Caseworker Conversations: Toilynn E.
This blog post is the 1st in our “Caseworker Conversations” series, highlighting the vital role that caseworkers play in preventing child abuse and neglect in Colorado. Toilynn and Janelle, the former foster child mentioned in the blog below, have also chosen to share their story in a TV commercial below as part of the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Campaign.
Q: What is your title?
A: I’m the Foster and Kinship Supervisor for Weld County, Colorado.
Q: How long have you been in this field?
A: I have worked in child welfare since 1996.
Q: What made you want to pursue this career path?
A: I knew when I was 15 that I wanted to become a social worker. I was working to help other kids find jobs when I found a listing for a social worker. I knew based on the job description that was what I wanted to do. From then on there was no turning back. I received scholarship offers from a number of colleges. However, Colorado State University was the only one that had a social work program, so that’s where I chose to pursue my degree.
Q: Can you share a story of family transformation that has really stuck with you?
A: Early on in my career, I was working with a family that had multiple children – one of whom was very tough and had to be placed in residential treatment. This was really hard on the family and on me. The mom and dad were not happy to be working with me. When we first met, they wouldn’t even let me in the house. The dad said he didn’t want me there but understood I had a job to do, and I think the mom was concerned that accepting help made her look like she wasn’t a good mom. But this family was committed and came to every meeting. They did every single thing they could to keep their family together. We built a relationship from the ground up and by the end of case, the dad not only was inviting me into their home, he was making me lunch.
Q: What does your typical caseload look like?
A: Caseloads vary widely based on whether you are working in frontline response or in a supportive role. As a foster and kinship supervisor, I oversee a number of social workers who identify and work with foster families to ensure kids are loved, protected and provided for. When I was in the role of foster and kinship program coordinator, I typically worked with 20-25 families at any given time.
Q: How would you describe a “typical” workday?
A: My typical workday is never typical, because in this line of work we are working families going through extraordinary circumstances. On any given day, I may be responding to a crisis, helping staff problem solve and identify resources for children and families, addressing day-to-day concerns as well as placement changes and placement stability issues. I also attend meetings to improve our system and policies so we can be more responsive, resourceful and resilient as a system and in turn help kids and families become more resourceful, responsive, and resilient themselves. I also oversee a staff of foster and kinship workers.
Q: What is one of your favorite stories as a caseworker?
A: It is extremely gratifying to see kids that I have worked with grow up and lead healthy, successful lives. I had a particularly strong bond with one girl, Janelle. We were able to place Janelle with one of her sisters and keep them together through multiple foster family placements. Janelle is now in her 20’s, and we still stay in touch. Sometimes she calls just to let me know how she’s doing. Other times it is to ask for advice on raising her own kids. She is an amazing woman who dedicates time as a court-appointed special advocate helping kids who face situations similar to those she faced growing up. She also volunteers with Camp To Belong, a residential camp that reunites brothers and sisters who have been separated in foster care. I always thought I would have been part of a hard memory for Janelle, but I’ve come to realize that I am more of a touchstone from her childhood. I guess I was a consistent figure at a point in her life when there wasn’t a lot of consistency.
Q: What keeps you motivated on tough days?
A: When things aren’t going well in a foster and kinship family placement situation, I try to remember that it’s not typically the kids’ fault. They’ve been moved out of their home, maybe more than once. To become healthy adults, kids need to be claimed as well as loved and provided for. Ensuring kids are with people who love and adore them –whether that’s their biological family or a foster family – motivates me every day.
Q: What do you see as the biggest misconception about caseworkers?
A: My sense is that people think we spend a lot of time taking kids out of homes when the majority of time we are working with families to try and keep them together.
Q: What role do caseworkers play in preventing child abuse and/or neglect?
A: Caseworkers prevent child abuse and neglect through the relationships they build with the families they work with. But anyone can help a child, even individuals who aren’t raising a child or working with children every day; whether that’s getting involved in community organizations or calling to report suspicions of abuse or neglect.
While Toilynn's job puts her on the front lines of protecting Colorado’s children, everyone can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect - even those individuals who aren’t raising a child or working with children every day. Whether it’s calling the statewide hotline to share concerns, volunteering for a nonprofit that helps at-risk children and youth, mentoring, or simply offering a hand to a stressed out parent you know, you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of Colorado kids and families.
Did you know Colorado needs more caseworkers and social workers? If this story inspires you, consider meeting the growing need for professionals helping Colorado children, youth and families. Visit our CAREERS page to learn more, today.