On the Case: Hardworking immigrant finds calling as child welfare caseworker in Routt County
October 8, 2021
In 2013, Paunita Muset took a vacation to the United States. Though she was born and raised in Moldova, a former Soviet republic country in Eastern Europe, the moment Paunita stepped foot in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, she knew she was home.
When she was younger, Paunita noticed a family in her neighborhood was struggling. The children were experiencing abuse at home and their voices were not being heard. This experience lit a spark within Paunita to pursue a career in child welfare and she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the Universitatea Pedagogica de Stat “Ion Creanga” Republic of Moldova. Upon graduation, Paunita took a job as a child welfare caseworker supporting families and amplifying the voices of the children she served in Moldova. A trip to Steamboat Springs during this time resulted in an instant connection with the area and her decision to relocate there changed the course of her life.
“Kids need someone to believe in them and the opportunity to thrive,” said Paunita. “They are the future, and we must invest in our future.”
Paunita wanted to continue her dream career as a child welfare caseworker in the U.S. While she spoke three languages fluently – Romanian, Russian and Spanish – English was not yet one of them and she had to learn the language before making her a dream a reality. After immigrating to America, Paunita jumped into work in the restaurant industry in Steamboat Springs. She started out as a dishwasher, working her way up to kitchen manager over the course of four years. Along the way, Paunita worked diligently to improve her English while becoming rooted in her community. Once Paunita felt confident enough to apply for a job as a Routt County caseworker, she tapped into the services from The Steamboat Workforce Center where she received help creating her resume.
She was hired for the Caseworker II role and less than six months later, Paunita was promoted to Caseworker III. She has also recently taken on the additional role of foster care coordinator, working with foster families and furthering the county’s foster care recruitment and retention initiatives.
Paunita always creates space for families to tell her their stories. She recognizes that if a caseworker is involved in a family’s life then they are likely in a crisis of some degree. She is proud to offer her expertise and support to help families weather the crisis and to learn and grow from it.
Paunita believes that certain qualities are important for being a successful caseworker. Those include having a big heart, being open-minded, creativity, resilience, and most importantly – empathy. “No parent wants to be judged by their parenting on their worst day,” said Paunita. “That is why empathy is so incredibly important as a caseworker.”
Steamboat Springs is very different from Chișinău, the capital and largest city in Moldova with a population of around 700,000. Paunita sees a big advantage to working in a small community. “We know the families in our community. We have the opportunity to establish relationships with them and help them to see that a child welfare caseworker is there to serve them and their children – that we are focused on doing everything we can to help families and keep them safely together. I want these families to succeed.”
Ask Paunita what her favorite part of her job is and she will tell you, “All of it!” Paunita appreciates the flexible schedule and opportunity to work independently while collaborating with a great team that includes very supportive co-workers who have also become friends. She likes that she is able to meet so many people and find ways to work better with her community. The health insurance and 401k plans are also nice perks.
But ultimately, the satisfaction of helping children and families thrive is the biggest benefit for Paunita. “This job gives me wings,” she added. “This is where my heart is and where I am meant to be.”
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.