I have a confession to make: In the three years I spent dealing with “the system,” I developed an aversion to social workers. I don’t hate them — it’s never a good idea to write off whole classes of people. But during the time we fostered our kids, the vast majority of those we encountered were either burned out (and useless) or inexperienced and as clueless as we were, though they had a tendency to talk to me and Craig as though we were not-quite-bright children.
Foster parenting is hard enough without feeling like part of the problem to be “managed.” I once walked out of an agency training because the social worker wrote our names on the board — like we were nine — for coming back from lunch five minutes late. After keeping us fifteen minutes into the lunch break while arguing with me that leaving a child’s bike out in the rain to rust over (or get run over) is a more “natural” and better consequence than having the “Bike Fairy” make it disappear for a week. (Ironically, she learned something about natural consequences when her agency lost two educated, eager potential foster parents.)
I later wrote the agency, explaining why we hadn’t chosen to get our license there. I didn’t care if it seemed petty. We were going to have to work with whatever agency we selected, and I wasn’t going to sign up with one that made me feel like an idiot during the training process. Happily, the trainer at the next agency — Barb — did a great job, and it was to that agency that our children were placed shortly after we got our training.
A few weeks ago I “met” another good social worker through a mutual friend on Facebook. I confess that, upon hearing that she was a social worker, I rolled my eyes and puckered my puss. Thankfully, it didn’t last (my face might have stuck that way!) And she went on to give me this perspective on the men and women in her profession that gave me food for thought . . . and I’d like to share it with you here (with her permission, thanks, Nancy!)
I know there can be a lot of tired and jaded social workers in the state system. Personally, when I was doing adoptions, I worked for a Christian-based agency. For the last 5 years I have been a state social worker in the area of disabilities. We are known as the “warm and fuzzy” corner of DSHS because by and large we don’t have to deal with the atrocities that the children’s workers see and deal with every day. We do deal with hard things, but not on the daily level that they do.
You have to be really wired the right way to be able to handle that job, and then it would take incredible self control and restraint not to get into the culture of the office. The humor tends to be coarse and the adrenaline [runs] high. It’s their way of dealing with the stress. But do I see a lot of people who want to help kids? Absoloutely. My office is right by Children’s Administration, connected by a door, so though I don’t work with them, I know them all and we fairly often share cases.
The workload is intense, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork we all have for the littlest things in the state. In my division, overall though there’s a sense of being supported as a person and a worker. My closest friend at my job used to work at CPS and she said over there it isn’t like that. There’s a sense that you better be documenting everything and “covering your b*tt” (sorry) because if a wrong decision is made or something happens to a child on your caselod, you will have to answer for it. That kind of pressure just wears out the best of people.
So I am sorry you have had some hard experiences. You might have been dealing with a “bad apple.” Or you might have been dealing with someone who is doing their best and is just very tired. Either way I am happy that you and your husband have taken these kids on and are loving and raising them. They are very blessed, and we do see those success stories. I loved that part as an adoption social worker, seeing the families come together.
I appreciated Nancy taking the time to share this different perspective. So . . . if you’ve ever had a hard time connecting with your children’s case worker, try to take Nancy’s observations to heart. If as foster parents we sometimes feel powerless to “fight the system” in order to give our children what they need, how much more powerless must they feel at times, unable to pick and choose they children they will help — or through their actions prevent these children from experiencing the pain that is part-and-parcel of “the system” of which they are a part.