Stretch-A-Family

Relationship Breakdown in Foster Care

OR: Your Caseworker is not the Enemy

When things go badly between carers and their caseworker, it can lead to placement breakdown, carers wanting to leave the agency, or even considering giving up providing care at all

Following on from our post on Unknowns in Foster Care we wanted to address one of the most common issues that can seriously impact on a carer’s experience of foster care: their relationship with their caseworker. Caseworkers are a carer’s link with their agency and by default can represent the whole Out-of-Home-Care system to the carer (no pressure there!). Foster care is also a place where emotions often can and do run high.

The relationship between carers and their case worker can break down due to a lack of communication, or unclear communication. Communication (especially written) can quite easily be misconstrued and result in misunderstanding, hurt feelings and poor motive being attributed to others without all the necessary information available to know if that is true.

This key carer-caseworker relationship can also be damaged by something as simple as a personality clash: remember, you don’t always like everybody! The sad thing about this adult relationship breakdown is that the kids are invariably the ones who suffer as a result.

When things go badly between carers and their caseworker, it can lead to placement breakdown, carers wanting to leave the agency, or even considering giving up providing care at all. This is a huge loss to a system that is already chronically short of people willing to become carers.

It is really important for carers to try hard not to think their caseworker doesn’t like them or is being mean when information is not passed on, or poorly worded, or when the caseworker is hard to contact. Despite genuine frustrations, carers need to do their best to keep communication channels as open as possible with their caseworker and the agency.

Be aware that the caseworkers here at SAF have anywhere between 9 and 12 placements on their caseload. And that translates to:

1 case = the child or sibling group in care

carers & their bio kids

the birth family

schools

health professionals

legal representatives, and

DCJ (FACS) contacts.

Look at all those relationships for a caseworker to manage in just one case! And any number of the caseworker’s 9-12 placements may currently be in crisis. Burnout is all too common among OOHC caseworkers.

Carers are usually aware of the need to not speak badly of the birth family in front of the kids, but it is just as important not to speak badly of the caseworker in front of the kids in your care either. The caseworker is an important person in the child’s life, and often represents their link to birth family. A trusting relationship between the child and their caseworker is enormously important, and as (mature!) adults it is an imperative for carers to do all they can to maintain that trust & respect.

If carers are having a bad time, it can be too easy to misdirect their disappointment and anger towards the caseworker because they are the visible face of the OOHC system to the carer. Try to remember that you and your caseworker are on the same side, and the same team. You both want what is best for the child, even if you don’t always agree on what that looks like.

If you’re having a hard time and need more support from SAF please contact us directly via our Feedback & Suggestions page.