Tag Archives: Children’s Corps

New Year Resolutions

Since the first day I walked in the door of my agency, I’ve spent 90% of my emotional energy and time on one case.balance-320x182

We’ll call it the Smith case. My other cases are “easy” and the Smith case is “hard”. My other parents are non compliant, deceased, or in the process of signing away their parental rights. To say Ms. Smith is present and determined would be an understatement.

There is rarely an emergency that comes up in my other cases but I could write a dozen blogs detailing the Smith case emergencies and dramas. These are the kids I transferred one night to an emergency foster home at 10pm after investigating allegations of abuse in the previous foster home. This is the case whose birth mom calls me once a week threatening to involve the media on the agencies injustices to her children or call the police. This is the case in which I get a call from the emergency line on a Saturday night informing me Ms. Smith has taken her children and is not answering her phone. This is the case I dream about; this is the birth parent I advocate strongest for; these are the children who tell me they are getting bullied in school for being foster kids and I imagine the ways I wish I could plot revenge on their bullies during my commute home. This is the case that makes me want to bang my head against the wall when Ms. Smith slips up or makes a poor judgment call. This is the case that I constantly find myself struggling over the line between professional and friend.  Some days I want to take the whole family home with me, birth mother and all.

My supervisor is aware of the effect this case has on my time and my emotions. And a while back in supervision he said something that stuck. He told me that the Smith case is my loudest case. It’s the case that demands my full attention and follows me home every night. But he encouraged me not to let my loudest case drown out my quieter ones.

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Just because the kids are well behaved, the parents are not as demanding, and the foster parents are saintly, doesn’t mean they should become second priority. Foster care is meant to be temporary; a significant reason why children remain in the system for years is because they are the “quiet cases” — ones that don’t require immediate action and therefore none is taken. They are the ones that workers dream of because of how “easy” they seem. But they are so often the ones that get ignored.

My goal for the New Year is not to work any less hard on the Smith case, but to help give voice to the quieter ones.

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Thanksgiving Thoughts and Reflections

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.

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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.i-dont-pretend-we-have-all-the-answers-but-the-questions-are-certainly-worth-thinking-about-inspirational-quote

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.

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Evidence Based Therapy in Child Welfare- One Worker’s Reflections

Social worker/ preventive worker/ counselor/ therapist/ “the lady”… all titles I’ve responded to at my work, and each one relevant in its own way. But these multiple identities also capture the inherent challenges of integrating two professional spheres, one a carefully honed practice, and the other a colossal institution. One often associated with privilege, the other with poverty.

On one hand, there is a natural connection between family therapy and child welfare (specifically preventive services). Both are often involved during a time of crisis. Both are concerned with the safety and well-being of children. Both are committed to stabilizing and healing families. And the desire for child welfare to move away from historically punitive and inefficient practices toward ones that are more therapeutic and accountable is both logical and good.

On the other hand, there are also competing interests, which have made me wrestle with my own professional ethics as a clinically focused licensed master social worker (LMSW). The power differential in child welfare is much more pronounced than in family therapy alone because of the focus on safety and risk. While all helping professionals are mandated reporters, there is an intrusive (though arguably necessary) element within child welfare that still does not sit well with me.

There have been times where the pressure of fulfilling ACS requirements has directly contradicted my commitment to therapeutic rapport, self-determination, and unconditional positive regard in my work with families. That may sound like Social Work 101, but it seems many families in child welfare have simply been denied these experiences. Without them, no amount of training, funding, programming, or research is really going to help families heal and protect their children.

However, child welfare does not shoulder the challenges alone. Evidence-based models of family therapy have their own rigidity and time restrictions. And I am not convinced that these models are always in the best interest of families experiencing complex trauma and persisting barriers to basic needs. Having learned that therapeutic approaches should be adapted to the client, it can feel counter intuitive to try to make the client fit the therapy.

