It may sound cliché but I like helping people. Providing knowledge and assistance is very rewarding. Child welfare allowed me to tap into a wide variety of things such as finding valuable resources for families, increasing my ability to be objective and my passion to help our most vulnerable. Although I work very closely with the children, families and other professionals I still feel as if my role is more behind the scenes. Often times, I am steering the process with a gentle nudge or in a more demanding way if necessary. It feels good to be viewed as a valuable member of the team and respected. It’s often said the rewards received from social service aren’t financial but come in the form of the lives you help change for the better.
The children I work with have complicated stories. It’s never a happy event when a child comes into foster care and establishing trust can be difficult, especially with older children. By the time they come on my caseload, they’ve told their story 1,000 times to other people. They were taken from a foster home they liked, formed bonds that were broken by the system and here I am, asking them to trust an adult…again. The heartbreaking challenge is when the trusting relationship is formed and you don’t have any available families for them. You see the hurt in their eyes and the hopelessness. Most families see a stigma attached to kids 13 and older and don’t take a chance.
Not every story is heartbreaking though. When a match is made and the child is brought to meet his or her prospective parents, they are all on their best behavior. Over time you see the walls break down, you see the authenticity come out and you see how they’ll gel as a unit. It’s one of my favorite parts about my job. Seeing a child trust adults and seeing the adults fall in love with the child.
Sometimes though, one story really sticks with you. SC had had eight previous failed placements; most of them were with his older brother who has very challenging behaviors. SC was caught in the middle. After promises from his foster family to adopt him fell through, I was racing against the clock to find an option that would work for SC because not only did the foster family not want to adopt, they decided SC had to leave the house immediately. I had spoken to a couple a few months back who I thought would be a good match and this was my time to introduce them to SC. It was an instant attachment, which doesn’t always happen, but in this case it did! SC has been living with his moms since 2014 and his adoption should be final by the end of this year. They stuck through the entire process; all the therapy, educational needs, medical needs and red tape. The family keeps me in the loop and even invited me to his confirmation. These children aren’t just any kids, they are my kids. It’s my job to make sure they have a loving family to support them.
Katie Friend is a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids supervisor and former recruiter in Chicago and has been working in social services for 22 years.