For my STEP project, I participated in the Friendship Mentoring Program through Franklin County Children Services, where I acted as a mentor for a child involved in the foster care system. Through the program, I developed a lasting relationship with my mentee by providing her with various fun and new experiences.
I chose this project in particular as a means to explore my desire to eventually work with Franklin County Children Services; it seemed the perfect opportunity to get experience with the organization and begin networking. Not only did the project prove to be transformational in the sense that it did provide me with a deeper understanding for what Franklin County Children Services does and a better chance to get more involved with the organization, but it also opened my eyes to the complexities of the foster system and the issues that youth involved in the system face throughout their lives.
I had always assumed that working with children services would be a taxing job that required much emotional resilience. However, after having completed my project (though my involvement with the youth still continues), I realize that I was still very oblivious to the challenges involved with working in children services. Although I believe that the my role with my mentee as a friend and role model played a great role in the strong emotions I felt, I learned that I will need more practice in the field of social work managing the difficult emotions before I put myself on the front line with children services. Though child welfare is an area I am still very passionate about, my passion became more focused on transforming the system to minimize the negative effects it can half on the youth and impacting the issues that cause so many children to be involved in the system, including drug abuse and poverty.
The girl I mentored was living with family, because both parents no longer were living. However, the impact of poverty and the age of her family members created living situations for her and her siblings that were neglectful. The impact of peer pressure, grief, and bullying also resulted in the children acting out. As a result, she was moved to a foster home, and a few more soon after, before finally ending up with family for what is hopefully a permanent living arrangement. All of the moving around, however, began only months after her and I began the mentorship program. Such unrest in her living situation revealed the difficulties involved in foster care, as there always seemed to be unanswered questions and confusion for all parties involved. I found myself personally always trying to get the latest information so I could keep in contact; such experiences revealed how much more difficult it must be for those social workers investigating the case, not only of just one family, but many families simultaneously. I quickly learned that children services was much more overwhelming than I had imagined
Not only did that experience show how overwhelming it must be for those social workers with children services, but it also revealed the complexities involved. My understanding of child welfare always came from the news stories that were seemingly very straightforward, where the abuse and neglect were obvious. However, I found myself conflicted when my mentee was removed from her family’s care, as from my perspective, though the living conditions were not ideal, they seemed to love the children unconditionally. It seemed to uncover a lot of gray area where the needs of the children need to be weighed to decide what is best for them. Having such a relationship, not only with my mentee, but also her family, made seeing the displacement of the children into the foster system very frustrating.
Finally, one of the biggest things I learned about myself through the experience was my dread of visiting strangers’ homes. Because she moved four times in the six months that was considered my project, I had to go into four different neighborhoods (some of which were not the safest) and meet four different families to keep in contact with my mentee. Some families were more welcoming and easier to contact than the others. However, not knowing what or who I was facing every time I called or visited to introduce myself to her new foster parents created much fear in me. I imagined having to visit new homes in different neighborhoods every day as a part of my job, with the potential of walking into dangerous situations when dealing with possible violent people or animals, and I quickly realized home visits were not something that I wished to do on a daily basis as a part of my job.
Although I wished that this experience would simply give me experience with foster care and child welfare to be more comfortable in entering into the field for my career, I gained both that and the insight that working directly in child welfare might not be my calling. Therefore, instead of applying to work with Franklin Country Children Services for my senior field placement, I decided, instead, to go into the area of residential mental health, where I will still get to help with some of the issues youth face when they spend time in the foster system without having to deal with the complexities, frustrations, and personal fears associated with working in child welfare directly. That being said, I hope that, by still working with children who are involved in the foster system, I will become more comfortable dealing with my emotions and fears, and eventually feel confident enough through my training as a social worker to spend some time working as a part of children services at some point in my career. Finally, my STEP project gave me a better understanding of the field of social work as a whole, and how emotionally difficult it will be. I will take the insights I have gained from this experience and focus on those as I move forward in my field placement to grow personally and professionally.