When individuals hear the words, social worker, their reaction tends to be positive. People, for the most part, view social workers as generous individuals. On the other hand, mention the word foster care case manager, and the reactions change and lean towards a feeling of distrust, if not outright, a sense of anger. Some individuals perceive foster care case managers as the destroyers of families or as the individuals responsible for removing children from their homes. However, this view could not be more inaccurate.
In the first 30 hours, when a child is reported to be in danger, there is confusion, disbelief, and shock surrounding the circumstances. Children come into foster care for various reasons, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and medical trauma. The professionals who are alerted to the situation, and make the final decision to remove a child, are the police, licensed healthcare professionals, and the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) investigators. During the investigation phase, the rules and policies that govern the protection of children are in place to provide a safe space for the child. There is a sense of urgency and rapid movement of people and belongings as decisions are made regarding the child's welfare. Often the situation feels frustrating for biological parents because no one professional individual will have all the answers to their questions. Who has my child? Where are you taking him/her? When can I see him/her again? Why is this happening? The feeling of loss and separation during this time creates trauma for both the family and the child. Whatever sense of normalcy existed for the family is broken. And from the child's perspective, their home environment was safe. So they feel more scared and confused than we can explain.
It is in the midst of this change, hurt, and confusion that the foster case manager is introduced to the family and the child. Hoyleton Youth and Family Services (HYFS) is a private agency, which handles the placement of children within the homes of relatives, extended families, and traditional foster families. Hoyleton operates under the premise that biological, extended, and foster care families are extensions of each other, seeking the best outcomes for building stronger families together. Hoyleton's foster care case managers visit families within 24 to 36 hours after we receive a case. The objective is to stabilize the situation by providing answers and support to a family in crisis. Case managers take the time to answer questions, educate the family, and put into place the necessary assistance to make a family feel supported and whole again. This process does not happen overnight but is built over time by working together to form the bonds of trust and respect with the ultimate goal of putting the family back together in a healthier place.
For a case manager, the ultimate goal is the reunification of the family. Not as it was before, but stronger and more resilient. However, achieving that goal happens with small steps and smaller successes. During each step of the process, the case manager is there cheering for the family. A relationship once based on mistrust and anger evolves into a partnership. Case manager Corrine Fish shared her definition of success, "I have a good relationship with my teenagers because there is a level of respect and trust that has been demonstrated and earned. My kids know I will 'handle' things, and they can openly share their struggles with me. This honest and open interaction shows me that even amid their trauma, they are still developing healthy attachments and coping skills. And more importantly, they do not define themselves by their circumstances. It is these glimpses into the lives of the individuals I help that I count as successes."
Foster care case managers believe emotionally-whole families make for stronger communities. Supporting a family in crisis is not easy, but our case managers work diligently to improve the situation and move forward with one outcome at a time. For more information on how you can partner with families in need, call Foster Care and Placement at 618.688.4727.