Monday, June 19, 2006

Thinking about the system

"Rosecorp" writes:

Unfortunately, the only thing that sounds less than typical about your heartbreaking story is that you continued to want to be part of Ann's life even after everything that happened. Usually, as the child's behavior and the placement deteriorate, the fp's feelings about the child do, too, and the fp often ends up saying, "Get this kid out of here!" and never having any (positive) contact again.

Also not typical is the level of contact you had with the social workers--but then again, this is [your private agency] we're talking about. As a state sw, I would never be able to give that kind of time to one fp--and I (thank god) don't work weekends.

The agency has changed recently. The social workers have higher case loads (18 instead of 12-15) and increased paper work requirements. They don't have as much time as they used to. They used to have time to show up at the school play, or soccer game. "Ruby" even took Ann shopping for clothes after I told her what a disaster it was when I tried to buy her pants. In fact, when Ruby was trying to get David to relax with her, she asked me what I thought would be a good activity. I told her to ask David to help her shop for clothes for her. She did and it was a wonderful success.

Now though they just don't do those things. The social worker still answers my emails, but the answers are more likely to be something like, "Thanks for all the information. I will get back to you as soon as I can" and not the long, thoughtful responses I once got. (Of course I am now an experienced foster parent with a relatively inexperienced social worker. In the beginning it was the other way around.)

They also now have an on-call system. Though I have the home and cell phone numbers of every social worker on my fridge (actually on a magnetic sheet they sent me), if I need help on the weekends the new system is to call the office and leave a message. Someone, not necessarily my kid's worker, calls back.

The state does this, but there is such a difference. Again it is largely a function of size. When Evan was detoxing and I was nervous, I was called back by a woman I knew and who knew Evan. When I was doing respite for a state kid who was a cutter and had left my house without permission I had to call a hotline and talk to someone who had never heard of her or me.

I started this post though, not intending to detail all this. What I wanted to say was this:

I think the two things that Rose notices are different in my case are connected. My response was not "Come take away this kid!" because I was confident that I had the support of the social workers. I never felt abandoned. I knew that I could ask for respite, and get it. When I told Ruby how much Andrew was stressed she pulled him aside and thanked him for every he does. She took him out for a milk shake, gave him her phone number (he still has it), and told him that he could call anytime he needed to talk.

After Ann moved out, Sally (her new worker) made me comfortable talking to her whenever I wanted. Though Ann is no longer in the permanency program, Sally will still take the time, if I ask, to track down where she is and give me a report. Over the past two years she has several times written a letter on my behalf requesting that I be allowed to send a letter or a small Christmas present to Ann.

I understand very clearly why the state system does not work this way, but it should.


  1. Of course the state should work that way and of course it doesn't.

    Not my state either.

  2. rossecorp8:27 PM

    I'm curious--from your point of view, what are the reason the state system doesn't work that way? I know why from inside, but I'm interested in what the reasons are perceived to be from the outside (realizing you're not completely outside, of course).

  3. I have what is most certainly an over-simplistic understanding of it. I think the state system does not work that way because we live in a society that does not actually value families and children and will not invest the resources necessary to do the job right. Too few social workers are asked to do to too much with too little.

  4. rossecorp10:05 AM

    Our society especially does not value poor families and children, and of course those are the families and children who are most often involved with CPS. In my state, at least, the system does have resources--not as much as we'd like to have, certainly, but a significant amount--but (in my opinion) those resources are used less than effectively much of the time. For example, our work has historically been to "put out fires" (ie, to respond to crises) rather than to do preventative work with families. By doing so, we end up spending lots of money on one crisis after another.

    I could write much more about this, but a comment isn't the place for that. I have been leaning toward giving up on the idea of foster parenting (I mean, giving up on hoping that it can work for the majority of children in care), and wonder what your opinion is of that? The reason I think this is that the numbers of fp's are declining, and too few of the ones remaining are really skilled at the work. So I'm thinking that the focus of solutions for children should be elsewhere...but I don't know where...


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