Tips for Getting a Foster Care Caseworker’s Attention

Fact Sheets


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 advise 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. If 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, Fostering, Fostering Blog, Other Adoption Resources | 38 Comments

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

  1. Avatar SUSAN Ogaard says:

    Why would my foster daughter’s caseworker ask my husband and I if we would be interested in adopting her?

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      It sounds as if maybe the child’s case is moving toward the termination of parental rights if that hasn’t occurred already. This would mean that your foster daughter is legally available to be adopted. Have you spoken to the child’s caseworkers?

  2. Avatar Waiting parent says:

    I have been working with private agencies in my state for almost two years. I have not received any placements even though I am certified as an emergency foster home. I am also certified to foster to adopt. Each agency I have worked with acts friendly at first and then blames me for no children in my care. My first casework said “I won’t be able to find children for you.” I have no preference except wanting to foster siblings and am willing to take older children. Have been offered two different sibling groups that were not compatible with my home due to having pets. I have already spent a large sum of money on the process. I am considering letting my license lapse because I can’t keep paying for trainings, clearances, etc. I have come to the conclusion that my state does not need me and I feel that they are discriminating against me because I am a single person. I had planned to encourage friends to foster but the way the system has treated me so far, i would not recommend fostering in my state. I have even inquired out of state but no responses to date. I still plan on adopting children but I might only state in the system one more year before pursuing other options.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      I’m so sorry for your difficult and long wait. That sounds so frustrating. It occurred to me that maybe some resources on how to improve your chances on getting a match might help you? Here’s one from our archives that others have found helpful to consider:

      It might also help you to be part of a community of folks who have been there, who are there now, who are working through similar issues. Our online community is very active and supportive. We’d love to have you join us:

      We wish you the best.

  3. Avatar Lillian says:

    We had taken on 4 boys into our house, all brothers. Come to find out they had been sexually abused and attempted horrible things with our child, this pressed us to have them relocated after two months. With this we never received care for my child or concern from the case workers or state, in fact we received condisending calls and even placed blame. We put in thousands of dollars for the boys school uniforms, HBA and furniture to where we will now loose our home due to the costs the abuse and taking in everything that comes with it. No assistance or help has come. No one picks up the phone and no one has concern. We opened our home to help, but we are treated like we are to blame for these boys abuse in their lives even though we are the foster parents. Once things are not cut and dry it comes back on the foster parent.
    Please remember this when thinking of helping with kids of your own.
    All the best in your seeking of knowledge,

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Lillian, I’m so sorry for the very difficult experience you’ve had. For the abuse your biological child experienced. There is hope for helping your son heal from that trauma. I hope that you’ve been able to find him some good counseling and care. As to the difficulties of the foster system, yes, you are right, it has gaps and struggles and I’m so sorry you got caught in those. It’s an overwhelmed system for sure.

  4. Avatar Kourtney Jensen says:

    My husband and I have recently been discussing the want to help children in foster care. I went to school for social work but after having our son, I never got around to using my degree and now want to help children in bad situations. If the choice to adopt comes along later down the road, if the children feel like the right fit for our family, I would definitely look into adoption. All children deserve a chance and we could be that chance.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      The foster system is in great need of parents who can go the distance with hurting kids, be it for short term placements or on the foster to adopt track. We hope you consider checking out some of our great foster care resources here to help you understand more about the struggles that the kids can face:

  5. Avatar Marie Kennedy says:

    We have had our foster son for over 2 yrs and our foster daughter since birth. Our son is 4. We have gone thru the process and were on track for adoption. 2 months ago we fostered their 12 yr old sister who has been in and out of foster care with extensive trauma. She was in our home for two months. We had a mobile therapy session where she had a complete meltdown and landed her in the hospital for psych evaluation. 4 days prior to this incident all consents were signed to adopt. The case worker showed up at the hospital spoke to the 12 year old and came out saying she was being removed. It’s not that we aren’t a good family we aren’t the right family. Then 15 days letter we get an email from supervisor saying we did not help the 12 year old and we gave up on her. Stating we asked her to be removed…untrue. Now cys is sending us to an agency for finalization and will not consent until agency says to go ahead. This is absurd!!! Also we now have to take behovioral course because how do they know we won’t do the same thing to the other children.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      I’m sorry that you and your children are enduring this! Have you considered responding to the supervisor’s email and correcting the untruths, requesting that it be made a permanent part of your file? I hope that your process for the little ones isn’t negatively impacted by these events. Best to you.

