Children need parents, and when there are no birth-parents to care for them the next best thing is foster-care. Social work and foster care go hand in hand, as it is the social-worker who handles everything and facilitates the foster-care situation. There are many challenges to be met when it comes to social work and foster care, but with a dedicated, trained and competent social-work force in the U.S. great things can be achieved.
In order to understand the foster care and social work systems, one needs to understand everything about foster care, how it should be instituted, and the role that social workers play in foster care. There is no breaking social work and foster care up; there is no way that foster care could work without social work and all the social workers that put so much into their work.
What Is Foster Care?
Foster care is a service which provides a means of creating a safe temporary placement for children who can, for various reasons, not remain safely in their parental home. Children who are in foster-care are placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services by court order. This means that social work and foster care are inexorably intertwined and it is incumbent on the social worker to ensure that the child is placed into foster care with the right family.
Foster care is intended to create a plan of permanency for the child that will last throughout his or her youth and until they can be released from the custody of the social work agency and state oversight. If possible, attempts will be made to return the child to the familial home, but should this not be possible another permanent planned living arrangement will be made.
The priorities of social work and foster care are as follows:
1. Reunify the child with his or her parents
2. The child should be adopted, preferably by a relative, but if that is not possible then by a non-relative
3. The child should be placed under guardianship with a relative or non-relative
4. Foster-care placement with a relative who is willing to offer a long-term, secure commitment to the child
5. Other planned foster care as a permanent living arrangement
Plans for permanent placements are made only after a comprehensive family assessment has been done and the parents have been provided with any help that may enhance their capacity to care for the child or children. If necessary, the family and or foster children are also provided with services that address the physical, mental and educational well-being of the children.
Who Is Eligible For Social Work And Foster Care Services?
Social work and foster care services are provided by 46 County Department of Social Services (DSS) offices across the United States, and intensive clinical and foster care services are provided by regional services. There are also other public and private providers who provide services to families in need of social work and foster care, once such needs have been identified via a comprehensive family assessment and individualized case plan.
The DSS provides foster care services to:
- Children aged 0-18 years of age who the court has determined cannot remain in their home for their own safety, and who are in the custody of the Department
- Parents whose children have been removed from their home for the children’s safety
- Chafee Independent Living services also provides social work and foster care services, via DSS, to youth between the ages of 13-21; they are taught skills that increase their chances of successfully transitioning out of the foster care system
- After Care Services are also available to youth who emancipate from foster care once they reach the age of 18
What Social Work And Foster Care Services Are Offered?
The Department of Social Services offers various services, which include joint assessment and development of individual case plans by parents, children and Department staff. Parents are offered help and advice to help them change the circumstances which made the home unsafe for children, and which, once successfully followed, could result in the return of the children and social work and foster care services being ceased.
Children are offered various services aimed at helping them to work through and diffuse and heal the detrimental effects of abuse and neglect. This includes services that relate to the child’s physical, mental and educational well-being.
Youth who emancipate from DSS care at the age of 18 can apply to their local DSS county office to request Aftercare Services. An Aftercare assessment interview is conducted with the youth in order to determine what services are needed.
The Interstate Compact On The Placement Of Children (ICPC)
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC, as it is also known, is statutory law in all 52 member jurisdictions and a binding contract between member jurisdictions. The ICPC was established to ensure uniform legal and administrative procedures govern the interstate placement of children. This means that children who are receiving social work and foster care services receive an appropriate level of care in the new placements when they are moved from state to state in their adoptive or foster care placements.
The Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (AAICPC) was established in 1974. It is made up of members from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ICPC gives the AAICPC the authority to “promulgate rules and regulations to carry out more effectively the terms and provisions of this compact.”
Social Workers And Foster Care Services
Individuals busy studying for their master’s in social work, or an MSW degree generally choose to specialize in one of a wide range of specialties, one of which is foster care. For those who elect to follow a social work and foster care path, there is a very rewarding albeit challenging career waiting for them. Foster care is crucial to many families in the United States, and a good social worker can literally be the difference between life and death for many youngsters.
There were about approximately 408,400 children in foster care as of September 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The average age of these youths was around 9 years. If you are a social work student and are interested in specializing in foster care, you may benefit from perusing Foster care statistics, which is a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Administration for Children and Families also provides various reports on additional foster care statistics, as does AdoptUsKids, who provides information about foster care by state. All of these resources are very helpful to social workers who are interested in specializing in foster care.
Problems That Face Foster Care Children
Most children who are placed in foster care have good experiences, but this is not necessarily so for all who are recipients of social work and foster care services. Many children who are fostered experience teenage pregnancy, depression and even incarceration because they get into trouble with the law. In addition to problems that they may face whilst under the care of DSS and in a foster home, once they are emancipated at the age of 18 they often experience a sense of abandonment.
Social workers who intend working in foster-care should be aware of the following issues facing foster children in order to understand the work:
Lack of Educational Opportunities: According to the Heritage Foundation, children in foster care are more likely to be incarcerated, live in poverty, rely on state services, and run afoul of the law. The Foundation suggests that foster care children need to be given more educational opportunities that prepare them for college as well as additional financial support such as scholarships to enable them to study further and improve their chances in life.
Developmental Issues: According to research by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more children in foster suffer from serious developmental, physical, or mental problems than those in regular families. This could make the work of a social worker more difficult dealing with these cases.
Depression: It is not uncommon for foster children to suffer from debilitating depression, as they feel the loss of not having their biological parents in their lives, no matter the circumstances at home. This can lead to various mental and emotional difficulties.
“Aging Out” of the System: According to the National Association of Social Workers, a documentary by social worker Matt Anderson reveals many problems experienced by youth who “age out” of the system, or who are eligible to leave the foster care system when they turn 18. Most of these youth are destined to become pregnant, get into trouble with authorities or face depression due to a lack of family support, and many end up homeless.
Foster Care Helpline
Any youth that are in need of social work and foster care services can contact the Foster Care Helpline on 1-888-722-2580. The Helpline was established to answer calls from children and youth in foster care 24/7.
Social work and foster care is a wonderful career for those who love children and wish to help improve the lives, their day-to-day circumstances, and offer them a future that has the potential of allowing them to break the cycle of poverty, inadequate education and look forward to a bright future.