Toni Miner and Sherry Tomlinson, parent advocates in Jefferson County, Colorado and Columbus, Kansas, discuss how parents can work effectively with their caseworkers to get the services they want and need.
Q: What can parents do if their worker isn’t helping them find services?
Miner: Workers are supposed to help parents gain whatever resources they need—not necessarily call all the programs, but at least get families going in the right direction. It’s also a worker’s responsibility to communicate when they’re going to get back to parents. When they don’t, parents don’t know where they’re going or what they’re supposed to do.
But the reality is that most workers have more cases than they’re supposed to. Workers have told me they’ve had days when they had no time to eat.
When a worker says she’ll get back to you, parents may need to give it a few days. Once you have, though, call again. You might want to say: “I realize that you’re busy, but I need your help so that I know what I need to do.”
If more time passes, and you’re thinking of going to the supervisor, I encourage parents to talk to the worker again first, because chances are you’re still going to have to deal with that worker after that call.
Even if you’re just leaving a message, you might say something like: “I feel like I’m not getting the help that I need from you. I’m wondering if I need to go to your supervisor.” That may make your caseworker mad. But it’s better if you give your worker that warning. And if your worker is clearly not doing her job, the supervisor has to know.
At the same time, you can look for other people who can also help you. Sometimes your lawyer can help you find resources. If your agency has parent advocates or mentors, they can be a help to you.
Tomlinson: Sometimes workers don’t know as much about services that work as parents who have been through them. If you feel like your caseworker isn’t helping you find the services you need, try to find parents who have succeeded in reunifying their families and find out what they did. A Parents Anonymous group, or any parent support group, is a perfect start.
Q: How can parents get sent to services that are actually helpful?
Tomlinson: I work with parents to develop their own plan for success. Normally, caseworkers go into a case plan with an attitude of, “This is what we want you to do.” Even if parents think there is no possible way they can complete the case plan, they automatically agree to do individual counseling and family counseling and treatment and visitations three times a week. The parent will say, “Oh yeah, I can do it.” All that parent is thinking about is getting their child back.
But agreeing to a plan you can’t complete or that you don’t think will help may put your family in even greater jeopardy. Instead, parents need to think about what they believe will help their family and share that with their caseworker.
Sometimes as parents, we have a hard time asking for help. But parents need to be able to voice what they think will help them in order to better their families.