Monthly Archives: July 2011


Well, our Corps members wrap up training today and officially “graduate” from our pre-service program. What a whirlwind it’s been! Every single person that has come into contact with our members has been so impressed by their engagement, energy, and professionalism. I’m so proud to have each of them in the Corps, and so excited for this next phase. Some members start work on Monday, others start after Labor Day, and some in between – but all will be full-time caseworkers by early September! There’s still so much to learn and do, for us behind the scenes and for the members on the front line: mentoring, regular trainings, and social outings will all be ways for us to continue the community of support that has been established over the last couple of months.

Thanks for reading with us through the summer! I have to keep reminding myself – it’s not an end, but a beginning. Our members will keep updating with news from the field – their work promises to be both challenging and rewarding, and I’m sure there will be much on which to reflect. For now – let’s celebrate! Congratulations to the staff and the members of Children’s Corps!

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Shadowing thoughts

For the last two Fridays I have been going to my agency for shadowing. The experience has been great so far, and has proven to be a very useful tool both to break the ice and to start experimenting with all our training learning points. So far I’m very pleased with my co-workers and especially thankful for the supervisor I got; she has been very open, supportive and straight with me since the very beginning. The first day we met she manifested that she wasn’t too happy with not having been a part of the selection process. She likes to carefully review and interview the people that will join her unit and felt that the decision was somewhat taken out of her hands, but luckily for me after reviewing my application, yet again, a couple of conversations and an informal interview, she sincerely assured me that she felt I was a good match for her team. Thank God!

As far as the actual shadowings go, I was able to do several home visits on both days. Each day I went with a different colleague and both their styles and attitudes towards the job and clients were unique and educational. Going on the home visits gave me the opportunity to put a face to our clients, to understand whom I will be working with and to begin breaking down the anxiety that was building up. After each visit, the one thing that kept popping into my mind was the realization that these were just people; parents and children struggling to hold-on to their families. I felt immediate empathy and concern, as well as a strong urge to simply ask them how they were doing. At times I felt conflicted as I saw a few things that could have been approached in a different way; the Children’s Corps way! But I soon realized that understanding my agency’s culture and doing it my agency’s way is also part of this learning process, and navigating the two is just the first step in asserting my self as a good case worker.

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The Second Shadowing

So my second day of shadowing at my agency was very eventful. The day started when I was sent with my future supervisor on a foster parent and child visit. While we drove, my supervisor explained to me the important things to look for when visiting a home. These included the children’s bedrooms and their general health. This visit was of particular interest to me because not only was it my first visit, but also because I was told that this case would be assigned to me once I started in August. So as one can expect I was not only interested but nervous as well. In the car, the supervisor mentioned that she was particularly interested in seeing how I interacted with the children who were 2 years old and 2 months old. I understood that I needed to make a good impression on the children and the foster mother.

In the home, the 2 year old was shy at first. My supervisor had told me to expect this, but it quickly changed. As the supervisor and the foster mother chatted, I went about playing with the 2 year old. She was interested in the coloring books and we did that for a while. Admittedly, it was hard to focus on coloring while trying to overhear the questions and answers between the foster mother and supervisor, but I managed to keep my focus well enough on both to take away an educational as well as playful experience. In fact, as we left, the supervisor immediately asked me to verbalize what I would write in my progress notes. I mentioned the good health of both children, and the general clean environment in which they lived. I mentioned that the bedroom had room to walk between the bed and the dresser. In addition, the two month old had a proper crib in the foster mother’s room. The supervisor was satisfied as we drove off.

When we returned to the agency, I was quickly handed a stack of cases to look over. Since I am starting in August, my agency wanted me to get acquainted with some of the cases I will be taking on. I got through the first one, which seemed to be as thick as a thesaurus before I was told to sit in on a 6 month Family Team Conference.

By the end of the day, all I could think was where did the time go? Between visiting a home and sitting in on a Family Team Conference, the day was almost completely gone. Every hour and every minute is important in this job and I will have to use this time efficiently. However, being at the agency before I start is an important experience because it lets me see the process in motion. Seeing everyone at the agency get the job done makes me know that it is hard but doable if you put in the work and you call your clients back.

