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Three Lessons I’ve Learned Working in Child Welfare


I have been in the Residential field for 30 years, currently serving as one of the Residential Supervisors on Crossnore’s Avery campus. After all these years, the one thing that has been constant is this – I am never too old to learn. None of us are. I have always stressed this to new and veteran staff. 

Children have been my teachers for the past 30 years, and the children of Crossnore are no different. They have continued to teach me. I have learned many lessons, but there are three that have really stuck with me.

First, despite their trauma, children still laugh, dance, play and act silly. Their laughter and smile can ease my most stressful moments. And then I find myself being pulled right into their laughter and silliness. Often, my laughter and silliness can ease their stress too. Together, we find our most stressful moments slipping away. Never underestimate the value of laughter.

smiling african american girl with afro and pink dressSecondly, despite their trauma and adults who may have let them down, children want a sense of security and acceptance. I have learned that a hug, smile, or a kind word goes a long way in creating this. Despite our expectations, we must meet children right where they are. Our most important job is to let them know that they are, first and foremost, safe and accepted.

Thirdly, I have learned that some staff may have unresolved issues from their childhood and also need a place of safety. Many times, staff have chosen this field because they have experienced their own ACES and now want to do what they can to make a difference. They, too, need to feel accepted. Staff working in this field (and likely all staff everywhere) need a smile, a hug, and an understanding heart. 

Employees in the child welfare field often experience vicarious trauma, as well, dealing with the stories and brokenness of children and families day in and day out. It is important to come to them with an open ear and heart, just like we do for our children.

This kind of openness may be difficult, but it’s so important that people feel heard and respected. I try my best to set aside differences with my coworkers. I’ve learned to not over react, with both children and staff, when difficult circumstances arise.  And I’ve also learned one of the most difficult things – not to take things that are said, out of anger or hurt, personally. I won’t lie. I am still in the process of learning this, at times. We all are.

Brene Brown said it well. “If we want people to fully show up and to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people, we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.”

This applies both to children and adults. I want to continue to be open to learning. I always want to know the joy of being silly, the art of dancing to Baby Shark, laughing at a funny face, and feeling the love of a child’s arms. 

No matter your age, your career choice, or your life stage, continue to be open to learning the lessons people around you can teach you. It can change your life.