Court

When working with parents involved in the foster care system, it’s important to use a strength-based approach to help to empower families. Many families feel powerless when working with the child welfare system. In part, because they are mandated to do so much in order to be reunified with their children. The caseworker should acknowledge the parent’s efforts and accomplishments. These are milestones towards reunification.

The court plays an ongoing role in child welfare cases. When the court authorizes the caseworker to start working with the family on a treatment plan, the caseworker needs to begin identifying services for the family immediately. If at all possible, services should be in the family’s community. Close by, so they can access bus routes for parents that utilize public transportation. The permanency clock is ticking. Timely receipt of services will help the reunification process. Caseworkers should be knowledgeable about resources and provide referrals to community agencies that would be a good fit for the family.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Options and Help

When I was a caseworker, I used to see caseworkers create a treatment plan that had too many goals for the family to complete in an appropriate amount of time for reunification. Parents’ were provided with a grocery list of goals. Goals for substance abuse, random drug screens, parenting class, individual therapy, family therapy, domestic violence counseling, housing, and legal source of income. Also, they had to have parenting time with their children weekly. If the children were not placed in the same home, the parent would have to make multiple trips to the agency to meet with their other children. This can be overwhelming for parents. It’s heartbreaking to see some give up because it’s too much. They feel like they will never get their children back, so they stop fighting.

A seasoned caseworker will try to identify a provider that offers multiple types of services. This is so families will not have to see so many providers. All parents do not need the same list of services; however, because a caseworker did it for one family, the caseworkers will do it for another family. There should be individual goals for each family. Unfortunately, I have seen this happen to too many families.

Caseworker’s Perspective

In my current position as a prevention worker, I was recently working with a family. The family had been involved with the foster care system for over three years. The birth mom had made minimum progress because she had become frustrated with the process. She did not understand why she had to have so many services in place. The services were all over the place.

One item on her treatment plan was for her to have random drug screens and substance abuse counseling. I asked the parent whether she had an issue with substance abuse and if she had ever tested positive for substances. Mom stated that she did not. I asked the foster care worker, and he indicated that mom did not test positive for substances. When I asked why she had to complete random drug screens, he said this was standard. That he had seen parents who did not have a substance abuse problem but later on have one. In three years, my client had never tested positive for substance use. 

When I received this case, I advocated for my client. She needed parenting classes, individual counseling, anger management, housing, and a legal source of income. I was able to provide the parenting classes, anger management, and some crisis management, which helped mom’s case tremendously. The foster care worker agreed that if mom has three months of consistent negative drug screens, she would not have to continue to complete drug screens. I encouraged mom to finish her drug screens and would check in with her weekly. Mom was finally feeling supported. Within three months of working with this family, she had secured housing and completed her treatment plan. Her foster care cased closed

Prayer and Support

For families to feel supported, they need a seasoned, consistent, compassionate, knowledgeable caseworker to be on their side. Being a caseworker or case manager is more than just a job; it is a helping profession. This is what families are looking for when they enter agencies after going to court once their children have been removed. Families from all walks of life need support. Would you pray:

  • For agencies to hire workers that want to work with families, and it’s not just a job.
  • That new workers are mentored and coached by seasoned workers to serve well.
  • For families to receive the services that equip them to be safely reunited with their children.
  • That the churches offer services that support families in their quest for sobriety.

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