• 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 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. 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 | 23 Comments

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

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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!

      • 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

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

    7. 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. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/foster-care-adoption/

        • 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.

    8. 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.

    9. 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.

    10. 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.

    11. 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!

    12. 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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