We fostered our son for 15 months before we adopted him. During that time, I interacted with several different employees of the Child Protective Services (CPS). Home visits. Parent visits. Family meetings. Court appearances. I now think that they have one of the most challenging jobs around.
Even though it’s the objective of the department to help families and children, they often are viewed as the “enemy”; not only by biological families but also by foster families.
Burn out and turnover is high. Caseworkers are overloaded and underpaid. Yet, most do their jobs well with passion and compassion for struggling families and children.
I knew of Jennifer Burns through a good friend who adopted a son from foster care. Then we met Jennifer when we signed the adoptive papers for our son. I asked Jennifer for this interview, because I think it is important that we at least get a glimpse of foster care through the eyes of a CPS employee. The best way to care for struggling families and children isn’t antagonistic relationships, but instead ones of collaboration.
I invite you to read this interview with Jennifer Burns, Adoption Supervisor with CPS to see foster care through her eyes:
How long have you worked with CPS?
I have been with the Department for over 8 years. I started in February 2007, right after I graduated college.
What roles/positions have you had within CPS?
When I started in 2007, I was in the conservatorship unit. I worked there for 3 years. In February 2010, I transferred to the adoption unit as an adoption preparation worker. In September 2013, I was offered the job as Adoption supervisor and I have been there ever since
What compelled you to work with CPS?
Growing up I never knew CPS existed. It wasn’t until college when I was studying elementary education and the professor was talking about CPS and it got my attention. I felt I needed to fight for children since they are unable to do so themselves.
What is the role of CPS in regards to children and families?
We get involved with families and children’s lives to help them. We offer a number of different services to help them better parent their children. We educate them. We also help with substance abuse and drug abuse. Several rehabilitation programs exist across the state, and we have the resources to help families access them. We hope that with our intervention, that we can reunite families. That is always our main goal if it is in the children’s best interest.
What challenges do you face now or in the past?
I think one of the hardest things is to keep your emotions out of it. It is human nature to have an emotional reaction to different situations, and as a CPS worker it is best to stay strong and not show your reaction. There were many times when I cried after hours because parents didn’t have their children during the holidays or on their birthdays because they were in rehab battling addiction, or a teenager was at a treatment center stabilizing his behaviors because his parents gave him to the state because they could not handle it. And as a parent, those can be tough to see. Those struggles never go away, you just learn to cope with them and take it a day at a time.
What do you find rewarding about working with CPS?
When I started back in 2007 in Conservatorship, it was rewarding to see the children return home to their families after services were completed and lives were changed. To see a drug addict, overcome their addiction and get their children back in their home.
In adoptions, we have youth from all ages, races, genders who are free for adoption. While I love every adoption that occurs, it is very special to see a teenage youth, who has been in several different placements, who has behavior issues, finally find their forever family.
What do you want the general public to know about CPS?
I want people to know that we need foster parents. The system is full of foster youth that bounce from placement to placement and we need you to help provide them a short-term or even long-term home.
I want people to know that it is easy to adopt a youth and there are lots of children who need a forever family. These foster children did not ask to grow up in our system. If you want more information about becoming a foster or foster/adopt parent, please call me 512-864-6008.
How should you respond to the call set forth by Jennifer?
Even though not everyone is called to foster or adopt, many of you would if you understood the need and what is involved. However, if you don’t feel called to foster or adopt, contact me to find out other ways you can support those in the foster care system.