Episode 84 – Ask a Social Worker

Our special guest, Amber, answers listener questions from the perspective of a county social worker in California.

Topics include:

  • What information should and should not be kept from a foster parent?
  • Why does it feel like my social worker hates it when I ask questions?
  • Getting along with your social worker
  • Getting faster responses
  • How often to expect visits from your social worker
  • Advocating for your child
  • Finding out about court dates and case progress
  • What does a bio-family need to do in order to reunify?

We’d like to especially thank Amber for spending her time answering our questions. To interact with Amber and other listeners, use the comment section.

12 thoughts on “Episode 84 – Ask a Social Worker

  1. Great episode. Her response regarding what a biological family needed to do in their home to reunify was helpful. We have had fantastic social workers (at our agency). The fact that Amber has been doing this for 10 years speaks volumes about her committment. I’m very thankful for the people who do this job.

  2. Great episode! T and W, that was a wonderful idea! I had wondered so many of the same questions that listeners asked.

    The post said that you can interact with Amber in this section, so here is my question:

    What generally tends to be the time of year when you have the most children needing homes?

    Thanks T, W, and Amber for all of the time and thought you put into this episode!

  3. Verbosity is my fatal flaw, so brace yourselves. I’ll try to be as efficient with words as possible, contrary as that is with my nature! Okay. We discovered your podcast back in February and have been catching up. We’re on Episode 67 and will soon be current. We. Love. Your. Show. It is informative, it allows us to live vicariously, we get that camaraderie of shared views and experiences… all of that. Before I get to my reason for writing, here’s our history: We’re high school sweethearts who’ve been married nearly twelve years. We’re both 31. After a few years of marriage we started trying to have children. After five years of trying and failing, and finally getting an official diagnosis of PCOS for me, we turned to adoption as our way of creating a family. We had always spoken of adoption as an option, so while we grieved the loss of a few particular daydreams, we were excited about embarking on the adoption journey. We chose domestic infant adoption, as so many do. (This is a regret for many reasons. We started out with the typical entitled, ignorant approach to adoption, “Why should I give up on my dreams of a newborn or clean up somebody else’s mess by taking on a child with problems? If we choose this option we’ll get to meet the birthmom and that’s almost a guarantee.” We aren’t evil or entirely selfish, we just wanted that dream-baby = healthy, whole and Caucasian.) We waited months and months and months. Finally we were “chosen” by a birthmom we met online. We were shocked at how many times we were solcited by adoption scammers. It was always obvious, them asking for money within minutes or hours of contacting us, terrible English, fishy stories. Anyway, we were thrilled to be chosen by this witty, delightful, high school Senior. We spent 4 – 12 hours a day on the phone or IM-ing, collecting stories and a heritage for our daughter (who was due in two months), family recipes, picking out a name together. After eight weeks we got an urgent IM from this girl’s Mom and one from her brother. (I had an ongoing email relationship with the birthmom’s mom, brother and boyfriend.) This IM said the birthmom had been in a car accident, and that the birthmom had a concussion and that the baby — our unborn daughter — had DIED as a result of an airbag deployment. We have NEVER grieved like that. After six years of waiting for a child, to have her die before she was even born was unthinkable. My parents grieved for their granddaughter. It was awful. We also grieved because we just couldn’t imagine ever finding a birthmom we could love as much as this girl. We’d envisioned a future with HER as much as one with her daughter. We remained in contact while she was in the hospital and was making funeral arrangements. However. Red flags started to go up, as much as we wanted to deny their existance we started to fear she was not being honest with us. She wouldn’t let us come to the funeral, which was in sharp constrast to our very open adoption plan and friendship. We started to feel like she was… milking us… for our sadness and reactions to “Jelly Bean’s” death. It was just “off.” I decided to contact the police in her county and inquire about an obituary online and through her local newspaper. We feared that maybe she and her boyfriend had changed their minds about an adoption plan, and being young, chose to lie as a way out. While waiting to hear from police, I decided to write to the other adoptive couples who had courted her. I used to be jealous of them before we were officially chosen and had remembered their names. Imagine my horror when they replied, that they too had spent the weekend grieving for Jelly Bean. They, too, had been told they were chosen to parent the baby, and