A foster care social worker plays an important role in the foster care system. Foster care social workers walk with foster families through the licensure process. They prepare foster families to enter into another family’s story and be an agent of healing. For a faith-based perspective on the role of a foster care social worker, we spoke with Jennifer Travis, the Foster Care Program Director at Lifeline Children’s Services. Here’s what we learned about the role of a foster care social worker.
Five Main Responsibilities
The role of a foster care social worker may vary slightly between states and agencies, but the bulk of their job falls into the following categories:
Walking Families Through the Licensure Process
Foster families will interact with a foster care social worker regularly. They will have home consultations. The social worker will speak with the parents and any kids living in the home. If the agency requires references for their foster families, the foster care social worker may reach out to extended family members. They want to ensure friends and family are ready to support the potential foster family.
Training Foster Families
Foster care social workers walk with potential foster families through the entire licensure process. A bulk of interactions will happen during foster parent training. A foster care social worker might co-lead the training classes with a foster or adoptive parent. As a result, foster families hear the important perspectives of both the parent and the social worker.
Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
A large portion of a foster care social worker’s role includes paperwork. Foster care social workers work with prospective foster families to complete home studies. They will compile all the information about the foster family to go into their file. Depending on the state, the social worker will either submit the portfolio to the state, or the agency will keep it if they maintain the license.
Post-placement Support and Services
After a foster family becomes licensed, their interactions with a social worker will depend on their state and situation. Many agencies provide post-placement calls and continuing educational resources to foster families. A foster care social worker might be more involved if the agency they work for maintains the family’s license. The social worker would make regular visits to the family’s home. They might also go to court with the foster family or attend planning meetings with the biological parents.
Recruiting Churches and Families to Support
Many faith-based foster care agencies work hard to get the church involved in the mission of foster care. This is something that Lifeline Children’s Services does well. Their foster care social workers highlight the ways that people can help vulnerable children in their own community. Jennifer Travis, who serves as the Foster Care Program Director at Lifeline, explains that it often takes two years of prayer, thought, research, and discussion before a family is ready to move forward with fostering. So Lifeline wants both families and their church community to be prepared for the long haul.
“Once a family makes the decision to foster, we want them to be able to do it for as long as the Lord is calling them to do it,” Jennifer asserts. “We don’t want them to get burnt out or feel like they have to stop fostering early because they feel like they can’t do it.” Support is crucial. For that reason, churches need to be equipped to support foster and adoptive families. If your church does not already have a foster and adoptive ministry, consider starting one.
Teaching Empathy and Realistic Expectations
The exact amount of time a foster care social worker spends with a foster family depends on the state. Between training, paperwork, phone calls, home consultations, and other interactions, a foster care social worker invests a lot of time “into each individual family to make sure that they are ready for what coming,” Jennifer states. For example, Jennifer estimates that Lifeline foster care social workers in Alabama dedicate over 50 hours to each family throughout the licensure process.
During this time, foster care social workers help families realign their expectations about foster care. When families come to training, they often have preconceived ideas about birth families, what foster care is, and why it exists. Foster care social workers spend a lot of time debunking those myths.
The foster care social workers at Lifeline also teach empathy for birth families. They remind foster families that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” The role of the foster family is not to come in and “save” the biological family or their children. A birth parent’s mistakes may look different from a foster parent’s mistakes, but each needs a Savior. When foster families approach birth families with love and compassion, they play a role in helping to break generational cycles.
Lifeline trains foster care social workers to communicate the Lord’s desire for family and for healing. In Jennifer’s words, Lifeline’s foster families “get to be a sweet piece of His plan in helping a family get back together and in helping a family reunify.” Lifeline’s foster care social workers continually weave this truth into their interactions with foster families. “It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel,” Jennifer proclaims. “And it’s a beautiful reminder of our desperate need for the Lord, as well.”
Debunking Foster Care Social Worker Myths
Foster care social workers have a heart for vulnerable populations. They have an immense love for the gospel, the children, and the healing that can take place for the families. These social workers are not “in the way” of families getting licensed, as some people might believe. On the contrary, Jennifer knows that Lifeline’s foster care social workers are fierce advocates for potential foster families. They are not there to judge a potential foster family or look for ways to disqualify them. “They love their [foster] families, they love the Lord, and they love to be a piece of seeing healing in the lives of children and birth families,” she insists.
Are You Considering Fostering?
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, do not hesitate to get started. Continue to pray about your calling while you step up to fill a need. Just because you come to an informational meeting, fill out paperwork, or attend all of the classes does not mean you have to become a foster parent.
Faith-based foster care agencies want potential foster families to listen to God’s direction. So if at any point in the journey, you feel like God is calling you in a different direction, there is no shame or embarrassment in stepping away. Families are never be forced into becoming a foster family just because they fill out a form, check a box, or even attend all the training classes. “You’re not signing on to anything unless the Lord is leading you to continue to do that,” Jennifer reassures.
While not everyone is called to foster or adopt, everyone can do something. Christians have a clear command to care for children, and there are many ways to get involved. Consider providing respite care, becoming a mentor, or volunteering at a bridge organization. However you decide to get involved, you can make a difference for children in foster care.