But I am optimistic that a good intention may evolve into good policy. One thing I have learned so far is that there is a niche of families in child welfare for whom the model of family therapy I am practicing is extremely appropriate. These families often have some interpersonal and environmental risk factors but are also stable enough to address emotional and relational needs. These families do not have the luxury to access mainstream mental health services, but in a time of crisis, come to the attention of ACS. Being able to provide in-home therapy to these families and aid in their healing has made this demanding work worth it.

 

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New Year of Growth

More often than not, the new year presents us with renewed energy and awakened feelings of hope for the future.  It is important that on the hardest, coldest, and most unrelenting days of our lives, we harness the energy we have at the start of the year because every day is an opportunity to make a difference, to change, to get it right.  Here is a message from a Children’s Corps member about some of the lessons she is taking with her to work in the child welfare field.

Hi Jess,

I’m doing well 🙂 I’m sorry I couldn’t make the holiday party. I came down with a cold and I am currently without a voice. It’s been a long few days. Things are going okay. I’m trying to live by this motto “Own the mistakes, count the victories, and trust the process.” So far I’ve made a lot of mistakes and it’s been stressful. The victories are great though! I enjoy connecting with my kids (which is my strength lol) they’re awesome and make me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m growing up in areas that I wasn’t previously mature. Learning office politics, agency culture, and that I am not likable to everyone- all a part of the process. Needless to say, I am having daily temper tantrums within myself as I go down this path. Thanks for checking in with me.
Love and Peace
New Year, New Growth (1)
To learn more about how you can participate in the Children’s Corps program, visit http://www.fosteringchangeforchildren.org/CC

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Optimistic Observer

I follow the guidance counselor down the hall as we walk toward her office. I am many steps behind her because I’m looking around slowly, hoping I run into him. I imagine that I would act surprised and he would wave “Hello” and I will tell him how big he is and then I will ask him how he is doing and behaving in school and I will tell him to send his mother my greetings but I am here to see another child and it was really nice to see him. After I leave the guidance counselor’s office, my pace is slow and my eyes search hoping he is roaming the halls and I get to see him even if it is for a few brief seconds.

When I get on the bus, I am alert. I don’t read my eBook as usual. I pay attention to everyone that gets on the bus. I look for her short hair and big personality. I am on the bus that I used to take to go to her house. I also imagine our meeting. She will hug me, something that used to be uncharacteristic of her, and will ask about my daughter and tell me “I told you! I knew you were having a girl!” She will demand to see the most recent picture and ooh and aah when seeing it. I will ask her about the kids and how they are doing in school. I will tell her that I heard she got a job and ask her how it is going. I will tell her that this is my stop but I am so happy she is doing so well,” Please give the children hugs for me.”

After getting off the bus, I smile remembering that one of the girls started school this year and I try to imagine how she looks in her new uniform and ribbons in her hair.  I walk to the next home visit.

When I went on maternity leave, I thought the hardest part was over. I closed most of my cases and I said my goodbyes and good lucks. I did not think about what happens after. Having a baby gave me a pause; a way to not think about the ‘I will probably not see you again.’   So, it did not feel so final.

As I walk through the Bronx after coming back to work, going from home visit to home visit, I cannot help but imagine how it would be if I see any of my previous clients. I am hopeful. In my mind, I see them happy, I see them well. I see new jobs and good grades. I see children growing. I see better support systems and new ways to cope with stress all which contribute to being less likely to have any future ACS involvement in their lives.

I know this is idealistic and optimistic to the tenth power and honestly, it has nothing to do with the work I did with their families. I am not thinking, “Oh my God, I made such a difference in their lives, they are so different now because of me and they will NEVER forget me”. I just hope with all of my heart that they are good.

Better.

And until I run into them by chance, I will continue to feel like the optimistic observer of the Bronx.

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Your Plans vs. Reality

The presence of a consistent and committed social worker in the life of a child in the foster care system has a significant impact on the outcome of that child and family.  Our Children’s Corps program fundamentally is guided by that fact.  Achieving that positive outcome varies from case to case and it certainly doesn’t always happen the way one would anticipate.  The message below is an example of a successful start to a positive outcome for a young child who was on the case of one of our members.    