had spent hours and hours a day on the phone or IM-ing. This psychopathic 18 year old, had seduced at least three couples, juggling them simultaneously. She had NEVER BEEN PREGNANT and had only done it to lie and feel power. It’s called emotional terrorism. Many have told us we should feel grateful that she didn’t take our money, but the thing is we wish she had. Then there would be a REASON for what she did to us. Jelly Bean never existed at all. Do you know what it’s like to lie gasping and bauling on your living room floor for someone you love desperately who has died? Only to find out days later that that person was not even real? Was a figment of a monster’s imagination? Since she never asked for or received gifts or money, what she did is not illegal. She had stolen a friend’s identity off Facebook, and all her pictures and life story, to tell her lies. So she was apprehended by police for the ID theft, but eventually it was found that her intentions toward this friend was “not malicious” and therefore charges were dropped. She walks free with nothing on her record. Goodness knows what evil scheme she has up her sleeve for next time. Surely she must have SERIOUS mental problems to carry out something like this! The mom, boyfriend and brother I had been emailing were all just her. We learned through the police what her real name is and we look her up regularly on Facebook, to know what she really looks like and what she’s up to… So we learned that birthmoms can lie, and that domestic infant adoption is dangerous and there are no guarantees. I didn’t really have it in me to court another birthmom, and frankly felt rather jaded and cyncial about the whole business. We did more research on foster care and foster adoption and decided to become licensed. We were finally licensed on April 5th of this year. This brings me to my real reason for writing. You often speak of the “crazy system”… don’t get us started! :wink: We had thought adopting through foster care would involve a process similar to buying a home. We don’t mean to reduce adoption to something so relatively shallow, only as an illustration. Anyway, when one buys a home one assumes that you’d have access to more than just the homes your Realtor has been hired to sell. You assume there’s a database of homes in the area and beyond. Not so with foster care. We live in Michigan and hear constantly on the news and in ads about the thousands of children waiting for forever familes. But agencies tend to be proprietary with their placements. It’s very random. One’s prospects depend entirely on what agency you happened to walk into. The only time agencies share is when there is no match within their own roster. We don’t feel this guarantees the best possible match for parents and children. Hopeful adopters scan through online photolistings where it is stated that the child needs “strong advocates” in prospective parents. Meanwhile, prospective parents are expected to wait patiently for a phone call. Sitting passively is not advocacy, yet that is what the system expects of us! There is no database of waiting children. Just casefiles in the filing cabinets of overworked and underpaid social workers. Don’t you think more children would more quickly find forever families, if caseworkers or adoptive parents themselves could have access to databases? The system calls for, yet is not set up for, proactive families. We have emailed the 79 child-placing agencies in Michigan, and the 200+ other child-placing agencies and caseworkers in nearby States whose email addresses we can find online. We tell them in this form letter about what we’re like and what were licensed for, and our wish to make our first act of advocacy for our children to be finding them in the first place. You have mentioned in your show things we can do to increase our odds of finding a placement, like widening parameters and risk levels. But what else can families DO, to find children to adopt, besides sitting by their phone or harassing their caseworkers? : ) Here we are, licensed for four months with empty rooms, and unused crayons and toys. At the same time there are State-wide recruitment efforts and outcries for adoptive or foster homes. What can one do, to advocate for oneself and one’s hypothetical kids, to find each other? This is a topic near and dear to us, because we do know our kids are out there. We just don’t know how to find them. And yet we are forced to trust a disorganized, sometimes corrupt, often well-meaning but rarely efficient, “crazy system”…

  4. Hi Caryn,

    As far as we know in CA, the system does use a database for help in placing kids. I’m not sure contacting every social worker in the state will be all that effective.

    We do have a listener who found a placement through http://www.adoptuskids.org You might want to check that out.

  5. Caryn,

    We are also in Michigan. Are you familiar with Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange? http://mare.org/

    I’m not sure what you parameters are for children you are willing to accept. Are you willing to accept kids whose parental rights have not yet been terminated? That will certainly make a difference in finding a placement.

