It’s easy to feel alone in the world of foster care, but when you reach out to others in the child welfare system, you’ll find that we can do so much more together than apart.
This #FosterFridayLive was hosted by Kaley Lindquist with Upstate Foster Family Support Supervisor, Kendal Walker Farmer. We talked about how foster parents can work with the full child welfare team and how collaboration among all parties impacts success. Now you can read it all here!
Kendal is currently a supervisor for Foster Family Licensing and Support for the Upstate Region. She is also a foster parent. She has been with DSS doing licensing work, starting as a foster care case worker, for about 10 years. She has been a foster parent for 6 years currently licensed through Thornwell, a private agency, and was previously licensed through DSS.
Who is the child welfare team involved in a foster care case? What roles do they play?
It is complicated. It does tend to vary some by county. Different counties have different processes for their placements. But from the very beginning, which if you have a placement you know, you get a call from a placement worker within our regional licensing unit. That may be someone you haven’t spoken with before and that person is solely responsible for locating the placements.
Ongoing, each foster family will have a Family Support Coordinator that’s there sort of, as we say, as a case worker for the actual foster family, not the child or the parents, but the foster families. So they’re an ongoing means of support.
Then the child will have a case worker with the county that the foster family will deal with and that looks different with the different counties. Some counties have a front end worker that takes the case and then they’ll transfer it to an ongoing foster care worker. There is always an investigator that has the case until it’s an indicated case and then they transfer it to foster care. So on the front end there could be a couple of different workers and supervisors you’re dealing with.
Of course, the Guardian Ad Litem is a piece of the puzzle with the child welfare system that you’re working with. They are volunteers that are court appointed through the county Guardian Ad Litem program. They get assigned, or accept the case, for a child or sibling set. Every case is different; some guardians I’ve seen with our children come to the house every month, others tend to see children maybe at visits at DSS or they may go to school. So you may not be seeing them face-to-face, but that doesn’t mean that the guardian is not seeing them, it may just be at visits or in other places. And they will present their report in court and at the Foster Care Review Board. They are tasked with speaking on behalf of the child and what they feel is in the child’s best interest.
Foster Care Review Board comes up, it’s not an initial thing, every six months. I usually try to go to all of these when I have foster children as well as court hearings and just try to be part of the process. You should get written notice; usually a letter will come in the mail. You can always ask your worker if you have a question or talk to your Family Support Coordinator and they can connect with the county to get those days. But it is an every six months review. The people who sit on the panel are appointed volunteers.
How can foster parents collaborate with the child welfare team?
I think that I have found in personal experience that keeping everyone informed and in the loop has been beneficial. Obviously, case workers are humans and have lives too, it can be hard if you’re managing 40 foster care cases to keep up with everything. So emails are your best friend. I tell people that’s typically how I communicate. You can copy and paste that information, you can cc the guardian so that they have that information. Everybody is on the same page. You’re sharing as much as you have, as much as you know and feel they need to know.
To get that initial contact information or even to know who to contact, that’s where your Family Support Coordinator comes in. We get a lot of calls, “I’m not sure who the worker is” and we will sometimes look it up in the system if it’s already been documented or we can check with county supervisors to find out if the case is still with investigations or if it has been assigned to a foster care worker and who that is. That’s a good contact to navigate ongoing. Now we have the Foster Parent Liaison, Jim Casserly, so that’s a good resource if there’s something you need and no one else can help you, an extra layer of support to take advantage of. You can contact Jim Casserly at 803-898-4174 or email@example.com.
What recommendations do you have for foster parents in advocating for the best interest of the child?
Just constantly pushing through good communication has been beneficial for me. So even though they may not reply to my email, I know they’re busy, at least they have the information. I do try to have contact with birth family when appropriate and that bridges the gap a lot of the time. I can talk to a parent at visits and then when it’s time to go, I can assist with transitions if it’s determined appropriate. Just keep everyone on the same page. Always ask questions! It doesn’t hurt to ask. There are those of us that are here to advocate and help guide you as you navigate it. So when you have concerns or suggestions always voice those and be sure to communicate with everyone involved where you can.
