Insight into a Children’s Corps Monthly Meeting

A group of people sit in a circle, with everyone facing one group member who is sharing their story.
Description: Children’s Corps members gather for a recent monthly meeting.

Have you read about the About Children’s Corps page on our website and wondered what member support looks like? If so, then this post is for you. Keep reading for a reflection on a Children’s Corps Monthly Meeting and the support component of our program.

As a new social work intern at Fostering Change for Children, I was eager to attend the first Monthly Meeting of the year for the 2018 and 2019 Children’s Corps members. As someone who supports the program “behind the scenes”, it was a great opportunity for me to see first-hand the members’ experiences as new child welfare professionals. Members arrived at around 6pm, got a slice of pizza, and started catching up with each other. It was great to see how connected the members are. They seemed to know each other well and were so engaged in conversation that it was difficult for me to interrupt, even just to introduce myself. I sat and listened for the most part.  I heard lots of talk about what’s going on in their agencies and how things differ for each of them. Members shared stories about things going on in their personal life and at work, and Children’s Corps Support Specialists provided coaching and mentoring. I loved everyone’s passion behind their conversation.  

During this social time, which was about 20 minutes, members had a chance to record some of the challenges and surprises that they had experienced during their first month of being a caseworker in child welfare.  What they wrote down on the posters around the room was used to guide the group discussion. Take a look at what they had to say:

Challenges (paraphrased)

  • Getting comfortable with using CONNECTIONS, the child welfare computer system for documenting delivery of child welfare services to families and children
  • Having grace with themselves and learning to be okay with not finishing your to-do list each day, and still being proud of the work you did complete, can be really hard and take a long time to do
  • Finding the solutions to challenging situations
  • Helping young people find their motivation to go to school and learn
  • Engaging with parents and foster parents that struggle with being involved
  • Experiencing conflict between parents and my supervisor
  • Having difficulties working collaboratively with my supervisor

Surprises (paraphrased)

  • The quality of email communication within my agency was great.
  • Experiencing what it feels like to have only 5 cases out of the 8-10 that I will eventually have, figuring out how to manage their time accordingly
  • How much power I have to make a difference in my agency and the lives of the children and families that I work with
  • Not having what I think I need in order to perform my job as a caseworker
  • Working with infants and young children can be difficult because the way they express their feelings can be hard to understand

Jac, our FCFC Program Coordinator of Training and Coaching, led an amazing discussion exploring what members wrote.  As she went through the list, each member explained the reason behind what they wrote. Listening to what they had to say helped me to understand how invested Children’s Corps members are in their work with children and families.  There was not a person in the group that didn’t express the desire to make a difference in the lives of the families they work with. It was nice to see their eagerness to learn and grow from the meeting, so that they can use the knowledge they gain to improve their work.  

Jac facilitated the conversation so members could learn from each other.  She put an emphasis on common challenges; this seemed to help members recognize that they are not alone and have the support of their cohort to face these together.  Those that may not be encountering some of these challenges were already prepared for them after discussing them at the meeting. It was clear that Jac was trying to lead the group to think critically about about some techniques they can use to navigate these issues.  Members were also able to point out the small successes they encountered. They shared stories of the relationships they had built with families and experiences of effective communication with their supervisors. I loved hearing how much members care about their work and feel as though they have the power to make a difference in their client’s lives.

I saw the importance of Monthly Meetings as a way to highlight prevalent topics among members so the FCFC staff can prepare discussion and training topics for the next monthly meeting. After the meeting ended, I left feeling like I could better understand the community that is Children’s Corps.  It is so much more than teaching members how to be better caseworkers. It’s about allowing members to open up, learn from each other, and know that they are never alone. The Children’s Corps support prong creates a cohort of individuals who are passionate about their work in child welfare and provides them with the ability to gain the knowledge they need to set them up for success. Children’s Corps is a family I want to be a part of.

Raquel Barry is a social work intern at Fostering Change for Children, working closely with the Children’s Corps program. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work at New York University.

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Want to be a Children’s Corps Member? Check out these application tips!

Our team is hard at work recruiting and selecting our tenth cohort of Children’s Corps members. Check out these tips on how to put your best foot forward through the Children’s Corps application process.

For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of working with Fostering Change for Children and learning about the Children’s Corps program. Last year, when I was an Master’s in Social Work intern, I read applications and participated in interviews for the Class of 2019. Since I reviewed many applications, I felt like I got to know candidates before I even met them at interviews. It always felt exciting to finally talk with them, and to meet alumni interviewers. The days were long, but totally worth it. 

As we enter Children’s Corps recruitment and selection season, which is my favorite time at Fostering Change For Children, I wanted to share some tips on having a standout application.

DO: Research our program

We don’t expect candidates to have an in-depth knowledge of child welfare when applying to this program. However, we do encourage you to learn as much as you can about our program and what the work entails by reading through our website, social media, and the Children’s Corps blog. This will not only set you up for success in the interview portion of the process but also for your work in the field.

DON’T: Be intimidated

We understand that the application can be lengthy and time-consuming. Trust that this process ensures the best fit for everyone.  The essays really give us a chance to get to know you and your thought process. They also give you space to process different aspects of the work. Ultimately, if you are unsure of the strength of your responses, reach out to a friend or family member to review them.  

