As a foster parent, I want to receive confirmation that my caregiver report to the court was received by the judge/commissioner, so that I know my voice was heard.
Dependency cases (aka foster care cases) have a regular rhythm of review hearings that happen approximately every six months. Caregivers are not considered party to the case, so their ability to participate in hearings is slightly different than all other participants. This can be extremely challenging to the caregiver who is caring for the child 24-hours a day and most often knows the child best, because their ability to speak about how the child is doing can be limited.
Caregivers are sometimes given a moment to address the judge and prior to every court hearing, a foster parent should have the opportunity to provide information and data related to the child in their care to the court through a caregiver report. This report asks the foster parent to provide information about the child’s emotional, social, mental, and physical health and updates on growth and overall development.
The foster parent is invited to clarify the needs of the child from his or her perspective and provide recommendations to the court for the child’s long term care. As a foster parent, these reports are the only regular avenue provided to speak into the child’s case.
Theoretically these reports provide a voice to foster parents, yet in many cases, foster parents have no idea if the reports ever reach the intended audience. The process of submitting a caregiver report to the court is inefficient at best. The process includes emailing the completed document to an overworked social worker who receives an exorbitant amount of email related to the dozens of cases he or she is working on. Without ever receiving official confirmation that the social worker received it and passed it on to the court, the foster parent is often left wondering if in fact the time, effort, and energy invested in writing and communicating that information to the court was really worth it.
Feelings of voicelessness and powerlessness are commonly listed as reasons why foster parents are struggling. They have an exhaustive list of responsibilities, but very little opportunity to speak or advocate.
Caregiver reports are one avenue to speak, but when the caregiver creates the report and then doesn't know if it was delivered or read, it can feel even more frustrating.
So what do we do?
We ran two experiments to see if we could learn about potential solutions.