Harnessing Courage in Conversations to Keep Kids Safe

“ She said that the only thing that made this thing (a child being removed from their home) even a teenier bit more bearable was that she saw tears in the social worker’s eyes” – Dr. Nicki Weld describing compassionate courage.

Join host Kate Cunningham as she talks with Dr. Nicki Weld about the concept of courage, and the importance of caregivers and child welfare workers being authoritative and compassionate in their relationships with children and families.

Guest Info:

Dr Nicki Weld is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland and Director of CNZN ltd, providing training and supervision. She has worked for many years in a variety of social service and child protection roles, including professional leader for social work in general health, senior social worker, supervisor, senior child protection trainer, and as a national social work advisor within the New Zealand government and non-government sector. She is the author and co-author of six books, and the primary creator of the Three Houses tool used internationally.

Host Info:

Kate Cunningham, MS is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership .  Kate is a licensed School Counselor who started her career in child welfare in 2005 as a Family Engagement Specialist with Easter Seals.  In this role, she focused on working with kin and adoptive families to support the youth in their care, as well as, facilitating Family Safety Planning Meetings and coordinating Family Group Conferences.  She also supervised Family Time Coaches before becoming an assessment and investigation worker in the Burlington DCF office.  This DCF role was not long lived though, because when the opportunity arose to support the DCF workforce and promote growing their practices, Kate took it and joined the Child Welfare Training Partnership (CWTP) in 2012.  In her ten years at CWTP Kate has worked with and supported countless FSD workers and leaders and has training expertise in all phases of child welfare work and workforce support.


Cassie Gillespie (00:02):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to Welcome to The Field, a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont.

Cassie Gillespie (00:12):

Welcome to the Field is designed for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. However, this season we will be talking all about uncomfortable conversations and each episode will touch on a different type of uncomfortable conversation. So even if you’re not working or caregiving in the child welfare field, this season might be for you. Today we have a very special guest for you, Dr. Nicki Weld, from the University of Auckland all the way from New Zealand. Join Vermont CWTP host Kate Cunningham as she talks with Nicki about her doctoral research on the concept of courage and its importance in child welfare systems. Here we go.

Kate Cunningham (00:51):

Thanks Cassie. So this is Kate Cunningham and I am sitting here with Nicki. Well, we’re not actually sitting together, we are on separate sides of the planet, I think right now. I’m sitting here, it’s 4:00 PM on Thursday afternoon and Nicki, what time is it over in New Zealand?

Nicki Weld (01:11):

We are now 11 minutes past eight on Friday morning, so we’re in the future.

Kate Cunningham (01:15):

Yeah, Nicki is a little bit ahead of us and she is bright eyed and Bushy tailed and we’re so thankful that she actually got up and is participating in this podcast. One of the things I just wanna share cuz my introduction to Nicki was back in 2013. Family services had Nicki come over to do training on transformational supervision in human services. And in her presentation and discussion she had one slide on professional dangerousness and kind of ran through it and said, well, you all know what this is. And everybody in the audience, all managers and supervisors was like, no, we don’t know what it is. Please tell us more. And so Nicki started a whole journey with us for quite a few more years. We would, would bring Nicki back over on her trips to the US. We’d have her come and, and do trainings on professional dangerousness and dangerous dynamics.

Kate Cunningham (02:12):

And I know we’ve used her, she has the book Transformational Supervision and Human Services. We’ve used that. And more recently, I, in stalking, Nicki started reading through her her dissertation on courage and how it shows up. And so in thinking about uncomfortable conversations, courage is certainly a necessary part of, of the conversations that child welfare workers have, supervisors have with workers, workers have with caregivers, caregivers have with the youth that are with them and the children. And so courage just kind of shows up. It feels like all over Nicki. I’d love to hear kind of your, your journey to get to this kind of discovery of courage and research on it.

Nicki Weld (02:58):

Oh, thanks Kate. And thank you to the University of Vermont for this opportunity and yeah, and, and warm greetings from Auckland New Zealand. So yeah, the journey to explore and courage actually began in New York. So this is a really lovely kind of connection between our two countries. And I was really fortunate in 2011 to be part of a, a health leadership health social work leadership program that was based at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. And, and this happened to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the World Trade Center bombings. So that was really, you know, that was really present for people and, and particularly for me and being a visitor to, to New York and, and I went to the, the New York Police and fire museums and they both had very powerful exhibits around the World Trade Center bombings and how that impacted their personnel.

