Tag Archives: Children’s Corps

Meet the New Class

Their youthful presence and zealous energy will have you thinking our corps members are all 20 something’s with the pomp and circumstance march still playing in their heads. While this is true for a number of them, we select from a diverse pool of people from all backgrounds who have the right amount of courage and maturity in them to commit to this type of work.

You’ve already heard from one of them already, Kristin Gowin.  Check out her blog post, “The Pseudo First Day and Snow Patrol.”  Ms. Gowin, originally from Knoxville Tennessee, made New York her home when deciding to pursue a graduate level degree in psychological counseling with a specialization in mental health before her bout with Children’s Corps.  She cites her experience working in as domestic violence counselor as her inspiration for joining the corps.

Kristina photo

“It was during her Master’s level internship experience working as a Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate at The Children’s Aid Society’s Family Wellness Program that Kristina realized the passion she has for working in community agencies in the child welfare system. After completing her Ed.M. program Kristina joined Children’s Corps and is now employed at The Children’s Aid Society as a Sociotherapist in the Treatment Family Foster Care Program where she provides in-home supportive counseling to high-need youth and foster families. Kristina’s ultimate career goal is to work with youth and families as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor using trauma-focused therapy in both community agencies and private practice settings. “

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Pictured here (-r): Kristin Jones and Miriam Kwietniewska. I think these two would agree that the PEELED Snacks that keep them looking young and jubilant! =)

Some of them have families of their own and some have undergone major career, lifestyle and location changes to do meaningful work.

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Kaya Ceci, originally from Hawaii, has spent a significant amount of time volunteering in Latin America before joining the corps here in NYC.

“I recently graduated with my BA in Psychology and Latin American Studies, which ultimately led to my disillusionment with the field of Psychology for many reasons- principally, its tendency to pathologize individuals rather than the societal factors all too often leading to their circumstances. Originally from Hawaii, I had quite the nomadic childhood- bouncing between 9 different states over the years. This familial instability and the arduous lifestyle that fueled it have ignited my empathetic desire to empower children and their families to be proponents of their own social change. My volunteer experiences with the marginalized youth of Latin America have also sparked my sense of personal responsibility to use my education/life experience to benefit the lives of others who are systematically denied those very rights. I am excited to have found a career that accommodates my critical views and desire for change!” 

We are fortunate to have people from far and wide answering our call to action and we are equally excited to have individuals who’ve been locally born and bred like Steven Franco representing both for the men in child welfare and the native New Yorkers.  Steven, like many of his peers,  sees Children’s Corps as a way to do his part in leaving the world a better place.

Steven Photo

Steven Franco

As you can see, there are several differences that make this group unique.  Eager to learn the ropes from veterans who’ve already made careers in the field, collaborate with others who share their passion for justice, sprinkled with a little tenacity, a lot of personality and doused with even more optimism, these individuals all share the belief that their time is marked with the opportunity to make progress.  It is a belief that has been held by classes preceding them and that will be apparent to those who encounter them.  Don’t believe us?  MEET THE NEW CLASS 

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The revolution will be televised.

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by | September 12, 2013 · 4:05 pm

My First Discharge was a Final Discharge!

Where do I begin?

August 10th made a full year working for my agency! On that day I remember thinking to myself a bit confused, “I thought I already celebrated a year.”  This made me laugh out loud because what I celebrated was 6 months, which at this point seems so long ago. Oh boy, has it been a ride! Looking back at this past year I’ve definitely experienced a LOT, and I’ve had my share of ups and many downs and too many crises and days that kept me working until very late into the night… but somehow at this very moment it all seems worth it.

Yesterday I was able to say good-bye to a very sweet 9 year old that I have known since I began my position as a case planner a year ago. She has been in care for over two years now, and too many homes to count. Throughout her experience, she dealt with foster parents requesting her removal for behaviors they neither understand, nor tried to understand. She’s had her share of family members who would rather stay out of the picture, using the word “drama” to describe her situation, and even an aunt who asked me to pick her up one day because her “know-it-all attitude” was too much to handle. Looking back at these situations I was there by her side through all of it. I sat with her through the tears, heartache, feelings of abandonment, and confusion, and it all brings us to this day.

At the start of the summer, an uncle came into the picture. He was very proactive.  He wanted to truly provide for this child and give her everything she never had- including a stable family.

This seemed like the answer, but due to some unforeseen circumstances she could not stay with her uncle for more than a month. Some time passed and after many meetings and court appearances, through persistence and hard work, we managed to cut through all of the red tape and unite her with her uncle.