DO: Use transferable skills

Are you a math whiz? Have you worked in customer service for many years? Do you have experience mentoring youth or tutoring? Have you served as the head of a club or committee? Have you taken on a leadership role in your family? If so, we want to know more about how these types of skills and experiences will translate into you becoming an effective child welfare worker.

DON’T: Forget to spell check

Strong communication skills are essential to child welfare work. We want to see the attentiveness and care that you would put into your work reflected in your application. Review your short answers and personal essay for spelling and grammatical errors and thoroughly proofread your full application before you submit it. 

DO: Be yourself

The best way to set yourself apart from other applications is to be yourself: let us get to know you and your experiences that have shaped who you are, your values, and your passions. We don’t want to hear what you think we want to hear…we want to know you! We want to know how you think, how you would approach different situations, what you are drawn to, and what inspires you. Basically, we want to know the many facets of who you are.

So yes, it is important to proofread and spell check so that your thoughts and ideas come out clearly and we get to know you better. 

And definitely do research so that you understand more about what the work entails and whether you can envision yourself in this field. 

Try not to be discouraged by the length of the application because by providing this exhaustive information, we are better able to understand how you think.

Remember to fine tune that resume so we can see the range of your experiences and skills.

But most importantly, be yourself because we want to really get to know you through this application so we can find the best fit for all.

Jennie Morrison is a current Communications Specialist with our team and a former Masters in Social Work intern. Before attending social work school and joining the Fostering Change for Children team, Jennie worked with children and families in schools. Material for this post was also contributed by Akanksha Singh and Ana Aparicio Calderon.

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A Bittersweet Moment

hauling business 101

Picture this: you’re frantically sprinting through Jay Street/Metro-Tech, a subway stop in downtown Brooklyn. You arrive at the wrong end of the platform and you suddenly curse yourself for getting on at the wrong end of the train. It’s 11:00 am. Your hearing has already started. The train-in sat stalled underground for 25 minutes as you held your head in your hands, cursing yourself for not leaving sooner. 

But the judge and attorneys won’t care about that. And the foster mother won’t care about train delays when you tell her that the adoption process for the only son she’s ever known- a son she’s had since 3 days old- is being delayed due to adjourning the trial where the birth mother’s parental rights were to be terminated. A trial that is 14 months in the making. Excuses are not good enough in a situation like this, so you do what you have to do. 

I gave it my all and sprinted-a full on run- through the platform. You always see someone doing that and think they’re crazy or over-dramatic- and I could feel the stares as this sensibly-dressed young woman abandoned her inhibitions and fled to the platform exit. When I arrived on the street I had to stop, almost feeling like I was going to vomit. My job in child welfare hadn’t left me with much time or energy to exercise after long days of stress. My lunch break consisted shoving food in my mouth by the light of my computer, still writing notes and answering phones mid-chew because it’s a call I’d been waiting for from an elusive parent or service provider. My mornings were often a struggle to get out of bed after a sleepless night of worrying. My evenings were spent making the long trek to my neighborhood and then a longer walk from the subway because the money you make certainly won’t buy you convenience or short commutes. 

This was clearly not helping me as I was forced from a run to a speed walk, honing in on Brooklyn family court. While waiting to go through the metal detector I texted my agency lawyer, who had been messaging me to see where the hell I was, telling her that I was walking in. 


11:06. Damn. Family court hearings move surprisingly fast when they actually get called, and I assumed an adjournment was waiting for me- all that for nothing. 

When I came in, the attorney told me the judge reluctantly heard another case early and we would be seen shortly after. I breathed a sigh of relief, but took a step back, sure that my breath and body reeked. I was sweating bullets and chugging water, mouth dry and heart still racing. 

The lawyer suddenly rapid fired questions at me to prep, some I didn’t quite understand. And then I suddenly remembered why I was there- something I had forgotten with my sights set on simply getting to the courthouse. 

Today was my first termination of parental rights. My first time testifying with the intent of severing all claim a mother had to a child who she carried for 9 months and birthed. My heart started pounding again and my mouth went dry, but this time it wasn’t because I’d just booked it through a subway station. 

The answer to most of my questions were “no”, as she peppered me regarding the mother’s contact and efforts to plan for her child, if any.  Despite this being labeled a “simple” termination trial, I still hesitated, feeling the weight of my testimony. I hesitated as I  considered the mother’s history that led to this moment. I hesitated knowing that she probably loved her child and wanted desperately to care for him, but just was not equipped with the right tools. 15 months to battle a lifetime of addiction- that’s all you get in foster care. With that daunting of a feat, I can understand the urge to walk away.


When she felt my hesitation, the lawyer reminded me, “the purpose here is to terminate the parent’s rights”. I could see some other folks sitting nearby look over, and I felt almost ashamed. I wanted to turn around and tell them the full story. Tell them that I wasn’t just some ACS worker hell-bent on ripping babies from mothers’ arms. I wanted to tell them how the mother had used drugs throughout the pregnancy, and ultimately left the vulnerable and drug-addicted child in the hospital at birth. I wanted to tell them how the mother had given up 4 children before that, each scattered throughout the country in different homes. I wanted to tell them how the mother would call every few months from a different number, asking to visit and then never showing up. How the mother was air, no way to reach her or help her, even though we wanted to.

