Foster Parenting: What Case Workers May Not Tell You

Updated on September 21, 2017

Child Protective Services Case Workers

In a year, one of my foster children had four different caseworkers. Every time we had a new caseworker I had to go over... and over... my foster child’s case history, filling in missing and misunderstood information from my child’s case file. Child Protective Services (CPS) case workers have a long history of career related burnout mainly because of an overwhelming caseload, departmental budget cuts, and compassion fatigue. High worker turnover rates in the field create more problems in family case files already filled with chopped up, missing, and sometimes just plain wrong information. Don’t misunderstand. Case workers work hard for their money and put up with a ridiculous amount of aggravation, not just from their own bureaucratic agencies; but, from the families under their care, attorney and doctor offices, and even the foster children themselves.

Foster Children Learn the System Early

It doesn’t take a foster child long to learn to work the foster system; foster kids learn early how to be non-compliant, manipulative, and passive-aggressive. For them, these are positive goals; learned for emotional survival and to get their needs met. Usually they begin to learn these first in their family home situation.

Case One: Runaway

As a brand new foster parent, I had a foster daughter for one hour. At age 16, she had our county foster system in a mild panic for two months. She came to our home and we settled her into her room, showed her where everything was, and told her how much we were looking forward to having her with us. A short while later; I went to check on her and she was n- o- w- h- e- r- e. I asked the other children where she was. Apparently she had her boyfriend pick her up from our driveway. She got into his car and off they went. She was thoughtful and called her case worker from every state she visited to let her know she was okay! Several months later she was picked up and put into a group foster home for teen runaways.

What the case worker should have told us: This child was a habitual runaway. The case worker’s reasoning, though misguided, was based on the usual problem placing teens; the foster system in America is overrun with teenagers and there are not enough families for them.


Case Two: Oppositional Defiant Disorder

My son aged-out in the foster care system. Twenty-five years ago policies forcing an early resolution for parental negligence were not yet in place. Since he was part of a sibling group that was not available for adoption together, he made the decision against being adopted by us (though he is as much our child as our other children). When he came to our door; red-headed, freckled, tears running, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself and asked if he could stay with us for a while. Yes, of course he had our hearts forever in that instant.

What the case worker should have told us: This wonderful young man, who became our son in one moment, had ODD...oppositional defiant disorder. A young boy without any control over life’s circumstances was developing into a young man who refused to allow anyone any control over his; good, bad, or otherwise. He fought his way through his early life and later on, with us, through middle and high school. We got to know our local law enforcement officers. The case worker’s reasoning in failure to disclose his diagnosis was affection for the child, hope for a good home for him, and again, no available placements for a pre-teen boy with anger and behavioral challenges.


Parenting Poll

How do you handle temper tantrums in a young child?

See results

Case Three: Brain-Injury

Children’s hospitals are known for the stellar care they offer to children and their families. We learned this well over the period of a year when we accepted the placement of a newborn girl who had been abused physically. Weeks were spent with the nurses learning her complex feeding procedures, care of her newly implanted shunt that allowed cerebral fluid to flow out of her head and into her abdomen, and how to watch for symptoms that could cause brain damage and death. We had two case workers for this child...a local county worker as well as the worker from our private Christian child services agency. When we arrived home, round the clock care was the order of the day. A precious time for us; we watched day by day new milestones in health and normal baby happiness in our girl. We were told several times by the county case worker that she saw no reason for us to be unable to adopt our little foster child as the agency had begun the process to terminate parental rights (TPR). Months later she was placed with a relative. Our hearts broke.

What the case worker should have told us: CPS was contacted by the child’s aunt who requested a kinship foster placement with her, while the child was still in the hospital. Our private agency worker was as surprised by the news as we were. The county case worker’s reasoning in failure to disclose this information was not really our business to be told. State agencies may give you the courtesy of knowing certain information, but they are under no obligation legally to give foster parents personal family information relative to a foster child or their family.


Your Goal as a Foster Parent

Be aware that CPS agencies may or may not provide you with relevant information on your foster child, nor are they always going to give you the motivation for their decisions. As a foster parent, your goal is to provide a child with love, a home, and protection to your best ability. Stay informed as much as possible and ask many questions to many people involved in the welfare of your foster child.


*Office on Child abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau., Salus, Marsha K. “Supervising Child Protective Services Caseworkers.”U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2004. <> (accessed August 2013)


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Donald Timmons 3 months ago

      Can my son get his younger brother back, cause I lost my rights. He has been in foster care for 15 months and they want to adopt him.But my son lives in another state,can my son adopt him?

