Dragon Info

Child Welfare Articles

Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Overview: Providing Services on the Run

Children's Services Committee Plans Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Social Workers, Foster Kids and Community Suggest Issues

SB 2030 Findings

Special Reports

Dependency Court Overwhelmed

Social Worker Meltdown Series

Protecting Children, Restoring Families, It takes Time


July 2001
Crisis in Transitional Services for Foster Youth -- Independent Living Programs Make a Difference

Housing Is A Major Problem

Leonard Moncure and Jennifer

From Homeless to College Graduate

The social worker may be the only one you can trust

Kathy Garcia: I try to be that one adult a child can feel safe talking to.

February 2001
Assemblywoman Dion Aroner "The union needs to take leadership in providing best practices for taking care of kids and families"

Making a Difference, Jacob Ocampo takes social work to the community

September 2000
Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Riding Along with Bilingual Worker Frederick Machado

Social Worker Heartbeat

February 2000
Are Social Workers Entitled to a Life?
Just Say No to Excessive Overtime


October 1997
Caseload State of Emergency

CWS/CMS Computer Crashes Child Welfare System

Seeing Through The CWS/CMS Mess

February 1997
Adoptions:Parent v. Child

Los Angeles County:Working in the Adoption Factory

Creating New Families

June 1996
Kathleen Schormann and the Unquiet Death of Lance Helms

Family Reunification Workers Speak Out


SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin

Union’s Social Worker Awareness Campaignsocial worker holding a baby siloueted next to a window-the  size of the social worker's head and concerned look compared to the baby's  small head and  smile gie a very warm feeling

February 2001

What can we do about the crisis in child welfare? To answer this question we conducted a focus group with child welfare workers and spoke with community groups, children’s advocacy groups, and foster youth about what they think the problems of the system are and what message we need to get out to the public to help solve the problem. The discussions were part of the social worker awareness campaign, which is planning to produce a traveling exhibit to educate the public about social workers and child welfare. The awareness campaign is a project of the Local 535 state executive board’s Children’s Services Committee.

The message from talking with all these groups is that social work is about a relationship between the worker and client. The turnover in social workers and the inability of social workers to spend quality time with their clients because of high caseloads is robbing children and families of the potential for healing. Children and families are suffering. The present situation is unacceptable and it will take a community effort to solve the problem.

Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council

We spoke with Yolie Flores Aguilar, executive director of the Los Angeles Children’s Planning Council, which represents a coalition of the major public and private child welfare colaborative advocacy groups in Los Angeles County. The group has created several documents on child welfare that summarize many of the problems. According to the council’s position paper, there need to be drastic changes in the current system. The council emphasizes that children in the system need to have a stable relationship with one social worker. The first priority needs to be keeping families together. And this means, among other things, increasing services such as substance abuse treatment to parents. If a child has to be removed, then a permanent home should be found as soon as possible. When foster children turn 18, the system shouldn’t abandon them, but must provide adequate transitional services. Finally, to build healthy families we need to invest in healthy communities.

California Youth Connection

CYC youth Trinity Wallace at desk leaning on her hand
CYC Foster Youth Trinity Wallace

California Youth Connection is an advocacy group of current and former foster youth, from 14 to 24 years of age. The group has 22 chapters statewide that advocate and lobby for foster youth. One of their main issues is that the system’s relationship and obligation to the youth end when a foster youth turns 18. There is no longer a legal relationship with the foster parents. As a result, many youth feel abandoned. Independent living skills and transitional programs can accommodate only a small number of these former foster children. Thirty percent of foster youth spend some time homeless after they leave foster homes, and 50% of the inhabitants of homeless shelters in Los Angeles were once dependents of the court. CYC’s present legislative priorities include legislation to permit youth to stay in foster care until age 21, legislation to increase transitional housing, and a foster care bill of rights. A foster care bill of rights has been passed twice by the legislature, but was vetoed by former Governor Pete Wilson.

We spoke with CYC foster youth Kenny Brown, Trinity Wallace, and Adriana Bermudas. They discussed their personal experiences with the system and what they feel needs to change. They stressed the importance of the relationship between the social worker and the client. Brown and Wallace stated that they felt so abused by the bureaucratic nature of the front end of the system that by the time they were placed in foster care, it was hard for them to believe that a social worker really cared for them and their families.
Trinity Wallace said, “My first social worker was terrible. She was very judgmental toward my mother. The second one was great. She really showed me that even a social worker feels family is important. She tried to keep my family together and made exceptions. Before we were taken away she tried to really work with my parents, to show them what they were doing wasn’t right. I respect her to this day. And even after we were separated, she would pick us [the siblings] all up and take us to the zoo.” (Her siblings were in different placements.)