It’s odd how there’s an entire team of people spending months trying to track someone down, find out where they are; a team who deeply analyzes every little shred of interaction afforded, wondering if they said the right thing, wondering If they didn’t give enough chances.

And there she is, unaware that this decision to terminate her rights has been months in the making. It’s been documented, stressed, and cried over. Judges, lawyers, social workers, have spent months trying to pin her down. It’s funny how this entire universe exists around someone who doesn’t even know it. And that’s what I have to tell myself to get through. Because even though I know all of this, and I know completing this hearing will be a huge step, it’s still bittersweet. 


I sit at the bench, microphone turned to me, as my lawyer starts the inquest. I answer her questions, one after the other, until she rests. No further questions. No objections. And why would there be? We sit there in silence as the judge carefully reviews our testimony and submitted notes and reports. A major decision made in under five minutes. But it only takes that long for her to see what needs to be done. I sat reflecting for a moment, both happy to be pushing this case forward and sad for the mother who clearly had her own demons but was not yet ready to face them. 

The judge gave her decision: T.P.R. on the grounds of abandonment. We “prevailed” as they’d say, but I always feel uncomfortable with that language when in these situations involving parents and children. I still felt good about the work I’d done in helping to pave the way for a child to be adopted by a loving home.  That’s not a feeling you’ll always get, and sometimes you need to look deeper to find it. I can’t do work that I don’t believe in, but sometimes with this work I need convincing.

Three days later I called the foster mother to schedule my monthly home visit. As we spoke, I suddenly remembered the events that unfolded a few days prior. I told her the outcome. 

Screams. Shrieks. Crying and yelling erupted as I held the phone away from my assailed ears. Tears of joy and hope from the other end. She said it was the best news she had heard for some time. Her baby boy was finally going to really become hers. No imminent risk of him being whisked away, as always is the fear in the back of every pre-adoptive foster parents’ mind. She could breathe again. I had helped give this to her.

And in that moment, I believed in my work. A necessary connection made in my head, that helped me push on another day in foster care, where lines often become blurred, and questioning your decisions is commonplace. For today, I could sleep soundly, as I felt this work’s weight. 


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It’s Complicated

When I started working in foster care, I was assigned a case with a birth mother who has a bit of a reputation around my office. (I’ll call her “Jade.”) She has antagonized my supervisor on a number of occasions, has gotten into yelling matches with both foster mothers to her children, and frequently threatens to sue her case workers. She is also very erratic; she will show up to every supervised visit she has for weeks at a time, and then miss three in a row with no explanation. She can get very defensive of her children, which is a natural (and positive) quality for any parent to have, but if you are on the receiving end of it, it can be quite explosive.


In my second week as a case planner, Jade yelled at my supervisor, in front of me, because she insisted that I was the best case worker she had ever had, and told my supervisor not to move me off her case under any circumstances. She said that I “got her” in a way that other workers have not.


On a personal level, I’m fond of Jade. She has a lot of energy, she clearly really loves her kids, and she’s always making me laugh. But I’m not always sure what, exactly, constitutes me “getting” her. Mostly, I have just tried to address things that, to me, are part of the bare minimum of me doing my job. When I have concerns about her supervised visits, I try to explain to her how she can address them, and when she needs referrals to services, I send them to her. But most importantly, when I need to have difficult conversations with her, I have them.


Jade has three children in foster care, all of whom are on my caseload. Her two and three year old were placed into foster care less than a year ago, but her six year old, Claire (who’s name I have also changed) has been in care since she was eighteen months old, and has bounced around between a number of different foster homes in that time. Per the encouragement of my supervisor, I had the ASFA talk with Jade that day.


ASFA (the Adoption and Safe Families Act) refers to a piece of legislation passed in the Clinton administration stating that any child who has been in foster care for 15 of 22 consecutive months should be considered for a goal change from “return to parent” to “adoption” by the foster care agency. This rule seems quite reasonable on paper, but it’s one thing to approve of those numbers in theory, and it’s another thing to have a serious discussion about what that would look like with a family who you see multiple times a week and have gotten to know pretty well.

It’s a third thing to talk about that rule when you realize it hasn’t been spoken about or implemented by the previous workers on the case. I know that Claire should have been considered for a goal change a while ago, and I know that if I do my job correctly, she will be considered for a goal change very soon. Doing my job correctly may have the effect of permanently keeping this child away from her birth mother. I don’t know how to feel about that. Claire’s happy in her foster home, and her foster mother has expressed an interest in adopting her, but I like Claire’s mom quite a lot, and I can see that her mom is really trying, even if she isn’t always successful. My fondness for her is part of what enables me to be honest with her and give her every chance I can to succeed.


I explain to Jade what ASFA is and that, given the amount of time Claire has been in the system, we may need to look into a goal change soon. I explain to her as well that I want to be able to advocate for her, because I do, but that I can only advocate for her based on the services she has actually been attending. I sent her referrals for two different mental health providers, and she hasn’t gone to either. Meanwhile, she stopped showing up to her last set of parenting classes halfway through to completion and never gave an explanation as to why. I tell her that her attendance at visits is also important. She’s quick to give reasons when I point out how many she’s missed, and I tell her that I understand things come up, but that I have to be honest about her attendance when I’m asked in court, and that the lower it is, the less chance I have to push for her.


