Children are put into out-of-home care for a variety of reasons, but the fundamental reason is that they are unsafe in the home. But then what happens to them? Do they stay in foster care until they age out? What if their parents are capable of keeping them safe, only they just didn’t know how? That is where SaintA’s Family Service Department steps in.
The Family Service Department is located on the 2nd floor of SaintA’s Summit Place site, in West Allis. Within its office walls are dedicated social workers who work for what is best for these children. The initial plan is helping parents get their lives back on track, learn some new skills and strengthen their parenting skills so that they can be reunified with their children.
I am a family engagement specialist, and my job is to be in the trenches with these families. I am the eyes and ears for the people who make final and legal decisions as to what is ultimately best for the child. I am also the parent aide, a safe place to release pent-up emotion, and ultimately the parents’ cheerleader.
A big part of my job is to supervise visitations between children and their biological parents, which can be an exhilarating and often stressful part of the job, especially when a child’s parents do not show up for their scheduled visit. This happens more than you would think, and every time it happens the worker is left with angry and upset children who need to be taken back to their foster parents. But sometimes this is not the case.
Recently, our office was graced with the presence of a 9-month-old. This isn’t odd given the nature of our work, but this particular infant was special. Baby L lives an hour and a half away from Milwaukee, so she gets to spend one day a week with us and time with each of her parents. Unfortunately, something came up and Little L’s first visit of the day was canceled. Her second visit was still planned, so we were not going to send her home.
We’re used to caring for children. It’s in our nature, it’s our job. But this care is usually over short periods of time, with mounds of paperwork mixed in. The office itself isn’t equipped for long-term care, but working together, we managed to keep Little L entertained and happy.
A Pack and Play was procured and set up in my cubicle, toys were cleaned off and presented to Little L. Throughout her time with us she received several visitors and went on many field trips around the office. Never once did I feel as if I was her sole care provider, even though I took on that responsibility. There was always someone willing to entertain her, change her, feed her, play with her or just “ooh” and “aww” over her. During her trips around the office, I always knew where she was because I could hear my co-workers giggling and cooing over her, which comforted her.
After Little L was safely in her second visit, I began the cleanup process and was amused to find more toys in the Pack and Play than I had originally brought. Her regular visitors made a point to keep Little L entertained and allowed me to get some paperwork done. Everyone pitched in when they didn’t have to. There were phone calls to be made, visits to be planned, case managers to e-mail, and paperwork to be caught up on. Yet despite this, people carved time out of their day to make a little girl smile.
We have a stressful job, a tough job, a job that means so much to the families we work with. Often times they are unable to express or even acknowledge their gratitude for all we do, and sometimes this can add to our daily stress. It is the little things that keep us sane: a smile, a laugh, or a little girl in a strange place with strange people who just wants to be taken care of.
To all of little L’s visitors: Thank you, you are appreciated.
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