Nicki Weld (03:53):

And, and I was really struck by the, the enormity really, but also the stories. And I was left really thinking how, what does it take to walk into a building that is essentially on fire? And, you know, and the, the shockingness of that and that these first responders did that. So that was, that was kind of the beginning really of thinking about courage and, and what is that? And I was also doing a a research kind of course with Professor Irwin Epstein at, at Mount Sinai as part of this program. And, and he was very encouraging about, You should do research, you should do research. And I thought, Oh, well, yeah, maybe, maybe I could. And, and we had also back in New Zealand, we had tragically had the Canterbury Earthquakes, which unfortunately we had a loss of life of 185 people.

Nicki Weld (04:49):

And that Christchurch is where i, I was born and where I grew up. And, and again, I was really struck by how people responded to those events and more so how people remained in a region that was impacted by thousands upon thousands of aftershocks. And so this, yeah, this kind of, those two events actually led me into thinking, what is courage? And, and when I started exploring that, I discovered there wasn’t a universal definition, which was kind of surprising and, you know, sort of this word that we all use, but perhaps we hadn’t really said, what is it? And so that lead me into my doctoral study and I undertook that study with older adults in the Canterbury region. And I chose that demographic actually because they are very under-researched. And the stories of our older people are often missed.

Kate Cunningham (05:45):


Nicki Weld (05:45):

And they often in disasters are kind of seen more in a, a victim light and that we, we need to rush in and look after them.

Nicki Weld (05:53):

But in my research I discovered that these people had profound wisdom and and in fact just so underutilized and, and I’m really struck by we should spend more time with our older people who have been on these journeys. So that, that led to the, the dis the, the doctoral study into courage. And, and I am one of those study nerds or research nerds who basically loved their doctoral study . So yeah, I wasn’t, I just loved it. It was something I just become really passionate about and yeah. And so then weaving that thinking into kind of the child welfare and the child family space and, and that’s, that’s the hip, that’s how we got to there.

Kate Cunningham (06:40):

Ah, that’s lovely. And I, I agree. I think even when I think about, you know, we do this, this podcast and I know a lot of child welfare workers and people in the workforce listen to it as do caregivers, and just even bringing it to that, I think that there’s so much wisdom in, in when we look at grandparents and we have kin caregivers and grandparents very often and just appreciating that they do come with a lot of knowledge and wisdom and, and their own sense of, of courage.

Nicki Weld (07:08):

Mm. Very much.

Kate Cunningham (07:09):

Yeah. And I’m gonna read you one line from your dissertation, if you don’t mind. I’m not gonna get it more into it. There are others that I was kinda like, Oh, this is great. But it’s a super simple line. It just says, “ultimately understanding courage provides insight into an appreciation of human experience”. And when I think of, you know, the child welfare, the whole system, the workforce, the caregivers we are all about, you know, child safety, child wellbeing, permanency and, and law abidance here in Vermont. And it’s all about the human experience.

Nicki Weld (07:43):

Yeah, I agree. I think working in that space is a, a space of profound learning. I’ve always said in, in that area, we are exposed to the very best and the very worst in times of, of human behavior and, and how we understand that now, how we respond to that is just so critical. But I think I really want to acknowledge that in that space, it does take a lot of courage. I, it’s, if we think about courage being a response to an adverse situation, and if we think about adversity is generally characterized by an actual or perceived threat to our physical psychological safety. And and I think some of the situations that workers are heading into and some of the conversations that have to be had around child safety and the care of children, that they can feel quite scary. And, you know, and we need courage for these situations where we have this sense of fear or vulnerability or doubt and uncertainty.

Nicki Weld (08:43):

And, and I know when I started in my career, you know, being faced with situations where I literally had no idea what I was going to do. And so that sense of vulnerability and doubt and uncertainty and fear all kind of rushed in together. And, and yet I still had to go and do the work. And for me, that that is, you know, we often talk about, kind of think about courage as kind of this something reserved for heroic acts on the battlefield. That’s where there’s been a lot of literature. But in my research we talked about everyday courage and quiet courage. And I think walking into these situations often on a, on the, on a daily level where we do have those strong feelings, then we do require courage. And that’s what enables us to face into those experiences. So it really is something that we, we should embrace and, and really talk about and, and claim in these spaces.