  6. Avatar Carolyn Garcia says:

    I feel I’m in a crisis over my great grandson. He and his father came to live with me almost six years ago. The mother turned him over to the father and he had custody. The mother has always been into drugs and didn’t want the child, she wouldn’t take care of him when he came home from hospital. His father cared for him every until they came to live with me and I started helping with his care, he was only 5 months old. His father spent all his time with him, he tried to get the mother to visit as he wanted her in his sons life. The mother would come by every now and then but, was more interested in the father. They had a toxic relationship because of the drugs, the visits always ended in arguments, and she never bonded with her son. To make a long story short, they eventually started seeing each other again and grandson got into the drugs with her. He is now incarcerated, I got temporary custody of his son but, before guardianship hearing the mother filed a complaint on me for not letting her take her son, who was 5 years old by this time. Caseworker came to my home and read to me her statement that she had problems and had been doing marijuana and methamphetamines two to three times a week si, the case worker suggested they put the child in foster care but, he would not leave my home. I went thru all classes and did everything I needed to become foster parent. I guess I can be called stupid at this point because wasn’t thinking about reunification at that point. Now it’s come to that point, he’s had visits with her 56 days over a 10 month period, he’s only gotten to know her over over this time he’s had 4 over night visits with her. He’s a very smart little boy and realizes what’s going on, she’s told him he’s coming to live with her and he tells her no, he wants to visit but, he doesn’t want to live with her. He’s told everyone who works with him and sees him the same thing. He says nobody will listen to me. I’ve tried to contact his advocate lawyer for 3 months and no response. They want to take him from the only home he’s lived in and give him back to his mother, I never expected this and I’m heartbroken, he’s already having behavior problems since all this started. He will be traumatized when they make him go, me and his father are the ones who raised him. Now he has to go to home where there’s fifteen people and hes in a room with five people. I don’t know how the courts can justify this. The system is flawed when someone has raised a child and this can happen, and nobody cares about this child’s rights and what’s best for him.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      That sounds like a terrible situation for you all. I can’t imagine the concern and fear that you are feeling. Here’s a trick I’ve had to employ regarding interventions with intermediate units who were serving my child’s needs: Write an email to the advocate, copying both the case worker and the case worker’s supervisor/s. Include a “read receipt” on it and say so in the email so they know you are waiting for resolution. Give a clear indication of what response you need and how long you will wait before you take it “up the ladder” to another supervisor’s attention. Sometimes the paper trail established by a guardian or parent who is advocating hard for a child’s rights and well-being is enough to get their attention anew.

    • Avatar Debra May says:

      I was heartbroken when our 3 year old and 8 month old were handed back to their 79 year old great parents despite the fact that the judge had ruled no unsupervised visits then a day later they were sent bsck right after surgery. Yes, this is a broken system to where it seems family DNA is top priority. I wished department of family protective services and state attorney generals would see this….

  7. Avatar Gabby says:

    Seeing as this is an older post, I will add that texting is a great way to hear back quickly! My worker is so busy that I shoot her a text and she can just shoot one back, quicker than email. Or if I or she needs to type up something longer than a text or forward me something, she or I can alert the other that we sent an email, so it can get read faster. Technology does have its advantages.

    • Avatar Katie says:

      Gabby, as a foster care social worker I completely agree with your comment! Thank you for developing effective communication with your worker; it is beneficial for all involved!

  8. Avatar Claire says:

    We have had 2 legal risk infant placments. The first we adopted and the second we are going to adopt in a couple of months. Both times, we have had very good caseworkers. They have been very helpful and very nice people to work with. I know we have been very luck with everyone we have worked with. However, normally I text rather than call. It seems to be easier for everyone and I get quick responses.

