How much praise is too much?
January 11, 2013 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Our thirteen-month-old foster daughter's social worker is fantastic. She regularly goes above and beyond what's required for our kid's case. In the ten months we've worked with her, I've regularly thanked her for all she does to make our lives as foster parents and our foster daughter's life better, and twice I've called to tell her supervisor how great she is. Is it overkill to keep calling her boss to report that she's awesome? How can I best thank her for her service to our foster daughter?

A few brief examples of how great the worker is:

- She gives us as much information about the baby's case as she can, tells us why she can't share specific information (confidentiality, usually), and gives updates about the biological parents and the progress being made. She lets me talk through different scenarios based on changing information in the case (like "So if the baby's mom completes X, it's likely the judge will agree to Y at the next hearing?"). This is our first placement and there are a few things that make the case less straightforward than many, so it's very helpful to be able to have her insight on how things MIGHT go, even though all of the decisions are up to the choices made by the biological parents and the judge.

- She still personally supervises our kid's visits with her dad, since the baby is familiar with the worker and uncomfortable with the generic "visitation supervisory workers" who almost always take over supervising visits a few months into a placement.

- She backed me up (and got her supervisor to do the same) against a medical professional when the baby repeatedly contracted a contagious skin condition at visits with her biological family (and then repeatedly passed it on to us), and got her supervisor to postpone visits until they met conditions set by a different doctor (the head of dermatology at a local hospital, actually).

- She is in very frequent contact with me. This started when things got crazy the FOURTH time the baby contracted the skin stuff so visits got all weird, but has continued for months. She calls me herself when the baby's bio-dad shows up for visits instead of having the clerk call; she calls me after the visits to tell me how they went (the post-visit report is pretty much unheard of, at least according to our friends with foster kids older than our girl).

Our experience with this worker has been worlds better than we expected (even better than with the perfectly adequate worker we had for the first two months of the case), and we really appreciate all that she does to make foster parenting a little less insane. I often thank her, sincerely, for the time and energy she spends on this case. Twice, I've called her worker to leave voicemails about how great the worker has been: the first was after the worker backed us on the skin condition stuff, and the second was a few months ago when she changed some stuff about how visits were handled to make it easier on our foster daughter. Since we're in such frequent contact (also not the norm), I'm regularly reminded of how great this worker is, and I want her to know how much I appreciate it.

We'll be with this worker for at least a few more months; if our foster daughter goes back to her biological parents we'll stay with this worker until that happens, but if her parents' rights are terminated we'll transition to an adoption worker instead.

How can I best communicate to the worker's boss that this worker is exceptional? Would it be weird for me to keep leaving her boss messages about how great she is (or could it somehow make it weird for her at work, like I'm sucking up or something)? If you're in social work, what's the best way for someone to communicate their appreciation?
posted by SeedStitch to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Phone messages are nice, but written letters are even better. Sit down and take what you've written above and turn it into a proper letter. Give as many examples as you can about how she goes above and beyond, and specifically, how that has an impact on you as foster parents, and most importantly, the foster child.

Send the letter via email AS WELL as through the postal system. The hope is it will end up in her actual file. If they keep electronic records on employees, it might be easier for her supervisor to copy the email into that file. If they keep paper files, it'll be easier for her to slip the letter in there. You might even ask the supervisor for the best way to formally recognize the social worker. She might have a better email address or postal address.

Finally, when your relationship comes to a close, take a nice photograph of your foster daughter, and enclose it in a heartfelt card. People like your social worker aren't doing it for the money or power. They're doing it for the kids and for families. Thank her -- again, with examples -- and remind her that her actions will have a profound effect on many people, for many years to come.

Thanks for being such a kind and caring foster parent, and for taking the time to recognize someone doing an exemplary job in a difficult situation. Y'all are awesome :-)
posted by barnone at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

I work in social work, with many foster care workers. I have a question and a suggestion:

Where I work, the government agency responsible for foster care work (Child and Family Services Agency) oversees some kids, but they also contract out a lot of the work to private foster care agencies. If this worker a government worker or a worker at a private agency?

