What questions should I ask the social worker before accepting a foster care placement?

A successful placement starts with getting as much information about the child as possible

A successful placement starts with getting as much information about the child as possible

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that, by far, the most important moment in determining the success of a placement is the first phone call from the social worker. That is the moment where the social worker and foster parent have the opportunity to communicate most freely and clearly. Foster parents shouldn’t feel guilty asking questions so they can be armed with the information they need to make an informed decision for their family. Communicating the right information as clearly as possible at this moment is in the best interest of the child, because it prepares foster parents for the job they are being asked to take on.

While it never feels good to say “no” to a placement request, it does have to happen sometimes. Most foster parents get into foster parenting for altruistic reasons. We want to help children in care, and it goes against everything within us to have to say “no” to providing a loving home for a child.

Yet it’s important to understand that a “no” is much better than a “yes” that turns into a “no” due to mismatched expectations. There are legitimate reasons a home may not be the best fit for a particular child. The child may have behaviors that subject younger, more vulnerable members of the family to too much risk (I just had to say no to a placement request today for that reason), or the child may simply have behaviors and discipline problems that a foster parent is not experienced enough to handle yet. There’s nothing wrong with that. As foster parents, we have to know our limits.

The real issue is that disrupted placements cause problems for everyone, not the least of which is the child, who now has to be moved to a new home to form new relationships. * Previous attachments become further jeopardized, and the child starts getting calloused to forming and losing relationships. Before long, these children decide that forming new relationships is not worth the effort, because in their minds, they’re just going to be short-term anyway.

The way to avoid these disruptions is to ask a lot of questions at the beginning. As foster parents, we need to be assertive in finding out the information that is important for us to make a decision. Take some time to honestly think about the skills and talents you have (and don’t have), and use that to inform your own judgment about the types of placements you are willing and able to take.

Think about these things ahead of time as much as possible, but you will never be able to anticipate every contingency in advance. You will never have all the facts, nor will the social worker—so the goal is to glean as much information as you can to feel as confident as you can that you are up to the task of caring for this particular child.

For any social workers reading this, this isn’t to say that more information will increase the chances of getting a “no.” For foster parents who ask a lot of questions, it just means the “yes” you eventually receive will be a more confident and informed one. That’s worth a lot.

The fact is, we’re open to learning how to handle new behaviors, but we also want to go into potentially challenging situations with our eyes open so we can best prepare for them. Social workers shouldn’t fear that sharing more information will lead to more foster parents saying “no.” In fact, I think most realize that providing less information increases the chance of getting a soft “yes” that can easily lead to a hard “no” later.

To avoid this, here are some tips for questions to ask when social workers call you for new placements. You will definitely want to create your own list of questions so you can tailor your list to the information that’s important to your family.

  • Why is this child coming into care? If this is a disrupted placement, what were the circumstances of the failed placement?
  • What is this child’s history of abuse or neglect?
  • Does this child have any behaviors that would be important to know about for effective parenting? (For my family, this is one of the most important questions, because it is open-ended.)
  • Are there any behaviors that might affect the safety of other kids in the home?
  • Will I need to get the child to and from school, and if so, which school?
  • Is there a transport service available in case I need help providing transportation?
  • Are there counseling appointments or other appointments I’ll need to take the child to? Are there other members of the team who can be an additional resource for transportation?
  • What are the arrangements for birth parent visits? Where are they located, and are there issues we need to be aware of, for instance regarding birth parent attitudes toward the foster parents?
  • Are there physical health issues I need to be aware of?
  • What is the child’s legal status and permanency plan?

Here are some other tips you might find helpful:

  • Have a plan for how to communicate and get feedback from your spouse before committing to a new placement. In simple situations like short-term respite placements, one of us will sometimes make a decision on the fly, but not for long-term placements.
  • In our family, the person who takes the call will get as much info as possible, take notes, and immediately try to get feedback from the other one as soon as possible. Sometimes this leads to more follow-up questions.
  • It’s OK to tell the social worker you’ll discuss the placement with your spouse and get back to them ASAP.
  • Keep in mind that the social worker is calling a list of foster parents; so the sooner you can return their call, the better. If some time passes before you return the call, the child may already be placed.

In short, take the time you need to gather the information necessary to feel confident in the placement. It always helps to have a willingness to be flexible as you face unforeseen issues that are bound to come up, but the more you can learn about these children at the outset, the better care you can provide for them as foster parents.

