Homelessness is a pressing problem in many U.S. cities. In response, many local governments have enacted controversial measures such as restrictions on public health services or prohibitions on eating, sleeping, sitting or storing property in public spaces. Sometimes called “nuisance” or “quality of life” measures, such steps seem designed to reduce the visibility of unsheltered individuals and families; and they can be used to forcibly remove unsheltered people from parks, sidewalks, and streets.
Unfortunately, such policies do not offer meaningful solutions to homelessness, and they can actually make the problem worse – by exacerbating instabilities for those without permanent shelter. They also cause distress, stigmatize the homeless, and risk violating civil rights. Consequently, federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Interagency Council on Homelessness have criticized laws that criminalize “acts of living.”
How City Ordinances Targeting the Homeless Prove Counterproductive
City ordinances targeting the homeless are counterproductive in several ways:
By increasing financial insecurity. Economic need is a well-recognized cause of homelessness, and official citations or fines can exacerbate financial instability among those without permanent housing. What is more, when city officials enforce anti-homeless ordinances by confiscating property, already struggling households must expend scarce resources to replace food, clothing, medicines, work supplies or household goods.
By limiting access to jobs, services, and social support. Citations may lead to warrants or create criminal records, prompting cycles of criminalization. Moreover, studies have documented that these citations and fines can hinder access to employment and social services. Restrictions on activity in public spaces, especially in downtown areas, can prevent access to services, employment or educational opportunities. And when anti-homeless policies involve forced relocations, they can disrupt social support networks.
By promoting stigmatization and threatening civil liberties. Quality of life laws are often motivated by negative stereotypes and have been found to promote public stigmatization of unsheltered families. They can also heighten mistrust of public officials and service providers by people in need of their support. And in some of these laws have been found to violate constitutionally protected rights – which can lead to costly legal fees and court settlements for municipalities and their taxpayers.
The Example of Anti-Homeless Ordinances in Honolulu
The crisis of homelessness and the damaging impacts of punitive ordinances have been especially visible in Honolulu. In 2015, the state of Hawaii had the highest rate of homelessness in the United States, and Honolulu had one of the highest numbers of homeless people among in small cities. Honolulu has also become notorious for criminalizing actions including legal bans against sitting or lying on sidewalks in several districts and restrictions on storing property in spaces or living in parks. Enforcement of these city ordinances has resulted in “sweeps” or “raids” of homeless encampments in Honolulu.
Officials, business owners and members of the public are understandably concerned about ways in which visible homeless encampments could harm the city’s image, undercutting tourism, real-estate, and other commercial enterprises. But many people are unaware of the public and private costs inflicted by anti-homeless ordinances. A recent study found that the enforcement of Honolulu’s sidewalk property and nuisance ordinances, as well as sit-lie bans, has caused stress, and trauma. Respondents impacted by city ordinances and raids reported feeling violated, hurt, and ashamed — and “less than human.”
Homeless households also reported the loss of medicines, food, work supplies, children’s school materials, and official identification documents like state IDs or licenses. Such losses can create obstacles to accessing services, health care, nutritional assistance, work or income support, and employment. In Honolulu, homeless individuals have often lost their possessions or were forced either to pay up to $250 to retrieve property from a distant location or to go through a difficult and often logistically impossible waiver process.
City enforcement actions have required households to move, relocate, or lose the belongings they depend upon for basic survival. Relocation is especially burdensome for parents with children, persons with physical or mental disabilities, the sick and the elderly. Seizure of property can be traumatic, which is concerning since past experience with physical or domestic abuse is one risk factor for homelessness.
Research finds that Housing First policies provide an effective solution to chronic homelessness. Such strategies couple intensive support services and outreach to homeless people with the provision of stable housing. Honolulu has made wise investments in Housing First, with positive results. However, Honolulu’s raids and sweeps on homeless households or encampments work in opposition to its positive housing initiatives, because punitive measures can create a climate of fear, mistrust, and chaos that undermines engaged public outreach to help the homeless.
