“Dear Foster Girl, Woman” is an occasional column written by Georgette Todd, a writer and former foster youth.
Dear Foster Girl, Woman,
What are some ways you think foster care can be improved?
Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay, Inc.
Thank you for your inquiry and know that I will be devoting my column to answering this question in one way or another.
Less Foster Care
Ideally, foster care would be eventually eliminated or go back to its original roots of being a temporary public service, as opposed to being the long-term alternative to raising youth.
Social workers should work with the family on getting preventive services that would involve counseling, job placement and any other available assistance that will help keep the family together…that is if the situation is not severe enough to warrant automatic separation. However, if removal is the only viable and safe option for the child, then here are some suggestions that can help improve what’s currently in place.
In addition to being traumatized, children are confused and clueless to their new surroundings, a feeling that is compounded by the abuse and separation they have freshly experienced. When they enter an emergency facility, usually they get a list of house rules to abide by and a staff promise that their newly appointed social worker will contact them. Until then, children have no choice but to wait in a dark limbo, questioning and worrying about their immediate future.
What might mitigate this painful process of becoming a foster child is arming the child with as much information as possible, up front; for lack of a better term, a Foster Care 101 roadmap or orientation. Whether it’s an additional responsibility for facility staff, or through an internship or outside hiring, someone should sit down with the youth within 24 hours of entry and have a frank, age-appropriate conversation on his or her new reality as a foster child.
This conversation should inform the youth of how the system works and advise the child on what to do when conflict arises or when they have an issue. They should also be given some kind of directory, in case they need help and their social worker is not returning their calls. By the end of this honest and open conversation, a pre-meeting to their social worker, the youth should know generally how the system works and the scope of their power on how to navigate their new life in care.
Active Case Planning
Social workers should work with youth, not for them. While youth in general are distrustful of authority, if social workers come across more as aides, they’re more likely to have successful meetings with their client.
One of the ways to enact active case planning would be if social workers opened their file in front of the youth and let them read what’s been written about them so far. This act would allow the youth to be more engaged and involved with their case plan. Also, it would be help if the youth had a chance to write a response to their case file – which of course would be included afterwards.
The above suggestions may seem small, but I can guarantee you they’ll have a huge impact on youth. As it stands, all of us can only do the best with what we have available while concurrently advocating laws and enforcement of those laws, having dialogues in public, through media and exchanging honest feedback in meetings without fearing any political fallout. Hiring recently emancipated youth who have demonstrated responsibility to assist with services can also help the system as well.