It can be very confusing when first working with a foster care agency, especially for new foster parents. Here is a quick rundown on a few of the main players in a foster care agency and the roles they play.
The State Agency
Each state has a department that handles and is responsible for child and family welfare. Usually, these state agencies are called something along the lines of Department of Economic Security (DES) or Department of Family Services (DFS), depending on the state; in Kansas, it's called Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS).
How your state handles child and family welfare also depends on if your state is privatized or not. Most states are not privatized and the state agency is responsible for foster care and adoption services for children in the state's custody. If a state has privatized foster care and adoption services, then the state agency contracts with licensed child placing agencies to provide out-of-home foster care services. These providers work in partnership with the state agency and others in the community to provide services to children and their families.
Whether your state has privatized foster care or not, foster parents will still partner with the following agency and staff members.
Case Manager or Case Coordinator
This person is a licensed social worker responsible for working with a birth family to create and implement a case plan, set and help meet goals. They are also to collaborate with the state agency and the court system.
They monitor the child and family's case and progress. Usually, have monthly face-to-face contact with the child. They make referrals for services as needed. Lead the case planning team and answers to the court.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with a Case Manager or Case Coordinator
A foster parent is to help follow the case plan goals as outlined by the case manager or case coordinator.
They keep daily documentation on how the foster child is doing in their home, at school, and in the community utilizing the tools created by the foster care agency or various documentation worksheets of their own. Communication is ultimately the biggest role a foster parent will have in working with the case manager. Discuss with the case manager on how they best prefer to communicate.
Foster Care Worker
Offers guidance and support to the child's foster parents and responsible for providing licensing assessments or re-licensing of the foster home. Usually meet with the foster parents monthly in the foster home. They are knowledgeable about the daily needs and care of the children placed in their foster homes.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with Foster Care Worker
A foster parent's foster care worker is their advocate and support resource. Foster parents usually submit their documentation to their foster care worker who will then submit it to the case manager, but every agency handles this differently. Communication is again, key in working effectively with a foster care worker. One idea is to maintain a notebook with various questions or thoughts that are needed to be shared at the next home visit.
Due to high case loads, paraprofessional staff are often utilized by foster care agencies. These paraprofessionals often provide direct services to children and families – including arraigning visits, answering questions, help in finding resources and arraigning transportation for the children and birth family.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with a Support Worker
It may seem like this has already been said, but communication will again be key in working with support workers. They will be providing more direct services to the children, so keeping them informed on how the child is progressing or struggling will be important as they seek needed resources.
Most offices utilize support staff and foster care agencies are no different. Support staff may include administrator assistants and clerical staff, drivers or transportation, independent living staff, and those providing classes to birth family or youth in independent living such as parenting, nutrition, or budget classes.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with Various Support Staff
Foster parents will go further by remaining courteous to those offering supportive services to the foster children and families. It is so nice to not have to worry about transporting a child to visits or family therapy, it may not always be a perfect system, but it saves time in the foster home and wear and tear on our personal vehicles. These support staff roles also offer others opportunities to serve children in foster care when they can't be foster parents.
Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA)
Some children enter foster care system because they have been adjudicated as a juvenile offender and ordered into the custody of the Commissioner of Juvenile Justice. JJA then functions as a case manager or case coordinator.
Foster Parent's Role in Working with the Juvenile Justice Authority
A foster parent's role in working with the juvenile justice authority is much like working with the case manager or case coordinator. They will lead the case and coordinate the child's services and care.