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Ask Maralee: How to Encourage a Caseworker

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*After too long of an absence, I’m resurrecting the Ask Maralee series. If you’ve got a question for me about parenting, foster care, large family logistics,  or anything else, feel free to send me an email at amusingmaralee@gmail.com*

Dear Maralee,

I have 2 kiddos with us right now in foster care. This is only our second placement and we have only been licensed since March 2016. As new to this journey as we are, I can tell the kids’ current caseworker is amazing! She emails or calls at least weekly, keeping me posted on all visits and therapy appointments. She is always available to answer my questions (and I have many since I don’t even know the “language” as well as I would like at this point). She came every week for the first month to be sure kids were settling in well and we had all the support we needed. She has joined me at school for an IEP meeting. She is always prompt with paperwork and greets all the people living here with kindness and care. We love working with her! Honestly, if these kids get to return home someday, I want to take whatever case she has next– she is that wonderful to work with.

Other than praising her to her her supervisor (which I’ve already done) what can I do to help encourage this wonderful caseworker in doing her hard job so well? I know how hard just caring for these dear kids is– and I feel so thankful to work with such a helpful professional! Thanks for your blog and fb too! Always encouraging me to keep loving these kids right where they are!

–Sarah

 

Dear Sarah,

I love this question and I’m SO thankful you are having such a positive experience with your caseworker. She certainly sounds like the kind of caseworker we want to keep doing this for a long time so kids in tough situations can get the attentive care they need.

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I know the first way I wanted to reward caseworker was by making their job as easy as possible– easier said than done, right? But as foster parents, there are definitely ways we can bless these competent caseworkers by not overtaxing them. Be a good diplomat, play well with others (especially the child’s family), send the caseworker encouraging updates whenever you can. I would occasionally send caseworkers sweet pictures of the kids with a short note about how well they were doing (if they were, of course) and how much we appreciated having a caseworker we knew would care. So many of these caseworkers got into this work because they are passionate about the wellbeing of children, but then get lost in a sea of paperwork, bureaucracy, and angry adults. When we can remind them of WHY we all do what we do for these kids, I think that can help keep them inspired.

I think you did a great thing to let her supervisor know what a fantastic job she’s doing! I’d continue to look for ways to honor her professionally– does her department recognize employees who go above and beyond? Could you write a letter to the head of her department about her and ask if there’s a way to reward her faithful service? This kind of praise is great PR for a government body that often faces public scrutiny and criticism, so I think your words could be an encouragement to many.

I checked with a former caseworker friend of mine (former caseworker, currently still my friend 🙂 ) about what a foster family could have done to help her feel encouraged. She referenced things like being available with needed information in a timely manner, be understanding when hard decisions have to be made, and having grace and patience with your caseworker. I think she’s hitting on an important point– it can be easy to be an encouragement to caseworkers when things are going the way we like, but if we really want to help these caseworkers keep from getting discouraged, we need to be able to lift them up during the really difficult times, too. Those times when judges make decisions that the team doesn’t agree with or the family takes a giant step back or the caseworker makes a mistake and it complicates our lives– can we still be supportive of them during those times, too?

While the kids are in your home, I’d be cautious about any kind of gift specifically to your caseworker. I don’t know if the department has a policy about that, but you always want to be careful about making sure the family isn’t going to think you’re trying to get a caseworker to side with you by unfairly influencing them. BUT once the kids are reunified and out of your home (or adopted, if that’s the way the case goes), that might be a time to think about a gift to thank her for her service. A gift card for dinner or a framed picture of her with the kids– something that would celebrate the work she did on behalf of the kids.

My friend Carley delivered a treat basket to to the department her caseworker worked in and I wanted to let her explain how that worked because I think it’s a really fantastic idea:

–Last spring, when visiting with friends about end of year gifts for teachers, our conversation turned to a discussion about those in our lives who we don’t show our appreciation to as much. I immediately thought of the DHHS caseworkers our family had worked with and the thankless job they held. We’d recently had some emotional team meetings where our then current caseworker had taken some pretty severe verbal blows from several sides. I shared some of my thoughts with other foster families and asked if they would want to join me in saying “Thank you” to local caseworkers. It wasn’t because all of them were doing an amazing job but because they have value as people. We wanted to recognize the hard work they were doing with big caseloads, inadequate training, long hours, low pay and little appreciation. Our hope was to say “We see you, we support you, and we know this isn’t an easy job.” I contacted DHHS and asked if we could drop treats off at the local office, it seemed to surprise them a little but a few days later I got an email back with details on drop off. Armed with assorted candies, giant bags of popcorn and treat bags another foster mom and I stopped by the local break room one afternoon to set up a popcorn bar and leave a note of appreciation My hope is to be able to make this a regular event, a morale booster of sorts, perhaps others will join in and maybe, just maybe if caseworkers feel seen, supported and appreciated we might see them getting burned out a tiny bit less often?–

And don’t forget to pray for her! I have so often been reminded to pray for these caseworkers, lawyers and judges specifically that they would not grow weary in doing good. These jobs are demanding and thankless and I think growing weary is something that happens regularly to our most idealistic, motivated and conscientious workers. The disappointment of seeing the systemic problems can be too much for them, so praying for their strength of character, their refreshment, their ability to create healthy boundaries in their own lives can be a blessing. We can also communicate to them that we are intentionally praying for them and ask if there are specific things we should be praying for.

I’m so glad you’ve found a good caseworker and I know just what a HUGE difference that can make in the longterm direction of a case. I’m thankful you’re actively thinking of ways to show her the appreciation she deserves.

If anyone else has suggestions about ways they’ve shown gratitude to good caseworkers, I’d love to hear it! Share in the comments below or on my Facebook page.

–Maralee

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One Comment

  1. Love this list! Foster parents are part of the foster care team and supporting your teammates is essential. Here’s an idea. Tell other social workers – the trainers, the ones updating your home study, the one filling in for a family visit – how great she or he is. Tell your CASA and tell your GAL. These people are her/his colleagues and they’ll feel great when they hear you’re building up their reputation.

    You can also tell other foster parents. Why? So they know that great social workers are out there (the foster parents may be newbies or are currently having some bad luck in the worker department). To help inject positivity. We all need it.

    The other day, I complimented the information given for children who were being placed with us for respite. My social worker asked if she could pass along the compliment. (Of course!) I like thinking that our encouragement of how well she documented the kids’ personalities and backgrounds will be paying it forward to other foster parents, who will get quality info on potential placements – because that social worker knew it was appreciated.

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