Unexpected Placement of a Toddler

February 9, 2009

Today I was the backup worker of my unit.  Each month, we all sign up for a few days a month where we are going to be in the office where we can cover each other cases in case there is an emergency.  Best case scenario, it is a day to catch up on paperwork and get some office work done.  Worst case scenario, you get stuck covering something crappy of a co-workers.  Today was much closer to the latter than the former.

And to make it worse, my colleague knew that she was going to have to place a kid today and still called out sick.  Worse yet, she did this within a few months to another coworker.  So I was a little annoyed today when I found out that I needed to move a 20 month old from one foster family to another, about 45 minutes away.  I was also annoyed because I had been banking on the fact that I was going to get some paperwork (service letters to parents) done today.  Alas, I had to move the kid.

And it would not have been so bad if the new foster parents didn’t have scheduling conflicts that prohibited me from dropping off the child at 7:30.  Fortunately, I found a way around it and dropped her off at her new daycare.  So I was driving to pick her up – mind you, I have never met this child, barely know her name, and really know nothing about her case, not even why she is changing placement – and I can tell that I am just super annoyed that I am having to do this at all.  But I am a team player and I get to her house and meet the foster parent, who is super nice and load all of her stuff up in the van.

And then it hits me.  This is a big deal.  This 20 month old little girl is getting packed up by probably the one caregiver that she has known recently and put into a car with a total stranger and going somewhere that she doesn’t know.  She is never going to see this foster parent again.  Suddenly I was struck by what must (or at least, might) be going on in this little kid’s head.  And as I am thinking all of this as the foster mother is putting on her coat after giving me this organized folder of all her pertinent information, I realize that the foster mother, despite her best efforts, is really struggling with this too.  She doesn’t ever break, but she is pretty close to tears.  And I am by no means an outwardly emotional person (I cannot recall the last time I cried), but I could feel myself getting emotional as well.  The foster mother and I both manage to keep ourselves together and we take off on our journey.

After a pretty non-eventful 45 minute journey, we arrive at her new daycare and this little girl is just curious and comfortable.  I continue to be struck by how resilient kids are!  I attempt to get the paperwork in order and find a place for all of her stuff in the front office.  I am surprised by how nonchalant the daycare staff is about a totally random little girl showing up with practically no information.  She continues to be curious and well-behaved and doesn’t really show any emotion until we reach her classroom, which is a little loud, and she begins to cry.  In a way, I am relieved, because this little kid still has some fight in her, but she is soothed by her new teacher and the interesting distractions of the classroom.

I drive back to the office feeling guilty about not being aware of the kid’s feelings from the onset.  About being selfish in my frustration toward my colleague.  And I vow to never do something similar to a colleague and clients, but wonder if my co-worker also once made the same promise.  And when I arrive back at the office and learn of my getting a new case with two school-aged girls and a strong suspicion of sexual abuse, I wish for more time to contemplate and reflect on the experiences of my clients before I have to act.


Relative vs. Foster Placements

September 14, 2008

A few people have asked me to elaborate on my thoughts on the differences between relative and foster placements for kids. So I have thought a bit more about my comment and come up with this imperfect analysis:

Relative placements are, in most cases, best for kids. It is with someone they (usually) already know and trust, in a home they are familiar with, and with people with whom they (should) have an unconditional bond with.

So what’s the problem? In my (limited) experience, patterns of problems have come up. One, is that parents misdirect their frustration/anger/sadness/resentment of not having their child with them onto the relative caregiver. This can naturally lead to lots of problems, including the erosion of the relationship between the caregiver and the parent. This can also be harder to control because communication is not usually restricted as it is with foster placements.

Another problem is relative placements usually don’t have a good understanding of the process and expectations of being involved with the child welfare system. This, usually, reflects a failure of social workers of making sure the relatives understand what is going on.  It seems that sometimes we social workers just forget that they don’t know or are just too caught up in making sure that this kid has a placement at 9 pm.

And related to that, is that I am finding that relatives are often minimizing the problems and issues going on with the family. It is very typical/understandable for relatives to want to keep the issues within the family and not have these strangers involved in their lives.  I think this can be very dangerous and can ultimately delay kids and parents getting the services that they need. (And to be honest, it is also annoying and makes my job more difficult.)

Foster placements, on the other hand, are usually quite seasoned and often have more experience with the system than the social worker. They often approach the placements with professionalism, which is enjoyable. The week when I was doing all of my home visits, I found foster families making themselves available very quickly and found them even eager to speak with me about the kids. Some relative caregivers seem to either want me to be their personal social worker telling me their life story or want nothing to do with me ever.

Some foster parents do, sometimes, seem to be a little overzealous about the kids, however, and you can almost feel the hope they have to adopt the kid. This is tough (for them, obviously, because they love the kid) but also for the social worker because we have to tight rope our way through conversations. They are entitled to some information, but not all. And we want to know that folks are long-term resources, but we don’t want to get their hopes up. I am still not sure how well I am doing at balancing all this.

And then on the other end, I guess there is always the issue that foster placements may see the placement as too much as a job and therefore be able to leave it (the job and therefore the kid) a little too quickly.

So, there you go. My very rough, unpolished, early assessment on the differences between relative and foster placements. Now if you asked me if I would prefer to have a case with a relative or foster placement, I think I would have to say, it depends. Like most things in life, there are good and bad relative and foster placements. I have seen examples of all. And this is also just a social worker perspective. I know I am an outsider and not seeing everything. But I am noticing some trends, which I find interesting. I wonder if they will remain consistent.