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Foster Parents are Experts–Make Sure Clinicians Know It!

I just got back from a wonderful conference in Reno, “Their Future is in Our Hands,” sponsored by the Sierra Association of Foster Families.  I presented, Understanding the Alphabet Soup Behind (Seemingly) Bad Behavior.  I had a great audience of caring foster parents and, inevitably my hot-button topic came up.  How do you get case workers and mental health practitioners to listen to you as a foster parent?  I’ve been present behind the scenes at many a CFT (Child and Family Team meeting) only to overhear the the ‘professionals’ blow off the concerns of foster parents.  Unfortunately, not all professionals are created equal, just as foster parents are all created equal. 

This response by many professionals gets me riled up because we start taking ourselves too seriously as the ultimate authorities on child behavior and mental health and completely overlook the input of the true experts–the caregivers.  In this case, the foster parent who spends 24/7 with the child is the true expert on that child’s behavior, likes, dislikes, reactions, and needs.  The professionals, no matter how well-educated or experienced, see only a snapshot of what’s going on for that child.  They must rely on the whole picture, as presented by the parent, and should partner with the parent to come up with solutions that will work. 

As a foster parent, birth parent, or caregiver, you will sometimes have to gently remind the professionals involved that you are witness to the child’s behaviors around the clock, versus their limited time in which to assess the child.  This is where your documentation will come in handy.  If you have kept a log of the child’s behaviors, anything that is concerning, etc. and noted: when–date, time of day; where–location, environment, circumstances; intensity and frequency; what you’ve tried and the results; input of others who have observed the behavior, etc., you are more likely to be taken seriously as part of the team.  If all else fails, ultimately you may have to contact a supervisor to get some results.  I urge you to do that only as a last resort, keeping in mind the tremendous pressure that most caseworkers are under and giving them a chance to respond and work with you.  The more supportive you can be of the caseworker, the more support you’ll receive in return.  It’s a tough, demanding job all around.  Working on the same team helps everyone involved and helps us all to keep in mind that the child’s safety, permanence, and well-being are first and foremost the top priority.

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