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January 2011 Caseworker of the Month
Carrie Ontiveros, an adoption worker for Aspiranet in Bakersfield, California, is our January Caseworker of the Month. Her warmth and attentiveness helped a couple entering the adoption process not only feel at ease with the personal nature of home studies, but turned it into a positive growing experience.
Learning about the home study process
Amy Gill, 55, who nominated Ontiveros for the award, said she “goes online” when she wants to understand how something works, educates herself, does her own research, and reads whatever she can find.
When Gill, a retired kindergarten teacher, and her husband Richard, 62, decided to take the next step and become adoptive parents after being foster parents for about five years, they realized there was a step before adopting, and that was the home study.
"I scared myself to death, to be honest," Amy Gill said after she read on the Internet what was involved with a home study.
"It was very intimidating, we were nervous," Gill said. "I think it's pretty common. There is this stranger coming into your home asking extremely personal things."
Completing the home study
The Gills had confidence it would work out. They had nothing to hide and were committed to adopting, but still wondered what would happen during the home study. Then along came Carrie Ontiveros, an adoption social worker for Aspiranet in Bakersfield, California.
"She was very real with us," Gill said, noting that Ontiveros was responsive and caring in all their interactions, completely at odds with a process she had read online as comparable to an inquisition.
"She has a friendly, warm, accepting, supportive way about her," Gill said. "Carrie is the real deal. That’s who she is."
In the end, the process of becoming adoptive parents had its difficult parts, and its intense parts, but overall was a positive experience for the Gills. It's an example that the process doesn't have to be painful, but can be rewarding.
"I learned a lot about myself talking with Carrie," Gill said. "Things I never sat down and discussed with anybody before."
Ontiveros gave the Gills credit for a smooth process and helping eight-year-olds Michael and Tony, twin boys whose birth mother had died, find permancy. Ontiveros conducted the home study and follow up interviews, and six months later—the state minimum—the adoption was finalized.
"We had a really good working relationship," Ontiveros said. "I'm just so honored they thought I did a good enough job to nominate me."
Supplying information brings positivity
For Ontiveros, 38, the desire to leave a positive mark on the world came long before she decided to pursue a career in social work. Part of that was the influence of counselor Pat Mellon at North High School in Bakersfiel who taught Ontiveros by example about how to make positive changes in the world.
"If I made even one one-hundredth of the influence Mr. Mellon had on me and other people, I would think I did a great job," Ontiveros said.
Just as Mellon spread positivity to Ontiveros and her fellow students, she wants to have those meaningful interactions with clients so they can go on and do more good in the world.
"If I can just provide them a little bit of information, and help them into the future, I have done something good," she said.
But Mellon's role in molding Ontiveros' perspective on service was in addition to her parents.
"They were wonderful role models of the importance of giving back to others," she said.
Ontiveros and her husband Jeff have two daughters, Avery, 6, and Emery, 2. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and her graduate degree from California State University Fresno. She worked for more than six years with Aspiranet in Bakersfield as a foster care worker and has been in her position as an adoption worker for 2.5 years.
Open communication brings success
What made the process a success, both Gill and Ontiveros said, was communication.
"She walked us through it and really explained it so that I felt as ease with it, I know Richard did too," Gill said. The Gills have since moved to Ohio for Richard's job with Amtrak.
In talking about past relationships, Gill said that for the first time she talked about aspects of her previous marriage she hadn't thought to talk about before. Both Amy and Richard had been married before, and between them had five children.
"It was actually self-revealing and in a very positive way," Amy Gill said, adding that how parents are dealt with can help or hurt the process of finding a permanent loving home for a child.
"She has a job, she needs to know who we are inside and out," Gill said of Ontiveros. "To me, if you don't feel comfortable with an adoption social worker, you are probably not going to be as open and honest with them."
Ontiveros said open communication is key, and commended the Gills for letting her know what this new adoptive family needed.
"We're not fortune tellers, we can't know unless they tell us," Ontiveros said, adding that bringing together families is her job. "That is all I want to do for them, make them feel supported and get them through the process and hope they learn a thing or two along the way."
And when she gets Christmas cards, photographs, or invitations to finalization ceremonies for the families she has worked with, she treasures them. That is one of the perks of the job. She said she was privileged to attend the finalization ceremony for the Gills.
"You can't top a job where you get to help a family go through the adoption process and attend a finalization," she said. "You can't top that."
The nomination letter
We adopted eight-year-old twin boys, Michael and Tony, in August of 2009. They came to us via Aspiranet of Bakersfield, California, a private agency with whom my husband Richard and I had been fostering for several years. Everyone at Aspiranet was absolutely fantastic and gave us wonderful support and attention, as well as very thorough and effective training. Our fantastic adoption worker was Carrie Ontiveros. No matter what question we had, or what problem we faced, she made sure that we had everything we needed to succeed as both foster and adoptive parents.
Amy and Richard Gill