In Honolulu, approximately $700,000 per year has been spent on managing and disposing of property and enforcing anti- homeless ordinances. A recent court settlement found that the city of Honolulu violated constitutional rights against seizure of property without due process, making the city and county liable for legal fees and compensation for a class of plaintiffs.
Instead of spending resources on punishment and legal cases, Honolulu and other localities could devote resources to more permanent solutions – by expanding Housing First programs and supplementing them with additional steps such as rapid-rehousing, emergency rental relief to prevent eviction, and investments to increase the availability of low-income rental housing. Honolulu, like many high cost-of-living locales, should seek to maximize investments in public housing maintenance as well as in inclusionary zoning and rental assistance and tax credit programs to encourage more construction of low-income rentals.
Read more in Jennifer Darrah-Okike, Sarah Soakai, Susan Nakaoka, Tai Dunson-Strane, and Karen Umemoto. “‘It Was Like I Lost Everything’: The Harmful Impacts of Homeless-Targeted Policies.” Housing Policy Debate, (2018).
Global Social Welfare Digital Summit Call for Proposals: Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Social Change
SWHELPER will host its four day annual virtual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit beginning on February 25th through February 28th, 2020. The Summit’s primary goal is to enhance practice for helping professionals by using technology to eliminate geographical borders for training, networking, and collaboration.
“Our goal is to use an interdisciplinary approach for helping professionals to provide news, information, and resources critical to global knowledge sharing,” says Deona Hooper, SWHELPER Founder and Editor-in-Chief, and host of the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit.
The virtual format transcends geographic locations and expands learning to a global classroom. “Most importantly, it allows us to provide the same great content as an in person conference yet at a more affordable rate. Our four-day conference will focus on Activism, Health Care, Trauma Informed Care, Prevention and Solutions,” Deona concludes.
Call for Proposals
We are looking for speakers who are interested in giving presentations from micro to macro perspectives on topics of ethics, technology, research, policy and other related themes. All speakers are exempted from paying the participation fee and will have free access to all four days of the conference. Additionally, each speaker will get a dedicated page where he/she can promote their work and products as well as free marketing and promotion leading up to the Summit.
- There are no fees for speakers. All presenters will be given a four-day pass to the live conference along with 1-year access to view all recorded presentation if they can not attend the other presentations live.
- We will create graphics and posts for each presenter to promote on SWHELPER social media.
- SWHELPER will publish articles recognizing all speakers chosen to present at the 2020 Summit.
The call for proposals is open, and it will end on September 15th, 2019. Visit https://on.swhelper.org/2LyU54D for more information. Global Welfare Digital Summit will work with other media outlets to arrange interviews for speakers who want to discuss their work and presentations for the Summit.
About SWHELPER is a woman-owned, award-winning, mission-driven, and progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment for the social good. Our audience is comprised of academics, policymakers, social workers, students, mental health practitioners, helping professionals, caregivers, and people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis. Visit us at www.swhelper.org
A Closer Look at Homelessness
In the early morning hours on a cold January night, city officials in a small college town took to the streets with a clear purpose. Their mission: to take an accurate count of the number of homeless citizens living in the city. As they checked under bridges and highway overpasses, the count escalated. Then they found it; a city within a city filled with disheveled people, tattered tents, and worn cardboard boxes. The inhabitants bore the looks of individuals who encountered an arduous life on the streets. As the morning dawned, the count increased and the evidence of marginalization was hard to deny.
Citizens, who had been relegated to the outskirts of the municipality, were being brought back into the fold, if only for a brief period of time to be counted. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, on a single night in 2017, over 553,000 people were homeless, and in 2016, over 1.4 million people who are homeless sought services from emergency shelters and transitional living programs. To fully understand the diverse needs of these citizens, we must look deeper into the lives of those who experience chronic and short-term homelessness
Too often, misguided outsiders mischaracterize these citizens. Attitudes range from contempt and blame to empathy and compassion, often with little understanding of individual circumstances. This article profiles four homeless individuals and highlights their unique challenges. As competent professionals, social workers must consider the importance of empathy and collaborative support to move them to a better place in life. Beebe, Dan, Mary, and San shared their stories of how life challenges led them to homelessness. All resided in a mid-sized, college town in the Southeast laying bare their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, their stories shed light on the individual and collective needs of homeless citizens.
