A Georgia caseworker talks about the benefits and challenges of working in a small rural community
June 12, 2017
Jessica Garner has been working with children and families in Clayton, GA, a rural county in the Blue Ridge Mountains, for more than seven years.
In her current role of foster care case manager, Jessica wears many hats. She supports birth parents and foster parents, works with children in care, recruits foster parents, and finds families for children who are not able to return to their birth families.
A foster parent suggested that we feature Jessica as an Outstanding Caseworker. In her nomination form, she wrote:
“We have been fostering for four years and have meet several caseworkers, but none are as dedicated and caring as Jessica. She not only cares about her kids, she cares about all of the kids in our county. She helps other workers with their cases and is always friendly, even on the hard days.”
We talked with Jessica about her work.
What do you think impressed the foster mother who nominated you?
I’m all about doing whatever I can to support foster parents. They are the ones who are doing the hard work and are sacrificing the most. I typically get off at 5 p.m. They don’t. So I do what I can to make their lives easier. If that means taking laundry to the laundromat or picking up medication for one of their kids, that’s what I do.
You are supporting everyone—birth parents, foster parents, and children. Who supports you?
My team! There are about 10 of us. Even though we have designated roles, because we are a small team, we all jump in and do whatever is needed.
We have a phenomenal group—from our supervisor on down. I consider them family.
What are the hardest parts of your job?
When I’ve poured into a family—given them every tool and all of the support I can—and they are just not making the changes necessary to get their children back. If I am working with their kids, I need to tell them that their parents are not doing what they need to do. Those are sad, difficult conversations.
Another challenge is that because we live in a small community and have a limited amount of foster parents, we often have to place children outside of the county. You never want to take a kid who was born and raised in the county away from their family and friends. But sometimes we just don’t have another option.
What keeps you going?
Working with a great team and celebrating our successes. That could be seeing a family reunify, or a kid graduating from high school at 21.
Or sometimes it is watching a child finally find a forever home. Adoption days are huge days. Because we are such a small team, we’ve all gotten to know a child by the time they are adopted. On their adoption day, we pretty much shut down the office so that we can all celebrate.
It’s true that in this work, the bad days are bad. But the good days are really, really good.
Any final thoughts?
I definitely stand on my faith a lot. I believe that God has a purpose for everything. He put me here for a reason. These are my kids. I pray for them just like I do for my own.
Nominate an Outstanding Caseworker!
Do you know a caseworker who has gone above and beyond to help children in foster care find permanency? If so, nominate them as an Outstanding Caseworker to be featured on our website.
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