On The Case: A Caseworker’s Journey from the City to the Mountains
November 1, 2021
After working for several years as a school psychologist in upstate New York, Jessica Callahan was burned out. She was tired of doing assessments and writing reports. She needed a career change and a change in scenery. She got both when she moved to Eagle County and became a backcountry ski guide and whitewater raft guide. Over the next couple of years, Jessica – who comes from a large family and has always been the nurturer of her many cousins; took the time to reflect and realized she missed the therapeutic component of working one-on-one with kids.
In 2018, Jessica became a caseworker for the Children, Family and Adult Services Division at the Eagle County Department of Human Services where she provides intensive, home-based case management services to families. In this role, she meets with her client families face-to-face a minimum of twice a month and is intently focused on building strong and trusting relationships.
One thing she learned from working in schools is when you are able to make something feel more like a game than work, the more successful you’ll be with engaging kids. Jessica has taken this to the next level. When she is assessing needs in a home, Jessica uses play to encourage kids to share more about their situation. One example is the yarn game, which helps identify what is worrying a child. The ball is made up of hundreds of lengths of yarn. She asks the child to pull out the lengths of yarn that reflect what’s going on in their lives. Whether their worries are large or small – having enough food, a parent losing a job, a sibling’s health – they are able to show Jessica what’s really going on in their lives. And if the kids are ok with it, she invites the parent(s) to see all their worries as well.
“Looking at the pile of yarn that represents the child’s trauma or anxieties is often an “aha” moment for a parent and is a great way to open the lines of communication between parents and kids,” shared Jessica. “In the end, I am here to connect families to the wraparound resources that are available to them, and games like this help everyone gain a better understanding of what is needed.”
Today, Jessica is energized by her work. She credits her love for her job not only to the flexibility she has in her casework but also to the flexibility and benefits provided by the county. While it's expensive to live in Eagle County, she has great health and wellness benefits and a team that is committed to self-care and providing a supportive environment. She also has access to professional and personal development programming through the Colorado Mountain College with classes ranging from accounting and motivational interviewing techniques to yoga and first aid.
“Jessica approaches her work in a healthy and fun way,” said Jessica's supervisor, Melissa Barbour, LSW. “Her ability to connect with kids and help them become better advocates for themselves makes her a model for her peers."
This post is part of the CO4Kids On The Case blog series that shares insights from Colorado child welfare caseworkers about the important work they do and why they chose a career in social work.