Beebe, a 30-something year-old African-American mother of two, left her home in a major metropolitan area to move to a town for a fresh start. Having no family in the new location, she was referred to a local non-profit organization for assistance in finding a home. Beebe came to this town in search of a different lifestyle for herself and her two children. Having lived in a large city for years, she made a decision to leave her familiar surroundings in search of quality health care and career advancement opportunities. She entered a housing assistance program with a focused intent to find a home. Upon entering the program, Beebe encountered issues that strengthened her resolve to provide for her family. Finding employment was not her initial focus, because she lives with rheumatoid arthritis, and her teenage son lives with Autism.
Putting her educational pursuits on hold, she pushed forward. Beebe’s desire to live in a detached, single-family home was based on her prior experiences in public housing, where she faced distractions that were particularly troubling for her son. Her decision to enter homelessness, for a short-term, was done with a bigger plan in mind. Along the journey to find a more suitable location for herself and her family, Beebe found shelter and support from the staff at the small non-profit organization; their assistance and support helped her navigate the bureaucracy of the local housing authority system.
A 40-something year old African-American mother, Dan temporarily resided in her church’s fellowship hall. Unemployed and receiving public assistance, Dan was in desperate search of a permanent means to care for herself and her teenage son, who also shared the living space. Dan moved from a rural farming community in search of employment in her field and a home for her family. In her previous work life, Dan experienced the benefits of having a steady clientele as a licensed professional cosmetologist in a booming economy.
A dramatic shift in the local economy brought about a change, and Dan observed a rapid decline in business. This resulted in a loss of income, and she was not able to continue paying salon rental fees where she worked. The income loss immediately seeped into her personal life, rendering her unable to maintain her home and provide basic needs for herself and her son. Within two years, Dan became homeless and unemployed.
When Dan arrived in her new location, she sought help to find housing from a local non-profit, in an effort to regain stability and control of her life and to transition out of homelessness. Realizing the value of education, Dan enrolled in school for training as a medical assistant. However, the stress of being homeless and unemployed weighed heavily on her causing overwhelming stress and resulted in her suffering a stroke.
With her dreams of entering a new profession hampered by health challenges, Dan found herself in greater need of even more financial assistance, in the wake of her health crisis. At the time of her interview, Dan was awaiting a decision on her disability case. Her church fellowship hall was a temporary place of shelter to call home, but Dan sought permanency and gainful employment outside of the confines of homelessness.
Mary is a middle-aged African-American mother, who resided at an emergency shelter. Prior to entering homelessness, she relocated from Florida to the mid-sized college town after leaving an abusive relationship. When she arrived, she found employment in the food services industry, housekeeping and as a seasonal employee for a security company. As a single mother, she worked diligently to provide for herself and her son, all while she struggled to help her son overcome behavioral challenges. Eventually, she sought help from a local mental health program and staff from family services. Over time, she lost employment, because of her inability to manage her personal situation. Due to her inability to properly care for her child, he was placed in foster care. With mounting obstacles, most notably a lack of financial resources, Mary became homeless.
Initially, she resided with acquaintances for a time, but soon found herself without shelter and facing chronic homelessness. Mary entered the Salvation Army emergency shelter twice in one year because she had no other resources. During her last stay at the shelter, Mary established a goal of going to college for training as an occupational therapist. Unable to secure funding, Mary’s time in school was short-lived. During the same time, Mary juggled the responsibilities of following her family case plan and meeting the requirements for residing at the emergency shelter.
Mary Blue’s desire to change the course of her life and to reunite with her son created challenges that were overwhelmingly burdensome. Even as she worked to improve her life through educational channels, certain challenges made it difficult to reach her goals. The compounding issues that overshadowed her life were ever-present.