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The protagonists!

Yesterday we had the opportunity to have breakfast with the Commissioner of Administration of Child Services, John Mattingly. It was very inspiring having the chance to hear him talk about the things he has learned in his career and the challenges he has found along the way. He also shared with us what his hopes are for the future in terms of child welfare and the quality and passion of the people running the show, and like often times, the best advice is the simplest, Commissioner Mattingly encouraged us to always be direct and honest with our clients or as he phrased it to “straight talk” to them while always being respectful and sensitive to the issues; and although this words were simple the message was very profound.

Following our breakfast we met two birth parents that had been in the foster care system.  Both visiting parents could not have had two more different stories as for why they entered the system, however they both coincided in one single goal; to improve their situation so that they could get their children back. The opportunity to listen and engage with these incredible women was priceless, for me it was shocking to put a face to our so-called clients: the man and women who can easily be sitting next to you in the subway, or standing in line at the supermarket or at a bank. It felt like another wake up call of just how much we file and label things without any proof, it made me open up mind a little more and reminded me of the importance of being humble. I was inspired and above all hopeful to see that I can be a part of the process of helping people glue their lives back and become even stronger human beings.

Finally today’s visiting speaker was a foster parent, Stephen; with him we got to experience the other side of the coin, that of the people that open their homes to the children and youth that are separated from their birth parents. At often times it seams that this might be the hardest job; foster parents are labeled in so many negative ways that one forgets that they too are a resource for struggling families and that they are only trying to helps kids ride the storm. Understanding that family is family whether related or non-related is a key piece in becoming a better case worker and helping build stronger foster families.  We felt we learned so much from his experience that it would be impossible to sum up everything; at the end of the day we walked away with a very important quote that I’m sure will be our motto when things get complicated: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at, will change”.

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“Stop, Think and Then Act.”

WOW.  What a day. Today might have been one of the most inspiring days of our training.  If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change and Stop, think, and then act:  these are some of the lessons imparted to us by a man who’s seen it and done it and done it again.  His story, as seen through several moments in time, was really about answering the question: What is unconditional love?  It is love without qualifications or exceptions and it is a love that many children unfortunately do not have.  It reminds me of when our instructor, Mike, talked about privilege and what it means. In this discussion, we thought about privilege as it relates to money, property, and education.  However, unconditional love is overlooked and is probably the most valuable resource one can have.  To have someone who will be
there for you no matter how down on your luck you may be is a privilege that is underappreciated.

Another point the speaker made was about changing one’s perspective on a person.  In order to see a person correctly, one must understand what that person has gone through. It reminds me of an earlier moment in our training when Barry pointed out the example of the man stealing a loaf of bread.  Does it change your perspective on the situation if you knew that he only stole the loaf of bread because he had starving kids to feed?  If you didn’t know what the desperate man was going through, you might simply label him a criminal or a bad person.  Children need this same understanding.  It was inspiring to see a man with such a passion for this empathic and non-judgmental philosophy.  It is a philosophy that we will need in this new profession as well as a philosophy which can help us in life in general.

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Commissioner Meeting and Birth Parent Panel

I realize that I should have started blogging earlier, because by now, 2 weeks into the training, we have already done so much that there is no way I can cover everything.  Coming into this, I did not know what the training was going to consist of and had trouble explaining to people what it was I’d be doing.  Now, I myself have a better idea of what I will be doing for the next two years, but still have a difficult time explaining it to other people, but that’s mostly because this training is not like anything I have ever done before.  It is a combination of team-building, job preparation, Social Work 101, and activities to train us in self-awareness, but every day is something new, which keeps it exciting!

Today, we got the opportunity to meet Commissioner of Administration of Child Services in New York City, John Mattingly.  It was really encouraging to hear him discuss ways that the child welfare system could be improved, such as recruiting passionate people who are dedicated to the work and then providing them with support from inside the system, because we are part of a program that is doing exactly these things.  He also told us that in his opinion, the next two years of front line work that we will be doing will teach us the most and be the best work of our lives, and hearing that from someone so high in bureaucracy made me incredibly excited to get really get started working with families. 