In terms of interacting with biological families, I recommend to wait for the case worker to give you some guidance. There may be some things you don’t know about how well that parent is doing or if it’s appropriate. We always tell families to defer to their case worker. If they say they don’t feel like interaction with the birth family is appropriate at that time then that’s what you should honor. But a lot of times it is. Even if a parent is not doing ideally like we would want them too, sometimes that support matters. The foster child we had that transitioned home a few months ago, we still see her mom. She was at the lake with us last weekend and she’s been very honest with us from the beginning that without that support she may not have been able to make some of the choices that she needed to make to move forward.
And of course, knowing that her child was safe and she could talk to her a couple nights before bed, those small things made a huge difference. Sometimes it is easing into it. So maybe writing a letter if you’re not comfortable with face to face contact in the beginning. You can always send things to the visits. Transporting to the visits has been a big thing for us because it’s a controlled environment in the beginning to have some contact; of course, you’re not having them to your house or anything like that, but you’re at the office and you’re building connection, easing in as you feel more comfortable.
With case worker approval, there are many ways to have successful relationships with the birth family. You can call from a blocked number or use a Google Voice phone number so that you’re not sharing that personal contact information before you feel ready. Some foster families talk about being Facebook friends with the biological family of their foster child; obviously you cannot share your foster child’s photos or identifiable information on Facebook. Our foster child’s mom did video message that way because she didn’t have an iPhone although she did have our phone number, she didn’t need it to do that. She could video chat that way and that was a private way to do that. It wasn’t a public forum.
With the goal of reunification, how can foster families participate in the transition plan?
It really is case by case. It depends on that case and that child’s needs. So foster parents can get with their case worker, the guardian, and if the foster child is seeing a mental health counselor to loop all those people in and work together. Certainly as a foster parent, express what you feel like you might want to see, how you’re willing to help facilitate that if appropriate. Seek some guidance from the agency in terms of what they plan to do when looking at the transition home. Even as the goal is reunification and we want reunification, that is the child’s family, the transition can be really challenging. Difficult transition in and difficult transition out.
With all the challenges, how do you remember why you started doing the hard work of child welfare?
Being a foster parent keeps me grounded. There are lots of challenges; we all know that. All of us are human and have lots of things going on and struggles with case loads and things like that. For me, fostering helps me remember why we’re all here. So having a child in my home or being a foster parent has grounded me and reminds me why I continue to also do this as a profession.
When you’re discouraged or feeling the weight of other people’s choices, having a good support system definitely helps. Having other foster parent friends, attending your local Foster Parent Association monthly meetings, support groups. Sometimes you just need to vent, but there’s always someone that’s able to bring you back around. Having contact with the birth mom has been such an encouragement which was a surprise at first. She’s reached out a couple times just to say, “I want you all to know, without y’all I would have completely been devastated not to know she was safe.” So that has been helpful. As a mom, being able to know your kid is safe, being able to put a face to the experience, is powerful. You would want to know who has your child; it’s that little bit of reassurance that they’re safe and they’re going to be okay.
How can I support the child welfare system?
There are so many ways you can support all the people that work hard within the child welfare system even if you’re not a foster parent. Lindsey also talked about the ways to advocate for children in foster care on a previous #FosterFridayLive.
- Volunteer as a Guardian Ad Litem. You can do that through your Guardian’s Office in most counties or in Richland County through the Federal CASA program.
- Bring snacks or lunch to your county office or private agency office for case workers as appreciation for their hard work serving children and families. You can do this as an individual or as a group.
- Fund or fill a snack cart or bring crafts and activities for children waiting in DSS offices. Gift cards to fast food restaurants are helpful too so that case workers can feed children who are taken into care, being transported, or waiting for a visit.
- Sponsor a DSS visitation space. Small groups, ministries, or churches can fund and create comfortable, enjoyable spaces for families to meet in at their local DSS Office.
Watch the full interview with Kendal on Youtube.