We’re experiencing the most frustrating disconnect between the urgency we feel reading about children in the foster care system and the response of the system to these kids.

I really don’t think it’s any one person, as the social workers we’re working with clearly care about kids. Nobody gets into this work for the money (or fame). And they don’t want to slow down the process.

Also, as our agency has pointed out, because of the abuse or neglect these kids have faced, it’s especially important to screen potential foster and adoptive families, to be sure the kids don’t get hurt again. Being a little slow might be a good thing if it helps weed out inappropriate families.

But when you consider the great need these kids have and the enthusiasm the new families we’ve gone through this training with have to find a match, there’s a lethargy in the system that’s just tragic. Weeks after expressing interest in a sibling pair at a matching picnic, we assumed they’d been placed somewhere else because we heard nothing back, but just learned that they’ve not been placed, their social worker changed, and their case seems to have fallen through the cracks while we (and probably other qualified families as well) are ready and willing to take these kids. It makes me so mad that, at a very young age, they’re losing precious time in a not very stimulating temporary foster home, when they could be bonding with a new family.

Maybe it’s partly burnout. I know going through the training, hearing the terrible things that have happened to these kids, was just agonizing. Imagine facing that every day! Social workers who pull kids out of shocking conditions could maybe be forgiven for not putting the highest priority on getting kids out of mediocre but safe foster care and into permanent homes. But that’s not good enough. Every minute counts in early childhood development. These kids need good permanent families now.

And it’s shocking just how technically antiquated the system is. For this I need bullets:

  • They use the US Postal System! We were at a child matching picnic, and the organizer told us proudly that the forms we filled out would be processed the next day and in the mail to the kids social worker so would arrive by sometime the next week. Now I love sending the occasional greeting card, and have fond feelings about the USPS, but for mission-critical communications, there are one or two ways to get in touch that could speed things along.
  • They use faxes! Do you remember faxes? I’m hardly in thrall to every newfangled gadget, but several years ago when I moved my office I realized I’d not gotten a fax from a client in at least a year.
  • They use paper! Looking through the “child availables,” we were shocked to discover that, as far as we can tell, social workers drive to regional meetings, share printed fliers about available kids, and then return these printed fliers to their agencies and put them in folders. This seems to be the primary system.

To be fair, there are privacy and security concerns when it comes to minors. But really, can we not do better than this?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I try to keep a positive outlook, but of course I know that our shortsighted politics is defunding many key services including education. County social workers have ever-larger caseloads and smaller budgets for even the antiquated technology they do use.

But we’re talking about helping kids find homes. They desperately need them. And today, to me, it seems the system is really limping along, if not completely, tragically broken.