An African-American man in his mid-40’s, San resided at an emergency shelter. Having obtained his GED, San was a self-proclaimed, over-achiever in the world of work. San had dreams of exiting homelessness and helping others do the same. Traversing the eastern portion of the United States in search of work, he believed that the local community, while filled with opportunities, offered very few avenues for employment for him. San laments that he completed and submitted over 150 employment applications in hopes of securing a job.
Recalling the reasons that led to homelessness, San spoke solemnly of the circumstances that contributed to his current living arrangements. He suffered through a home foreclosure, and he sought recourse to save his home but was unable to do so. With no employment and having no children to care for, he assumed the role of a migratory worker, believing that one must be willing to follow where the work leads. While his work history mainly consisted of being a construction laborer, he boasted of gaining new skills as a kitchen worker in the restaurant industry.
We have a responsibility to understand the causes of homelessness and to identify public and private non-profit organizations designed to raise awareness and offer services to help people exit homelessness; several resources are provided below:
- Family Promise-a national movement to end family homelessness; go to www.familypromise.org
- The Salvation Army-a national organization with local affiliates providing emergency shelter for individual and families; go to www.salvationarmyusa.org
- National Alliance to End Homelessness-provides research and education to support public policies to end homelessness; go to www.endhomelessness.org
The citizens profiled in this article are regular people who came upon hard times, which resulted in their entry into homelessness. Social workers have the knowledge and skills to aid clients who are homeless by helping them navigate a number of systems, as they work to find permanency. Most importantly, collaborative partnerships are key in identifying and creating positive change for homeless citizens.
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act: One Small Step in the Right Direction Towards A More Just Child Welfare System
While most of the mainstream media has failed to report on this momentous piece of legislation created to address the inequities of systemic racism impacting child welfare reform and parental rights, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis quietly introduced the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act (HF 3973).
The bill was first introduced earlier this year with the explicit purpose of stopping the arbitrary removal of black children by the Minnesota Child Protection Division. The goal of the legislation is to address key racial biases and disparities while also seeking to extend better standards of care across the State’s child welfare system.
According to the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website, “a group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota’s child-protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved”.
The Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act has the support of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, numerous leaders within the black community as well as African-American families directly impacted by the State’s arbitrary removal assessments. While there is no doubt there will be challenges for implementation or will right past injustices, this piece of legislation is one small step in the right direction. Minnesota has taken the first legislative step towards using policy to address structural racism within the child welfare system. Maybe, their courageous actions will inspire other lawmakers to follow and do the same in their states.
As a social justice and parental rights advocate, this story is a personal one and a triumph to see on many levels specifically because I was unjustly and unnecessarily removed from my mother in Saint Pauls when I was six years old. The removal was both retaliatory and racially (politically) motivated due to the fact my mother was a fearless and outspoken black woman trying desperately to address the blatant discrimination and racism blacks were experiencing in our neighborhood.
While in foster care, I experienced mental, physical, and emotional abuse, and very nearly died due to improper adult supervision or the lack therefore in my case. Although my mother did eventually get me and my younger sister back after two long and hard years of fighting in the Courts, she was never the same mentally or emotionally.
As a social work professional, I know now, my mother was very likely suffering from severe and untreated PTSD which is a very common diagnosis as a result of family disruption from a child removal. It wasn’t until many years later when I found myself in the very same position (having had to experience the same CPS induced hell), that I truly realized what my mother had to endure.
My experiences inspired my desire to become an advocate and prevent the above from needlessly happening to another family. Structural racism and discrimination are rampant and widespread within our nation, and our child welfare system is not exempt. Racism and discrimination within the child welfare system have directly lead to what some scholars and advocates have termed, the “cultural genocide” of the black family.
A Call to Action…
This bill is extremely important and needs all the help it can get in order to become law. Therefore, I’m calling upon advocates, families, and child welfare professionals everywhere to call and write the appropriate committees and/or legislators and tell them to support the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.
If you’re ready to make a positive difference and combat the cultural genocide of African-American families all across the country, please call or write your representatives and request the African-American Family Preservation Act be introduced in your state.