After we met with the commissioner, we were lucky enough to have two birth parents who had previously been personally involved in the child welfare system come to training to talk about their experiences.  They both work as parent advocates now, which means that they and their families have been personally affected by the child welfare system, but they experienced a positive outcome or reunification, and now work to help other parents navigate the system to achieve the best outcomes for their families.  They were so open about their experiences and willing to honestly share both the good and the bad with us.  They told us about things that we could do as case workers to engage birth parents who are angry or resistant, but also helped us to see a birth parent’s perspective and when we may want to use a parent advocate as a resource on a case.  To me, this was one of the first times that the parents and families I will be working with became real; being able to put a face and name to the term “birth parent” makes it so much easier to see myself working  with them to help them reunite their families. 

So far, we have had a full week of new topics and conversations, and I look forward to my shadowing this Friday, when I will get to observe family court for the first time.

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A Little Inspiration…

My first post!

Now, at the beginning of week 3, I feel as if I could write pages and pages on my experiences in Children’s Corps training thus far… However, I would like to instead share something I came across yesterday. While reading the news publication The Week, I encountered the following excerpt from Toni Morrison’s commencement address to Rutger’s class of 2011. Her words stuck with me and were called to my mind continuously during training today. As we shared our common feelings surrounding the often exhausting effort to express to others what type of work we will be doing, Toni’s words seemed to resonate so clearly! I feel she so eloquently articulates that energy and drive that lead us all to be involved with Children’s Corps. Her words serve as a powerful reminder of why we want to work in child welfare and identify as optimistic, idealistic, and change-making individuals.

“I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness”, as the third right—although I understand in the first draft was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land; acquisition of resources; acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness or integrity or truth.

I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter, but I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Of course, you deserve it. But if that is all you have in mind—happiness—I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.

There is serious work, truly serious work, for you to do. I know you have been blasted with media designed to change you from citizens to consumers, and most recently, simply tax payers; from a community of engaged civic life, to individuals with hundreds of electronic friends; from a yearning for maturity to a desire for eternal childhood. That’s the media’s role. But I tell you, no generation, least of all mine, has a complete grip on the imagination and goals of subsequent generations; not if you refuse to let it be so. You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world.

Of course, you’re general and you have to function as a group sometimes. But you are also singular. You are a citizen in society and a person like no other on the planet. No one has the exact memory that you have. So far, no one has your genetic duplicate. These are not paralyzing clashes. They represent the range and the depth of human life. What is now the limit of human endeavor is not the limit of intelligent endeavor. And what is now known is not at all what you are capable of knowing. There is much serious, hard and ennobling work to do. And, bit-by-bit, step-by-step, you can change things—the things that need changing.”

The core message of Toni’s speech is expressed in the discussions and comments offered in the training room everyday- that we can seek to improve society by enabling others and, in doing so, infuse our own lives with meaning. Spending my days with the intelligent and caring Children’s Corps team feeds my desire to keep working for change and for something more.


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Vicarious Trauma and Grief

Today’s lecture on vicarious trauma was an interesting take on something that I had simply thought of as an emotional reaction. This lecture was a double edged sword for me.  On the one hand it was helpful for me to recognize the things that relax me and the things that bring about feelings of stress, burnout and vicarious trauma.  In doing this I can better understand myself and others and try to remedy and prepare for these situations.  On the other hand, simply discussing this fact was stressful in itself.  Honestly, I am not used to preparing to be stressed in this way.  I like to recognize and understand the issues and hardships involved with whatever goal I wish to undertake, but preparing to be stressed seems to be more of a vaccine than a cure. Yet, I understand the motive behind this strategy.  Training is not only for us to prepare to be good people and good case workers, but to be strong minded and not easily broken.  We must bend but not break.

