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Generations of Compassionate Social Workers Strengthen Cuyahoga County

by Kathie Sizemore , Program Officer 3, Communications, Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services
Blue, white, and black infographic

The month of March is nationally recognized as Social Work Month, and that moniker seems particularly fitting in light of current affairs. Concern over coronavirus has closed schools, halted gatherings, and even shuttered churches, bars and restaurants. While many people are staying inside or working from home, hundreds of Cuyahoga County social service workers are still on the job, making sure clients and the community get the help they need in this time of crisis.

Cuyahoga County’s Health and Human Services Department employs over 700 social service workers. Our compassionate professionals help County residents of all ages and backgrounds address challenges in the areas of aging, justice, family services, mental health, clinical work, substance abuse, employment assistance, advocacy, child welfare, disabilities, health care and personal welfare. Today, the importance of the work we do seems amplified. Children are home from school, employees suddenly find themselves without work, and older adults are at risk. Our employees are working to make sure families have food, cash, and healthcare benefits, while they check on vulnerable children and seniors to make sure they’re safe.

The legacy of social work in our County runs deep. The Department of Children and Family Services building is named after legendary social worker, Jane Edna Hunter. Hunter dedicated much of her life to social causes – particularly helping women and children of color. Knowing first-hand the challenges African-American women faced in finding work and housing in turn of the century Cleveland, Hunter founded The Phillis Wheatley Home in 1911 to offer shelter, assistance, and education for them. Over 100 years later, The Phillis Wheatley Association continues to serve hundreds of individuals each year with senior housing, skill building, youth enrichment and scholarship programs.

Today, strong social workers continue this legacy. Madeline Torres, a Program Officer 2 with the Division of Senior and Adults Services, is one such example. With 20 years in social work, she started in the County’s Job and Family Services division, then transitioned into case work assisting older adults with specialized Medicaid benefits. Torres has assisted thousands of residents over the years, and believes that in order to be a great social worker, you must genuinely care about the people you serve. “Be compassionate with your clients and treat them as if they were your own family members,” she says. “Treat them with respect and dignity and go above and beyond to assist them during their time of need.

two people holding a baby in a car seatExceptional social workers are recognized by the Department of Children and Family Services during an awards celebration every March. Last year, Jacqueline Brown *left) was recognized with the “Child Advocate Award.” When Brown is assigned a case, she picks it up without hesitation, no matter how complex or difficult. She uses all the resources at her disposal to gather information and develop a full understanding of the situation. Though her case load is demanding, she makes frequent visits, builds trust with families and helps find solutions that are in the best interest of all parties involved. Her positivity and commitment to the children trusted to her care make her an exemplary child advocate.

Torres believes that social work is the perfect field for people who have a passion for helping others. For those interested in pursuing this line of work, she suggests obtaining a degree in Social Work, and coupling it with background knowledge on human development, psychology and best practices. She feels this approach can help one gain a better understanding of why clients may be facing certain situations and helps to better assist them.

Brown’s advice for young and upcoming social workers is to stay open minded. She feels her former work as a prison guard helped her with this mindset. “Our clients oftentimes have gone through things that we as workers cannot even imagine,” she explains. “For some, this is the first time they’ve been offered help and they are scared. They just need someone to walk them through the process, talk with them, and support them.”

Brown also notes that it’s important to stay organized and put first things first. “Seeing your kids is your top priority,” she explains. “Then work with your families by introducing them to the many services we have to assist them, and engaging them in those that will put them on a path towards success.”

There will always be a need for strong, passionate social workers to further this legacy of service. We are grateful to the inspirational leaders of the past, thankful for the diligent workers who continue the fight today, and hopeful for the new cadre of impassioned individuals who will join our ranks and continue to strengthen those who need us most.

Realistic Job Preview

For more information on what it is like to be a Child Protection Specialist, one of our core social service positions, please visit the Realistic Job Preview site.