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    Tips for Getting a Foster Care Caseworker’s Attention

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    Tips for Getting a Foster Care Caseworker's Attention


    I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. It shouldn’t be necessary to advice you on tricks for getting a foster care caseworker to return phone calls, answer emails, or generally provide foster or adoptive parents information on a child in the system.

    In an ideal world this advice wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, we live in the real world of overburdened social workers with large caseloads, little administrative support, and bureaucratic politics. We also live in the real world where some caseworkers have burned out from years of fighting for kids and are now just putting in their time.

    While I think it’s important to understand that social workers in foster care state and county child welfare agencies face real obstacles, that doesn’t really help the foster and adoptive parents who are trying to get information on a child or trying to advocate for a child in their care.

    As hard as it is and as much as you may not believe it, work off the premise that the caseworker is overworked, not just indifferent.

    How to Be a Polite Pain in the Butt

    You have the right to get information you need to make a decision about fostering or adopting a child. You have the right to advocate for the child and for yourself. Not only do you have the right, the kids are depending on you. You must be proactive, but you don’t have to be a jerk.

    1. When leaving phone messages, don`t leave the ball in the caseworkers court to call you back. End the message saying you will keep trying to reach them.
    2. If you need for them to call you back or reply to an email, make it easier for them by leaving your phone number and case number. Yes, they could look it up in the files, but the more hassle it is to call, the more likely it will be postponed.
    3. If you are already working with a caseworker about a specific child, try to set up a regularly scheduled weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly phone call or meeting. Send an email confirmation or leave a voice mail the day before your scheduled call or meeting.
    4. f you are trying to stay on the social worker`s radar screen for a future child, look for reasons to periodically connect. For example, “Just listened to a great Creating a Family show on Parenting Easily Frustrated Inflexible Kids with Challenging Behavior and thought you might like to listen to it on your drive,” or “Just finished The Connected Child. Wow, what a good book.”
    5. Keep an ongoing list of specific questions you want to talk about when you do reach the social worker so you do not waste time when talking with her. Prioritize your list so that you hit the most important topics first in case your time is cut short.
    6. If you’ve been trying to reach the social worker for some time and have left a number of messages, when you finally reach him, consider starting the conversation with some version of “I know you are really busy and I don`t want to be too pushy, but ….” (This option is not appropriate when they were supposed to have contacted you with information.)
    7. If the social worker has not returned calls or emails, when you finally connect with him, resist the temptation to point out these failings. You need to maintain a working relationship and offering him a face-saving way out will make it easier to work together. Either don’t mention the unanswered calls and emails, or just say that you’re glad that you’ve finally been able to connect (without too much emphasis on the word “finally”).
    8. End all conversations with a question of when you should expect to hear back or when you should call back. This forces the caseworker to make a commitment of timing to you, which may help spur them on, but even if not, it gives you permission to bug them after that point in time.
    9. At the end of each phone call or meeting summarize what you have agreed to do and what she have agreed to do
    10. Keep notes on all phone conversations and meetings and make sure to include the date. If you think it would be helpful, send a summary of the call via email to the social worker with a short friendly note saying you know how busy she is, so you thought you`d help out by sending her this summary. Thank her for her help.

    Should You Go to the Supervisor?

    Going over someone’s head is akin to the nuclear option. It almost always turns your relationship adversarial, so should be avoided if possible. Sometimes though it can’t be avoided. If you have not been able to reach the assigned caseworker after many tries, you may have to go up the ladder.

    Keep in mind that the supervisor will likely take the caseworker’s side, so you need to give her “plausible deniability” to keep her from becoming defensive.  For example if the caseworker (Suzy) hasn’t responded for 2 or 3 calls or emails, you could call the supervisor and say:

    Sorry to bother you, but I guess the Suzy is on vacation (or reassigned) and I was looking for who is handling her caseload while she’s gone. We have been trying to get info on this child for 2 months and I would really appreciate any help you could give us.


    Suzy said she be back with me two weeks ago. Since I haven’t heard from her or been able to reach her, I assume the case has been removed from her caseload. I was hoping you might be able to help connect us with the new caseworker because we really need this information.

    What has worked for you in getting a foster care caseworker to return phone calls or emails?


    Image credit: postbear

    22/01/2014 | by Fact Sheets | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Other Adoption Resources | 7 Comments

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    7 Responses to Tips for Getting a Foster Care Caseworker’s Attention

    1. Dominique says:

      Please help me, After having my licenses for almost 2 months, my agency finally called me about a placement. My family and I is so very happy, the caseworker was telling us a little bit about our placement. The caseworker also said that she will setup a day and time for us to meet our new placement. This has yet to happen and it’s been almost 3 weeks later. I talked to the caseworker manager and she keep saying, give her another day. The caseworker manager is staying in contact with me, but no information is given to “WHEN?” the placement will happen, or when will we meet our new placement.
      My Husband and I have went and brought Clothes, shoes and everything you can think of for our placement to feel welcome. But still no calls. I have no email address only phone numbers to agency. What should I do?

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        I’m sorry you are having to deal with this. Of course, I don’t know the specifics about your case, but there really isn’t much you can do other than what has been suggested in this article. While 3 weeks is a long time when you are waiting on pins and needles to hear something, in the scheme of a bureaucracy, it isn’t that long. The caseworker is keeping in contact, so it seems to me that she doesn’t know the timing yet. I think you’re just going to have to wait as patiently as possible. Next time, however, I would strongly recommend that you wait before you buy anything for a potential placement. Much can happen before the initial call and the actual placement and you don’t really know what the child might need. Good luck. You sound like you are going to be a great (and eager) parent.

    2. JP says:

      Great article! As a caseworker, I always tried my hardest to return all phone calls or emails within one business day. Sometimes, though rarely, it wasn’t possible.

      I found that communication with foster parents often worked better via email than a phone call – the CASA, Foster Care Specialist, Guardian ad Litem, and any other necessary parties could all have an open line of communication. I loved when a foster parent would send an email to everyone with updates from appointments, visits, behavior changes, etc. It seemed to make the team much more efficient. It also helps to summarize things and not necessarily send emails for every smaller detail (or complaint). :-)

      I do think it is sad that this doesn’t work for everyone and that there has to be a blog about getting ahold of someone when you are all looking out for the same thing.

      • JP, many caseworkers are simply terrific and respect the role of the foster and foster/adopt parents. This advice was intended for the few who maybe aren’t as prompt and respectful as you. Thanks for your kinds words. Please feel free to share this blog with others.

    3. Gretchen S. Winfield says:

      What has always worked for us is the put yourself in that Social Workers place. Always show respect. Respect has always been given to us and Weve been grateful in return. We’ve fostered 63 children and have adopted 6 wonderful children!

    4. Jocelyne says:

      I communicated via email because SO many were involved in our case – 3 caseworkers, 1 guardian ad litum, 2 supervisors and several lawyers. I numbered the questions I wanted answered, placed the name of the person who needed to answer the question next to each question, and gave a date I wanted a response, usually giving them a week or two. I stated I would follow up if I had not received a response. I would call often leaving voicemail then email with the original email message and asking if they got my voicemail as I was following up. I love paper trails!

      • Jocelyne, I loved that you mentioned numbering the questions and assigning a person to answer each one. If an email includes more than one question, I always number them. I hadn’t thought to assign the question. I can see the need given the number of people involved in your case. Was this method successful in keeping your case moving. Did the professionals involved appreciate or resent your thoroughness?

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