This case has been my most difficult and emotionally draining- moreso than any case ever before.  It goes without saying that I am very much relieved and happy to say she has finally gone home. She is out of foster care, and it feels so good to share that. I am definitely going to miss her very much. She said to me today, “Does this mean I’m never going to see you again?” and I almost cried. She gave me a hug and we said nothing else. It feels really good to know that I played an important role in this girl’s life-even if it was for a short while.  This is the bittersweet reality of my job though.

P.S. In the next few weeks I’ll have a trial discharge to a birth mother that I am so proud of! August has been a good month!

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Letting Go

People who know me  from afar might be shocked to learn that I’m kind of a control freak. They might notice my scatterbrained personality that tends to spill over in every interaction, my tendency to set my alarm for PM instead of AM, my pattern of eating leftover pizza for breakfast, and assume I’m a mess. As a 24-year-old trapped in a teenager’s body who cries over episodes of The Office, I think this is definitely a fair analysis. However, when it comes to my job and my day-to-day life, it’s a completely different story.

Basically: I really, really, really need to be in control. Of. Everything. I need to be running the show. I need to know what I’m getting myself into. I need to be the one making decisions, writing lists, and delegating tasks. In high school, when people would mention things like my “strong leadership skills,” it was just a nice way of saying that I tended to barrel to the front of the group and start bossing others around. I think I have definitely relaxed in many ways as I’ve grown, but the desire to completely control my day-to-day–which currently is my job–remained–well, until recently.

It’s been exactly one year since I arrived at the Children’s Aid Society and began my job as a sociotherapist in Teen Foster Care. It’s hard to think about everything I have learned over the year, because my brain would explode, so I just want to focus on perhaps the biggest lesson—one that I have learned and re-learned, over and over, in daily interactions, for the past 365 days.

Yes—I have learned to relinquish control. In my job, at least–which is a start.

Here’s the thing about my job that’s incredibly obvious: teenagers will do whatever they want. Positive or negative, well-thought-out or not.  Another obvious point, though one that took me longer to accept– it remains true that I have zero actual say in some of the choices my youth might make. An easy example–I cannot physically MOVE them to and from appointments–no matter how hard I try. I cannot lead a young adult by the hand into a room to take a GED test for the fourth time, or into a mandatory job orientation, or to their living room for a home visit. This realization is not radical, and it shouldn’t be. Going into my job I was aware that my expectations would and should shift as I began to get to know my clients better.  It took about ten minutes to learn that I was not necessarily a top priority for some of my youth–which is totally understandable! They had, and still have, so much going on. Very quickly, I was faced with the realization that relinquishing the control over my day-to-day work was probably going to be one of the only ways I would be able to stick it out.

The first few months of my job, I seemed to be in panic mode every single time there was some kind of problem, even relatively tiny–i.e., a youth missing a doctor’s appointment, getting suspended for two days from school, losing an ID for the third time, etc. It was not, of course, a relaxing way to live particularly when these events combined with bigger, more complex problems that I actually really had to focus on to help solve.

So I took a look around. Having been lucky enough to be granted dedicated, supportive co-workers, I needed to figure out how they were dealing with everything. I zoned in on my supervisor, and soon I began to notice that each time she was presented with any sort of work-related issue–positive or negative, minor or major–she responded in the same way: by simply saying, “Okay.” No panicking. No flicker of stress. Just a calming affirmation that she had heard.

This floored me.

How could she be so calm in situations where the youth that we worked with just did not seem to care about showing up? Or completing important paperwork? Or even responding to calls? Teens who were on the cusp of aging out, who needed housing, who needed jobs, who along with us were racing against the clock to secure some sort of permanency.  It is important to note that some of the teens in our small unit did not have these tendencies–but many did. 

During those first few months, if our supervision sessions spiraled into me talking through my frustration about a client’s behavior, she would listen, shrug and say, “All you can do is all you can do.” At first I was skeptical.  “Was it really as easy as that?” It seemed to work well for her. So we started there.

All I can do is all I can do.”

As time progressed, I repeated the mantra in my head whenever a stressful situation arose. I really had to work to apply it to my everyday professional life, but soon it seemed to start sticking.  I began to realize that between the hours of 9am and 5pm (or 6pm, or 6:30pm…), all I could do was try to be the best sociotherapist for these teens that I could possibly be. Then I could go home and flail on my living room carpet or stress-cuddle my cat and be as much of a mess as I wanted.

But at work, it was different. Each relationship with a client is unique–it was all about doing all I could to meet each where he or she was at. That meant listening, or talking, or not talking, or doing crossword puzzles, or watching one horrifically bloody scene from a Twilight movie (one of my teens convinced me it was worth watching–I beg to differ). It also meant using frustrating moments as teaching opportunities which went both ways. It meant reflection and conversation, goal-setting, and planning. It meant cutting some slack for both the teen and myself. Sometimes it meant shifting expectations. Sometimes it meant taking baby steps and rewarding tiny victories.