Are there times when a disruption is in the best interest of the child? Yes. Absolutely. We don’t always have enough information when kids come into care to make an accurate decision about whether our home will be the best choice for them. But by asking a lot of questions up front, we can make the best informed decision possible, and reduce the need for a placement change.

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Tips for recruiting foster parents

There is definitely an art to recruiting new foster parents. For those who are naturally evangelistic about fostering, talking it up may come easy. But even the most passionate advocate has to keep in mind that everyone is in their own unique season of life. Sharing one’s home and family may not be feasible or even possible for some.

Nevertheless, there are techniques we can all use to get conversations started and guide them in a way that can best inspire individuals who are open to this calling to take that first step to learn more. The following are some suggestions that can be used at events or in personal conversations to communicate that there is a great need for foster parents, and lead people to action if they are so inclined.

Calling the called

First, we should focus on finding and calling the called. By this I mean we should be trying to find families for whom foster parenting is likely to become a passion; a calling to serve children who are in desperate need of a stable, loving family. Our society has plenty of people like this. We just need to go where they are, connect with them, and learn how to inspire them.

We shouldn’t need to sell people on foster parenting who have no natural interest in it. We’ve all experienced the occasional person who runs away at the suggestion of foster parenting, usually with a look of panic in their eyes. Maybe our suggestion was the first time they’ve thought about it, and maybe it will be pivotal in their future interest in foster parenting. Right now, however, there’s no need to chase them down and convince them of how needed or how rewarding it is, because they’re not listening. Yet.

Know your audience

Recruiting is an exercise in communication, so it’s very important to know your audience. Whether you’re speaking at an event or hosting a table at one, you need to understand the demographics of attendees.

If it’s a kids’ event, you may have a lot of young families who could be scared off by their fear or unfamiliarity with raising teens. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up if that’s where the conversation goes, but it may not be best to lead with that message. On the other hand, if you’re at a concert with teens present, you might be able to get their parents interested in fostering teens, because that’s the season of life they are in.

Visit other tables

Some of the best leads can come from the people hosting other tables at the event. Set up your table a little early, then make the rounds and introduce yourself to other people hosting tables. Getting to know what they are there for, and offering to send people their way who might be interested in their product or service builds good will, and gives you a chance to ask the same of them. They may not do it, but making this personal connection will make your time at the event more enjoyable, and can open up doors for conversation about foster care later.

Be approachable

Engaging visitors walking by a table at a busy event can be difficult, but sitting behind the table puts us at a clear disadvantage. One way you can break through this physical barrier is to stand in front of the table. Make eye contact with passers-by and smile anytime someone looks your way, and be willing to start a conversation. That is the only way to know if they are interested in learning more about foster care.

You will be surprised at how often someone makes eye contact, and if they see a smile, will seek more information on what you’re there for. They may glance down at the table to see what you’re representing, or behind you at a banner, but don’t take this as disinterest and drop the ball. Most people who make direct eye contact with you at first will at least be open to exchanging a few words with you. That’s your opportunity to get a conversation going.

Starting a conversation

The challenge at an event table is to get a meaningful conversation started amidst the noise and distraction of the venue. The art of starting conversations with complete strangers is very useful at this point. For some, this is a gift that comes naturally, but for most people, this can be a little uncomfortable at first. For the more introverted, it’s a challenge worth tackling. I can guarantee you that the satisfaction of breaking the ice will be worth the initial discomfort. Remember, it’s next to impossible to recruit new foster parents without a warm, friendly conversation.

Everyone has to find a technique that works for them, but for most people, a simple question is all it takes: “Have you ever thought about becoming a foster parent?” Those who answer “yes” are the easiest prospects. Simply saying “that’s great” and waiting for their response is often all you need to do; they’ll usually take it from there by asking their own question. Fill any awkward silence with a few comments on how rewarding it is to help these kids. These are the perfect prospects to sign up to get more information and to invite to an information meeting.

