Dear Friend: May is National Foster Care Month. I want you to know there are many who appreciate your service to California’s communities.
Your titles vary: social worker, child welfare professional, case manager, child protective services specialist, adoption specialist.
Yours is a voice for the voiceless. You started out with big dreams, great intentions and a deep desire to help kids and families. You pursued an education and talked to those in the field. Everyone said you can make a difference in the life of a child.
Maybe you were a foster kid yourself. While growing up in the system you might have felt a connection with the social workers you knew. Or maybe you felt there was a better way to meet the needs.
You would understand how it feels to be a foster kid. It’s easy for you to identify with those who are hurting. Some of you may still be hurting, and you carry a hope that by tending the wounds of others, you won’t hurt as much.
Some of you view the role as a calling – most likely you were born with a gift for nurturing.
Or you like the challenges. No two days are alike. And you thrive on the interaction with people.
But the lack of any tangible results or progress is a burden you struggle with. It leaves you feeling beaten, abused. And for what?
The disconnectedness between services and systems only compound the problems.
Not every mom recognizes the miracle of birth and life, or the great privilege of imparting love and providing guidance, in shaping the character of the next generation.
And not every dad wants to make the changes necessary to get his kids back. Or to keep them – to be a real father.
You were an idealist when you first started. You wanted to help everyone, and really believed you could. Love conquers all! But you stopped believing a long time ago. How many times do you stand on the edge of no longer caring?
We understand – foster care is a substitute program for family. Strangers open their homes, willing to care for children who are not their own. But not all of them are motivated by love. And it’s meant to be temporary.
The foster kids can be uncooperative and leery. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers, but we can go live with them,” one foster teen told me.
There’s the unending quest to find solutions – real answers to the questions that seem impenetrable.
“This work is so terribly hard some days,” one social worker said. “Most of the time I’m able to keep it in perspective. But lately I’m overwhelmed by the brokenness in people’s lives. A lot of good does happen, but I’m feeling the weight, the pain, the enormity of the issues, and solutions in theory don’t always work. Sometimes we’re just at a loss of what to do, how to help.”
The turnover rate is high, creating more work for those who remain. The increased case load, mounds of paperwork, long hours, high stress, low pay, few opportunities for advancement, and little compensation for the overtime – all produce low morale. Most state systems are over-burdened. Some are in need of a complete overhaul.
It’s no surprise some of your colleagues are on medication for depression or anxiety – and maybe you are. Your older co-workers are in it only for the pension.
Discouragement and resentment have camped for months outside the door of your heart, waiting for the chance to enter.
But don’t give up. Don’t allow the demands of this work to harden you, to surround your heart with calluses. These kids and their parents still need the tenderness you were created with. Families, nonprofit agencies, church ministries and others are ready to help carry the load. Because we care, too. And we’re grateful for the work you do, behind the scenes, day after day after day.
In this vocation your dreams must be rooted in reality and grounded in limited possibility. Set short-range goals and delight in small successes. Seek wisdom. Care for humanity where you are. Keep reaching out. Do unto others with kindness. And never stop looking for sparks of goodness and hope. Then fan the flame.
In closing, I just want to remind you that every act of compassion, every word of comfort, each moment you show interest and every offering of time and effort are worth it. There’s a promise of reaping a harvest when we keep planting, watering, fertilizing and nurturing.