Plan B(est): A Social Worker Perspective

Jamie Stablein, FCNI Supervisor/Social Worker
March, 12, 2019 -

In my role as a Social Worker, I work as part of a team to find the best solutions and situations for the kids and families we serve. Unfortunately, during this process, we often encounter heartbreak and disappointment. But when best laid plans go awry, we turn to the backup plans, and sometimes, a Plan B ends up being the best plan of all.

A story that captures both the hardships and successes of being a social worker involves a kid I worked with for several years. [To maintain confidentiality, I’ll refer to him as John.] I’ve remained his social worker through a few support programs, helping him to grow and heal from the trauma he experienced before coming into foster care. The foster parents he had been placed with made a commitment to adopt him. They truly loved and cherished him, while offering him some amazing childhood experiences such as getting to go camping and to Disneyland, and to participate in holiday celebrations as well as simply living in a loving family environment.

At one point, John began to have some behavioral issues within the family, and at school with his peers and in his classroom. As a result, the foster family expressed concern about their ability to meet his needs while also continuing to play a large role in the lives of their similarly-aged grandchildren. Eventually, the foster parents gave notice because they no longer felt capable of meeting his needs, and felt that it was best for him if he was placed with another foster family. We, as a team, were saddened, disappointed, and fearful for his future. We also faced the uncertain reality of not knowing where his next placement would be. And the abrupt change in his placement plan was also traumatic and disruptive for him, as this had been his home for more than three years. His county social worker felt that the best option was to place him in the same foster home as his older brother.

In the past, John and his brother had a very rocky relationship. For a few years, they had regular visits together, but his brother often avoided engaging with him, and stayed aloof and remote. Each time they had a visit, he left feeling incredibly rejected and abandoned, often resulting in him having extreme tantrums. Despite this, his county social worker approached the possibility of placing him with his brother out of desperation, and amazingly, the foster mom was open to the possibility. Keep in mind, this child’s team (including his FCNI social worker, therapist and county social worker) had been working closely together towards finalizing the adoption with his previous foster family. We, as professionals, had to continue our process of grieving this loss for him and the family while also moving forward to identify and explore the best available options for him. I don’t think that any of us felt sure that this idea of placing him with his brother would work, due to their history, but we had enough trust in each other to take a bold chance for  John’s best interests. It’s important to acknowledge that not all teams come together in this way. Regardless of the outcome, I am always honored to be a part of this process of  “teaming” with other professionals.

With a lack of placement options, we fast-tracked the process of placing John in his brother’s foster home as it seemed like the only viable option. Over the course of ten days, we initiated visits between he and his brother and the foster mom, and they all went very well. After the rapid transition, John continued to receive all of the supportive services necessary to help him cope with the change. He had to adjust to living in a new part of the county, changing schools, as well as making numerous adjustments to living with his sibling and an entirely new family. Despite all of the sudden changes, John maintained his affectionate and loving nature. And he and his new foster mom quickly built a strong familial bond of their own. Overall, the placement within this new home seemed to be a good fit for all of them.

Since being placed with his brother, John has settled in beautifully, even getting his own pet. He’s gotten involved in sports, playing baseball and soccer, and has had minimal problems with his peers. He is thriving in family therapy, and the behavioral issues he struggled with have subsided as he now feels more safe, secure and loved. He has grown both physically and emotionally since being placed in his new home, and now the foster mom is interested in moving towards adoption of both of the kids. The relationship and bond between he and his brother has continued to heal, grow and strengthen. And the new foster parent has been willing to maintain communication with the kids’ biological mother, which has been healing for all of them.

When our best laid plans for adoption fell through with the first foster family, we were devastated, as can happen so often in the field of social work. However, looking back, we can see how things worked out for the best. His previous long-term foster family modeled loving qualities and offered him amazing experiences. He saw the foster father demonstrate incredible love and respect towards his wife, and this modeling and mentoring impacted how our little guy now treats women.

I am always reminded as a Social Worker that we are working in the sacred places of others’ lives. Early in this process of transition, John stated, “I trust you” when talking about the process of finding him a good home.  I remember physically feeling the weight of that trust, that responsibility… as well as feeling honored yet grieved that there weren’t members of his own family who he could trust to do the same. Isn’t this, after all, the essence of Social Work? Now, there is no doubt that he has found family members that he can “trust” to act in his best interest when life doesn’t go according to plan.



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