By Christy Lawton
Greetings fellow Alaskans. As many of you likely are aware, this month and the next several mark significant months to celebrate and give thanks to those who dedicate themselves to the field of child welfare and to serving children and families in need.
This month, March, is National Social Worker Month around the country. Being a social worker by education myself, I salute my colleagues one and all. However, at OCS, we celebrate this month in a bit broader fashion and have coined March as Child Welfare Professional Month.
OCS comprises a vast array of professionals who all choose to work in child welfare and are dedicated to achieving our vision of safe children, strong families. Everyone — from our stellar administrative staff, to the front-line staff serving families directly, to everyone in our state office making sure we have the tools to do the job — is a child welfare professional in our mind. People who choose to work and serve those in need of a hand do so because their values drive them to do that, certainly not for the fame and fortune.
Child Welfare workers are a unique breed. I, for one, never envisioned that I would ultimately find the work so compelling that I can’t imagine ever leaving. Not everyone has the same experience; in fact, most don’t. But, whether you spend one year or 20 doing your best to strengthen families while keeping their kids safe, you are uniquely special and deserve thanks.
With the utmost sincerity to all the OCS staff as well as our many colleagues who work alongside us providing support, advocacy, legal services, and treatment, I thank you a thousand times over!
To learn more about events, history, and other related information, click on the link below. Additionally, to get a tiny snapshot of what being a child welfare worker in Alaska looks like, please enjoy our recruitment video filmed in several beautiful locations as workers take you through their daily tasks.
Coming next during the month of April we will recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month as a way to raise awareness about abuse and to educate others about how we can all do our part to prevent it from ever occurring. The OCS has many wonderful programs geared toward preventing and supporting families that may be at risk of maltreatment. Many of these efforts are designed to build a network of support, resources, and knowledge for families to turn to when having difficulty with challenges. Those challenges may be related to parenting special needs children or addressing behavioral issues that could put their childcare at risk of ending. Early intervention may help identify developmental or other emotional challenges that may, without support, become greater over time.
Knowing when and how to make a report of suspected maltreatment is critical to the agency’s ability to possibly intervene before a tragedy strikes. Those who report their suspicions aren’t expected to know with certainty or have evidence to prove their fears. That is the role of OCS staff, and we always encourage people to err on the side of caution and make a report whenever there is a concern.
For information about our prevention programs and to test your understanding about what being a mandated reporter means, click on the links below.
Lastly in May, which is deemed National Foster Care Month, we will pay homage to our resource families (aka foster parents). Resource families can be licensed or unlicensed relatives who step up to care for their kin during difficult times. They can also be individuals who are licensed to care for children in need who are not related to them; like our staff, these individuals have a desire to give back and do their part to help others. For those children, entering into a stranger’s home and culture can be very scary. Our resource families do an amazing job of providing a safe, supporting and loving place to heal and grow while hoping that the family will be reunified after services are successfully established.
Having been a “relative” resource myself a few years back, I understand the commitment, patience, and effort it takes to work with a system that is complex. It takes extraordinary efforts to try to show love to children who are so hurt and conflicted that they may not return your affection or may see you as the person keeping them from their family. Being a resource family is a tough job, but also one that brings many rewards. The role of the resource family is critical to ensuring the child welfare system has appropriate and available homes to provide stability, safety and love in times of crisis for some of our most vulnerable children.
Our resource parents are truly unsung heroes and don’t often receive the thanks or appreciation they deserve. Please take a moment during the month of May or any time of the year to tell them how much you appreciate them, admire them, and are thankful for their willingness to care 24/7, 365 days a year. Whether you send a handwritten note, email or make a personal call, it often will mean more than you than know.
Thank you one and all for your care and commitment to the children of Alaska — we couldn’t do it without you. To learn more about becoming a foster parent or about how you can get involved in other ways to support them or those in the child welfare system, check out the links provided below.