By Rachel Bithell
The adage “It takes a village to raise a child” is especially relevant to children in kinship or foster care. As a resource parent, your village will expand to include the professionals who support your child. This could be caseworkers, guardians ad litem, parenting time supervisors, CASAs, courts, as well as mental health, medical and educational professionals. Also remember your child’s biological family is part of the team as well.
In addition to caring for a child impacted by trauma, managing the emails, calls, paperwork and appointments may feel overwhelming. A few strategies can help these relationships better serve your child and be less stressful for caregivers.
- Focus on your child’s strengths. In your interactions with your child’s team, it can be easy to let needs and challenges get all the attention. Set a positive tone by consistently recognizing everything beautiful and praiseworthy about your child.
- Assume good intentions. The professionals in your child’s life likely chose their work because they want to help kids. Child welfare doesn’t attract people interested in wealth or fame. Each member of the team is likely doing their best in a difficult role, often with too little time and too few resources. However, if you feel someone on the team isn’t providing adequate support, respectfully advocate for your child’s needs. Be specific and explain why it’s important. For example, you might say, “My child is really hoping to get her hair cut before school pictures next Friday. Could you please let us know by Wednesday if she has permission?”
- Meet disagreements with curiosity. If you disagree with someone on your child’s team, ask sincere questions. What observations or information have led to their decision or opinion? You still may not agree, but you will understand them better, and they will be more likely to listen to your perspective.
Realize that each member of the team has specific training, experience, and legal and ethical obligations that inform their thinking and decisions. They may also have information they cannot share. Often, caseworkers must keep some information confidential. Educators have to follow the requirements of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Medical providers, including mental health specialists, are bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In fact, some state laws may be more restrictive than federal laws, especially in regard to adolescents.
- Share the same information with all child welfare professionals at the same time. Create an email list or text group that includes everyone from the child welfare team. If applicable, and with permission from your caseworker, adding therapists to this group may be helpful. Not duplicating communication about your child’s well-being and activities will save you time. Giving everyone the same information helps to prevent confusion and disagreements. You might think a guardian ad litem (GAL) doesn’t need to know your child’s class is going to the zoo, but that information might help make a connection with your child.
In some circumstances, it may be inappropriate to share sensitive information about a child’s family or history with an educational or medical professional. Also, if a child asks you to keep something confidential, do so if it does not jeopardize anyone’s safety. Always follow mandated reporting requirements. If you need to share information a child would rather keep confidential, be sure to explain to your child why, with whom, and when you will share that information. Give your child a chance to share sensitive information first. If you have questions about confidentiality, ask your caseworker for guidance.
- Use technology to save time. Consider creating an electronic calendar for your child that can be viewed by your partner (if applicable), your child (if they are old enough), and/or your child’s biological family (with caseworker permission). This helps keep everyone organized.
For emails or texts, use the voice-to-text feature on your phone. For longer documents, Word offers a “dictate” option. Click “Home” on the top left, then “Dictate” at the top right. In Google docs, click “Tools” at the top left, then choose”Voice Typing” from the drop down menu. Be sure you are working in the Google Chrome browser. Another option for communication could be sending video messages using services like Marco Polo or Loom.
- Maintain healthy boundaries about your time. While being a resource parent requires flexibility in your thinking and your schedule, don’t let your time become the lowest priority. If multiple professionals make regular home visits, such as caseworkers, certification workers and GALs, ask to schedule those visits jointly. Besides saving time, having case professionals see each other face-to-face facilitates communication.
Protect the highest priorities on your schedule. Whether it’s a date with your partner, time at the gym, another child’s important event, work commitments, etc., you don’t have to explain or justify your priorities. If something conflicts with a higher priority, simply explain the time will not work and offer alternatives. For things that cannot be changed, such as court dates, consider asking someone in your support network to attend in your place, or get a summary from your caseworker later.
In some jurisdictions, courts may run hours behind schedule. When I’ve asked, caseworkers are happy to text me when there are just one or two cases ahead of ours on the docket, giving me enough time to arrive for the proceedings.
If a meeting is scheduled but no end time is provided, politely ask for an end time. A deadline makes meetings more efficient. If attending a meeting virtually or by phone works better for you, ask for that option.
Your child’s team should be a valuable support and resource for you and your child. These strategies have helped me work with them in ways that lighten the load instead of adding to the burden.
Rachel Bithell, a former physicist, freelance writer and full-time parent, was a foster parent in Colorado with her husband for six years. She’s taught preservice training and trauma-informed parenting courses for her tri-county agency for four years. She is the mother of six children, two of whom were adopted from foster care. Find more of her writing at rachelbithell.com.