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Career Story: Foster Care Case Worker

Foster Care Case Worker

Job Title: Social Worker

Type of Company: I work for a private child welfare agency. The agency has several divisions, including a foster care program, group home and day care sites.

Education: BA, Psychology, University of Notre Dame •• MSW, University of Chicago

Previous Experience: This was my first real job after graduate school, but I'd had internships and interim jobs as a camp counselor, day-care teacher, research assistant and intern at a residential child-care facility. And I was also a social work intern at a Headstart center.

Job Tasks: I'm a caseworker for children in foster care, working with about twenty of them at a time and about eight or nine families. The children I work with are anywhere from one to eighteen and live in varied situations. Some live with their parents, some with foster families, some with relatives; others live in orphanages, known more often these days as "group homes."

Some of the things I do include visiting the kids' homes and talking to their parents or guardians about how they're getting on. Since all of the children I work with have been mistreated at some point, nearly all of them have behavioral and emotional problems and I have to work with their teachers, therapists, doctors, and caregivers to make sure they're being nurtured and observed. I also testify in juvenile court about the safety of the homes that the children have been put in. I arrange reunions of siblings who've been separated from one another in foster care. I also arrange visits by parents who've had their children taken away from them for reasons of abuse or neglect, and I work with those parents in other ways, too, hooking them up with services that are aimed at curtailing abuse.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is working with children who really need help, and it can be very rewarding when parents make a lot of progress or children get adopted. Every day is different, and I very rarely sit at my desk all day.

The difficult aspects of my work are the high caseloads, the paperwork and a generally bureaucratic child welfare system. Working with foster children is emotional and trying because their lives have been so sad.

Job Tips: Take internships in the field to get experience and be prepared for unconventional hours, not 9-5. There are different kinds of social work, and depending on the kind you choose you'll find yourself involved with different groups and different issues, anything from child abuse to immigration to early childhood intervention to older adult needs.

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