  6. Thanks for the tips. We are aware of and registered with every local and national photolisting in existance. :wink: Unfortunately, photolistings only list a small percentage of available children. Last time I checked, Michigan was third or fourth in the US for the number of children waiting for adoption. Yet, MARE only ever has a few hundred children listed at any one time. I was told by our agency that many Michigan caseworkers hesitate to list the kids in their caseload on MARE as they hate being inundated with so many inquiries. There was a landmark, earth-shaking lawsuit against the State of Michigan a year or two ago against the foster care system in Michigan due to them not following laws, allowing children in unlicensed homes, allegations of abuse and neglect in the system and so forth. There are plans in place to up the ratio of workers per child etc. It’s awful. We are willing to accept children not yet TPR’d if it seems that is the way the case is moving. We know we can increase our odds of a placement by doing straight fostering, but just aren’t ready for that level of risk. We are open to all races and genders. It HAS yielded results, writing to individual caseworkers and agencies. Four of the six failed placements we’ve had since April came as a result of my canvassing efforts. So it does work. We’ve had placements fall through because the children’s agency “accidentally” chose two families at once (Aaarrrgh!), or because the caseworker failed to inform us of serious issues. (We had three toddlers in our home for a weekend whose worker failed to tell us they were all on antipsychotics, even though I’d specifically asked about what medications if any the kids were on.) Another placement fell through because the extended family changed their mind at the last minute about letting the child be adopted by non-family. There is no database in Michigan, so one’s chances depend entirely on word of mouth, whether that be the words or efforts of one’s caseworker or one’s own networking. We attend every adoption-related gathering possible so as to network, as we’ve heard of placements occuring that way. We even came close to adopting the three foster children I cared for as the Nanny of a foster family, but they were suddenly and unexpectedly reunified with birthfamily. Michigan is apparently behind the times, as one agency has no knowledge of the children or families in the files of the agency down the street, let alone in the next county. We know it will be worth it someday! :) We’ll be glad that all the other prospects fell through and that it took seven+ years to become parents, so that we’d end up with the child we ended up with. :) Sorry to hijack your comment page T & W!

  7. PS. Here’s a resource showing, as of 2006, how many children awaited adoption in each State. Michigan is fourth after California, Texas and New York. This information will be a little outdated, but is still eye-opening.
    http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/waiting2006.htm
    After learning which States most needed adoptive homes, I wrote to a hundred plus agencies and social workers in those States volunteering our home as an adoptive resource. One worker in California wrote me saying that because it is not in a State’s best FISCAL interest to recruit outside of State, we would probably find it impossible to adopt from California. I replied this was hard to believe as California HAS photolistings for the purpose of recruiting families. She said we would find that we would lose out to local families. This outraged me as “The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, P.L. 105-89, Section 202, requires that states do not deny or delay a child’s adoptive placement with an approved family based on geographic location of the family.”

  8. Hi Bella! I just happened to be cruising through the website and caught your question:
    “What generally tends to be the time of year when you have the most children needing homes?”

    I am not aware that there is a time of year that we have more children needing homes. Children are detained throughout the year and since the parents get 6-18 months to reunify there is not really a time where there are more children available for foster care or adoption.

    Thanks for your question.

  9. I’m not sure if this is accurate, but my husband and I went to a foster parenting informational session this past weekend (I have to thank this podcast for really solidifying my desire to become a foster parent) and the social workers mentioned that they see a significant uptick in the beginning of the school year, which makes sense in my head if only because children are at school and therefore interacting with teachers, etc. which are required to report certain things vs. during the summer when they are probably not interacting with people required to report.

  10. I am curious how long it usually takes to get your first placement after becomiing liscenced. I am sure that it is different with each family, but I am surprised at how often we are called and say yes to a placement, only to be told a few hours later that the child was placed in another home. And I am also surprised how much it feels emotionally like a roller coster ride. We keep getting our hopes up and planning our schedules to take a child, and then we are disappointed when we aren’t chosen. I do know that the children in Ohio are usually placed within their own county, unless a placement cannot be found, which may not help our cause, since we are from a smaller county. But I am surprised, because I also thought there was a shortage of foster homes, but it seems like they often have several options for placing children. I suppose this is a good thing, but I must admit, it is hard to wait.

  11. Denice,

    You’re not alone, we had the same thing happen to us. I think alot of it just depends on factors outside of your control… It will happen sooner or later. If you find yourself having lots of problems, you might ask your agency what kinds of kids are in need of placement in your area that they have a hard time finding a home, and find out what you can do to improve your own skills in handling such kids. Good luck!

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