She’s currently homeless as she waits to move into the house she purchased in Jersey, and she explains to me that she needs a parenting class provider in the city, preferably either near where she attends school or near where she attends visits with the children. She previously had told me she wanted parenting classes in Jersey, but I consent to find her parenting classes in New York.


She also informs me that she hasn’t gone to the other mental health referrals because she’s still waiting to hear back from the one she attended intake at two months ago, which I hadn’t realized was still on the table. She tells me that they still have yet to assign her a therapist, even though she attended her first appointment months previously, and that she’s hoping to continue treatment there if it’s possible. I know I’m going to have to check with them to confirm her story, but as she tells me this, I can tell she’s not lying. I promise that I’ll update my court report to reflect this information once I confirm with the mental health provider. She thanks me for agreeing to speak up for her.


As I leave, I think about her chances of getting her kids back. I really want her to be able to do it, and I don’t think it’s impossible, but I also don’t know how likely it is, and it’s certainly not impossible that they’ll get adopted, either. It’s really difficult to have that thought about someone you like, and it’s difficult to have that thought about someone who clearly loves their children.

We have this common misconception that birth parents in the foster care system are all heartless criminals, dead-beat drug addicts, or psychotic to the point of total incoherence. I have come across parents who are totally uninterested in reunification, I have come across parents who have no interest in trying to turn their life around, and I have come across parents who, through no fault of their own, have issues so severe that they cannot reasonably be entrusted with the care of children. But I have mostly come across parents who are people – people with issues, for sure, but people that I like talking to, people who are confused by an imperfect and often arbitrary system, and people who really, really want their children back.


Much as I like Jade, I don’t feel as bad as I could about the prospect of her children getting adopted. I know that because I have had this talk with Jade and tried to work with her as best I can, that I’ve done all I can do. My job is to give her the best chance I can at succeeding; it’s not to give her success, because I can’t.

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Dear Prospective Foster Parent,


I am writing to offer some advice for you to consider as you contemplate signing up to be a foster parent. Let me start by telling you a short story. At the beginning of the year I took 8 year old twins to have transfer physicals at a local pediatrician’s office. A transfer physical is required every time a child moves from one foster home to another and this was their fourth set of transfer physicals in the seven short months I had been on the case. These children, while utterly adorable, are a force to be reckoned with- bundles of nonstop energy in motion. As it turns out, energetic twins in motion will stay in motion, especially in new locations where there are magazines to read and then discard on the floor, office supplies to borrow from the receptionist (when she isn’t looking), and snacks to munch from new friends who weren’t really intending to share. It was a bit chaotic but we finally got called back into the room. When it came time for the actual physicals the room was suddenly quiet, but not a particularly satisfying type of quiet as it came from their anxiety about the potential of “getting a needle.” Once assured that it was just a quick check-up they immediately perked back up and reverted to their mischievous selves that warranted the doctor uttering the phrase “don’t touch that” approximately one hundred times in twenty minutes.

As the twins started to put their shoes on to leave one of them turned to me, face glowing in pride, and shouted, “Ms. E, I figured it out!” “What did you figure out?” I asked as I tried to wrangle the other child’s foot into a boot without losing an eye. “When we are bad we come to the doctor and then you take us to another home to see if that person thinks we are good or bad!” The words were said with such glee in the discovery that they had figured out the pattern- it was heartbreaking, mostly because it was true. Four sets of foster parents had decided over the course of seven months that they could not keep the children in their home, so four times they had their possessions packed up and delivered to me at the agency, I would accompany them to their transfer physical, buy them lunch, and then take them to a new home full of strangers.

Now I don’t mean to start this letter on a negative note. I don’t write these words to pass judgment on the parents who could not keep these children in their homes. I write this because I have seen in my time as a case planner that there is an increasingly common trend of foster parents putting in their “ten day notice” without really trying (in my opinion) to preserve the placement. I urge you to consider with utmost care what you are capable of doing and how you will cope with a foster child who is not perfect because I am here to tell you a not-so-secret secret: NO child is perfect. Regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sexual-orientation or even placement into foster care: every child presents unique and often frustrating challenges.

messy baby

I understand that what I am asking of you is impossible: I want you to love that child in your home like your own but with an understanding that they could leave at any moment. They could go to a relative who you don’t like. They could go to a grandparent who has very little money or a recovering parent residing in a shelter. You might not approve of the circumstances and no matter what it will probably break your heart because you did what I asked of you- you loved that child like your own. It is a heavy emotional price to pay if you want to be a foster parent, but I assure you the investment is worth the pain. The love, time, and energy that you put into raising that child, no matter the duration of time, will always be with them. What I ask of you is that you remember that no child is perfect and it will take time for a child to adjust to your home. Being a foster parent does not mean that you are “saving” a child. Children and youth might not be happy with you by no fault of your own, almost all children want to be with their family, even in cases of severe abuse and neglect. Their biological parents will not be perfect, just like you yourself are not a perfect parent. Their faults as parents might be more substantial but try your best to not be judgmental. Almost all parents with children in care (I would say at least 99.99%) love their children and want to protect and provide for them. They might not express their love the same way you do, but at the end of the day the children love their parents and, usually, want to go home.

