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Tuesday, Apr 5, 2016

National Social Work Month Spotlight: Ciara and Michelle

When we think of the foster care system, we think of social workers. We know that they are positioned within the system to help children find safe homes and loving families, but for most of us, this is as far as the description goes. 

Social workers are the hard-working people who advocate for our children, learn to understand how they communicate, seek out each individual need, so that they feel safe and informed of the changes occurring in their lives. They ease transitions into and out of foster care and build bridges between biological and foster families.

For Berkshire Home Finder Ciara Tabor, working in her own home community has given her a sense of local pride and a close-knit perspective.

“I’m from Washington County, so when I interviewed at Berkshire, it really spoke to me that I would be working imagewith local families in a county that’s always been close to me.”

After finishing an internship with Child Protective Services, she was hired for her current job at Berkshire. Working as a board member on the Washington County Youth Bureau and social work classes in college made her realize that social work was where she needed to be. Through the daily emotional challenges of staying strong while supporting children with traumatic histories, Ciara knows that she chose the right path.

“A lot of people reach out to me for advice, and I tell them that social work is the most rewarding and challenging career, but you need to know yourself and what you can handle. Some days there are no rainbows. The question is, can you get through those days and still show up tomorrow?”

A big part of taking in stride the challenges of being a Foster and Adoptive Home Finder is leaning on her team for daily support. “Not only do I have established relationships with co-workers, but also other Berkshire staff, and the foster parents and children I work with.” She attributes these highly supportive relationships to being a part of the close-knit community that is Berkshire.

“I can walk into any home and the children know me by name. You’re a person and not a number. It’s that grassroots feeling that has kept me at Berkshire.”

Michelle Grover has been a social worker for nearly 20 years in her hometown of Binghamton, but it was her experiences both in and out of the field that led to where she is today. From working at a residential treatment center, two nursing homes, a children’s hospital, and a corrections officer at a jail, she learned exactly what she didn’t want to do, just as much as what she wanted.

imageWorking as a corrections officer in a jail, she advocated for inmates’ rights, which was almost never the most popular choice.

“One woman just wanted to wear some makeup to her court hearing, but the other corrections officers couldn’t see why she wanted to do it. She had a right and we should treat her like a human being.”

Through talking with and advocating for the inmates, they shared with her their thoughts and problems. “When you’re working closely with the inmates, you’re really in jail with them too. I realized that wanted to help people and not jail them.”

Now, working as a Family Specialist at Berkshire, Michelle uses empathy and understanding when working with children and families. Approaching families with openness and honesty has helped her to find common ground with the people she works with, and has taught her that learning goes both ways.

“I learn new things every day, from kids, from birth families—that’s a big part of why I enjoy working with families and I enjoy what I do.”

Michelle’s curiosity and craving to keep learning began as a child, raised by her grandmother. Growing up withoutimage her birth mother in the picture, she relied on her faith and her own inquisitive nature for answers.

“My grandmother used to call me scmuicinia, an Italian word for a snoop, someone who searches. I was always the kid that sought out injustice and wanted to help people.”

Though Michelle is at home in her position as a social worker, she believes there is always more to learn about herself and the work she does.

“I’ve become less reactive and more grounded the older I get, but I realize that I still have so much to learn.”

—Sydney Lester

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