How to Become a CASA Volunteer
Sponsored by Aurora University
Children who are in the court or social service systems due to neglect or abuse are vulnerable, and they often lack reliable adult advocacy. For the past 40 years, however, volunteers have been stepping up to help protect and guide these at-risk youths during their proceedings.
In 1977, Seattle juvenile court judge David Soukup found himself regularly waking up in the middle of the night worried about children. He worried that he regularly made drastic decisions in his courtroom about how to handle cases of abused and neglected children with insufficient information.
Judge Soukup envisioned citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of these children, and he contacted members of the community he thought could help him find such volunteers. He first asked interested people to come to a brown bag lunch to discuss this possibility and 50 people showed. From there, the program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
When he retired from the bench, Judge Soukup himself became a CASA volunteer. He said the experience was “both the hardest — and the best — thing I’ve ever done.”
Sometimes CASA volunteers are the only consistent adult in an endangered child’s life. They are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children and make sure they don’t get lost in the legal and social service system.
Each year, more than 600,000 children go through foster care in the United States. There aren’t enough CASA volunteers to pair with each child, so judges assign volunteers to their toughest cases. In 2017, more than 85,000 CASA volunteers helped more than a quarter million abused and neglected children find permanent homes.
Court-Appointed Special Advocate Overview
The presence of a CASA volunteer in the life of a child who is in the court or family services system has a huge impact on the outcomes for that child. Children who have a CASA volunteer are more likely to be adopted, are half as likely to reenter the foster system and are less likely to be expelled from school. In fact, children who have a CASA volunteer average eight fewer months in foster care than children without one.
CASA volunteers are supported continuously throughout their service. They have opportunities for continuing education and access to online resources provided by the National CASA Association, including a resource library, national Facebook community and an annual national conference. To maintain your status as a CASA volunteer, you are required to submit to 12 hours of yearly in-service training.
According to the organization, when you become a CASA volunteer, these are some of your responsibilities:
- Research: Review court records and other documents related to the case, speak to the child, their family and the professionals involved with their case.
- Report: Share the research with the court.
- Appear in court: Provide testimony when asked and advocate for the child.
- Explain: Help the child understand the various proceedings around their case.
- Collaborate: Help the people and organizations involved in the child’s case come to cooperative solutions. Make sure the child and their family understand the various services available to them and help arrange appointments.
- Monitor the process: Stay up-to-date on case plans and court orders. Make sure the appropriate hearings are being held in a timely manner.
- Update the court: Any time the child’s situation changes, inform the court. Make sure the appropriate motions are filed on the child’s behalf.
Cases are assigned by the CASA staff with consideration to the suitability of the volunteer’s background and education and any prior experience as a CASA volunteer. Volunteers of all experiences and backgrounds are needed.
- Shelter the child in the volunteer’s home
- Give money to the child or their family
- Attempt to intervene in violent situations
- Fail to report the child’s whereabouts in an emergency
They must also adhere to a very extensive code of ethics.
How to Become a CASA Volunteer
CASA volunteers come from all backgrounds; the only unifying trait of volunteers is empathy for children. You’ll be an advocate for children during the most confusing and traumatic time in their lives. It’s a challenging and fulfilling role that will positively impact the children in your charge.
Volunteers must complete 30 hours of training and pass background checks. Being a CASA volunteer is a 10- to 12-hour monthly commitment. CASA volunteers commit to seeing a case all the way through to the end, which averages around a year and a half.
Other requirements to become a CASA volunteer include:
- Be at least 21 years old, though some states have the minimum age as 25
- Be available for court appearances with advanced notice
After completion of the initial training, volunteers are sworn in by a judge as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child’s situation and submit reports to the court.
Do Paid CASA Careers Exist?
Not all people who work for CASA are volunteers. Child advocacy can be a career, whether or not it is with CASA.
One such paid career is a supervisor for a CASA program. This is a critical role because they recruit and manage the volunteers. Their main tasks are:
- Attract volunteers that represent the ethnic and cultural make up of their community.
