No matter the circumstance surrounding a child’s interaction with a social worker, children remember how they were treated, and whether the social worker showed them compassion. This March, in honor of National Social Work Month, One Hope United is proud to share the impact that our social workers make in the lives of thousands of children and families each year.
According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world through their relationships with their primary caregivers. If a child has experienced trauma and, as a result, feels that they can’t trust their parent or caregiver, a social worker may be one of the only consistent and dependable adult figures in that child’s life.
A child may meet their social worker for the first time when they’re waiting for a foster care placement, traveling for a visit with their biological family members, or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. Having a caring figure in these turbulent moments gives children a sense of stability. Courtney Dundee, therapist with One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, described her role as “walking alongside children during the hardest part of their little lives, and helping them get to the other side where they feel hopeful and safe once again.”
One Hope United’s former clients have shared that the small interactions they had with their social worker made all the difference. Whether a social worker remembered their favorite flavor of soda or chatted with them about a TV show, these moments helped them to feel seen and recognized.
Sarah Tunning, Executive Director of OHU’s Florida Services, shared a memory of a young boy who spent one day at her office while waiting for his next foster care placement. He exhibited several complex behavioral issues related to past trauma and was having a hard day. His case manager told Sarah what his favorite food and drink items were from a few restaurants in the area, and after Sarah picked them up and the boy had his meal, he felt much calmer, and was able to relax. “We spend a lot of time with these children during ‘in-between’ times, riding in the car or waiting at the office,” Sarah said. “The in-between moments seem small, but they allow children to have more interactions with people who really care.”
Teenagers involved in the child welfare system also benefit from a supportive and caring social worker. They may keep in touch with their social worker even after services end, often turning to them for help connecting to community resources, or simply for someone to listen. Mallory Johnston, Case Manager with One Hope United’s Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS) program, described her experience working with a homeless teenager in December of 2020. She helped him move into a homeless shelter in Mount Vernon, Illinois on his 18th birthday, and throughout their 90 days together, Mallory helped him to enroll in high school and obtain a medical card. They also discussed his future and worked on important life skills. He is currently on-track to graduate in May of 2021. Mallory said, “He sees me as a constant support system, and as someone who is willing to help him with whatever he needs at the time. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not receive a ‘good morning’ text from him.”
Additionally, social workers support parents who may feel they have almost no one else to turn to. Dennis Delgado, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, shared about a 17-year-old single mother of two who received services from a One Hope United social worker. This young woman was a senior in high school and working part-time to care for her children. She also was a victim of domestic violence and had recently lost the support of her mother. She often shared concerns about having had to grow up too soon and missing out on her youth.
This young woman shared that she felt her life was transformed after receiving domestic violence services, paid day care services, and individual counseling. She also received day-to-day household essentials, including food, diapers, and children’s clothes. While working with her OHU case manager, she decided to fully end her relationship with her children’s father, and obtained an order of protection against him. She was also able to attend her senior prom and graduate from high school.
“Initially, this young woman could not believe her social worker would actually help her with her needs,” Dennis said. “They were successful because they collaborated for the good of the family.”
Dennis concluded, “Social workers are essentially a light in the darkness that the children and families we serve often face. They are often angels in disguise.”