I write this so that you will know ahead of time what to expect, but don’t be discouraged! Children are so wonderful, they love freely and without conditions, they will love multiple parents without the constraints of labels like “biological” and “foster.” I ask that you summon as much patience as is humanly possible, and then maybe a little more. Patience will be key to preserving your sanity. Nothing in child welfare runs on time and the only thing that is predictable is the promise of change. Be patient with the child and be patient with yourself. To be a truly phenomenal foster parent you have to practice exceptional self-care so don’t feel selfish when you prioritize your own physical and mental health above other things.

I commend you for considering this adventure because it is not a small commitment, children are precious but their needs are many. You will be busy with appointments and visits and meetings and you will feel exhausted and discouraged. And perhaps on that lowest of days you will come home to crayon mural of expletives on your newly painted wall or the leftover ashes of a joint in your mother’s antique ceramic pot. You might say that this is not for you, that this child cannot possibly stay one more day. Try to remember when you were a child or a teen, I am sure you did a few things that drove your parents crazy. And if you were somehow an angel in your childhood I am sure you had friends with rebellious streaks and their parents, while tempted to ship them to a circus, kept them because they were their children. I ask that if you truly want to be a foster parent then you commit to have this level of love for a child, a type of love that prevails over a storm of negatives when the positives can be few and far between.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for support and additional resources, don’t think that you are alone. As a case planner I know and love the children but I am not raising them 24/7- you are the one doing morning and bedtime routines and everything in between so you might feel like I don’t really understand when you tell me what is going on. Try joining a support group for foster parents so you can vent to someone who actually understands what you are going through on a daily basis, someone who might have also scrubbed some curse words off of furniture or waited up for teenagers who don’t mind curfews. Other people who have practice in negotiating the tumultuous waters of foster care and the extensive responsibilities and requirements you face. Build up your support network so that your friends and family can learn how to better help you and the child get everything done. Find someone to remind you on a daily basis how strong and wonderful you are. But please, unless there is a safety risk to you, the child, or your family, please don’t send a child back to the agency because they “aren’t the right fit.” Children are not puzzle pieces, there is no such thing as a perfect fit.

sun after storm

Please try a little longer, because the sunshine might be right behind this passing storm cloud but no one, not even the child or youth themselves, knows that it is so close. I ask you the impossible: love that child like they are your own and pour every last bit of your love and devotion into a child that you may never see again if/when they leave. You could be the one to help a child discover their true potential, to give them stability they might have been missing, you could help lead them to the sunshine, whatever that light may be. Just be prepared for the storms, and please don’t throw in the umbrella too soon because every day in the life of child is precious and they deserve someone who will be around regardless of the weather.



Your future case planner


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All the Small Things

I joined Children’s Corps this past year, so I’ve been on the job for a grand total of about seven and a half months. In that time, I’ve resisted blogging about it. Partially because I’m a notoriously inconsistent blogger (ask my mom about my Peace Corps blog) and partially because, at the end of the day, I don’t always want to relive my job. The concept of a work/life balance- so important for everyone, but especially in the field of human services- is something I continue to struggle with on an almost daily basis.

But yesterday, I finally decided that contributing to this blog is important. It’s not because I had one big epiphany that made me want to share my experiences with the world. It’s because I had a week full of small things, things that people who don’t work in child welfare usually will not see despite how very significant they are. And these small things are important for me to share with you, because they are important for my families. They are part of everyday life, which so often gets overlooked in foster care.

People who don’t know much about foster care see only the big, bad things. They see the news stories about fatalities, hear the stories about a broken system, and imagine the stereotype of bad kids in rough homes that may not be better than the places they were removed from. And yes, these things do happen. But so do many, many others.

small successes

Today I want to share some of the other things.

Last Friday, a thirteen-year-old I only recently met had dinner with me. She told me about her birthday plans, her family, and her school. She told me that she thinks I’m stylish (which, trust me, I am not). She asked me questions about my life, about high school and college and other opportunities she is looking forward to but about which she is nervous. Then, we went window-shopping. And we both had a great time!

On Monday, one of my teenagers had a doctor’s appointment. Her foster mother- who has never been a parent before and is still learning the ropes- came with the teenager even though she didn’t really have to. She had a second sick child with her and got him an appointment. Then she got him his prescription from the pharmacy and got everyone lunch. Finally, she traveled home to get yet another child and bring him back for a therapy appointment, despite the fact that she lives an hour away. I missed a phone call from her when I was in a training, but when I asked what was wrong the answer was, “Don’t worry, we sorted it out”. This might seem like a regular day for most parents, but for a person who all of a sudden found herself with three children ages four, seven, and sixteen, it’s a lot. I felt so happy to see those words from someone who has relied heavily on my assistance in the past.

family blocks

Wednesday was a rough day. It was one of those days where there was too much to do and not enough time, and I was tense knowing that I had to supervise a visit which is usually very emotionally draining for the kids, the parent, and me. And honestly, it was. But at the end of the day, I got hugs and “I love you”s from two adorable children. I even got an unprompted apology for difficult behavior from a five-year-old. Anyone who has ever worked with kids knows how much that means!