For Wallace, keeping her relationship with her siblings was one of the most important things in her life.
Both Wallace and Brown had parents who suffered from substance addiction. They feel the system should have done more to provide drug treatment and clinical services to their parents, and that these services should have continued after the family reunification efforts ended. They accuse the system of abandoning their parents.

Adriana Bermudas, who was abandoned by her mother, talked about the need for someone to really be there for her. She had one social worker with whom she bonded, but after five years she suddenly had a different worker, with no explanation, further increasing her feelings of abandonment. She found out many years later that the first worker went out on stress leave.

Bermudas described a series of foster care placements. Some of the placements were good, but most were with foster parents who either were only in it for the money or had their own personal problems that prevented their having an authentic relationship with Bermudas. The biggest needs, according to Bermudas, are to feel that the worker really cares and to have a consistent relationship.

Another issue the youth brought up was the need for everyone in the system, social workers, judges, and attorneys, to work together, instead of blaming each other for the problems.

Healthy African American Families Project

Lorretta and Danny talking and laughing
Loretta Jones and Local 535 union field repersentative Danny Ramous

Loretta Jones is project director of the Healthy African American Families Project, a community-based mental health project in the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw community in Los Angeles. We spoke with her and one of her associates, the Reverend Joan Sanders of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Compton.

Problems: Social workers are seen as adversaries not advocates. Sanders, who prefaced her remarks with expressions of respect for the job social workers do, related an incident involving a family in her congregation that was in trouble. “Everyone we asked told us, ‘Don’t call DCFS unless you have no choice left.’ The community’s view is that social workers are their adversaries.” She then related the following perceived criticisms: that social workers don’t tell families what is going on and don’t understand the community and don’t understand the resources or lack of resources available to parents in the community.

Solutions: The public needs to see positive images of social workers. Jones, who grew up in foster care herself in the 1940s and 1950s, suggests that to counter the image of outsider, an awareness campaign should feature photographs that show the social worker in the home, touching and interacting with the children, demonstrating that the social worker has a relationship to the family. She also suggested photographs of social workers interacting with the community and taking children on outings.

Jones also recommends stories that show that social workers can have humor and nice, feel-good stories of children being returned to parents and about families rebuilding their lives.

Social Worker Focus Groups

Hispanic Social Worrker with slight mustache smilling
Focus group participant Social Worker Javier Ramirez

We met with Santa Clara social workers Linda Castaldi, Sonny Burgan, Dennis Wyatt, Javier Ramirez, Deborah Ackerman-Dohse, Steve Rosenburg, Kathy Ashizawa, and Janet Atkins, and with Los Angeles social workers Geoff Stephen and Judith Walter. Union field staff Wren Bradley and Danny Ramos assisted with setting up the focus groups and took part in the discussion. This group suggests the project should make the following points:

Kids in the system are everywhere. One worker points out that there are seven foster kids in her caseload who are in her daughter’s class. “They [the system’s kids] are rubbing shoulders in the same classrooms and on the same soccer leagues as everyone else.” We are all in it together.

Abused kids can grow up to become healthy and well-functioning adults. Workers suggest telling the stories of the kids they have helped and how they have seen kids come into the system horribly traumatized from abuse and then heal and blossom through nurturing relationships.

Even perpetrators can become adequate parents. An understanding, therapeutic relationship, therapy services, and hard work can transform even predators. Workers recall how, by being objective and not having preconceived notions, they have changed the patterns of sexual predators and transformed them into adequate parents who could raise their kids free from their past patterns.

Many parents just need some basic services and economic help. Social workers help many people who are good parents, but have just fallen on hard times economically.

Timing is everything. Social workers need to take advantage of the window of opportunity when the client is ready and able to make a life change. But if social workers are overworked, they may not have the time to devote to that client at that moment. Social workers need the time to help, and it is harder to be empathetic and compassionate when rushed and frantic.Social worker holding a sleeping child in her lap looking very concerned

Best Practices: The child welfare workload study conducted by the California legislature under SB 2030 reported twice as many social workers are needed to perform all the tasks required of social workers. However, it is not enough to make the present system twice as big. Social work agencies are trying out many programs that integrate social work solutions with family and community resources. Social workers are trying team approaches with family, friends, neighbors, and the community helping parents in need. Other programs feature community workers that try to target at-risk youth and intervene before it is too late. But all these “best practices” require small caseloads.