I am approaching the 1.5 year mark as a foster care case planner, which seems like an appropriate time for reflection. I have been through some tough times, but through it all, I am still here. Same position, same location, and two of the same original families assigned to me. I have conducted late night weekend home visits, physically removed kids from being on trial discharge, been chastised by judges, spent nine miserable hours one day at PATH with a family, and so much more. Caseworkers have crazy stories.
If I was in the same place now that I was at anytime in the first nine months or so, I would have already quit. I am strong, but not a masochist. Becoming a good case planner takes time. In the beginning, I was constantly making mistakes, even though they were mostly small ones. I would call the wrong person, forget to schedule a meeting, let foster parents walk all over me, get lost on the way to a home visit, etc. It is incredibly stressful to have so much responsibility for people you are just getting to know in a job you are trying to understand. As time goes on, some things start going well and each success makes the day go smoother.
I still make mistakes all the time, but now I know my families and my agency staff well enough that things work out just fine. I have formed a support network at work and I have good rapport with my families. My mistakes are not as stressful anymore, particularly because there are so many successes. Four children I’ve worked with have been adopted, and one was just freed for adoption through a clean surrender to a family member. Eight children have returned to their parents’ care, and two teens have been placed in the homes of incredible foster parents who are willing to care for him as long as is needed outside of a legal adoption. One of my kids has a mentor through Big Brother Big Sister. Another kid just won the spelling bee for her whole school, and she came into care because of medical and educational neglect. My work involves service providers, biological families, foster families, and other caseworkers. These successes would not be possible without the involvement of other parties. Regardless, I work hard and I care about the outcomes.
Two months ago, I received what my agency and the courts say is a high risk case. This fourteen-year old kid was arrested for stealing from his mother, who then placed him voluntarily in foster care and moved six hours away. She has not visited with him since, but he desperately wants to be home with her. He has many difficult behaviors and multiple mental health diagnoses. On paper, this kid looks like he has little hope. He is with a dedicated foster parent who works overtime making sure that he is safe and receives as many services as possible. She came into my office yesterday and said that she was thinking of giving her ten day notice for him to be removed from her home because his behavior was out of control. She explained that again this past weekend he left her house Saturday morning and came back late at night, refusing to tell her where he went. I dropped what I was doing and listened to her for an hour. At the end, she agreed to keep working with him, and it is clear that she cares about him. She even told me that after being a foster parent for eight years, I am the best caseworker she has had, because she can tell that I work hard and care about the kids. I do not take that lightly.
That evening, I received a phone call from her saying that she sat down with him, trying to figure out where he has been going. He said he went to his paternal grandfather’s house in Brooklyn, who bought him some clothes. He gave her a piece of paper on which his grandfather wrote his name and contact information, as well as the same for this child’s father, who is living in Florida. He then asked the foster mom if he could maybe go see his grandfather every weekend. I couldn’t help but cry a bit as she told me this. This kid, who the courts and the agency has been so worried about because his known family has basically abandoned him, now has potential to have family connection on his father’s side of the family for the first time in his life. Maybe he could even meet his father. Now that is a success. There is a lot of work ahead of me to engage the family to help plan for this kid, but I am hopeful. This is why I am still here.