March is National Social Work Month. Social workers serve the community in a variety of roles, from therapists and advocates to case workers and home visitors.
We are going to highlight what it’s like to be an intake case worker within a Child Protective Services agency. We sat down with Shanice, who told us her story and gave us a glimpse of a typical day on the job.
Shanice is a case worker at Franklin County Children Services. Prior to moving to Ohio, Shanice grew up as a foster child in Pennsylvania. Eventually, she aged out of the system and went to college. During her freshman year, Shanice chose to pursue studying criminal justice. She soon learned that this type of work may not be for her. That’s when she considered a different career path – one that was close to her heart.
“I thought to myself – why not go into the social work program? Maybe I could be better than my case worker was with me, when I was a kid. Now I can see what happens behind the scenes,” Shanice said.
Shanice moved to Ohio after she graduated college in May 2015. She began working at the Bair Foundation in Kent, Ohio, then transferred to Summit County Children Services.
Fast forward to August 2018. Shanice began working under Franklin County Children Services (FCCS) at The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH). Her role is unique, in that TCFSH houses a variety of community partners under one roof, such as forensic interviewers and Columbus Police Special Victims Bureau detectives – both of whom are involved in investigating child sexual abuse cases.
“I know many of the detectives, and have a really good rapport with all of them. It’s great because they’re right across the hall here, so if any of the case workers have questions, we can walk right over. It’s not like that at other agencies,” Shanice said.
When FCCS receives a child sexual abuse case, the case workers are told to ask the family if they would like to do a forensic interview in the Child Assessment Center (CAC). The CAC is also located at The Center for Family Safety and Healing, so it really is a one-stop shop for families. The goal of the forensic interview is to bring in the child in order to gather more information regarding the incident(s) of abuse.
If a family agrees, FCCS, a detective and a staff member of the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office all meet in a room. This group is able to see and hear a forensic interviewer asking questions to a child in a separate room. The forensic interviewer then types up notes to send to the FCCS case worker for documentation.
If a child discloses abuse and FCCS feels there is imminent danger to the child at home, they often do not opt to do a removal immediately. Shanice said there is an option called “less restrictive,” where a case worker creates an in-home or out-of-home safety plan. However, if the family is unable to do this, then they would move forward with obtaining custody of a child.
Shanice mentioned TOPS – an acronym that stands for a temporary order of protection. She said this is when a case worker asks a judge to allow them to remain involved with the family. If granted, FCCS gets a TOPS order and then the case itself is transferred to separate FCCS department, known as Ongoing, where this department creates a case plan and can be involved with that family for at least two years.
Shanice told us that she wants to debunk a common myth about Child Protective Service employees:
“I want the community to know that Children Services does not initially seek out to remove children from their homes. That’s a huge reason why people don’t want to work with us – because they think this is true. At the beginning of a conversation with a family, I let them know that I’m not calling them because they’ve done anything wrong. Rather, I’m here to assist them with anything they might need in terms of additional resources or support.”
To Shanice’s point, the number of children removed from their family’s home in 2017 in Ohio was extremely small – 9 out of 1,000*. Additionally, Ohio has seen a rising number of children living with grandparents or other relatives due to substance abuse. This is known as kinship care. About 9 percent** of children live in kinship care.
So how many families does an FCCS case worker usually have at one time?
As of March 2019, Shanice has a case load of 21 families. We asked her to take us through a typical work day:
“I am a morning person. I don’t drink coffee because I already have energy before I come to work. Sometimes mornings can be rough in my department because our caseloads are heavy. The first thing I do is get to my desk and make a to-do list. I check my voicemails and emails, follow up as needed, and then move on to my daily paperwork.
This is usually when I have to complete a safety assessment for a family. We have seven days to complete this, from the time we receive the case. Completing a safety assessment usually takes me 2-3 hours, depending on a variety of factors. Our safety assessments are comprised of 15 questions. We ask families about domestic violence, weapons, supervision, how the parents describe their children, history of abuse and more.
In doing this, I contact the child’s non-offending parent/caregiver and let him/her know that we have received allegations and need to make a home visit. We record our observations during the visit, and this information is taken into account when completing the safety assessment.”
A critical point that Shanice mentioned is that FCCS case workers ask both the non-offending parent and the alleged perpetrator (AP) the same questions, just on different days. Shanice said case workers are not allowed to speak with an AP unless granted permission by the appropriate police department.
“Now it’s about 11 a.m. or noon. This is when I follow up with what we call ‘collaterals’ – this can be a school, police or other relatives that provided information in regard to the open case.
Next, I move on to start a family assessment. This takes me around 1-2 hours. The goal of doing this is to re-assess the safety of a child. Finally, around 3:30, I get ready to schedule my home visits. Typically, I schedule a 4:30 appointment and am done with work by 6 p.m., give or take.”
Shanice mentioned that she uses an app on her phone called “SpeakWrite”. It’s a free audio-recording app so she can verbally craft her safety assessments and/or family assessments, without being at a computer.
We hope that our readers now have a better understanding of how FCCS case workers spend their team each day. Their goal is to keep children and families safe.
Finally, we asked Shanice what she does outside of work in her free time.
“I think self-care is such a huge priority for Children Services employees. It’s so easy to get burned out. For me, I work out three times a week, before coming to work, and I drink water (not coffee or pop) to stay hydrated and functioning properly. Sometimes I go shopping or do other activities with friends, but working out allows me to get rid of all my life stress, including stress from work.”
Social workers take on a lot of peoples’ stress, trauma and struggles. Please be sure to thank a social worker this month (and every month) for the work that they’re doing each day to provide our community with hope, support and resilience.
We want to reiterate that self-care is important for all people, regardless of occupation. Self-care activities can look different for everyone, and should be intentional and planned, similarly to scheduling a hair appointment or a car repair.
Take a look at this free Self-Care worksheet to do a quick check on what you’re doing regularly, and what you could improve upon: https://www.andrews.edu/services/ctcenter/prevention/self-care_ax_worksheet.pdf
- Franklin County Children Services 24/7 Child Abuse Hotline
- Franklin County Children Services 2019 Resource Guide
Download it: http://childrenservices.franklincountyohio.gov/public/documents/PDF/103B5E8A-03F5-6881-DEADAF277AD4D863.pdf
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline