Navigating the Bureaucracy of Adoption and Foster Care

child and woman playing with blocks

Navigating the Bureaucracy of Adoption and Foster Care

Anyone who has ever waited for their number to be called at the DMV knows that bureaucracy can be crazy-making. Paperwork, meetings, complex chains of command, endless acronyms (CPS? EPSDT?), communication breakdowns—all of it can make impatience flare. When a child’s future is at stake, it can be even more frustrating.

Welcome to foster care and adopting through the foster care system!

As a resource parent, your job is absolutely crucial and pivotal. You’re the one caring for the child minute by minute—drying their tears after a 3 a.m. nightmare or getting stares from strangers during a tantrum in the aisle at Wal-Mart. With the child or children placed in your home comes a confusing cast of characters from the child welfare system who soon become your team members (https://sierraff.org/a-guide-to-seven-members-of-your-foster-childs-entourage).

Child welfare is part of county government, just like tax collection and public works. Putting it simply, county government acts as the child’s parent while the child is out of the home. Four of your team members–the caseworker who places the child in your care, the child’s attorney, the county counsel and the juvenile court judge–are the county’s representatives and make the “parental” decisions about the future of the child in your home.

For people who are used to being in charge, this can be challenging. Sometimes resource parents who are used to being decision-makers in the home, leaders in the private sector, or successful in the business world get their first big dose of how government functions, or dysfunctions, when the child welfare system becomes part of their everyday lives.

The court and county decisions about the child in your home are made from a complex mix of legal matters, birth parents’ rights, the changing winds of child welfare policy, and children’s “best interests.” Sometimes you won’t agree with those decisions, or you won’t understand them, and there will be nothing you can do about it. It can be a humbling experience!

And then, there are the “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” frustrations. California has 58 counties, and although they function under the same laws and regulations, each has its own flavor. Depending on where the child in your home is from, rules and ways of doing things can change unexpectedly.

If the mysterious ways of child welfare boggle your brain, keep a few things in mind. Communication, calm and compassion are three C’s that can help keep you seeing straight. Weathering the difficult times is when you’ll need the most support, which is why you have a SFF social worker.  Even when  it’s not possible to influence the process or change the outcome, your SFF worker can walk alongside your family as an advocate, interpreter and navigator through the twists and turns of foster care and adoption in the child welfare system.

And, if all else fails, educate yourself. Participate in trainings offered by SFF and in your community. Research online. A good place to start is the website www.childwelfare.gov, which has tools to help you understand how the system works.

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