In the spirit of this giving season I want to give some of my thanks, thoughts, and reflections on my first three months working in child welfare as a member of Children’s Corps (CC). As my job has become increasingly demanding and my emotional involvement increasingly present, the mission of Children’s Corps has become even clearer to me. Children’s Corps provides a tightly knit support network for us to turn to when we need guidance, advice, a sounding board, a friend, or a mentor. These things seem obvious and necessary for those of us who are members and who take advantage of CC’s resources, but Children’s Corps was created to address a need in the employment of case planners in foster care. Fostering Change for Children (FCFC) examined the system on a macro level and noticed disturbing trends in employee turnover, lack of adequate supervision, and overworked, underpaid, burnt-out workers.
This is a serious problem and clearly change is necessary. FCFC took a step. Instead of tearing down and radically changing the structure of child welfare, Children’s Corps works within the system to set up supports and structures which can transform the problems into permanent and lasting solutions. In the end it’s really quite simple. Workers need support, positive reinforcement, guidance, and training. Children’s Corps provides these things. And it’s working. 88% of CC workers stay after one year, where only 66% of the general case planner population is still working after the same amount of time. The vast majority of Children’s Corps workers stay in the field of child welfare even after the two years of commitment to the program. I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic supervisor who is a Children’s Corps alum. It seems that providing new workers with these things (support, positive reinforcement, guidance, and training) is creating a new generation of workers who stay.
So first I want to say thank you to Children’s Corps. You guys rock. Second I want to make some observations with CC’s mission in mind: it has become increasingly obvious to me that the families I work with in my job are in need of the same fundamental support, positive reinforcement, guidance, and training that we as workers receive from Children’s Corps. The predominant difference is that these families did not choose to be in the system whereas we made the conscious and slightly insane decision to enter into this field.
As Children’s Corps has re-envisioned the experience of child welfare workers, let us as those workers strive every day to re-envision the experience of our families. Imagine equipping our parents and children with the support, positive reinforcement, guidance, and training that Children’s Corps has modeled for us. What would that look like? How might things be different if we focused on creating community support networks for our single parents with limited familial ties or help? What would happen if our strength based approach to family engagement centered around positive reinforcement and the development and sustainability of those strengths? How would it help if we guide families through the system, inviting them to be a part of the conversation, with an emphasis on compassion and care, instead of on deadlines and requirements? How might that change the narrative? Or, what would happen if we equip and train parents and children with skills to prevent future trauma and pain? In a perfect system I would like to see the only necessary services be preventive instead of reactive. Perhaps this all seems too unrealistic. But I have worked in this field for only three months and therefore am allowed my idealistic visions of how we can engage with our families. I’m not asking to change the system, but rather, what Children’s Corps has provided for case planners I hope to provide for my families.
As Children’s Corps workers we are fortunate to have this support network backing us and setting us up for success in our future careers. I believe it is our duty to get creative and collaborative with how to implement that structure in the lives of our families. I don’t have the answers but I clearly have a lot of questions and a whole community of support. That’s the first step.