Tomorrow we are supposed to discuss the topic of adoption.  The article, Adoption and Grief, provides an interesting take on adoption, but I do not necessarily agree with it.  However, it is possible I am misreading it or missing the point.  The article starts out stating “Adoption and Grief: do they really go together? The answer is a resounding YES!” Resounding? I’m not so sure about that.  Is it possible that some have experienced grief as it relates to adoption? Sure, but I am not sure it’s resounding.  Like we have said over and over again in training, it depends.  Grief seems to me to be an emotion of sadness in one’s own loss.  The article speaks of adopted children having a feeling of grief associated with the loss of their birth parents.  However, I believe you cannot have grief over something you never knew or had.  For example, if you were adopted as a baby there is no grief for your birth parents since you never knew them.  I would not describe an adopted child’s longing to find where he comes from as grief.  Nor would I describe an adopted child’s experience with difference as grief.  I believe you can feel all these things and at the same time be perfectly happy with your situation.  Further, I disagree with the article’s statement that age does not matter.  I believe it is a huge factor.  The age at which you are adopted as well as how long you are in foster care creates a huge difference in one’s experience in foster care and especially adoption.  If a ten year old child is adopted after spending ten years with his birth parents, it seems fitting that the child would have some level of grief about losing his birth parents, but a one month old child who is adopted will not have this same grief.

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My First Shadowing

So I just got back from my first shadowing at my agency, and it was an amazing first experience.  I felt like I got a small taste of a lot of things in just one day. The day started with Kim and me sitting in on a Quarterly Family Team Conference.  The assistant executive director explained that at our agency. they have quarterly family team conference in conjunction with the 6 month Family Team Conferences.  The only difference is that that at the quarterly conferences no parents or children are present.  At the meeting, there were caseworkers and other staff including education advisors and medical assistants.  The caseworkers went through each of their cases that were up for review.  All the staff discussed the case and made recommendations.  Without going into any of the cases discussed, what was important for me was to see just how involved all the staff members were in each case.  It seemed that although the caseworkers were in charge of their cases, many of the other staff knew the cases and lent their support in the process.  This amount of teamwork and cooperation was very nice to see especially as a new caseworker.

After the Family Team Conference, which took up most of the morning, I was paired up with a caseworker for the rest of the day. This was a very helpful, because it allowed me to ask her some of my many questions.  Many of her responses simply reaffirmed much of what Barry has talked about in our training but it was nice to hear it also from a person who is doing it in my agency.  We discussed everything from court procedure to time management to client relations to paperwork.  I was also given the opportunity to meet a mother and child during an agency visit, while also meeting the foster mother of this child.  In this situation, the mother and foster parent were not on good terms and I had to watch as the casework delicately balanced these two relationships.

By the end of the day, I ended up playing with the child on the stairs as I tried to teach him how to get a slinky to walk down the steps. He was a nice kid and it reminded me about the joy Barry has when he talks about social welfare and why it is all worth it.  I am already in anticipating for next weeks shadowing when I will get my first opportunity to go on a home visit.

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Intern perspective

When I am asked about my summer internship, I have a hard time explaining Children’s Corps concisely because I’m so excited about the program that I want to talk all about it! My answer always starts with, “It’s awesome!”, which is about as concise and accurate as it can get (although may not be the most intellectual vocabulary ever used by a future MSW). Usually it’s an acquaintance who is asking about my internship because it’s the polite thing to do, so they aren’t expecting such an enthusiastic answer. I’ve said all along that Barry and Viviane’s passion is impossible to say no to, and clearly it’s rubbed off on me!

The goal to recruit a rockstar inaugural class and provide a 5-week real world, how-to training to be a foster care caseworker has been far exceeded. As I sit in the back of the training room taking notes on the training Jen, Sarah and I helped hammer out, I can’t help but think back on my last year doing preventive family therapy in East New York, Brooklyn and say, “If only I had someone to tell me this stuff before I started!” My learning curve would have been greatly improved if I had heard half of what is being given to CC members. That coupled with the across-the-board outstanding quality of the members makes me beyond confident that foster care families and agencies in the New York City area are going to benefit greatly.

Sometimes we joke about if the members only knew what went on behind-the-scenes. At times it has been hectic, I’ve gotten a crash course in the amount of work it takes to start a new program. This experience is perfect for me, as my long-term career goal is to develop, implement, and run programs for teens. The past few weeks have been incredibly informative in curriculum and evaluation development. It’s nice to hear members’ feedback which is by far positive, but it’s the areas for growth that are the most important. I know this year has laid a great foundation for future years.

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