I have completed 7 months of working in the child welfare field. Foster Care specifically. Foster care has a bad rap. For the community, for professionals and for parents. But I want to share with you some things I know to be true.
Foster Care social workers have the hardest job in social work. They have to know about drugs and alcohol, housing, domestic violence, mental illness. They have to know about development, cognitive impairment, autism, trauma, grief/loss, attachment. They have to know about infants and teenagers. They need to understand the criminal justice system, family law, the school system, Medicaid, state assistance, custody, interstate laws, independent living, guardianship, mandated reporting… the list goes on and on.
They answer to the State of Michigan. They answer to judges. They sit on the stand and have to recommend “the best interest of the child”.
Foster Care social workers have a unique job. They have two very important clients: the children who have been removed and the parents they were removed from. They have to advocate for and provide services to both parties. They are called to reunify. So many of us would write these parents off. We see them as people who don’t deserve their children. Foster care workers see so much more. They see potential. They see barriers and solutions to barriers. They invest in these parents because #1, these parents are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and #2 children deserve to be with their parents. This is hard. Many of us say, “they are not parents, they had their children removed”. But those people have not had to see a child weep when they leave a visitation with a mother they see once a week. These people have not seen a foster parent the first 30 years of their life where they were abuse and neglected themselves and never given the skills to be a parent.
It is hard to have to know everything and be everything. It is hard to be second guessed by lawyers and judges. It is hard to make decisions about other people’s lives. It is hard to get all the paperwork required done for each case. It is hard to manage all the services needed for all the people on a case load. But what is the hardest is when a parent does fail. When you have invested so much into helping someone, empowering another, working against the doubts of the world and the parent chooses not to comply.
So much of the world sees foster care workers as rescuing children from bad environments and putting them in safe places. As finding them “appropriate” families. They do not see the investment that workers put into restoring a relationship or giving a parent the tools for success. And this is foster care. 95 percent of foster care is doing everything in your power to help a parent be successful.
I have learned a lot about myself working with the foster care team. I have learned that I know so little. That I am selfish and stubborn and judgmental. I have seen the people that I work with fight battles that many others would not take on. I am surrounded by people on a daily basis that make me want to be a better person. These people stay up late working and worrying. They sacrifice so much because they believe in restoration and redemption. You don’t learn these lessons in Church or in devotional books. You don’t learn these lessons writing a check to an organization.
Foster Care workers are action, they are invested and involved. They are doers.
We all have our area of action and doing. We all have our area of listening and check writing. But what is essential is that we see what others do in areas that we might not be able to. That we honor the work. The passion. We are a part of a society that values those who help us understand a different way to see the world.