I wanted to write about how significant the relationship between a social worker and foster parent is. I started three other attempts to do so. I tried to make one light hearted and humorous in which I compared myself to a LEGO. Another draft, leaned more on drama. In that one, I actually described the relationship like, “A relationship forged in the fire of the foster care system.” Overly dramatic much? On my fourth attempt, I finally realized why I was having such a hard time describing it. It is because a relationship between a social worker and a foster parent is the most complex relationship I can personally think of. So I am going to share what that relationship actually looks like for those of you who may not have experienced it (which is probably most of you). I believe that you will walk away with a keen understanding of why the relationship between a foster parent and social worker is so critical in caring for children.
It all starts with trust. That may seem like a no brainer--at least I hope it does--however, let's take a deeper look at the level of trust we are talking about here. It starts with the social worker having enough trust in the foster parent’s ability to care for a child. In my particular role as a social worker, I am trusting foster parents to care for foster youth who have a significant history of trauma, and as a result, may display very difficult behaviors. I need to trust that a foster parent will not retaliate when a foster youth curses and calls them degrading names. Will the foster parent remain calm when holes are kicked or punched in their walls? Does the foster parent know what to do when a foster youth runs away or refuses to take prescribed medication? And most importantly, can these parents be trusted to call for help when they are unsure of what to do?
Then there is the other side of the equation. The foster parent must be able to trust me as a social worker. They have to trust me to communicate accurate information to them regarding the foster children I place in their home. Foster parents need to be able to trust that I have considered any and all safety concerns for them and their family members when I ask them to take a placement. They need to know that I will answer the phone or return their calls. They have to believe that I am on their side and will stand up for them if the need arises. Foster parents have to trust that I will always attempt to understand their side of situations and care about their input. The entire foster care system would screech to a halt if there was not some level of trust between foster parents and social workers.
Another critical ingredient in these relationships is honesty. This kind of honesty is more than not telling falsehoods. This is about raw honesty. The kind of honesty when a foster mother tells me, “It isn’t right what you did to my husband” after a plan changed that required her husband to do something I told him he wouldn’t have to do. The kind of honesty where I sit down with foster parents and explain to them that I am filing an incident report for an oversight they made on documentation. Honesty that comes with tears and heartache sometimes. This honesty leaves room for all emotions ranging from fear to love. Social workers and foster parents alike are required to forgive and show compassion because sometimes the truth stings. Like a favorite Proverb of mine says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
Hopefully, you are able to get a feeling of how precious I hold the relationships that have formed between myself and the foster parents I work with. It is easy to recognize that we can’t do what we do without our loved foster parents. It is my goal and hope that I will be the kind of social worker that my foster parents will be proud of. The same way that I am proud of them.
Right now, there are many children & youth that are in need of foster parents. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or have questions about foster parenting, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805-215-0553.