On the Case: Male caseworkers are breaking the mold in Moffat County
October 18, 2021
Unlike most counties in Colorado, the team of caseworkers at Moffat County Human Services is made up primarily of men. Two of those men, Austin Hill and Kevin Kohlbrenner, recently shared their stories and why they chose to enter the field of social work.
Kevin and Austin come from two very different backgrounds. Kevin grew up in a “rough neighborhood” in south Philadelphia while Austin spent much of his childhood in Craig before moving to Denver. But each felt drawn to helping kids and families and are finding creative ways to do just that in a rural community where well-established resources are not always available.
Kevin has a real passion for working directly with families and determining the root causes behind a family’s involvement with human services. His primary focus is on finding and connecting families with the resources they need so the department of human services no longer needs to be involved. Kevin understands the challenges of making ends meet. He started his social work journey after several “dead end” jobs in Philadelphia. He was looking for a career and a sense of belonging. The natural beauty of the West and a tight-knit community like the one in Craig were a big draw for him. When Kevin moved to Craig, he began to volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). His supervisor introduced him to the director of human services who had an opening for a caseworker. Kevin was definitely interested but was also committed to getting a college degree. Kevin was happy to learn that he could become a caseworker while completing his degree.
“Working and going to school full time is intense but I don’t like to be bored, which is one of the reasons I love being a caseworker. In a rural county you have to get creative to find the resources families need to thrive,” said Kevin. “Plus, it’s a steady job with a good career path, and I feel good when I go home every day.”
As far as being a man in what has typically been a female-dominated field, Kevin sees a real benefit to the diversity of his team and thinks the community recognizes that importance as well. “It helps us meet clients where they are at.”
Austin agrees with that assessment and believes that shifting the dynamic helps the county be more responsive to a family’s needs. “In some cases, having a positive male role model can be a real advantage,” shared Austin.
Coming out of high school, Austin worked in a variety of sales jobs which he found unsatisfying. He then moved to Denver to work for the Transportation Security Agency where he spent seven years working at Denver International Airport. In the last three years, his faith helped him find what he believes is his true calling, and Austin began working toward a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. During his time in Denver, Austin always kept an eye on what was happening in Craig through friends and family who live there. When he saw the opportunity to work with families and children by becoming a caseworker for Moffat County, he knew it was his chance to take his skills and experience to give back to the community that raised him.
“Every family is unique. My goal is to help the families I serve to connect to vital resources so they can live healthier and more engaged lives,” said Austin. “Part of this is helping them to open the lines of communication within their families to ensure everyone has a chance to be heard and understood.”
Like Kevin, Austin enjoys finding innovative ways of connecting families to resources. One example is the Resource Rallies he has established that bring providers to the families instead of making families travel to learn about available resources. At the rallies, he has been able to bring together families with everyone from school leaders, social workers, and home health aides to victims advocates, counselors and addiction services all in one place.*
Tia Murry, the director of human services for both Moffat and Rio Blanco counties believes part of her success in recruiting talented caseworkers is the county’s renewed commitment to helping families without judgment. She also says the location doesn’t hurt. “If you like the outdoors, whether that’s hiking, fishing, or skiing, Moffat County has it all,” shared Murry.
Individuals interested in child welfare casework in a rural county can find opportunities at https://co4kids.org/careers.
*Since this post was first written, Austin has taken his experience as a caseworker to grow into a new role as a crime victim's advocate in Craig.
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.