MMN 033: Helping Children of the Child Welfare System – with Sheri Pickover

On this episode of the Make a Mental Note podcast, Sheri Pickover, a licensed professional counselor, discusses characteristics of children who are in the child welfare system/foster care and the basics of helping them and their parents. Give it a listen and find out why this episode is worthy of a mental note!

Sheri Pickover interview (click on Sheri’s name to listen to interview)

Mental Notes:

* There is not a straight line between problems that people have and the solution to those problems.

* A common theme of children and their parents in the child welfare system: “People do the best they can with what they have.”

* Empathy is foundational to working with clients.

* Parents of kids in the child welfare system feel helpless and hopeless. In addition, they feel ashamed, guilty and even angry because they may feel as though they are being judged for being a bad parent. Younger foster care children feel confused and bewildered about what is going on/why they can no longer live with a parent. Anger relating to the attachment figure being gone is also common. Older foster care children may feel guilty and ashamed for tearing apart the family because of something they might have said or they might feel anger toward a sibling because that sibling said something that destroyed the family. The overall all feeling of children is the loss of a sense of safety; their sense of knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow/the stability is gone. Foster parents also experience a variety of feelings because of having to navigate issues that are going on with the child, biological parent and Department of Child Services workers.

* It’s not the biological parent’s job to work with the counselor; it’s the counselor’s job to work with the parent.

* Empathy, validation, promoting welfare and dignity, and not personalizing situations are all important elements of working with foster children and their biological parents.

* Counselors should keep in mind the stages of change when working with foster children and their children. Just because counselors think that it is important for them to change and have a plan for how they can change does not mean that either person (child or parent) is ready to do so.

* Validating the parent’s worldview sets the stage for change work because then the parent understands that they are not being judged and that they have an ally to help them reunify (when appropriate) with their child.

* As a counselor, one of the biggest challenges of working with foster care children and their parents is “staying out of your own way” (i.e., countertransference/the desire to rescue the children from their parents; the overwhelming sadness that counselors may experience in working with these families).

* It is important for counselors to get good supervision when working with these families.

* Counselors’ values are challenged when working with foster care children and their parents. Counselors have their own “stuff” that they must deal with to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with their work with clients. They must know themselves well enough to know what could get in the way of ensuring the best interest of the client and deal with it before that happens.

* The best technique to use to enhance your mental wellness is the one that you will do!

Mental Notes Takeaway:

* It is important to look at the reasons behind behaviors such as bedwetting, misbehavior, etc. to truly understand why a foster child might be exhibiting those behaviors. Understanding the context of the child’s behavior is key. For example, poverty, trauma, attachment insecurity, mental illness, etc. are important things to keep in mind.

Check It Out:

* Sheri Pickover’s website:

* Sheri’s phone number: 313-993-1626

* Sheri’s book (co-authored with Heather Brown): Therapeutic Interventions for Families and Children in the Child Welfare System (



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