At that same visit, the children’s grandmother gave me a mini portable radio and some batteries. She had it at her house and thought that I might like it at my desk when I’m working late at the office, “just because”. She’s expressed that she knows my job can be hard and that she’s grateful for what I am trying to do for her grandchildren.

Finally, on Thursday I had a birth parent who has been away for a year visit with her children for the first time. It may have started off a bit shaky, but it ended well. The foster parent, who is a family member, and the biological mom put their differences aside to ensure the kids felt safe and loved. The three-year-old gave me an Easter egg with candy in it because he was “coming to my house”. (He thinks I live at the agency.) He even let me keep the candy after taking it back once or twice. I ate it while writing this blog. I know you’re curious- it was Starburst.

These things may seem small. You may see them in your life, with your friends or your family, and think nothing of it. Genuine conversations, dinners, gifts, expressions of love, apologies, and managing crazy schedules happen all the time. Unfortunately, many people do not think of these things when they think of foster care.

I really wish they would.

celebrate small victories

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It Takes A Village

Musings on Terminology in the Foster Care World


I recently had the privilege of supporting a birth parent on my caseload as she surrendered her parental rights so that her two year old daughter, A, could be adopted by her foster parents. The Judge explained the proceedings to A’s mom to ensure that she understood the finality of her decision and asked for a final verbal confirmation. A’s mom had an opportunity to speak through her attorney and expressed her gratitude for the foster parents and their ability to provide the stability she would not be able to offer her daughter. After this the group scrambled to find a pen, because somehow, between three attorneys, one Judge, and a case planner, nobody had a working pen. One borrowed pen later A’s mom signed a series of documents and all legal ties were severed between a child and the woman who gave her life. Twenty-four months worth of court dates, meetings, treatment referrals, and family visits culminated in a fifteen meeting hearing. It was beautiful and heart-breaking all at once and I left the court room in total awe of A’s biological mom and the strength and courage it must take for a parent to make that kind of sacrifice, the epitome of a parent wanting what is best for their child. A’s mom never completed a single mandated service and did not frequently visit but she loved her daughter dearly and wanted to give her the best quality of life possible, even if that meant asking someone else to raise her baby.

Since this hearing I have spent a significant amount of time processing the role of language in foster care, especially when it comes to engaging birth parents in discussions concerning permanency options for children other than reunification. Words have a significant amount of power in our world, often times more than we realize. There are many terms in foster care vernacular that could benefit from an updated label but none more than the term surrender. When I first started reflecting on this issue I typed the word surrender into google and found the following sentences presented to give the definition:

1 The enemy finally surrendered after three days of fighting.

2 The gunman surrendered and was taken into custody.

3 The troops were forced to surrender the fort.


Those examples do not evoke a sentiment of strength and sacrifice but rather an idea of weakness and lose. When a parent is presented with the option to surrender their parental rights I believe that many are intimidated by the terminology (and the word’s negative connotations) and refuse to even entertain the arrangement because it seems like they are giving up on their children. Although not everyone will understand or properly appreciate this statement I can tell you that 100% of the parents I have worked with love their children. Love is not the problem for a majority of cases in foster care, and it is no surprise that parents who love their children do not readily jump at the idea of signing papers that allow a Judge to terminate their parental rights. I would love to see a new term for this action that focuses on the parent’s strengths and what they are giving their child instead of what they are giving up. This does not negate the fact that a very serious discussion needs to occur so that parents completely understand the legal implications of their actions, but I think it would be beneficial for families navigating the foster care system if the lens could shift from a perspective of shame and guilt to one of empowerment and love.

While a non-voluntary termination of parental rights is usually not conducive to a continued relationship, conditional surrenders can allow parents to maintain a relationship with their child after their rights are terminated. While this situation presents its own unique set of challenges, it is, in my opinion, the best of both worlds for a child who cannot be safely reunified with their parents. This arrangement allows for the child to be raised in a safe and stable home while also benefiting from a connection with their biological families. You can NEVER have too many people loving a child. When it comes to establishing permanency there is no room to be selfish and if a child calling two people mom is the biggest concern in a parent’s world then it is time to re-evaluate priorities. If it takes a village to raise a child then we need to start empowering our birth families to feel comfortable inviting new people into the village because raising a child is hard work and not everyone has the resources, skills, and support to do it alone.


It has been about a month since the surrender in court and tonight I visited A in her foster home. She is a bright, energetic, and slightly bossy toddler who loves her foster (soon to be adoptive) family very much. A showed me her new Christmas gifts and ordered me to drink imaginary tea that she brewed in her new play kitchen. Her birth mother did not attend the scheduled holiday visit that A’s foster mother arranged. This does not surprise me, A’s mom has her own hurdles to jump over on her road to recovery that may take some time, but the important thing is that the lines of communication are open and the seeds of the relationship have been planted thanks to the conditional surrender. After seven non-voluntary terminations of parental rights A’s mom was able to make the choice to give her daughter a more stable childhood while also remaining in her life. A’s foster mom texts A’s birth mom pictures and messages and is open to future visits, even though she knows not all of them will happen.

