Caseworker Conversations: Abigail C.
This blog post is the 5th in our “Caseworker Conversations” series, highlighting the vital role that caseworkers play in preventing child abuse and neglect in Colorado. Continue to visit our Community Blog often to read more caseworkers’ accounts, as well as those of individuals they’ve helped.
Q: What is your title?
A: I am a Caseworker in Douglas County.
Q: How long have you been in this field?
A: I have worked in child protection for a total of nine years, with a six-year stint in community-based mental health in the middle of that tenure.
Q: What made you want to pursue this career path?
A: I had no specific intention of going into child protection initially. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and was looking for a job, and quite honestly, the child protection folks were the ones who were hiring people with my degree and paying them a decent, living wage. I initially spent four years in child protection and then shifted over to community-based mental health for a while. I returned to child protection five years ago and have remained in it because I feel like I am making a difference and am truly helping the children and families I work with. Yes, this job can be incredibly frustrating, but it can also be really amazing when you see families turning things around and succeeding at overcoming hurdles.
Q: Can you share a story of family transformation that has really stuck with you?
A: Actually, there is one family that really sticks out in my mind. A young teen had experienced a lot of trauma during her childhood. Her mother had passed away, and her biological father’s rights had been terminated, so family members had adopted her. Nevertheless, she was acting out pretty dramatically as a result of all that she’d endured. In fact, she had had several run-ins with the juvenile court system. This was a situation where, because of her behavior, we had to find an out-of-home placement for her. She was not happy about it, and in fact, was very angry at life in general. She fought her therapists, caseworkers, teachers – pretty much everyone. She missed an entire semester of school, and communication between her family and her was essentially non-existent. Then, a light bulb seemed to go off in her head. She knew she didn’t want to be in the child welfare system anymore and figured out that she needed to cooperate with the people trying to help her in order to be able to return home to her family. She started listening to and following her therapists’ guidance, and began to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives. She re-engaged at school and has done very well. At the same time, her family grew to understand a lot more about how to help her deal with the trauma she’s endured. The overall feeling in the family is now much more relaxed, happy and even playful. In fact, this young lady will be moving home very soon!
Q: What does your typical caseload look like?
A: I manage about 12 to 15 cases at any given time. Douglas County has hired a lot of additional staff in the past few years, so our caseload has decreased, which has helped immensely. For the first three years I was here, I generally had 25 to 28 cases at once.
Q: How would you describe a “typical” workday?
A: My days consist of a lot of meetings. I meet with the families I’m working with – parents and kids. I also meet with probation officers, therapists, Guardians ad Litem – basically anyone and everyone involved in the cases of the families I’m working with. We discuss what’s going well and what needs to change to meet the families’ needs. We have formal Family Partner Meetings every three months, but I try to meet with all of my families at least once a month to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of the support they need and are receiving. I’m also in court at some point most days.
Q: What is one of your favorite stories as a caseworker?
A: It’s hard for me to pin down one specific case per se. I carry most of the IDD cases for Douglas County, meaning those cases involving children and youth with intellectual or developmental disabilities. When we have to look for out-of-home placements for these kiddos, it’s often because their parents simply can’t handle their behavioral issues. It can be really challenging to place kids with these kinds of special needs. For example, I’m currently working with one teen who is autistic and has a very low IQ, along with aggressive behavioral tendencies. His mother simply isn’t able to handle his aggression, so for that reason, we needed to find a placement for him. He has been living in a group home since last summer. Because of the unique situations we’re dealing with, most of the parents I work with, including the mother in this case, remain really involved in their kids’ lives. They visit them on weekends, or the kids are sometimes even able to spend weekends at home. We occasionally have youth living in group homes or foster homes that are approaching their 21st birthdays, but we haven’t been able to transition them to adult services for a variety of reasons. It is always incredibly gratifying when we are able to transition these young adults to the adult system. It allows them to feel as if they’ve graduated. It’s really exciting to see them feel like they’re grown up and able to do more on their own.
Q: What keeps you motivated on tough days?
A: My co-workers are really an amazing support system. Family and friends outside of child welfare are certainly important, but my colleagues “get it” in a way that those who don’t work in this field simply can’t. For me, having those relationships at work is key.
Q: What do you see as the biggest misconception about caseworkers?
A: My situation is somewhat unique because most of the families I work with are appreciative and happy to have us involved. Our IDD families know that we’re here to help. That being said, there are families that think we’re working against them or are not interested in hearing what they want. They see us (child welfare, lawyers, Guardians ad Litem) as having our own agenda and being in a conspiracy against them. I tend to see this more in delinquency cases, though – when parents are choosing to view the situation as a problem with their kid rather than considering that there might be an issue within their family dynamics.
Q: What role do caseworkers play in preventing child abuse and/or neglect?
A: We partner with families to help identify the stressors/issues they are facing, and then we work with them to come up with a way to address those issues. Every family is unique, but they face a lot of similar challenges.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: This is a really hard job. It can be really stressful, and there are a lot of tough days. I say this to emphasize the fact that the caseworkers who stay in this field for the long haul do so because we genuinely care about families and kids, and we absolutely want to help them be successful.
If you are inspired by the difference Abigail makes in the lives of children and families in Colorado, consider pursuing a career in social work or simply volunteering with an organization that supports families in your community. We all can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect, even if we aren't raising a child or working with children every day. Together we can ensure a brighter future for all Colorado children.