By Dr. Karen Alyasiry, Family Development Specialist, Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition
Child Welfare is a multi-faceted system of agencies working to improve the efficiency of permanency for youth that enter alternative care. The Missouri Department of Social Services has reported 14,221 children in the foster care system as of November 2021 (dss.mo.gov, n.d.). The multi-faceted system consists of varied components of system partners working together to meet the needs of children in foster care. Through this team approach, creating alignment in shared goals allows the youth and their biological families a more effective and efficient approach to repairing, healing, and reunification when possible. Although permanency is the goal for every child that enters out-of-home care, the reality is that many children do not achieve a permanent outcome in a timely manner (Madden & Aguiniga, 2017).
Decisions to separate a child from their parent(s) are complex. The child will come into protective custody and may enter alternative care if the investigation reveals no safe resolve to reduce the risk of harm. Placement into foster care is traumatic to every child regardless of age, creating the vital need for placement stability, the importance of maintaining parental bonds and family relationships and building community relationships intended to last a lifetime. Previous research determined the barriers in reaching permanent outcomes as family connections, improving services for foster children, foster parents’ supports, and training (Casey Family Programs, 2018). Little concentration has focused on the teaming skills of the professionals responsible for the trajectory of each child’s permanency path.
Foster children are the community’s most vulnerable population. Leve et al. (2012) describe the vulnerabilities among foster children as emotional and behavioral deficits, impaired neurobiological development, and social relationship deficits. It is fair to add, foster children, are also vulnerable due to the multiple systemic partners teaming in creating goals, plans to reach them, and making life permanency decisions impacting their futures. Some team members responsible for permanency decisions of foster children include case managers, guardian ad items, and deputy juvenile officers. Team members that can influence the decisions are foster parents, therapists, and court-appointed special advocates. Teaming among these members is critical in reaching positive outcomes for the children who count on them to work in their best interest. One significant problem in successful teaming is the ego barrier causing strong confirmation bias. The ego barrier creates an individual to lose the team perspective and connects the focus on individual needs. When a team member focuses on the “I,” the team’s function transforms to personal power struggles and causes barriers in reaching shared goals.
Boutros (2015) describes the ego barrier as a building of pride, envy, and hurt feelings that influence judgment. Also, he explained that ego barriers manifest in two primary ways; false pride and fear or self-doubt (Boutros, 2015). False pride occurs when an individual carries the need to self-promote due to the notion of feeling better than others (Boutros, 2015). The self-doubt ego negatively impacts individuals feeling like they are less than others (Boutros, 2015). Both descriptions of ego barriers can significantly erode teaming effectiveness (Boutros, 2015). The ego has a reputation for destroying relationships when it is too focused on control of power or too little for self-worth. Every individual has an ego; however, learning to balance it and developing a healthy ego needs practice.
So why does this matter?
Foster children’s lives depend on their team members to let go of their need to be correct, hold power, and be judgmental, overbearing, and opinionated. Needed is a transformational leadership environment where child welfare workers can build their self-esteem and begin to see themselves as a part of the whole collective team of professionals moving toward collaborative thinking. The benefit of letting go of your ego allows the opportunity to place the child’s best interests and the building of lifelong connections over personal gain.