Similar to one of my earlier posts (ode to the crisis unit), I will discuss how being a former foster care clinical case manager influenced my development as a social worker today. This is in honor of May being National Foster Care Month. It was my first job out of graduate school. In my second year internship, I had a great supervisor that taught me a lot about family systems theory.
Then I starting to working in foster care with a supervisor who really taught me the value of thinking in a larger system.
The biggest lesson learned was “In foster care you get one ‘client’ but you have many more than that” . The chart is in the child’s name however you have to work with the whole client system. This includes the child, birth family, foster family, department of social services worker, school, mental health agencies, etc. This meant doing a good assessment based on listening to all the systems and developing a clinically sound case conceptualization. Different service providers had a different solution to “the problem.” I had to attempt to synthesize this into the best plan that met the child’s needs. There were certainly barriers to this.
If you are dealing with multiple systems, there are a few you are a “guest” in. You have to understand everyone’s view of the problem and their solution. You have to balance that out with what is clinically sound. Sounds easy…not really. For instance the social services mandate about the child was not always clinically informed. Both foster parents and birth parents needed to understand the child’s diagnosis better. Schools were not always sensitive to mental health and/or behavioral needs of foster children.
The act of doing this over and over again created a greater understanding that all people don’t live in isolation. They are a part of the larger community. The hardest part is the letting the client and others in the client system know what your role is, what your assessment is, and potential interventions. Constantly giving clinical justification to children, birth families, foster parents, and multiple providers honed my clinical skills and ability to do a good case formulation.
Hearing the return arguments from the other side further enhanced my understanding of clients, their families and more importantly the other systems involved. No matter what setting you work in, please attempt to think as largely as you can within the client system. Challenge yourself to get family, peers, schools, probation, DSS, community groups, etc. involved in the assessment and treatment of your client. It was a necessary function in foster care but has served me in every setting I have worked in.
Another lesson I learned is this: before you transport a potty training three and half year old for 35 minutes, ask if he has to go to the bathroom before you leave. We got two minutes away from our destination and he declared “I am peeing.”
Does anyone have another experiences working within the foster care system they would like to share? How did it make you a better social worker, parent, or foster parent?