  9. Avatar Gm says:

    Do to the out break of meth Iam the Grandma of a child in foster care. Because I don’t live in the same state I have to keep in contact by phone and text. What is so horrible is my grand baby has had 10 different case workers in 3 months. When she was taken into foster care the parents both said to let me have her so she don’t end up in foster care. That never happened. Now she has a case worker that will not return any calls or text messages when I call the STUPID VISOR says. Oh let me see who is her new case worker. Put me on hold for a very long time 30 minutes or more. But Ill wait, if she don’t get back to me in 45 minutes Ill call back and then hear Oh I’m sorry she is out of the office. Tulsa OK DHS care workers are a bunch of lairs. I think they are going behind very ones back to adopt out this child and make money off of her. I was told by one case worker that I could get the baby for all medical and foster care expensive that have been spend on said baby. What kind of crap this that? Why leave a child in foster care when a family member is willing and able to care for that child? I have a very good job and excellent medial insurance, this baby could be well provided for but NO she is stuck in a system that is making money off of her. TULSA OK DHS case workers are HORRIBLE PEOPLE

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Gm, this is indeed horrible. I think you need to hire an attorney that specializes in adoption. We have resources to find one at Adoption Lawyers/Independent Adoption. If you absolutely can’t afford one, go to the nearest Bar Association and ask for a pro bono attorney. That child deserves to be with you and not in foster care!

    • Avatar L W says:

      Make money by adopting the child off ? Really? That’s an absurd statement and only fuels ignorance on how overloaded, overworked and broken the foster care system is. NO ONE wants a child to remain in foster care. The system is just broken. Over worked and under paid case managers, and a job that is unrelenting 24/7 a day with increasing stress and frustration.

  10. Avatar Melissa Sparks says:

    My Husband and i went to the informational meeting and filled out the application to get started back in the first week of January here it is the end of March and i still have not heard from anyone, I have not gotten one call, 🙁

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Melissa, that is so unfortunate!! Many people tell us that they find that they have much better service if they work with a private agency that has a contract with the state to place foster children. Check to see if your state and county works with a private agency and contact them.

  11. Avatar Cole says:

    we were selected to adopt a child out of state a few weeks ago. Initially another family was selected, but we found out that they decided to adopt another child they were placed with. The child’s caseworker told us we were selected on a monday- she said she was mailing out an information packet which would contain the child’s history and details. She told us we would get the packet by that Friday and then the following Monday we would have a phone meeting to ask any questions and set up travel plans. We waited so patiently all week and the packet never came. I called his worker and left voicemails which she never returned. We were concerned as to why we had not yet gotten the packet. She finally got back to us in an email stating that she had some emergencies come up and was not able to mail out the packet, but that she would be doing so by the end of that day- which was this past Tuesday. It is now Saturday and still no packet. 2 weeks have gone by now and we are left wondering and feeling helpless. We just don’t get why she keeps saying she is going to mail this packet and then it doesn’t come- are they stalling? did they change their minds about selecting us? Can they do that legally? Does anyone else have experience with adopting a child out of state? We just want to get this packet because everything else is being held up until it comes. I probably sound paranoid but this has been such a long road and we love this little boy so much already even before ever meeting him.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Cole, welcome to the adoption world of “hurry up and wait”. 🙂 If it were me, I would give it a reasonable amount of time (1 week?) then I would call again. Always be polite and understanding of a busy schedule, but also indicate that you would like to move forward. Also, in your mind shift the time frame from having this child in your home in a couple of weeks to having this child in a couple of months. It will help you be more patient.