Things began to shift. For one, I was relieved. I was being more productive at work because I didn’t jump up and try to hastily problem-solve every single situation that arose right that second. I was able to take a deep breath and say, “Okay.” I was able to begin focusing my attention on appreciating positive behavior instead of becoming frustrated by negative behavior. And at the end of the day, I realized, it’s just not about me. I learned to not take things personally. The comfort that might have come with me being able to influence my clients to make every appointment, sign every paper, change every negative behavior–it just wasn’t going to happen.

And that’s life.

That’s life.

Learning to let go of the desire for control over my job has been an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I was bound to learn sooner or later. I’m glad I learned it sooner. That’s both the up-side and down-side of social work–things get real, fast. I choose to consider that an up-side. I feel grateful for everything I have learned the past year and look forward to learning more and more.

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The Finish Line

Wow, what a two year journey.  I really have not posted in some time, but I felt, “What the hell?”

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First, I wanted to say CONGRATS! to the class of 2011.  Honestly , I think it should be class of 2013 since it’s when you finish not when you started that counts, but I think I’ve been overruled on that point.  Anyway, I am so proud of the remaining members who stuck it out and pushed forward.  I would have wished that our whole class made it, but honestly its just a testament to how strong the remaining members have been.  All of us had different paths – some through flower beds and others were more like mine fields.  I think our experiences helped us grow as individuals, at least I think I did.

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I want to thank Children’s Corp for giving me an opportunity to serve, pay my dues, learn, and grow as a professional in this field.  They never told me it would be easy and everything they warned me about was true, but the support was there if I needed it.   As the new crop of classes come in and take on the gauntlet of fire, my advice to you is stay strong, stay focused, stay positive, and keep laughing. As George Carlin would say, “Don’t listen to the BS. It’s bad for you.”

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I really don’t know what all of my classes plans are moving forward, but good luck, stay in touch we are like a fraternity now which means when all of you are big hot-shot administrators in 20 years you have to at least give me an interview seems only right.

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Social Work? But Why

Fostering Change for Children sat down with a few Children’s Corps members and asked…”Social Work? But why?” Here’s what they had to say.

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by | May 13, 2013 · 4:32 pm

Jackie of all Trades

I am a detective.

I have to ask every kind of question imaginable to understand each family. I ask about their income, public assistance amount, unemployment, drug use, disabilities (mental or physical). I ask about their backgrounds; where they grew up, how many siblings do they have, who are they close to, why don’t they talk to their father, their baby daddies, their baby mommas. I ask about every single personal detail you can think of that can be used in the future. It is hard to think that the smallest, seemingly insignificant detail, can serve to help a family. Most of this happens organically when clients divulge information themselves.

I am a therapist.

Families tell me so many stories of physical abuse, sexual abuse, growing up in foster care, domestic violence, and the list goes on. My job is to listen. My job is also to keep track signs of possible cognitive delays, mental illnesses, and any other impairment that may hinder their ability to provide a safe environment for their children so that I can refer the family to receive support from professionals. The other day, a 17-year-old told me that her grandmother had a stroke, she saw her mother again for the first time in years since she abandoned her, her sister was raped all within two weeks.

I am a bridge.

I refer families to service providers that will counsel them. I search the Internet frantically looking for resources that will give them grants for much-needed basics. Sometimes this happens at night, when I am home and I think that Ms. So and So needs some furniture in her home or that teenager that was a victim of sexual abuse that needs a good girl’s support group. I have emailed my coworkers looking for clothing donations for a mother and her two-year old who do not have winter clothing.

I am a parent.

Sometimes I am awake at all hours worried.

When I hear about something terrible that happened in the Bronx, I think about every child on my caseload. When they mention the neighborhood I work in, I panic.

The other day, as I was arriving to a home visit, a channel 7 van was parked right outside. I panicked. A sigh of relief escaped my soul when I saw my kids were alive and well.

On weekends, I worry that something may happen and I will not find out until Monday.

I am a historian.

I document every single interaction with the families, the interactions that occur between family members, and collateral contacts in the form of progress notes, court reports, and FASPs.

I am always amazed at all the details I remember of all the families I work with.

I am a preventive case planner.

Social Workers Change Futures

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Celebrating National Social Work Awareness Month

National Social Worker Month

“Weaving Threads of Resilience and Advocacy: The Power of Social Work.”

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by | March 1, 2013 · 10:00 am