Kate Cunningham (09:39):

Absolutely. And I appreciate that you said that it is, we kind of look at it when, when you were talking about the burning building and, and an earthquake, and yet I do think of, of both child welfare workers and caregivers who, who oftentimes deal with adverse situations almost daily, Right. Whether that’s having to face a conversation with a parent to, for a removal of a child, or, you know, just meeting them for the first time and explaining why we’re there and or we have youth who, you know, who may get dysregulated, You know, we have for the caregiver’s home, sometimes we get calls about, you know, the house is being destroyed, the child’s out of control, they’re afraid. As well as, you know, even just very specifically in our workforce, you know, we know in 2015 we had one of our colleagues Lara Sobel was, was murdered by a parent here outside of her office. And people still show up, they showed up after and they still show up every day, even though faced with, with situations that are scary where there is fear and vulnerability and and doubt, like you’d said.

Nicki Weld (10:49):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s a hugely tragic event to have for your workforce and to have experience there. It’s really sad.

Kate Cunningham (10:59):

Yeah, and again, yeah, people, people show up for work every day, even with, with that fear. So it’s, Yeah,

Nicki Weld (11:07):

Absolutely. Yeah. And I, and I think that probably really surfaces almost the kind of the process of courage. I think one of the key aspects of that is that we, in order to face into and walk into adversity, we often connect to very core motivational sources within ourselves. And, and I think it is those things that help people walk through the, through the door each day that and the more that we articulate why I’m here, what drives me, what’s important to me, those sources of motivation, they really are the, the anchoring in the, the platform for which we can then take the action that we need to take. And courage is all about facing into and taking action, whatever that might be. So I really want to acknowledge and help people say, Well, what is it that carries me through the door each day? Because that is the anchoring place often in this work.

Kate Cunningham (12:07):

Yeah! It even brings me to the kind of the understanding from both the workforce and I guess caregivers as well, that there is also that understanding that the courage that it takes a parent to walk through the door of an office into a meeting. So it kind of really hits on all areas of the work from all perspectives that it really takes that need to kind of harness that courage to kind of, to push through. And I like that idea of that the motivation. Right. And it’s typically like an internal motivation, I’m guessing, is what you found?

Nicki Weld (12:39):

Yeah, very much. It is very personal and it’s, I mean, courage is quite subjective in that what I might need courage for may not be what you need courage for. Okay. So what could be adverse for me may not be for another person and vice versa. And so it is kind of quite subjective, and we should never assume around that. We should never assume perhaps a supervisor that, oh, well, that looks pretty straightforward and the worker will happen, you know, we’ll just be able to go do that. We need to be asking the question about how are you feeling about that? And is that generating any of those feelings of vulnerability and fear and doubt and uncertainty? And, and how can we, how can we sit together and work through that and, you know, perhaps rehearse or practice, you know, what needs to be said or how this will go. And so we should never assume that it is very particular to individuals. And, and I guess this brings me to a wonderful message that was shared by Joan Halifax, who’s a Buddhist teacher and her work around palliative care. And it’s a quote that she shares from Buddhist thinking that I keep on coming back to and back to and back to, which is about having a strong back and a soft front.

Nicki Weld (13:54):

And I, for me, this starts to bring in the notion of compassion as well, which we need in this work. And I really love that image because she, you know, she talks about the notion of the spine in the back, and that is both strong, but it’s also flexible. And then the, the soft front is the kind of the open heart. It’s about having something that people can connect to about us. And I like the fact that we’ve got this strength behind us that’s keeping us firm and anchored and steady to hold us in these situations and in these really difficult or challenging conversations. But we, we must, in order to do that, we must bring this, this soft front, the relational component of ourselves into this space. And yeah. And so that for me has really links back to Professor Eileen Monroe commentary around that the most effective workers in this space are workers who are compassionate and authoritative.

Nicki Weld (14:50):

And I was really struck about, I mean, she was saying this back in sort of the early two thousands and, and then again in the, the review of the UK charter protection system. And, and I, so I’ve been really inviting people to think, what does that look like? You know, how do we see that combination of authoritative and compassionate? And for me, authoritative is often is calling on courage. So courage is kind of sitting behind authoritative, if that makes sense. So those kind of two concepts, you know, the strong back, the soft front, the, the authoritative and the compassionate. And for me, I just go, okay, so this is this, this very much is about courage and compassion. Courage is our stronger, compassion is our soft front.

