An Interview with a Caseworker
In honor of Caseworker Appreciation Month, Project 1.27 reached out to Jaalah Neerhof of the Collaborative Foster Care Program of Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties to ask her about her work, her heart for children in foster care, and any advice she has for prospective and current foster parents.
Tell me about yourself. Where do you currently work, and what does your job entail?
I work at the Collaborative Foster Care Program with Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties as a Recruitment and Retention Caseworker. My role is to recruit new families for general foster care, representing all demographics to hopefully match the children in care. In addition to recruiting, my role includes retaining current certified families. This is done with developing community partners who help support our families in a number of ways including: sending gift cards to families when they are going through a difficult season or case; filling needs such as bunk beds, high chairs, and other unique requests; freezer meal outreach; hosting Kids Night Out to give foster parents a much-deserved break; foster closets or unlimited access to thrift store items for new placements; Wrap Around support to surround a foster family and help sustain them long term; Business engagement to either give discounts to certified families or host information meetings to their employees and the general public around them.
Why did you want to become a caseworker? What led you to this career?
I can’t say this was a career I sought out, but it found me. I have been in the Child Welfare field for over 16 years. I have developed a passion for the families who say yes to opening their homes to care for our most vulnerable children and youth within our communities. It is not an easy ask nor an easy task. And these families continue to show up for our kids in amazing ways. I am passionate about finding more support and resources to help lighten the lift and carry foster families through their difficult days. They deserve all the help in the world.
What are your favorite things about your profession? What are some of the most rewarding things about your profession?
One of the most rewarding things about my current role is hearing the positive stories when a child’s life is impacted for good, and they have positive and healthy examples in their lives! My biggest joy is showing appreciation toward our families, celebrating them, and finding new resources to help them. Statistics show the average foster family burns out and closes after the first year or after their first placement.
What are your least favorite things about your profession? What are the hardest things about your profession?
The hardest part of my profession is not having enough families to care for all the youth in foster care. Hearing about youth not having a home to lay their head or about a youth bouncing between homes as they don’t have a long-term placement option is disheartening. We need more families to foster youth in care.
What things do you want people to know about your profession?
We need you. We need more foster families. We need families to love and accept our youth. We need people to support families of origin and the journey back home for our children in out-of-home placement as the goal of child welfare. We need people to surround, support and love on the families that say yes to this call. There is a place for everyone to serve in some capacity.
What advice do you have for prospective foster families?
There will never be the ‘perfect’ time to say yes. Just like having children of your own, you are never fully prepared. If you are afraid it would be too difficult, we’d say you are the right person for the job. These kids deserve to be loved intensely.
What advice do you have for current foster families?
Be flexible. Be loving. Have grace, forgiveness, and endurance. Thank you for sacrificing and giving so much of yourself, your family, and your home to these children in need. Lean into your tribe. Lean into your certification worker. Use any and all resources offered your way, and ask for help. You're not alone.
How can foster families and community members support caseworkers?
There are so many ways to get involved! Call your local county or CPA, and ask what they need. Take charge and lead an outreach within your circle of family, friends, church, neighborhood, and community. Get others involved.
Tell me about the roundtables with Project 1.27 and Colorado Kids Belong. Why did they start, and what is the goal of the meetings?
The CFCP has been actively working with Project 1.27 and Colorado Kids Belong roundtable discussions since 2018. Through these meetings, we have seen several faith-based organizations join the mission to help spread the word about the need for more foster families and engage their communities in leading a Foster Care outreach. Our families have been on the receiving end of these programs, where they have helped support and sustain them.
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