By Monica Cannon, Foster Parent Engagement Specialist
What I stumbled upon in my random google search one afternoon while seeking a career change was a residential treatment facility in southern California where children who were victims of abuse and neglect lived — a group home, essentially. I reached out to them seeking a full-time child care worker position.
The job description listed that they would provide all of the necessary training to work with these young people, so I was anxious to get started. I began as a child care worker in one of the homes with six boys and my life would never be the same. Over the next 3 years with this organization, I served as a child care worker in both boys and girls homes, a supervisor for one of the boys homes, and the on-call supervisor for our entire campus during my needed shifts. I also assisted in creating a Youth Emancipation program for the 18 year olds who were “aging out” of foster care once they turned 18 years old.
I was faced with many challenges during my time there. I recognized these children had horrible things done to them and their behaviors were just outward reflections of that hurt and pain they had experienced. I had to quickly learn not to take things personally — when a child would call me a *itch, slam doors, make allegations, get suspended from school, or not speak to me, I still had to be there without judgment… with a listening ear, with fair consequences to their actions, and with a whole lot of grace.
There were days I would return home from my 5-day shift and would be so emotionally exhausted, I would ask myself “this is my heart- work, really?” My answer would always come back to a yes -– yes, it was and it still is. During that time my supervisor wanted me to consider returning to school to become a therapist.
Though I gave it some thought, I wasn’t sure that this was the route for me. I wasn’t sure that I had what was needed to commit to this type of work each and every day. I applaud the foster parents, therapists, social workers and all of those individuals that work directly with foster youth, their work is endless and emotionally taxing. They are the ones that serve selflessly, 24-7 on occasions to ensure the best interest of the child is at the core of their decisions as they have very tough decisions to make. At the time, I was not cut out for this as I already knew the emotional toll the work had taken on me.
When one of my mentors reached out, seeking my human resources experience for a position with a health system in the New England area, I took that as a sign to take a break from the foster youth work. I left the group home with a very heavy heart, but with an open invitation to return back whenever I was called to return. I was so grateful for the folks there and over the next 3 years I would go back and visit when I was in Southern California staying with my family.
During one of my holiday breaks, I even helped train new home parents in one of the girls’ homes. The children I served there will forever be in my heart and I still check in occasionally to hear about how some of them are doing, those that have remained in touch with staff from the agency. While some are doing better than others, I am grateful to have crossed paths with them and knowing the incredible impact they made in my life, brings a smile to my face.