There are two types of people who will say “no,” however. There are those who are saying “no, I’ve never thought about it, but I’m open to hearing more,” and “no, I’ve never thought about it, and never intend to.” The first category of “no” you can lead to the information they need. For those in the second category, you can end the conversation pretty quickly so you’re ready to smile and make eye contact with the next person who walks by. J

Be ready to suggest an action

Brochures don’t recruit as much as they support recruiting efforts. Rather than passively wait for them to ask what they should do if they are interested, deliver what’s called a “call to action.” The best action to suggest for someone who shows some interest in learning more about foster care is to ask them to sign up to request more information.

Handing out brochures and other items can be very useful, but you want to minimize the chance that the brochure will stay in their bag and never get looked at again. Ask them to sign up to receive more information, and let them know they’ll be invited to a fun and informal meeting where they’ll be able to ask any questions they want. Then hand them a brochure.

Other tips to make events more productive

  • Have a big, eye-catching banner behind the table that clearly tells visitors what the table is about, i.e. recruiting new foster parents.
  • Have a bowl of candy to offer visitors to your table. Ask parents if it’s OK to give their child candy, and as you’re doing that, ask the ice-breaker question “Have you ever thought about doing foster care?”
  • Have a game like a sandbag toss that kids can do. When they “win,” they get a candy. It’s best to have one person manning the game to keep the line moving, and at least one other person ready to engage in conversation with the parents.
  • Resource Table. Have resources organized on the table with informational flyers closest to the guests, and more expensive giveaways (water bottles, yo-yos, keychains, etc.) at the back of the table. When someone shows an interest, you can offer those items but you don’t need to give them away as freely as flyers.
  • Information Meetings. Have a stack of flyers or cards with the dates of upcoming information meetings. For visitors who show an interest in learning more, ask them to sign up to request more information (so you have their contact information), then hand them the card with upcoming information meeting dates.
  • Signup Sheet. The signup sheet to request more information about foster care should be the “main event” at the table, and the main thing we ask people who are interested in foster care to do. Explain the benefits of signing up–they will receive notifications of upcoming information meetings to ask any questions they have and learn how to get started.

Good recruiting is about putting yourself in the place of the hearer of your message, and answering the questions What would I want to know?, or How would I want to be approached?

We don’t have a difficult message to convey. Most perfect strangers will at least be sympathetic when we say that foster kids need great families to love and mentor them. With a little creativity and a few proven techniques, we can take that good will and use it to connect with more big-hearted families who will be open to this wonderful calling.

Idaho’s foster care parents are in short supply, caseloads high

Idaho’s foster care system struggles under a deepening shortage of foster parents and high caseloads for social workers, according to a performance review released Monday.

The review by the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations cited an 8 percent decline in the number of licensed foster parents from 2014 to 2016, from 1,062 to 974, and caseloads that were one-third or more higher than they should be.

“What is unquestioned is there is a workload problem,” Amanda Bartlett, one of OPE’s evaluators, told the Legislature’s joint oversight committee Monday.

The office recommended creation of a broad oversight entity to address performance gaps.

“A legislative standing committee is one option that states have used to establish this oversight with ongoing accountability, visibility, and accessibility,” OPE Director Rakesh Mohan wrote in his message to the committee accompanying the report.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article131126304.html#storylink=cpy

Twenty percent increase proposed to Idaho’s foster parent reimbursements

As budget hearings continue this week on health and human services programs, Idaho’s Division of Child Welfare is requesting a 20 percent increase in the stipends paid to foster parents for caring for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned or who are unsafe in their own homes. “There is no doubt our foster families are tasked with difficult work, caring for children traumatized from abuse or neglect,” Gary Moore, division administrator, told legislative budget writers this morning. “The state must work diligently to ensure our foster families do not face an additional burden.”

The proposed increase – which Gov. Butch Otter is recommending funding – would come to $347,800 next year in state general funds, and would draw $491,300 in federal matching funds, for a total increase of $839,100. For children from birth to 5 years old, the current monthly rate that Idaho pays foster parents is $329; for kids age 6-12, $366; and for kids age 13 and older, $487. The state surveyed surrounding states, and found that Idaho was far below the average of those states.

City Honors Local Foster Families Opening Their Homes And Hearts To Children

Evans family honored for service in foster care. Evan's family is far right. Photo credit: KYW's Pat Loeb

Evans family honored for service in foster care. Evan’s family is far right. Photo credit: KYW’s Pat Loeb

With six-thousand children in out-of-home placement, including– at times– its own waiting room, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services really appreciates foster parents. The Department recognized their contribution at a ceremony last week in City Hall.

