Student Story

Reuniting Families: Adriana Reyes '22MSW on the Need for Culturally Competent Services

Why did you choose to attend Simmons?

Admissions Counselor, Chelsey Farley, initially contacted me about the program. At the time, I had not heard of Simmons, but the more she informed me about it, the more I loved the program. During the informational sessions, I noticed that the online MSW program was an incredibly supportive community. To me, this was what sealed the deal. Having accessibility to a student success specialist, a mentor, the community groups, and my academic advisor provided reassurance that I would have someone to go to if I ever needed anything. I felt like I was a part of the community from the moment Chelsey reached out to me, which has continued to this day.

Tell us about the Online MSW program.

For someone who has always been in a classroom, the thought of an online program was intimidating. But it has been unlike anything I imagined. The faculty have been incredibly supportive, and my classes very enjoyable — I always look forward to my live sessions with my professors. One of my professors from my first semester has even written recommendations for me already.

I’m only halfway through my program — there is still so much to learn and experience. I feel very proud to be part of such a special program.

How is Simmons helping further your career?

Simmons has taught me that I can be a social worker at both a micro and macro level. I’m inspired to learn more about the need for racial justice and the many injustices in our society. Simmons has educated me on severe mental illnesses so that I can work to de-stigmatize those diagnoses even among mental health providers. Simmons has not only given me the knowledge to better understand the needs of our society, but it has also furthered my passion for being the voice of those who are too marginalized to make their voices heard.

Tell us about your current position as a Child Welfare Case Manager.

I’m currently in the reunification unit — I get to see the parents after completing their tasks and changing their behavior. Though it sounds like a happy and empowering time for the families, it’s also a vulnerable time for the children. Some are very distrusting of either the parent or the case manager. When they’re back in the home, it takes time for the children to get used to the idea that they won’t be removed again.

Unfortunately, we can never give the children this reassurance. Sometimes all we can do is provide comfort with the fact that the parents did the hard work and have changed their behavior. Parents are also vulnerable due to their lingering guilt — and it shows in their interactions with their children. During this time, a case manager needs to be highly vigilant of possible relapse symptoms, but we also must be empowering. Relapse becomes even riskier if we don’t believe the parent has changed. We reunify families when we’re comfortable enough to know the children will not be in danger anymore, and therefore, it is of dire importance that we believe in the parents throughout the entire process.

Sadly, some children need to be re-sheltered again, but I’m lucky that my team strives to keep families together as much as possible even if there is a relapse.

I feel very proud to be part of such a special program.

How did your agency adapt to the pandemic?

Interacting with the children in my cases is exactly what makes this job enjoyable. During the pandemic, my agency did an excellent job of implementing safety precautions, so we were only doing video visits unless we had safety concerns. I quickly realized that I missed being in person with the children, they don’t engage as much through video, surprisingly.

Recently, we began to do in-person visits with PPE, and I’m happy that I get to talk with them again. Conversations with children can be very eye-opening and heartwarming. Once you build the rapport, they can get vulnerable with you about their experiences. They can also be the sweetest. I love how excited they are to show you their homework or their paintings. It’s very difficult not to get attached to them, even as a case manager who only sees them once a month.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Aside from my time with the children, my favorite part of the job is safely closing a case to the parents’ custody. Hands down — it’s the best feeling. These parents have gone through the worst situations imaginable. Then my agency puts them through a hectic schedule of classes, and they don’t get to see their kids as often as they’d like. And of course, they have to live with the trauma of being separated from their children for a year or more.

Many of them have overcome addictions, which is one of the hardest struggles parents will accomplish. Several parents have their own traumas that led them to have a case with the Department of Children and Families or had traumas in the process of their case. My biggest joy is giving them that peace of mind that it’s over, that they did it, that they SHOULD be proud of themselves. But even if the parents aren’t proud of themselves, the judge, the lawyers, and I are all proud of them. That is the purpose that drives me and keeps me here three years later.

Tell us about the need for diverse and culturally competent services.

During my time in child welfare, one of the struggles I face with families who are not native English speakers is limited resources. These resources are even more limited than they already are for the general population. There are not many counselors who speak Spanish. Some of my clients have needed their counseling sessions translated with a person over the phone, or with other family members present, which is never advisable.

Thankfully, with the county’s growing population, some providers have already started making arrangements in their facilities to provide counseling in different languages. I think we should be talking more openly about this need. Many people with diverse backgrounds have the empathy and skills to become great counselors — let’s reach out to them and motivate them to pursue a degree. Let’s advertise the need. Let’s help them pay for school because as we know, masters programs are not cheap and there is limited financial aid.

Also, Florida is a state that chose not to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act — this creates a gap for our clients who are ineligible for Medicaid and don’t earn enough to have affordable health care. So many of our clients don’t have health insurance, which makes services, especially those treating substance use, unaffordable and therefore unattainable.

We need to open these avenues if we truly want to help our families be healthier, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. We need to advocate for better healthcare, we need to advocate for expanded Medicaid. A person who wants to overcome addiction should be able to get the services they need without worrying about whether they can afford a residential program or medically-assisted therapy. Let’s make this available to them.

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