Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Resources to Assist Social Workers

As I mentioned in a previous posting, in April 2006, New York caseworkers received a memo telling them not to discuss, email or post online anything that might reflect poorly on the agency. At the time, I mentioned my concerns that child welfare agencies, which are rather intrusive by nature when it comes to biological and foster families, might be avoiding accountability themselves.

What makes this directive even more interesting to me now is that in the January/February issue of Child Welfare, in-depth interviews of New York and Chicago social workers were published. A high percentage of New York caseworkers had reported poor morale and described their agencies as inadequate. I have to wonder if this prompted the April directive.

In these interviews, social workers were interviewed and asked their views on the child welfare system.

According to the social workers, the child welfare system:
-Does not meet the basic needs of children in care
-Lacks the necessary resources to appropriately serve clients
-Often sets unrealistic / unattainable goals

One caseworker stated that, "The system abuses the kids just as much as the parents do." Other respondees mentioned that foster children were often lost in the system, because there were not enough placement or adoptive resources.

Their overall responses emphasized the need to reform the child welfare system, and to re-evaluate funding priorities.

What might empower social workers to do the best job possible?

1.) Training. Not just initial, but ongoing training is necessary. Custodial cases are complicated. Laws change, policies adapt, inititiatives are created and research reveals new insights into child development and attachment issues. Investing in ongoing training for social workers is vital.

2.) Support: Caseworkers encounter high levels of stress and burnout. They often feel devalued and unappreciated for the work they do. To be effective, caseworkers need the support of their supervisor and coworkers.

3.) Qualified Supervision: Many caseworkers reported unqualified supervisors, unsupportive supervisors or the absence of supervision altogether. Lack of leadership does not promote effectiveness or morale.

4.) Cooperation with Court Personnel: I've mentioned the PEW Commission's recommendations on court proceedings in previous posts. They had mentioned that the adversarial approach of traditional judicial proceedings was detrimental to children in foster care.

Intrasystem contention: One interesting facet that this study revealed was that an adversarial relationship exists between court and child welfare personnel. It's hard to protect the child and facilitate collective decision-making when this type of antagonism between legal staff and child welfare staff is taking place.

Caseworkers also mentioned their frustration regarding:
-Lawyers who come to cases unprepared
-Certain birthparents and their lawyers were adept at manipulating the legal system
-Courts that were too quick to sever custody
-Courts that were too lenient on abusive birthparents and unwilling to sever custody

5.) Resources for Clients: Caseworkers expressed concern about their ability to provide the necessary services for clients.

Part of the social worker's job is to set clear limits for birth parents and provide them with the resources to overcome destructive behavior. However the instruments used to assess families were viewed as inadequate.

In order to comply with their case plan, birth parents are often required to go to multiple agencies, and if those particular trainings are overbooked, it can take up to six months to find a provider.

Reevaluating the job description

Perhaps it's time to examine the requirements of a social worker position.
-The job demands are high.
-Workers juggle high volume caseloads and redundant paperwork.
-Little time is left over to visit the children, focus on their well-being and determine the best outcome.
-Worker turnover and transition often results in lost information or spotty record keeping.

Even for a social worker with conviction, commitment and experience, the frequent lack of technical, administrative and personnel resources can be quite challenging.

We hand these overworked, underpaid individuals our most vulnerable children. We expect them to work miracles - and we demonize them for any evidence of failure. Rather than blaming the workers, we should reexamine the system as whole. And to do that, child welfare personnel should not be bound by any code of silence.

Source: Zell, Maristela. Child welfare workers: Who they are and how they view the child
welfare system. Child Welfare; Jan/Feb2006, Vol. 85 Issue 1, p83-103, 21p

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Comments:
Just as a follow-up, I found this URL interesting...

http://evlogeite.com/?p=143
 
I have been studying children's issues on my own for about 7 years now (Including but not limited to, a LOT of CPS issues).
It seems as if this is just perpetually the case. It was the case in my old homestate, and it's the case here. It's the case everywhere, seemingly. After almost a decade of reading about it time and time again, I wonder why the problem is not at least on the *way* to being fixed. Instead of publishing article after article bemoaning the plight of CPS workers and their caseloads, why not DO soemthing about it? And if they are doing something about it, why not write positive press about WHAT is being done, and how it's working or not working? Something just seems a little wierd about CPS, and how things just never change for years.
 
Also wanted to add...
CPS here in Houston advertises for volunteers to assist caseworkers with all the mountains of paperwork. I signed on for this, as did a friend of mine, and neither of us ever heard anything. I would have loved to get in there "hands on" and see what the real story is with CPS. This was about 1-2 years ago.
 
We are looking into foster-adopt in El Paso, and are quite uncertain about the whole thing (the agency, not the kids.) Some of the rules seem so crazy, and the agency is very laid back--in my mind they should be so urgent! Give this kid a family urgent! Is there anything that we can be doing to help the process along on a greater level?
 
La yen-
What about the agency rules seem crazy? I live in Texas also and we would like to foster someday, but are scared to death of the crazy rules as well.
 
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