“We’re just normal people like everybody else,” said Tammy Evans. Her and husband Dave Evans are parents of seven children, all adopted from the child welfare system. The couple also fosters four more. Tammy and Dave Evans are nothing short of heroic. They’ve taken babies from Infant Intensive Care, children who’ve been abused and, as DHS acting commissioner Jessica Shapiro said in honoring them.

“They have created a loving and diverse family that is beautiful both inside and out,” Shapiro said.

Nathaniel Brown’s journey from foster care to PhD. candidate

Nathaniel Brown, 39, of Villa Rica, is coordinator of student affairs operations at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. After years of abuse at the hands of his caregivers, Brown recently defended his dissertation and is on track to receive his PhD. from the University of Georgia in December. GRACIEBONDSSTAPLES/gstaples@ajc.com

Nathaniel Brown, 39, of Villa Rica, is coordinator of student affairs operations at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. After years of abuse at the hands of his caregivers, Brown recently defended his dissertation and is on track to receive his PhD. from the University of Georgia in December. GRACIEBONDSSTAPLES/gstaples@ajc.com

Nathaniel Brown was known as the runaway kid.

In his mind he was just the big black kid who no one loved and, except for monetary gain, no one wanted.

And so, yes, when the verbal, physical and sexual abuse became unbearable at a series of foster homes in South Carolina, poor Nathaniel ran back to the one place – Spartanburg Children’s Shelter — where he felt loved.

In nearly every foster home where he had been placed since age 4, he’d been made to feel like he should be grateful he had a place to live. No one talked to him except to scold or remind him he was nothing.

“I had to hear that over and over,” he said. “It was an awful feeling.”

We’ve known for at least the last three decades that black children in the child welfare system are placed in foster care at twice the rate of white children. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services and are less likely to either be returned home or adopted than any other children.

Green Bay Packers’ Ty Montgomery and mom advocate foster care

MILWAUKEE (WISN) – A Green Bay Packers wide receiver and his mom are working together to show the benefits of foster parenting through a new effort.

Ty Montgomery and his mother, Lisa Montgomery, have joined a foster parent recruitment campaign with the theme, “Without foster parents, futures get stuck.”

Lisa Montgomery fostered 17 children. Ty Montgomery, her only biological son, was keen on the idea.

“I wanted a bigger family,” he said. “I wanted some brothers in my life.”

His first foster brother was a boy named Lee.

New legislation helps teens aging out of foster care transition to adulthood

Bill to help foster teens

Governor expected to sign bill to help foster teens.

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Governor John Kasich is expected to sign off on new legislation that will help teens who are aging out of foster care become more successful adults.

Right now, when foster children turn 18 they face a sharp cut-off of resources and support, resulting in many of them becoming homeless. This new legislation would extend support services until age 21.

“Where is home? That was my biggest issue,” says 22-year-old Romero Triplett.

He was emancipated out of the foster care system when he was 17.

“A lot of kids are out there struggling because they get into the system and then they like collapse, after 18,” says Triplett.

Utah program needs more loving foster families

Dan Webster of the Utah Foster Care Foundation: "If you have your siblings around you, it makes things a whole lot less scary."

Dan Webster of the Utah Foster Care Foundation: “If you have your siblings around you, it makes things a whole lot less scary.”

The Utah Foster Care Foundation, which matches families with children in the state foster care system needs more loving foster families. Currently there are 2700 children in the state foster care system and only 1300 foster families.

The biggest need is for families who are willing and able to take in groups of siblings. Most foster children have been removed from homes where there has been domestic violence and or substance abuse. The children are often abused themselves so the state tries really hard to keep them together.

“If you have your siblings around you, it makes things a whole lot less scary,” said Dan Webster of the Utah Foster Care Foundation.

Church urges foster care

No child should be without a family — or a community.

That belief is the driving force behind Community Church’s new foster care initiative, The Village, said Amanda Powell, chief operating officer for Community Church.

More than 1,000 children across Hampton Roads are in foster care — and there are many others that agencies are trying to place into the foster care system, said Powell.

Through The Village, Community Church is helping families navigate the cumbersome process of becoming foster parents, according to Dawn Sutherland, the church’s communications director. The Chesapeake church is streamlining the process by bringing multiple social service and foster agencies together at the Jolliff Road church for training and information sessions.