The foster care system is designed to support our children and families and I would love to see that sentiment reflected in the terminology. When I look at A running around, doll and tea pot in hand, it is easy to see the positive benefits of her mother’s decision. They say it takes a village, and A’s just got a whole lot bigger.



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Questions for my Would-Be Therapist

We do not take credit for our families’ successes and accomplishments, so why are we so quick to blame ourselves for their downfalls and breakdowns?

I’m going on two years in the field and I can say that my number one struggle remains to be setting and maintaining emotional boundaries.


estabilishing personal boundaries can be really difficult


Already an issue due to the very personal way I approach the work, I find this separation almost impossible the longer I remain working alongside each family. Over time, due to the nature of the general preventive model, I am enmeshed in every way within my “strictly professional” relationships. From having a comprehensive understanding of their histories, their day to day realities to the hopes and dreams they carry for the future, it is not long before I begin to carry these as my own; before I pour my time, passion and effort into helping them achieve their goals because, damn it, they deserve it. Each and every one of them deserves a shot at stability and certainty; a moment for the chaos around them to release them from its grips, for the dust to settle so they can finally see and believe in their innate ability and self-worth. And I was put into their lives to help them with this, entering with promises already broken by virtue of my utter powerlessness to impact such entrenched patterns of injustice.

Walking alongside them day after day, I am overwhelmed in the face of the structural and cyclical blockades that threaten to strangle their capacity for self-determination. Ultimately it is all unbearably out of my control. How do I continue to pour myself into these hole-filled containers when so much of me already remains in puddles on the floor? How do I make a job sustainable that inherently triggers the failed efforts of my past to fix my own family?

I am starting to see that this is what likely leads to my feelings of personal failure when things go awry- the way they more than likely would have whether I was present in this capacity or not. Despite rationally knowing that I was not the cause of these breakdowns, my empathetic prowess works to my detriment in not allowing me to separate their devastation from my own.

It seems I care much too much. But how can I reconcile this with my fear of apathy and hopelessness jading and hardening my soul? How do I continue in this fight without allowing it to break me down in the process? How do I strike this fundamentally important balance?

I don’t have the answers here. Nor do I have the funds to afford a therapist that might be more able to guide me to them. So where am I to go? Despite my consistent efforts towards self-care- maintaining a vibrant social life, doing yoga, etc etc, I cannot seem to shake these deep questions I am confronted with each and every time I step back into the office. I try to write it out in my journal and reach out to professional contacts for advice, remind myself that I am planting seeds for individual impact and I will never truly know how far that impact will reverberate out. I repeat the golden mantra of social work that “All I can do is all I can do” but somehow through all that, it just never seems to be enough.

Ultimately, my fears extend far beyond my own personal mental health concerns/existential dilemmas regarding my purpose in life. There is a startling lack of support and flexibility given to most front-line staff making the conscious decision to dedicate their lives to these efforts. I believe that among the multitudes of egregious social injustices that need to be addressed, the high turnover rate within social welfare agencies due to widespread compassion fatigue and burn-out  is an important one to talk about because it systemically perpetuates many of the issues we set out to ameliorate. Statistically, a majority of social service providers choose this profession based on a strong personal identification with the population they serve. Thus, the inevitability of transference/countertransference, vicarious trauma, and other triggering experiences must be adequately supported to keep our fellow warriors in the fight instead of allowing it to break them down. If we are not given agency support and a safe space to collectively grapple with these emotional minefields, we are increasingly unable to provide this care to those we serve. In fact, the lack of consistency and apathy that prevails when these challenges go unacknowledged can result in disserving those we wish to help.

Much like what I believe my families could truly benefit from, I think we as direct practice staff need to coalesce for our common good. We need a safe and consistent space to come together to address and support each other through these trademark textbook symptoms that we face on a day to day basis that go on compounding like interest over time. Although I have yet to find the time and energy to formally channel these frustrations into a funnel of productivity, I aim to develop a curriculum to be used as a guide for us as a community of social workers to unpack the emotional baggage we so often carry alone in this line of work. A space where we share and acknowledge the burden we willingly accepted when we chose this as a profession. Where we come to realize and understand that while we made that choice alone initially, we are all in this fight together and need each other if we intend to make it out alive. Or if we simply want to avoid the additional cost of traditional therapy;)

Front-line workers need to support one another.

Front-line workers need to support one another.

So. Who’s with me?


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New Year Resolutions

Since the first day I walked in the door of my agency, I’ve spent 90% of my emotional energy and time on one case.balance-320x182

We’ll call it the Smith case. My other cases are “easy” and the Smith case is “hard”. My other parents are non compliant, deceased, or in the process of signing away their parental rights. To say Ms. Smith is present and determined would be an understatement.

