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A Realistic Job Preview (RJP)

Child welfare work is challenging both emotionally and physically and it is important to have a realistic understanding of what the job looks like before committing yourself to the children and families you will be serving. The Realistic Job Preview (RJP) was created to provide individuals interested in the field of child welfare with an accurate understanding of what the work actually entails. The goal of the RJP is to balance the challenges with the fulfilling aspects of the job. While this tool was designed for Colorado child welfare agencies, most of the experiences and feelings depicted in the film are universal.

The following RJP features twenty-four minutes of interviews with Colorado child welfare workers, supervisors, and family court judges, who talk openly about both the challenges and the rewards of their work, providing a balanced and realistic overview of day-to-day experience in a variety of public child welfare positions. We recommend watching the entire video because many of the thoughts, emotions, and responsibilities are applicable to the positions that Children’s Corps places its members in. However, please note that the sections of the video about Intake Casework (minutes 5:22-9:58) and Rural Casework (minutes 17:43-20:19) are less relevant to the work Corps members do. Corps members work in positions more similar to Ongoing Caseworker.

While no one can fully understand the profession of public child welfare before actually working in the field, the RJP addresses many unrealistic career expectations a prospective job applicant might have.

Below are FAQs emanating from the video above

Q. How often will I have to respond to emergencies like I saw in this RJP?
Emergencies and/or crisis can come up in this work. Everyone coming into child welfare work must be prepared to respond to emergency situations. Each individual agency will have specific procedures to follow in situations like this and a supervisor should always be notified or involved to assist.

Q. How will I know whether kids are safe or not?
You will receive specialized training to be able to assess whether children are at risk of abuse or neglect. You will learn how to interview the child, family members, and others, gather relevant information, and complete a safety plan. You will work with your supervisor and others to make a decision about the best plan for the children.

Q. Will I have to remove children from their home or foster home?
When a parent or a foster parent is unable to keep a child safe, it is very serious and a possible cause for removal. Corps members are not placed in positions that make this initial removal, and instead work with the family after this situation occurs. However, sometimes a foster home may not be safe for a child and you will need assist in a removal and support the child. These kinds of removals don’t happen very often and you are never alone in making that decision.

Q. Are the police involved in every removal situation?
In child protective cases, police are often involved, due to the unpredictability of some situations, especially when they happen at night. Corps members are not placed in child protective units.

Q. How do workers handle seeing abused children?
Most of the children that come to the attention of the child welfare system have been neglected (78% nationally) by their parent(s). However, there are some cases that involve child abuse (22% nationally). Corps members will not be working in positions what do the initial investigation of child abuse or neglect nor will they be doing the initial removal of children who are unsafe in the home. Nevertheless, it is not easy to work with children (and often parents too) who have been victims of abuse or neglect or who have experienced other sorts of trauma. It is important for child welfare workers to have outlets (co-workers, supervisor, friends, family, fellow Corps members, therapists, etc.) that can offer support and a listening ear to some of the hardships of the job. It’s also important for workers to separate themselves from the work when necessary and practice self-care.

Q. How often will I have to work overtime or stay late at night?
It depends on the county, the agency, the position you are placed in, and your supervisor. What you need to know is that casework is not a 9-5 job and there will be times when you will need to work late, for such reasons as: catching up on your paperwork, visiting working families during their off hours, preparing for court, unexpected emergencies and coordinating parent child visits after school and/or work. This being said, some agencies have special on-call workers who handle situations in the evenings and on weekends and/or agencies offer schedule flexibility so if you need to stay late one night, you might be allowed to come in late the next day or sometimes event get the day off.

Q. How often will I have to go to court?
If your placement is in foster care, going to family court is a regular part of the work. Some cases require numerous court appearances but in general you would be going to court every six months on your cases.

Q. Will I have to deal with angry people like that very often?
Because of the intense circumstances that child welfare clients face, it is not unusual to have to deal with difficult emotions of all types. Some of your training will help you learn how to de-escalate situations, work with children, youth and families who are under a lot of stress, and not take it personally.

Q. How much time will I spend on paperwork?
Everything about a case must be documented in order to ensure continuity and quality of care. Much of your time—more than you’ll like—will be devoted to documentation and paperwork. Comprehensive documentation is essential to the wellbeing of the child and the family.

Q. How many families will I work with?
The number will depend on your specific position, and the number of vacancies in the agency. Caseload standards are from 10–18 families for different positions.

Q. Is the work primarily with families? I thought it would be with children.
Child welfare workers strive to increase the capacity of each family to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children. The amount of time spent with parents or children and youth will vary according to your position.

Q. How often will I make home visits?
Depending on your placement and the practice model you are following you can expect to make home visits regularly (anywhere from twice a week to twice a month). Your training will prepare you to be effective on these visits.

Q. Is safety an issue?
When you work with people who are in difficult and emotional situations, they may act in ways that are scary or threatening. Your agency will have policies and procedures to support safe practice, and you will receive training in ways to recognize, prevent, and intervene with threatening situations. If you ever have a concern about your safety when going on a home visit you need to communicate this with your supervisor and request for a colleague or your supervisor to accompany you.

Q. How will I know when I’ve made a good decision about a child or family?
Decision-making in child welfare is not done in isolation. You will learn to involve the family in the decision-making process. You will also review your work with your supervisor and others on your team.

Q. Do I need a license or certification to do this work? Is there an educational program for learning how to do child welfare work?
You do not need a social work license to work in child welfare in New York nor does the state require that you have pre-service training before you have direct responsibility for clients. If you are selected into the Children’s Corps program you will receive pre-service training at no cost to you, as well as ongoing on topics relevant to your work.

Q. What kinds of services and resources can I offer families?
There are services available to clients to help them improve their parenting, meet medical and mental health needs, provide for basic needs, and obtain child care and employment. Part of working with families also means helping them to connect with their own natural support systems, such as extended family, friends, and faith community.

Q. How do families improve?
Families improve by having access to the resources they need and the willingness to use those resources. Your skills, consistency and supportive relationship with a family will help this occur.