On the Case: Teacher Turned Caseworker Finds Dream Job Late in Her Career

Chris Hildebrand’s journey to becoming a caseworker didn’t start until she was in her mid-50’s.
She had spent the majority of her career as a special education teacher, specifically working
with youth who were experiencing mental health and behavioral challenges. When she retired,
she realized she deeply missed working with youth and families. When she saw a job opening
with Routt County’s Department of Human Services as a caseworker, she decided to apply.
More than three years later, Chris is now a Caseworker III, and she’s so glad she found this new
path late in her career. She is responsible for all types of cases. This can mean that sometimes,
if the family’s case is high-risk, Chris drops everything to support them. Other times, it means
conducting an evaluation first and working alongside the family to develop a support plan and
refer them to services.

Chris has seen many of the skills she utilized as a teacher translate well into her work as a

“As a teacher who was primarily working with youth who had failed out of every other
placement in the county and really struggled with their learning, building trust was the biggest
part of my job,” said Chris. “Not only did I have to build trust with the students, but with their
family so they had support at home. Building trust is also an essential part of my role as a

Another skill that’s translated is creativity. Chris was tasked with instilling confidence in her
students and showing them they had the capacity to learn, which took creativity. For example,
sometimes this meant teaching math on a basketball court. Similarly, Chris says to engage a
family in casework, you have to be creative about solutions that will work for their particular

Finally, humor can help. This was a tactic Chris used in her classroom and, when it’s
appropriate, she brings it to her casework role as well to help build rapport and ease the fears
of families.

“Through the Family Assessment Response (FAR) method, I help families choose supports that
are the best fit for them. This helps to empower and engage them so they’re committed to
making changes,” said Chris. “It’s all about planting seeds the family can utilize on their terms
to best support their family functioning so they don’t become frequent flyers in the child
welfare system.”

Chris’s approach with families relies on empathy and understanding. “I’ve raised two children
and, while they’re doing well, I didn’t do it all perfectly,” explained Chris. “We all have difficult
days. Who wants to be remembered for their worst day?”

Chris often hears from families she worked with months, even years, after their time together.
They stay in touch. They call to ask for advice. They text her updates on how they’re doing.
Chris’s colleagues joke that she is always on the phone because of how many clients stay in
touch with her. It’s a testament to the relationship and trust she builds with the families.
Chris loved teaching for more than 20 years, and she loves this work, too. She’s particularly
grateful for her small yet supportive and authentic team in Routt County — three caseworkers
and one supervisor. Most of all, she enjoys working with the families.

“I really love making connections with the family and trying to understand how the situation
happened, then working with them to ensure the safety of their children. Human beings are a

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