There is rarely an emergency that comes up in my other cases but I could write a dozen blogs detailing the Smith case emergencies and dramas. These are the kids I transferred one night to an emergency foster home at 10pm after investigating allegations of abuse in the previous foster home. This is the case whose birth mom calls me once a week threatening to involve the media on the agencies injustices to her children or call the police. This is the case in which I get a call from the emergency line on a Saturday night informing me Ms. Smith has taken her children and is not answering her phone. This is the case I dream about; this is the birth parent I advocate strongest for; these are the children who tell me they are getting bullied in school for being foster kids and I imagine the ways I wish I could plot revenge on their bullies during my commute home. This is the case that makes me want to bang my head against the wall when Ms. Smith slips up or makes a poor judgment call. This is the case that I constantly find myself struggling over the line between professional and friend.  Some days I want to take the whole family home with me, birth mother and all.

My supervisor is aware of the effect this case has on my time and my emotions. And a while back in supervision he said something that stuck. He told me that the Smith case is my loudest case. It’s the case that demands my full attention and follows me home every night. But he encouraged me not to let my loudest case drown out my quieter ones.


Just because the kids are well behaved, the parents are not as demanding, and the foster parents are saintly, doesn’t mean they should become second priority. Foster care is meant to be temporary; a significant reason why children remain in the system for years is because they are the “quiet cases” — ones that don’t require immediate action and therefore none is taken. They are the ones that workers dream of because of how “easy” they seem. But they are so often the ones that get ignored.

My goal for the New Year is not to work any less hard on the Smith case, but to help give voice to the quieter ones.


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… that one time I couldn’t find my kid .

On New Years Day at 10:30pm, I received a text saying that one of my foster children was not returned to his foster mother. I was getting ready for bed and I didn’t want to respond, but how could I sleep not knowing what is happening? So… I texted Ms.Todd*, foster mother, and asked her if he was still missing.

me: Is he still missing? Ms. Miller’s [birth mom] cell phone is off; here is her home number. I tried calling but no answer.
her: No, she still hasn’t dropped him off. I texted her, I called her, I called her mother… no response. I called the on-call and I am waiting for them to call me back. I hope everything is alright. I am beginning to get worried.

At this point it was 11:30pm, and I had no idea what to do. This wasn’t supposed to happen! I had just talked to Ms. Miller the day before about her progress… this will not go well!

Let’s go back a couple of days… it’s Tuesday 12/30/14, and Ms. Miller called me. She is asking for an extended visit with her boys. I had received her most recent drug screening and it came back positive for marijuana. I had a long discussion with her and stated that I would email our lawyer to see if they will approve the extended visit, but I also have to inform them about the positive drug screening.

The lawyers wrote back and they recommended to suspend overnight visits until Ms. Miller has consistent negative drug screenings. This was not going to go well. It took so much to get Ms. Miller where she is now and if we suspended overnights, I believed that Ms. Miller would revert back to not being consistent with her service plan. After consulting with my supervisor, we decided that we would allow one-night overnight visit with Ms. Miller and she would have to complete a drug screening immediately. Continuing over-night visits would be determined after the drug screening results.

I called and informed Ms. Miller of the denial of her request; I informed her to come to the office the next morning to pick up her son, Tyler, and to have a discussion about moving forward. She came bright and early; we spoke about the drug screening [I showed her the results]. She denied that she is smoking. I explained that I don’t know if she is or not, but that random drug screenings are a part of the service plan, so she needs to stop being around it if that’s what’s causing the positive screening. I explained that we will have to suspend visits if the next test is positive. Tyler arrived and they left. Happy New Years!

Fast forward to 01/01/15 at 11:30 pm and we do not know where the foster child is; we can’t get a hold of birth mom.

Are they okay? Is anyone hurt? I’m going to get in so much trouble!
Please… please let us find him. 

At midnight, I called the on-call since Ms. Todd has not gotten a phone call back. I was able to relay information and the supervisor stated she would call Ms. Todd. The supervisor stated that she’s going to tell Ms. Todd to file a missing person’s report with the police. I waited by the phone for Ms. Todd to call me. I couldn’t fall asleep. I facebooked Ms. Miller and her boyfriend. I was desperate to get a hold of someone. I was thinking about how traumatizing it’s going to be for Tyler if the police goes to the home and he is there. But what are we supposed to do?

Finally, Ms. Todd texted at 1:30 pm and stated that the police just left, they were going to Ms. Miller’s home, and she was finally going to sleep. All I could do was try to sleep. I woke up the next morning and rushed to the work. There was an email already in my inbox detailing the events from the night before. At 9:30 am, I received a phone call from Ms. Todd and she stated that Tyler was dropped off to her home at 9 am by Ms. Miller. Ms. Todd wasn’t able to speak with Ms. Miller.

Oh, thank goodness! He’s safe.

I was so angry; I was so tired. I wanted to cry; I was so scared for both Ms. Miller and Tyler. But I wonder how Ms. Miller felt. I wanted to know where she was coming from, what determined her actions, and how can we support her as we move to suspend her overnight visits. I know that when we meet I will have to explain the facts of the night before; I will have to explain why overnight visits are being suspended; and I will have to tell her that trial discharge is delayed. All of these topics will be hard to discuss with her, but it needs to happen.

This career field is no joke and we will have surprises like these all the time. What I have to remember is the ultimate goal… keeping the children safe. As long as that’s at the forefront, whatever we do, whatever we say… it will always be what is in the best interest of the child.

At this time, the best interest for Tyler is to suspend overnights. 

*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

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