I get some interesting responses when I tell people I want to be a social worker. There’s this popular reaction: “Aren’t social workers the people who take kids away from their parents?”, and let’s not forget, “Wow, that’s going to be really sad, why would you want to do that?”
There’s a trend. It’s not uncommon that the average person has negative ideas about social work.
So I started thinking. What are the specific aspects of social work that inspire these responses and attitudes? Why are the negatives of the job so easily recognized, while the positives seem to go unnoticed? As I thought this over, the foster care system stood out to me as a “culprit”. Though they are not one and the same, it seems that social work is for some people synonymous with foster care (they are connected, but are not the same thing). Helpless children, violence, neglect, broken families- not to mention that TV shows, movies, and popular media are often the only education people get about social work and foster care- it makes sense that negative connotations and jumbled associations are rampant. But how could that change if people knew more about them?
The foster care system is full of flaws and positives alike. But it’s important to understand both of those aspects before forming an opinion. So here are the basics of the system, the good, and the bad, to get you started.
“Foster Care.” State of Oregon:. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
This website provides educational information about how foster care works. It explains three different types of foster care: Relative Foster Care, Child-Specific Foster Care, and General Foster Care. This page also describes some of the common reasons why children enter the system including abuse and neglect. Benefits of foster care are described as well; the site explains that foster care often allows children and teens to become members of the communities/groups their foster families are apart of, creating regularity and routine in their lives. In some cases, foster care can provide children/teens with the opportunity to continue at their schools, and activities they participated in before placement, allowing for familiarity and a sense of continuity for the child during an often difficult transition. The site also explains the relationship the child and foster family will maintain with their appointed caseworker, noting regular visits and interactions between the parties in order to ensure the placement is beneficial and positive for both the child and foster family. This information comes from the Department of Human Services website, the ultimate authority on foster care as the department created and maintains the system. It relates to my research question as the information explains the basic workings of the foster care system, and also reveals some positive impacts it can have upon children involved.
Getz, Lindsey. “Aging Out of Foster Care.” Social Work Today 12.2 (2012): 12. Web. 8
This article discusses a social issue that is not currently receiving the attention it deserves. When children in foster care turn eighteen, they are “aged out” of the system, and left to support themselves. This is often a jarring and difficult transition that involves a teen becoming suddenly responsible for their own housing, employment, healthcare, and all other needs, often without any assistance or support. Teens who have been aged out often find themselves unemployed and/or homeless, struggling to get by. Getz argues that the foster care system should be doing more to prepare teens for this transition, educating them about life after the system before they are being pushed out the door. This article was included in a 2012 issue of the magazine/journal Social Work Today, a reputable source recognized by licensed and practicing social workers, as well as professors of social work. It relates to my research question as it presents one of the negative impacts the system can have on children.
Hasenecz, Nadine M. “Fixing Foster Care: 5 Strategies for Change.” Social Work Today
9.2 (2009): 30. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
This article discusses five strategies to improve the foster care system: 1. strengthen families of origin, 2. support caseworkers, 3. educate the public, 4. help children deal with unresolved grief and loss, and 5. guide children in building connections. The author explains the background of each listed reason, revealing how the failure to do these things impacts the system and children within it. Implementing these suggestions would improve systemic flaws that affect foster children and their biological families, foster families, and caseworkers, and would ultimately improve the wellbeing of all those involved cases. These five changes were the result of several foster care experts combined opinions when consulted by the journal, Social Work Today. This article related to my research question as it reveals some of the negatives of the foster care system, while also suggesting improvements. It also provides a bit more insight into the basic workings of the system- even those that are flawed.
How to Get Involved:
The first and most obvious way to get involved with the system is to become a foster parent. The Department of Human Services is always looking for people who want to take on this important role. You can start the application process here: http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/CHILDREN/FOSTERCARE/pages/index.aspx.
If you’re not ready or able to take on such a significant role, there are other ways to help out, such as volunteering as a mentor for the Independent Living Program, which helps kids make the transition out of the system. There are plenty of other volunteer opportunities at DHS where you can make an impact. You can find those here:http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/PROVIDERS-PARTNERS/VOLUNTEER/Pages/index.aspx.