 Hi Jessica!

I wanted to give you an update on how things have been going. It’s been a crazy two weeks!!!! I got my little guy in a home in which I thought from the beginning would be good for him. It is a home he was in respite while they moved him right when I got the case. It is culturally appropriate and in a home with much fewer children. There were a few hurdles (a couple of school visits for me and a very close call to having him taken to the hospital) but I really think for now I have him settled in a school that is willing and able to work with him and in a home that he feels safe and is aware of his needs. I have also got him set up for evaluations so if we need to move him into a therapeutic home in the future we can do it quickly. I’m working with the therapist to get a referral out to a community therapist. I am also meeting with *Kara on Saturday and was planning to talk with her further about it. I also got mom a little more on board with making sure he understands things like it’s not okay to try to run away from school…. It was tough but I really think these two weeks have made a big difference!

And of course now that I put all this work in, finally got him comfortable with me (enough that I was able to calm him down successfully during a break down at school) and got mom on board they are transferring him to another case planner. It is good and bad of course. The case planner has been working with the family since the beginning and I only had this boy and his brothers for these two months that their caseworker was on maternity leave. This way one person will be working with the whole family and all of the kids and will really know what is going on. But of course I am a little sad! It’s kind of crazy how the most challenging case can be the one you are saddest about when it moves on from you. (click to tweet) It really provides a little insight on how difficult it can be when your cases come to a close and how you always need to be preparing for it. I mean I was only working with them for two months!!

I just wanted to update you. It was a bit stressful, but again all that time and energy it seems, for now, has paid off. Thanks for just listening when I needed to vent. Sometimes it’s just nice to know someone has your back when you aren’t 100% positive with what you are doing 🙂

Hopefully see you in a few weeks at the next meeting

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the person referenced.

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No Hay Mal Que Por Bien No Venga

If there is one thing that all human beings crave it is relationships. From birth we learn to rely on our care taker (whoever that may be) to fill our most basic needs- food, clothes, and shelter. As we move on in life our needs increase, evolve and are (hopefully) met by many people- a friend to assist in finishing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after a bad breakup, a mentor to help navigate the career path of our choice, a significant other to share in our successes, failures, and all of the other tedious and frustrating moments in between. While these needs may seem to grow increasingly more complex with time, when you break it down it is all about human connection.

As a case planner at a Residential Treatment Facility, I work primarily with 16-21 year old boys who come from all walks of life, various foster care placements, and unique family dynamics. What they all have in common is traumatic life experiences. In children who experience trauma, studies show that even one positive relationship  -whether it be with a teacher, coach, or relative, can significantly impact that child’s ability to form trusting relationships.

For the young adults that I work with, the struggle to first believe in the possibility of healthy relationships and to next find these relationships, can be daunting. When helping the residents through their struggle to trust, and subsequent disappointment whether it be in their family, the System or themselves, I generally stick to two key phrases.  They are  “Accept What You Cannot Change” and “Hurt People Hurt People.” Of course when I reflect on my personal experience of true loss and disappointment, I realize how difficult it is to actually apply these phrases.

I have constantly heard that the most rewarding part of Social Work is that you will learn more from the people you work with than they will learn from you. In the few months that I have been working, I have learned more than I ever could have imagined.

Month 1:

On one of my first days at work, we pick up our resident, Jose*, who from the day I met him seemed to be wise beyond his 16 years.

I first met Jose when we sat next to each other on a chaotic bus ride from an agency outing.  As the majority of kids screamed, fought, and in one case even broke down and cried, he quietly showed me a bracelet that a Veteran had made him in appreciation of training a Service Dog. On the bracelet were letters of the dog’s name.  Around us, as the scene erupted with a resident kicking open the back door of the bus while cursing at staff and sounding off an alarm, I looked over at Jose’s bracelet and could not help but smile despite the chaos.  To this day, Jose continues to wear it. 