  12. Pingback: An Open Letter to Foster Parents and Caseworkers | James Fletcher Thompson

  13. Avatar Crystyl'e says:

    Our family was approved to adopt in November 2015, it’s now March and we can’t even get information about a child. We didn’t want a baby our profile was for 1 or 2 male children between the ages of 4-10 any race. In the state in which we live. We joined adoptuskids in December of 2015 to search and inquire about children on our own. I thought that once we were approved, our caseworker would be looking for matches for our family, but she’s not, I know she’s busy so I wasn’t to discouraged to find out she wasn’t. We are trying to be patient, but it is hard for us knowing that with each day and older child spend in foster care could be the difference in them giving up, and you actually being able to make a difference in their lives. Our file was pulled from the adoption exchange in the beginning of January for a little boy we inquired on long before our family was even approved and after a dozen calls to his caseworker, I really hate to say it she wouldn’t answer my caseworker calls. So I decided to call myself, it seemed that she answered because she didn’t recognize the number, it’s sad but that’s not the worse, we talked and after I gave her my name she said I think I remember your family, but I need to review your homestudy, I wanted to ask, I thought that’s what you were doing, you had it for three months, and you’ve done nothing. At least that’s what I wanted to say, but I didn’t I was just in disbelief, it made me feel like I was begging, like I was bothering her, like I was wrong. Here I am thinking I am doing the right thing, instead of having more children of my own saying hae, it’s a lot of children that need a mom, want a dad and would love a place to call home, yet something is wrong with this system. How can you post theses children on the news, all over the internet, and on TV commercials saying how much they need a forever home, but when one become avaliable, the caseworkers blame a heavy caseload on taking time to follow up with the families, that have been through all of your requirements and that you have approved. I haven’t heard from her since that first call, now when I call she want answer, we have tried email and texting her, but nothing. In my mind everything is telling me to move on that it’s a lot of children out there, but my heart just keep fighting for this little boy I don’t think I will ever see. I can’t imagine the people before me that have gone through this, and how some may have given up. I’m going to keep praying and fighting for him, even if he doesn’t come to my home. I want to know he made it out of the system, and with a good family.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      These type of post make me spitting mad. Yes, I realize that case workers are busy, but this in not acceptable. Your age range and lack of gender and racial specifications mean you should have an easier time getting a placement unless your county and state does not have many kids in foster care that are legally free to adopt, which I doubt. You may want to consider foster to adopt. Learn about it first though because it is a different type of adoption for sure.

      • Avatar Kristine says:

        We are having the same issues. I can understand the workload however; I’ve been trying to just reach people into starting the adoption process. I have left many, many messages and that’s when someone will even answer the phone. So many children want and need a home and as a back seat driver it seems as if there is no importance. We also are looking for a boy around ages of 9-12. I just don’t understand it. I’m talking months of trying to get a person to speak to. It’s frustrating. Makes you almost want to give up.

        • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

          Kristine, this drives my batty! I strongly suggest that you reach out to a private agency that has a contract with the state to place foster kids. Usually you will receive better service. You can google you state welfare agency site and most often they list the names of private adoption agencies you can work with who do foster care placements.

    • Avatar Joslyn says:

      I feel the same way I felt like giving up on adoption but my heart telling me no keep trying there is kids out there need a forever home it’s not as easy as it seems I see kids begging and asking to be adopted and a lot of caseworkers hold them back from being adopted and I just see them in the system getting older and aging out I just feel so discouraged but I don’t want to give up on the kids

  14. Avatar K E says:

    Hi, thank you for this blog. I found it while searching for best way to get help without causing hardships:

    That being said, we are in process of accepting several grandchildren into our home and requires ICPC.

    We accomplished all requirements to this point. The other state as well as myself has been trying to contact the case worker, supervisor and anyone else that could possibly help from our state for 2 months with no calls returned. (We do not have email addresses).

    What concerns us is the fact that this case worker made the comment to our whole group at orientation that she has been with dcfs longer than any other employee and holds the highest seniority and that she doesn’t get in a hurry for no one about nothing.
    Later we learned that she isn’t normally the case worker for our county but a part of a work load was handed over to her from another case worker who had a large surge of new foster families.

    That being said, I am concerned not only for the “nonexistance” of our caseworker in our lives but what about everthing else we must work together on. (We have only gotten to speak with our caseworker one time since Thanksgiving.)

    In the meantime, our grandkids cannot come to us until we can get ahold of the caseworker and move on from this point. We don’t want to make a bad relationship between us all, but something has to be done as well.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      KE, I’m so sorry you are going through this! If it were me, I would escalate the matter and go above her head. Also, document every attempt at reaching her. This is NOT good for the children.

  15. Avatar 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.

  16. Avatar 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.

  17. Avatar 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!

  18. Avatar 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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