- Attract volunteers on an ongoing basis.
- Promote CASA in the community.
The average CASA supervisor makes $50,080 a year. Sixty-seven percent of people in that role have a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree in social work is excellent for a CASA employee or volunteer. Though volunteers of all backgrounds are needed at CASA, qualified volunteers with a background in social work are especially valuable to the program.
Classes studying human behavior in social environments and family dynamics from Aurora University’s online Bachelor of Social Work lay the foundation for informed advocacy for an at-risk child. Graduates of the online BSW are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license (LSW) and to apply for advanced standing in Aurora University’s online master’s in social work if they choose to further their careers.
Bass, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Foster Youth Mentoring Act
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass and Rep. Bacon both serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.
“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges youth in the system face,” Rep. Bass said. “In all of my years working with children in the child welfare system, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, the number one thing I hear is that they want a consistent source of advice and support.
They want someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary, but for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue.”
“As the father of two adopted children who came into our home through foster care, I understand the need for foster youth to have the consistent support of a caring adult,” said Rep. Bacon. “I am thankful to join Rep. Bass in co-leading these efforts, as they will ensure adults will be able to be successful mentors who have a positive impact on the education, personal and professional challenges our foster youth go through every day.”
“Mentoring provides young people with the social capital, confidence, and support they need to thrive,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Far too often, young people in the foster care system experience adults coming in and out of their lives, without having a consistent presence of someone focused solely on them and their journey.
Research confirms that young people in foster care benefit from quality mentoring in a range of areas including mental health, education, peer relationships, placement, and life satisfaction. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act centers the critical role relationships can play for foster youth and provides proven mentoring programs with the resources they need to serve young people through evidence-based and culturally relevant practices.
MENTOR is thankful to Representative Bass and Representative Bacon for their bipartisan leadership to create policies and resources that incorporate the power of mentoring relationships into the child welfare system and ultimately, the lives of our young people.”
The bill comes one day before the 8th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in which current and former foster youth from more than 30 states ranging from Alaska to Maine come to Washington, DC to shadow their Member of Congress. This year’s Shadow Day includes 130 delegates aged between 18 to 30. They have spent a combined 725 years in the child welfare system. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.
The bill authorizes funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process, and successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system, and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems, and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.
Building Families: Social Workers in Foster Care
Sponsored by Campbellsville University
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there were approximately 443,000 children in foster care in 2017 with more than one-quarter of those children waiting to be adopted.
Unfortunately, the foster care system needs help, according to Anne Adcock, program director and assistant professor of social work at Campbellsville University. Some people get into fostering for the wrong reasons, thinking that they’ll be able to live off the money they receive.
Fortunately, social workers in foster care can help. According to the National Association of Social Work (NASW), social workers play a critical role in child welfare systems, and studies point to social workers’ education linking to better outcomes for children and families. “The foster care system is not perfect, but social workers are there to make it as good as it can be,” Adcock said. How does that happen in roles like the foster care social worker? In an interview, Adcock shared details on job responsibilities and the impact that social workers in foster care have.
How Foster Care Social Workers Help Children and Families
Social workers in foster care are often employed by private agencies that have contracts with the state, Adcock explained. The agencies have a number of foster care families who are considered when it’s time to place children into homes.
Foster care agencies employ social workers who work as therapists for children and those who work as case managers. Case managers, who are also known as foster care social workers, take care of responsibilities like assessing families for suitability, placing children and monitoring children. Regular contact is often made with the family about two to four times a month.
There are two crucial tasks that encompass how foster care social workers help children and families. “Mainly, the social worker’s role in the foster care system is to make the connections between the family and the kids,” Adcock said. “And then to monitor those relationships to make sure the child is getting what they need and the foster parents are managing that situation well.”
Building connections with foster care children and potential families is vital for creating a successful placement. Social workers in foster care must take care in choosing the right home for kids in foster care.
Once children are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, according to Adcock, they receive a social worker either through the state or the state will contract out with an agency to provide a social worker. The social worker will begin the process of finding a more permanent foster home.