We travel to the site of Jose’s family team conference (a meeting to discuss his progress in foster care as well as the progress towards his permanency goal). Jose’s grandmother Ms. Rodriguez* greets us. They exchange the obligatory one shoulder hug most teenagers pull-half forced, half sincere.

The boys I work with almost all have a goal of APPLA, otherwise known as “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement.” While there are several possible permanency goals including but not limited to return to parent/caretaker, and adoption, most who have been cycled between placements and rejected for most of their life finally and understandably arrive at the goal of independent living- one where they alone seemingly have complete control over their future. Jose, on the other hand is one of the few who has a goal of return to caretaker.

Almost immediately Ms. Rodriguez asks to use the bathroom. We all discuss the VMAS from the night before in her absence. Eventually the ACS Facilitator arrives.  It is time to get down to business and the tension is palpable.

“Jose, I understand that we are here today to change your goal from return to family to APPLA.   Do we all understand what that means?” My colleague who has worked at the agency for some time and is clearly familiar with the case, with Ms. Rodriguez and most importantly with Jose (well beyond my pleasant interaction on the bus) speaks on behalf of Ms. Rodriguez who is elderly and ill and explains her inability to supervise Jose as initially agreed upon.

Ms. Rodriguez is a woman whose wrinkles are a testament of the struggles I can only imagine she has endured. She is the matriarch of the family, with a silent strength, but after raising a family, enduring tragedy and incarcerations, and now her own illness, is tired.  Jose, in contrast, is young- wide-eyed and angry. Jose cannot understand this decision- disgruntled statements such as “I know you’re active” “You don’t want me” and “I just want an honest answer” are muttered under his breath. Ms. Rodriguez is visibly hurt, but can only muster the strength to state, “I just want what is best for you. If you do not believe me, you are better off without me.”

In that moment one of my over recycled mantras comes to life- “Hurt People Hurt People.” Both Ms. Rodriguez and Jose have been rejected and consequently they reject. I begin to panic about the communication breakdown that is overpowering the conference. I understand Jose’s feelings of rejection and his grandmother’s inability to care for him. I myself have been guilty of the human impulse to reject before rejected. (tweetable) I remember the “Hey Jude” quote that seems to plague us all at one point or another-“you know it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.”

I visualize the conversation I will have with Jose. I will remind him that he deserves a family and walk him through other options such as the adoption process, re-iterate how much his grandmother has demonstrated that she cares by traveling to every conference and court date, and encourage him to stay in touch with her. Before I can utter a word, the conference ends, we sign the sheet, and exit the room.

We leave separately and no one speaks. Ms. Rodriguez stops to get fruit at a local bodega.  As we are walking to our car, Jose crosses paths with his Grandma, his eyes lighting up instantly-“Abuela- your fruit is going to topple over!” He adjusts her bag, moves the fruit around so that it is more secure, and they hug each other goodbye. This is no half-hearted teenage hug. It is all sincerity. At that moment I know that Jose and Ms. Rodriguez will be okay, and they will work things out on their own without me lifting a finger.  For after all the crux of healthy relationships is not perfection, it is messing up, occasionally drifting apart, but loving each other enough to get back to where we need to be. 

When doing this work, I remember a proverb that I picked up while studying in Spain: “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (tweetable) It was one of the many that I was fixated on memorizing, a small sample of life lessons that my “Madre” would serve up nightly at dinners, with a fair share of wine and paella as she processed her recent divorce, and one which I channel when I am on the brink of becoming jaded. It is a phrase with many meanings but one message: “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “When one door closes another opens.” “There is no bad from which good will not come.”(tweetable) The choice of translation is of course up to the listener.

The most powerful thing I have taken from the young adults and families that I work with it is how to be strong in the face of rejection and resilient in the face of life’s un-anticipated struggles. I have learned the importance of picking oneself up and surviving when it seems impossible, and sometimes if you are lucky, re-building those bridges that were so badly burned you never thought they would stand again. After all, no hay mal que por bien no venga, whatever that may mean…

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals referenced.

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