Friday, March 8, 2013

The Revolving Door of Never-Ending Foster Care Visits

On this go-round of fostering, I am going to try to document more of the day-to-day life of foster parents.  I get a lot of questions about the players in foster care, the visits, the court hearings, the plan for parents, etc. so I figured it would be helpful to post some information here!  While I feel like these aren't going to be the most exciting posts, I remember before we were "in" the fostering world that I wondered what they were like and what was discussed.  So I'll start today with the different types of visits and who is involved.

First of all let's discuss who is doing all of these visits.

Licensing Social Worker: This is "our" worker. She represents the foster parents and helps us navigate the system. When we have concerns, she helps advocate for us to whoever may need to hear the concern. We are very fortunate to have an amazing licensing social worker. She is employed by the county.

Foster Care Social Worker: This is the child's worker. She represents the foster child and the biological family. This person really helps to guide the parents to work their plan so that reunification can happen. They also are the ones who stay updated on the child, their needs, any concerns and general well-being. This social worker is the one that is fully involved in the case. She is employed by the county.

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL):  This person's sole job is to represent the child. They are the voice for the child in court and advocate for the child's best interest. The GAL performs a separate investigation from the county so that they can make sure their opinions stated to the court are not biased. This means they visit with all parties involved in the case, similarly to the Foster Care Social Worker. In our county, the GAL's are volunteers that report to a GAL Supervisor, who is a county employee. Please note that not all children are assigned a GAL. It depends on the specific reasons that the children came into care as to whether a GAL is assigned. However in my experience, it seems that a GAL is assigned in more cases than not.

Okay, now we can move onto the actual visits.

Initial Social Worker Home Visit: Within the first 14 days of a placement, it is required (aka highly recommended) in our county for both the licensing social worker and the foster care social worker to visit our home. During this visit, they verify that our home is in safe and properly equipped to take care of the child. They specifically look at the sleeping arrangements since there are very specific rules regarding the bed and bedroom. The case is also discussed so that we understand the details that are pertinent for us to be able to take care of the child and begin shared parenting.  However, some details of the case may (and usually are) not discussed with the foster parents. We do not have the right to know all of the details of the case- however you can usually hear 95% of it if you attend court hearings.

Foster Care Social Worker Home Visits: The Foster Care Social Worker must visit the child every month. And three out of four of those visits must be in the home. The visits that don't occur in the home could happen at the family visits, daycare, school, therapy, etc. These visits ensure that the child is being checked on to make sure we are doing our job of properly caring for the child. Also, our house is consistently checked to make sure we are following the regulations. During these visits we typically discuss any changes in our home (remodeling, visitors, job changes, etc.), any changes in the case, and how the child is doing. The Foster Care Social Worker also has the right to "drop in" for a visit at any time. This is pretty unusual, but we are always open to any visit since we have nothing to hide.

Licensing Social Worker Home Visits: These visits occur once a quarter and must be in our home 2 out of every 3 visits. The purpose of this visit is to ensure that we are staying current with our home and other requirements to keep our foster parent license. We discuss how much continuing education hours we have completed, review emergency readiness plans to make sure they are current, express concerns about the case and ask for help/clarification about anything needed in the system or process. We also discuss how the child is doing so that any available assistance (therapy, discipline tools, books, etc.) can be arranged to help us. The Licensing Social Worker also has to the right to "drop in" visits, which again we have no issue with.

GAL Visits: The GAL visits with the child once a month, but can be more frequent as needed. These visits can occur where ever the child is- foster home, daycare, school, family visits, etc. When the GAL visits our home, we primarily discuss the child.  Many times the GAL will stay to play with the children to get to know them better and witness first hand how they are doing.

Family Visits: These visits don't include the foster parents, but typically are what many people are curious about so I figured they'd be worth discussing. These visits occur between the foster children and their biological parents. When possible, they try to coordinate for all siblings to see their parents at the same time so that they can also see their siblings if they are in different homes. The judge decides how often these visits occurs and how much supervision is required. They can be as frequently as three times a week or could not be granted at all. I would say it is typical to be once a week for one to two hours. But as the parents make progress in their case plan, their visits increase in time and decrease in supervision. Speaking of which, there are different kinds of supervision. Supervised visits means that someone is always present to see and hear the interactions between parent and child. Monitored visits means that someone checks in every 15 minutes to make sure things are going as expected. Unsupervised visits are just that- no supervision. The location of the visits are typically determined by the county. They usually start out at a county facility and then progress into the family's home and/or community (McDonald's, Chuck-E-Cheese, parks, etc.). Transportation to and from visits can vary as well. In all of our cases (and the majority in our county), a transportation social worker who works for the county picks up the child from daycare/ school/ foster home and drives them to the visit. They also provide return transportation.

Does any of this surprise you? Concern you? What other questions do you have about visits in foster care? What other things in foster care would you like to know more about?


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like us! Although we are with a private agency, so 'our' social worker is from there. I don't think we have a GAL...and as far as I know there hasn't been too much court activity, except right when FS was placed with us. We had one social worker and then were changed to another, but both have been very nice and answer our questions as best they can. Had a volunteer drive FS to his visits for the last few months, but they were retired and decided to 'move on,' which was a shame because they liked us and we liked them a lot...I understand that dealing with kids in tough situations may have gotten to them and they just decided to do something else with their time. :( I have to call the county today to get another person set up! We have a therapy worker come by to assess/work with FS just to make sure he's meeting developmental goals as well. We are hoping to adopt FS but I know the goal is for his bio family to be able to care for him...*sigh* We have decided to enjoy FS for as long as we can, and if that turns out to be forever, then that's great! :)