Pay It Forward
The job of a social worker is to help a young person navigate the child welfare system, and to look out for their best interests. Social workers must be able to connect, engage, support, and listen to young people if they are going to make a positive difference in their lives. Communication with young people can take many forms, including listening, writing, touch, facial expressions and body language. Social workers communicate with young people to learn more about them, their needs, and goals. They also communicate with young people to ascertain their views about decisions and circumstances that will affect their lives. A positive relationship between a social worker and a young person should have a lot of communication. Unfortunately, this was not my experience. During my time in care, I had six different social workers. They came and went so frequently that most of the time their name was simply “social worker” in my phone.
My experience with social workers and case managers had always been negative, until I met people through Treehouse and the Independent Living program at the YMCA. They made me feel human, not like I was just another case file in a broken system. They took the time to get to know me and were invested in my success. With the help of these social workers and Treehouse, I was able to go back to school and get my diploma. I benefited from Treehouse’s graduation success program, which has raised foster care high school graduation rates from only 69% up to 80%. With the help of the Independent Living program, I was able to get my own apartment and live independently.
When talking with my peers about their success, the reoccurring theme is that each of them had one supportive adult in their lives. For many it was a teacher was a teacher, counselor or — sometimes — a social worker. It’s important for young people to have at least one person who remains constant. If youth were able to have a single caseworker or social worker, they could take comfort in knowing that there was always someone there to support them through life. It would be motivating to know that they’d have someone to stand behind them, someone that wants to see them achieve. Having someone who will always be there for you goes a very long way.
Social workers often have very high caseloads, which causes them to be spread so thin they can’t form meaningful relationships with young people. Often they can only manage the monthly health and wellness checkup. Once they read the script off the paper and check the boxes, it can seem like they can’t leave fast enough. I know that social workers care about the work they do, but until they have a reasonable caseload, and are compensated fairly, they aren’t going to be able to do their job effectively.
This year, Treehouse and the Department of Children, Youth and Families are asking the legislature for additional funding to add about 20 caseworkers. This type of advocacy is important, because it would allow social workers to provide better care for their young people. We are all working to make sure our systems are fully transformed, youth centered, and outcome driven. We’re working toward a situation in which social workers are able to watch their youth grow, and grow along with them. Without more support, social workers will continue to struggle to be the one caring adult that so many young people need.