In some cases, children have greater needs, such as those with disabilities or behavior problems. In that case, foster care social workers will start searching for what’s known as therapeutic foster homes. Those homes and parents can accept children who need special attention. If that scenario unfolds, social workers will need to work on connecting children with the right therapeutic home. There’s a lot of linking required to find the right environment for those children.
Once a placement is made, foster care social workers will monitor the relationship. Regular contact is kept with at least two visits a month must be in person, at the home, and the remaining visits can be by phone.
If help is needed, social workers can step in and respond accordingly. “As a crisis comes up on the part of either the parent or the child, they go and take care of those things,” Adcock said. From crisis prevention and response to providing other types of support, there are a number of ways foster care social workers monitor cases.
- Emotional Support: Foster care children need emotional and behavioral support. “Most of the time these kids also have a therapist,” Adcock said. “The case manager and the therapist kind of work as a team. So, if there are things that the case manager sees that need to be discussed in therapy, they can communicate that to the therapist.” The foster care social worker can also talk with children in general about their concerns and fears, or anything else on their mind. Another way social workers in foster care provide emotional support is by accompanying children at family court. That enables children to receive some help navigating the court system.
- Financial Support: If children have extra needs that go beyond the monthly stipend parents receive for food, clothing and basic necessities, social workers will ensure they receive what they need.
- Mediation and Crisis Intervention: Some situations can be difficult to deal with. “A lot of these kids have trauma in their past,” Adcock said. “They have abuse in their past. It’s not uncommon for a foster child to have significant behavior problems . . . Sometimes they will run away from the foster care home. I know I had a former student that was in a foster care agency, and the kid just took off.” The social worker in that case was out with the police helping look for the child. In other instances, such as when foster parents have proven to be inadequate, the social worker may need to correct the situation or remove the child from the foster home.
- Respite Care: Parents can request respite care for circumstances when they cannot care for foster children. For example, if a parent has surgery or an out-of-town family reunion, there are respite homes social workers can locate to take children for a few days.
The Rewarding Nature of Working in Foster Care
There are some tough times for social workers in foster care, but that’s not always the case. “Overall, it’s rewarding, because they get connected to the kids and the kids rely on them,” Adcock said. “Sometimes they’re the only one that the kid trusts, and that’s a good thing.”
There are times that demonstrate why foster care social workers dedicate their lives to helping children and families. “If everything goes well, they’re (reunited) with their original family,” Adcock said. “The best times, I think, for a lot of my former students . . . is when an adoption goes through. When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”
Optional pull quote: “When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”
Another great part of social work is that there’s always room to move up. Foster care social workers, or case managers, can earn their master’s degree and become a therapist. That enables them to have some variety while staying in the foster care specialty.
Career Information for Foster Care Social Workers
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earn a median annual wage of $47,980 per year. Starting salaries will be less when starting out, according to Adcock, but there is plenty of growth in this area. “Especially if someone with their BSW moves forward and gets their MSW,” she added. “That’s where the most significant growth in earnings would come. Typically, there’s a $10,000 to $15,000 salary difference right off the bat, depending on where you are.”
Employment for all social workers is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026, according to the BLS. That figure is more than double the average percentage increase for all occupations, which is 7 percent. According to Adcock, there is a special need for social workers in foster care. Private foster care agencies are always hiring, given the demand that has resulted from states contracting their work to those agencies. “And then a lot of foster care agencies are expanding their services and starting to provide alcohol and drug addiction treatment services for juveniles,” Adcock said.
The BLS noted that social workers need a bachelor’s degree. Providing counseling services as a clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work.
An online bachelor’s degree in social work can allow you to become a foster care social worker. You’ll develop an understanding of the basics of social work while gaining, hands-on, practical experience in the field. There’s also a course, “Foster Care & Adoption,” that covers the foster care specialty.
Campbellsville University’s program lets you study in a convenient, flexible environment. Gain the skills and knowledge needed to become a social worker at an institution that was ranked the 4th most affordable among Christian colleges in the United States. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
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