In either case, I would write a letter detailing the ways that you feel that this worker has really helped you, and how pleased you are with her work. I would keep it to one page, focus on specific ways she has made things better for you, but most importantly for the child. Her client is the child, and so everything she has done to make your life easier should be cast in terms of how that has helped you to be a good parent to your foster daughter. I'd say that one letter per case is all that's appropriate, so you may want to choose your timing about when you send it. I would send this letter to her supervisor's boss, with a cc to the supervisor. (Other's might disagree with that, but you've already communicated with the supervisor.) I would also consider sending this to the GAL if one is attached to the case, and to the judge if there is one overseeing the case of your daughter.

If this is a private foster care worker, and you really think the care is exceptional, I would send the same letter to the government agency that oversees foster care in your jurisdiction. You may have to do some sleuthing to figure out what to send it to.
posted by OmieWise at 8:55 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

My (ex) wife is a social worker. I think she is doing her job, albeit doing it well. I think you have already done more than most and I would hold off until near the end of her working with you and send a letter to her boss (cc-ing your case worker) again stating she was a terrific person to work with and help advocate on behalf of your foster daughter. I would also probably give her a small gift at the end such as $20 card to Starbucks or something like that. She does sound special.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:55 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, definitely send it in writing, and keep a few copies on hand just in case a catalogue of her excellent work becomes especially useful (promotions, etc. or just sharing good memories with her in the future).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2013

Written letters are good. Something that can go in a file, or she can show to future perspective employers.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2013

I love the suggestions above. I'd also offer to mail/email her one additional version of the letter, directed only "To Whom It May Concern," that also specifically mentions your enthusiasm to serve as a reference for her and highlights whatever skill areas etc. she requests. She'll undoubtedly be on a job hunt someday (or perhaps even go into business for herself), and it can be useful to have something perennial like that (not tied to her current employer/supervisor).

You might also ask her if she'd like for you to approach a professional association, industry magazine, local newspaper, etc. to offer to write/assist/be interviewed for a case study, an article called "The Seven Habits of Totally Amazing Foster Placement Coordinators: A Parent's View" or something.... Again, a "clip" that signals endorsement by a third party (especially an official one) can be very valuable long-term, and most organizations get jazzed about imagining the good press she might be able to get for them.
posted by argonauta at 9:40 AM on January 11, 2013

How can I best communicate to the worker's boss that this worker is exceptional?

In writing with a letter to her supervisor. Phone calls do not go into her employee file in the same way or with the same weight as an actual letter. Nor, really, do emails. Write a real letter.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:52 AM on January 11, 2013

Alright, looks like a letter it is, and I'll take JohnnyGunn's and Omiewise's suggestion of sending it towards the end of our time together so as to make it as complete as possible. I'll make sure the letter is sent electronically and on paper (thanks, barnone, for that suggestion; I hadn't thought of making it as easy as possible to get it into her file).

OmieWise, we are certified directly through our county, not through a private agency; our worker is an employee of our county government. (I don't know how much difference this makes in writing a letter, but I'll check the county's regulations before giving her a gift card or anything, since I know there are rules about gifts to government employees.)

Argonauta, I love the idea of offering a generic reference or praise-wherever-it's-needed!

I follow a bunch of foster parent blogs (a dozen? maybe more?) and from what I've read from all over the country, a worker like this is really something to treasure. Thanks for the suggestions!
posted by SeedStitch at 12:08 PM on January 11, 2013

Write the letter to her manager, or, if the county has a customer care department, to them. Otherwise, it's her job, for which she gets paid and for which, presumably, she can't accept any gifts - that she does it well is great! Recognition by her employer is the best way you can reward her.
posted by goo at 6:34 PM on January 11, 2013

I'm a manager in my state's foster care administration. I agree with all the above, but after you've put it in writing to your worker's supervisor, consider sending a letter to the chief of the department. I've received letters of praise for my staff, and I'd love to pass each one up the chain to the big boss, but when I have an opportunity to meet with the chief, it's to discuss problems. Success stories rarely get elevated or noticed. Sending a letter of praise to the chief will help to point a much needed positive spotlight on your worker and the excellent service she provides.

Thank you for being a foster parent and for taking the time to show your appreciation for your foster daughter's social worker.
posted by kbar1 at 11:30 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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