by Tony Vasquez MSW, January 2014
The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is such an important and powerful proverb, and at the same time, is a complex dynamic in the sense that not only does it take more than one person to raise a child but it takes the right people to raise a child. As social workers we have the responsibility to be that right person. Social workers who have the privilege of working in the child welfare field will no doubt come into contact with many children, from various backgrounds. Most have experienced severe childhood trauma, abuse and neglect. We will become one of the most influential people in that child's life and we are responsible for helping them overcome and understand their trauma and shape a positive view of their life moving forward.
We must first begin by understanding their trauma from the child’s perspective. We have to let them tell their story at their own pace. Yes, we will be given their case files to review and other historical documents to ponder over but the power of having their story told through their eyes is very important as we are attempting to build a trusting relationship. Furthermore, we have to be sensitive and careful as not to re-traumatize them by forcing the issue when gathering of this information.
For all intents and purposes we will have to build trust and rapport with our young clients but this process will have already started in the assessment phase of practice. We must not forget that those who have neglected or abused these kids were oftentimes those people that they trusted the most. We will need to use active listening skills, be genuine and supportive to help facilitate the trust building process with each child. Most importantly we have to be supportive and nurturing throughout.
Social workers also have to have a deeper understanding of the child’s individual needs. Completing a full and thorough bio psycho social history is paramount in trying to gain that understanding. We also have to secure collateral information that will help us even further to understand their trauma. These important steps will give us facts and pieces of vital information such as past coping skills, past family dynamics, early childhood trauma, and past treatments. By knowing some of these important factors will help us as clinicians in shaping our course of action. It will help us determine who are those who are already providing support and those who need supports. This will also help determine and drive the course of intervention(s) and help us formulate a tailored plan for each individual client.
Social workers play many roles in their work with foster kids. We will be mentors and teachers. Social workers will be case managers charged with identifying, locating and linking our kids with services. We have to be cognizant that we will have the most important role of modeling for these kids during our contact with them. We will offer emotional support for the child and for foster parents in many cases. We will be advocates to ensure that our clients have their basic needs met whether it is medical, legal, educational, emotional, housing, or financial. Our responsibility is to assess the child's level of trauma effects and use our clinical skills in implementing a personalized intervention that utilizes their strengths.
Another important process is helping to build the Childs social support system. This will benefit many other individuals involved with the child as well. By helping these individuals in building those informal supports (mentors, other family members, coaches, etc.) you can help the child recognize and utilize these helpers, and make them realize that they can count on other people when they need help. In the younger children you will help facilitate the process of helping to solidify existing bonds with those social supports that are already in the child’s life and strengthen positive relationships that have already been formed.
We must rely on our social work skills to be able to address mental health issues, aging out issues, and the lack of resources for the foster care children as well as foster care parents. There may be behavioral problems, substance abuse issues, and the possibility of further re-victimization to be sensitive of. There is also the difficult tasks of locating appropriate housing for displaced kids as well. Social workers will also have to build a working relationship with an array of professionals such as judges, guardian ad litem, lawyers, and child investigators. Not to mention foster parents, land lords, school support staff, and other important stakeholders.
The importance with working with foster care kids is how to mitigate a wide range of issues such as aggressive behaviors, lack of daily skills, developmental and educational delays, mental health and age appropriate topics. We must also be well versed in navigating many systems that our kids will be in contact with on a daily basis.
So, we can be the positive role models that these children can learn from. We can also be the catalyst in educating and supporting those professionals who work with foster kids, foster parents, and other family members. We can help build up that village that will be a part of that child’s life after we have worked with them. Not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes the right people in that village to raise a child.
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