In celebration of National Social Work Month in March, Chloe Junge, a Senior Social Worker at CFR, discusses her experiences advocating for families in the child welfare system.
As a CFR Social Worker, I meet a new client for the first time on the day her case is filed in court, which is often a time of crisis for the family. The Family Court system can be confusing, so my first responsibility is to ensure that there is a meaningful exchange of information between all parties on a case. Along with my CFR attorney teammate, I help my client understand confusing legal processes so she can make the best decisions for her family.
The systems that are put in place to help families can sometimes seem daunting in their complexity—helping my clients to access and navigate these systems is central to what I do as a social worker. I communicate regularly not only with my clients and teammates, but with caseworkers from ACS and foster care agencies, attorneys for my clients’ children, with service providers around the city, and more. I help ensure that my client gets support for her unique circumstances so she can address the problems that brought her to Family Court in the first place and reunify her family as quickly as possible.
My everyday work varies from case to case. For example, some of my clients in Queens are immigrants working to obtain legal status for themselves and their children. One of my clients has legal status and recently sponsored his daughter to come to the US; but while she was in foster care, her passport expired. Working with the agency caseworker, I am now helping my client to obtain passport photos and apply for a new passport for his daughter so she can remain in the US legally.
Housing is often a serious challenge for poor families, especially in New York City. Recently, my client wanted to move in with her mother rather than remain at a shelter for domestic violence victims, although her placement there had been difficult to obtain. But my client had a difficult relationship with her ACS caseworker and was afraid that the caseworker would not understand her decision. My client invited me to a meeting with ACS to help her explain the reason she was leaving the shelter was because she was concerned for her children’s safety—the windows did not close, there was no heat, and the ceiling had started falling in. With my advocacy, the change in living arrangements was approved and the family can stay together in a safer environment.
Ensuring that my clients with children in foster care have sufficient visits is also a critical part of my job. Recently, a Family Court judge had approved unsupervised visits for my client and her five children, as she had been making great progress in her services and her therapist had recommended an increase in visitation. But these visits had not been implemented by the agency. The visits they had were very short and my client was concerned that they did not allow her children to spend enough time together. I contacted the caseworker to reiterate the judge’s decision and to ask that visits happen more frequently and for longer periods of time. I also emailed the children’s attorney so she was aware of the situation. With all parties better informed, the agency is working to increase visits to allow the family more time together in order to better prepare for reunification.
Working with parents as they struggle to overcome these crises can be challenging. But it is rewarding to witness the transformation that many clients make over the course of our work together. As a social worker, I often ask myself, “Is my work making a difference?” Despite the tremendously difficult challenges that poor parents encounter trying to raise their children, it is clear that my work at CFR does make a difference.