    • profile image

      Jessica 15 months ago

      Cps saints. Yeah right funny I'm kicked out of my house by cps because of fals accusations I'm tired of people seeing cps as perfect little angels

    • profile image

      corinn 23 months ago

      You sound like a great person. We also adopted an out-of-control child (at the time) through foster care, and were NOT TOLD ABOUT 90 PERCENT OF THE HISTORY. We stuck it out, though, and through that, she has made tremendous progress.

    • LaurieNunley517 profile image

      LaurieNunley517 2 years ago from Deep South

      @smcopywrite thanks for your comments. You never know exactly what you may run into, but it's always best to know as much as you can. Ultimately, we gained a wonderful son. It was worth all of it!

    • smcopywrite profile image

      smcopywrite 2 years ago from all over the web

      Thank you so much for such a wonderfully written and easy to understand hub. It answered countless questions which have plagued me and halted moving forward with the process of fostering a child.

      I understood there were situations like these, but never imagined some of the examples given. Thanks again for the true nature of what the process will be like.

    • L.M. Hosler profile image

      L.M. Hosler 4 years ago

      Very nice article and I admire you tremendously. It takes a special kind of person to take another's child and raise them. I live alone and have often thought about being a foster parent but I am not sure financially I could qualify. I also rent my home and not sure if my landlord would allow that. Background checks and all that I would have no problem with being as I have already worked with adults with special needs. Maybe someday.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Nicely written. I had and have no idea about how the foster system works, but I always imagined it as a bit messy. I do know for certain that the people who choose this path have hearts of gold with the best interests of the child as their primary concern (or at least every person I know who has fostered has been that way). Thank you for sharing your stories here. :)

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Here's the basis for another article: What Case Workers May Not Tell Foster Children:

      1) People become foster parents because they are unfit for any other job. I know a case where the foster parents, after adopting, miraculously moved from the worst neighborhood to one of the best.

      2) What is the background of the foster parents??? In the aforementioned couple, the man was a child molester. The agency figured he wouldn't mess with a girl under age 13, so they moved the kids out when she was 12 - but by then, she had already been molested.

      3) Foster care is not the epitome of philanthropy - it is a meat market. The product - children - are judged by gender (boys are more desirable) - looks (attractive blonds have the best chance) age (the child's best chances are if they're under age 3) and health (they'd better not be handicapped in any way). If the child has siblings, they may have to be separated if they stand a chance of being adopted.

      This puts a whole new spin on the topic, doesn't it???

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      You are brave for continuing to get your heart broken and for loving and caring for these children as your own in spite of a system that does not always appreciate you or even cooperate with you. How sad. You must have a lot of patience.

    • LaurieNunley517 profile image

      LaurieNunley517 4 years ago from Deep South

      Yes, I know. It should be teamwork. It seems often to be the ideal and not the real world way. They have been and are a blessing. Thank you for your comment!

    • LaurieNunley517 profile image

      LaurieNunley517 4 years ago from Deep South

      Thank you Mary. I was not so much brave as blessed, but it was hard! Kudos for taking your grandchildren. You have given them stability and love. I know about them keeping you young...I've been raising children for 33 years. I have one teen at home now. Yes, there are horror stories...we have 2 little grandnieces that are in a bad situation...hmm...I may be raising children the rest of my life. I guess that's not a bad thing! Thank you for your comment and sharing!

    • LaurieNunley517 profile image

      LaurieNunley517 4 years ago from Deep South

      @Writer Fox Thanks so much...that's a nice thing to say. They have blessed me so much. God has always given me an abundance of people in my life to love! Blessings!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 4 years ago from USA

      I've been a foster parent, and I naively thought that the case workers and I would be on the same team working on behalf of the children. I admire the work you have done with the kids.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      You are a very brave woman. I don't think I would have fostered a teen aged girl like you did. I admire you for your work in fostering children. I was given custody of three of my grandchildren when their Mother could no longer care for them. I adopted all three. This was after my own four had grown up and left home. They have been a joy to me, and have kept me "young".

      We hear of so many horror stories here in Fl. about foster parents who neglect the children; makes me very angry.

      Voted this UP and will share.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      I think all of the children you have cared for have been fortunate to have been in your home, if only temporarily. Bless you and your household!