Thinking of Switching Agencies? Don’t Be Hasty!
If they feel they are not getting the support they need from their agency or they are unhappy for another reason, foster parents sometimes consider switching agencies. They wonder: could things be better elsewhere?
It’s possible, of course. But transferring agencies can be messy and bumpy for everyone involved, including the children. Before you take such a drastic step, here are some suggestions that could improve your relationship with your current agency and social worker and make a transfer unnecessary.
1) Determine the exact nature of the problem and communicate your needs. Often, issues can be addressed by identifying what you need from your agency and then articulating those needs. Many times it is natural to attribute “intent” to a worker’s action (or lack of action) before you know their side of the situation. For example, if your calls have not been returned, you may jump to the conclusion that the worker no longer cares about your family. In reality, it is possible that circumstances beyond her control prevented her from responding to you. As you learned in pre-service training, “we all have strengths and needs.” This includes your social worker. Sometimes, by simply communicating clearly about those strengths and needs we see in ourselves and in others, we can resolve the issue at hand.
2) Use the chain of command. Customer service is important to all agencies. Agency leaders want to know what your experience is (good and bad) and your ideas for making their services better. When faced with an issue you cannot resolve directly with your social worker, take the issue to the worker’s immediate supervisor. If necessary, take the matter up with that person’s supervisor, and so on. Hopefully, the issue can be resolved.
3) Make use of your agency’s, community’s, and North Carolina’s resources. If you are not receiving the support you desire from your social worker, are there other options at your agency or in your community to get the support you need? Seek out foster parent associations and support groups in your area or the surrounding community. Start a foster parent association at your agency if there isn’t one. If you are not receiving enough support from your social worker, speak to your licensing or training social worker about ways they can support you. On a state level, the NC Division of Social Services’ NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network helps parents across the state navigate common obstacles. Should you encounter an obstacle to fostering or adopting, contact NC Kids toll-free at 877-625-4371. In cases where you would like the state’s opinion and/or intervention, call their toll-free customer service line at 800-662-7030.
4) Weigh your decision carefully. Research the new agency you are considering. The agency may require you to go through many steps you have already completed for your current agency, such as attending its 30-hour pre-service training program. Know, too, that your current agency and new agency will also share information. If you have not attempted to resolve your issues with your current agency, your new agency may not be open to working with you until you at least try. Most importantly, consider the needs and well-being of any children placed in your home. Consider how the transition to a new agency may affect them; have a discussion with the agency that has custody of the children about any possible effects on the children before moving forward with switching agencies.
The one thing to keep in mind if you feel you are not being supported by your social worker or agency is that to meet the needs of children, foster parents and agencies must work in partnership. Working together as partners first and foremost involves communication. If after communicating with your social worker and agency you decide it is in everyone’s best interest for you to switch to a new agency, keep those lines of communication open with both your current and new agency. This will help to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Adapted from Fostering Perspectives v19, n2 (May 2015)
What Does North Carolina Best Practice Say?
If you are seriously considering transferring to another agency, it can help to know what policy requires of both agencies and foster parents during this process. For example, there is a great deal of emphasis on transparent, honest communication between the “current” agency and the “future” agency about the foster family. The following is an excerpt of North Carolina’s foster home licensing policy, which you can find in full here: https://bit.ly/2q3PdrG (begins on p. 3).
Best Business Practice for Transferring Families
1. Always encourage families to make the effort to communicate with their current agency about what their problems or concerns are and to see if there is a way to fix those problems. It’s the old Golden Rule! “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Don’t you want your families to approach you first in an effort to improve or fix things before just giving up and transferring?
2. If they have tried to make things right with their current agency and still wish to transfer, have the family talk with their current supervising agency and let them know that they are meeting with you in an effort to see if your agency is a better match.
3. Spend several meetings with the family in an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you/your agency. Suggested topics of discussion during these meetings:
- How long have you been fostering? How many children have you fostered or provided respite?
- Have you transferred your foster care license before? If so, why, when, etc.?
- What have you learned from your experience?
- What are your family’s strengths/needs in fostering?
- What are you looking for in future placements?
- What are you looking for in your next agency?
- Share your experiences with Shared Parenting. What did you learn? What would you have done differently?
- Have you had any investigations in your home during your time fostering? If so, what was that process like for you? How did you overcome those obstacles? Did you get support from your agency?
- What was your most challenging/ rewarding placement?
- What areas of training do you feel you need in order to meet the needs of children?
4. If you have spent some time with this family, and you and the family feel your agency is a good match, have them sign a release form and send this to the current agency.
5. Once the release form has been received and you have reviewed the material from the agency, schedule a time to speak with the current supervisor of the foster family and discuss the following:
- What was your experience in working with this family?
- What are their strengths/needs?
- Did they work in partnership with CFT members?
- How did they approach Shared Parenting?
- Would you place children in their home again? If not, why?
- How did they treat children?
- Did they attend and engage in In-Service trainings?
- What does this family need in order to be a successful foster family?
- What type of placement would be most successful for this family?
- Is there anything else I need to know about this family?
6. Ask the foster family to provide you with new reference reports.