Kate Cunningham (15:33):

I love that image. And I know Brene Brown talks about that in her, I think braving the wilderness book that she wrote. And I think of it as a balance, but actually I’m liking the image kind of, of the, kind of the spine and the belly, the soft belly in the front, more than, more so than a balance. It’s, that’s really nice. And I, I think it reminds me also of when we think of that, if you lack the courage to kind of what you said about courage and how it kind of helps with the authority, the protective authority that, that workers need. If you’re not feeling that courage and you’re not able to pull from that and you’re coming in from a, a place of fear or doubt, oftentimes I think that is where we see authority misused or used in a, in a little bit of a harsh way that doesn’t always work.

Nicki Weld (16:20):

Yeah, I agree. I think when we become caught in those places, then we are very naturally activating our stress response. And that’s going to take us into, its, you know, it’s it’s journey of fight it, flight it or, you know, it freeze. And, and I think when we see workers caught there, we can see fight coming through as very authoritarian, and that loses relationship. Or we see workers engaging into flight. We, they avoid or don’t go into those difficult or hard spaces and places, and then we see an under responsiveness and then we see ourselves heading into the place of professional dangerousness. And I think, you know, as you would know, Kate, that what we see in professional dangerousness, there’s often quite a subtle or even quite unconscious stepping over from the protective intent for the child, most vulnerable person into a protective intent for self.

Nicki Weld (17:19):

And I would suggest when we’re in the protective intent for self, that our stress arousal system has been kicked into gear. So the mastery of being able to hold ourselves when there is high emotion is quite a skill. I think it’s, it’s really is something that, you know, very effective workers do well. And it’s not about, I’m not allowed to have any emotions. You can certainly have those later, but it’s the ability to remain calm and logical and, you know, and, and kind of, I always kind of like kind of get really steady, really persevere to that moment and hold it there. And that for me is courage. That really is, it’s, it’s demonstrated through those sorts of behaviors. And there the word logical and calm really came through my research. It’s the ability you have to emotionally regulate, you have to be able to manage those emotions really well, otherwise you’re going to potentially slide off into those other spaces.

Kate Cunningham (18:24):

Yeah, I think of like the critical thinking skills that that workers need when, when they are out in the field and they’re, they’re meeting with families and having discussions. If you are in that emotional space, it’s really hard to critically think and, and to make decisions that are are logical.

Nicki Weld (18:40):

Yeah. Very much. I mean, you’re just literally in the wrong part of your brain. Yeah. You’ll be, you know, kind of not quite in your higher cortex, you’ll be caught a wee bit in your limbic. And while it’s really understandable, it does affect our decision making and it does affect our ability to think clearly in those spaces. So yeah, courage really does require us to kind of be able to work with and manage our emotions. It’s just compassion. I think when we are confronted, when we are, we find behavior that come across behavior that’s really confronting and even potentially disturbing or we, we might find it just really difficult to be around. There’s a lot of emotional regulation that we have to do in that space to be able to, to kind of resist the urge to just pull right away.

Kate Cunningham (19:23):

mm-hmm. .

Nicki Weld (19:23):

And in fact, you know, compassion invites us to lean in and yeah, as does courage, but I just wanna acknowledge that that can be quite hard. You know, we are human beings. We get faced with behavior that can be highly distressing for everybody. And so, you know, I want to acknowledge that we have to work hard emotionally in these spaces.

Kate Cunningham (19:42):

It makes me think of that need to pull in that piece of compassion again from the workforce and the caregivers when we are having conversations with, with parents when we’re having conversations with youth. Because it becomes easy when we kind of get into that protective role and the heroic role of coming in and saving children from their parents to really seeing the parent. And this actually comes from you, so I’m gonna quote you of just saying, you know, not, you know, why did you do that? But what happened to you? Right?

Nicki Weld (20:18):

Mm-hmm. .

Kate Cunningham (20:18):

And I think that’s where you can pull the compassion and understand that when we’re trying to protect children in situations that are dangerous, it’s not about being punitive to the caregivers who are making it dangerous or the parents were making it dangerous, but it’s about finding that compassion to meet with them and to see them.

Nicki Weld (20:36):

Very much. And I think we are being so blessed with the research that’s come out around trauma, particularly relational trauma over the last 20 odd years, and that we are starting to really recognize that a lot of behavior that we see is, is pain based. You know, and it’s, it’s a form of managing or coping that, you know, has sadly become a little maladaptive and, and you know, and harmful potentially. And if we look at it through that lens, I think that has just been so enormously helpful that we could sit there with that wondering, how’s it come to this? How’s this behavior come to be? And I think the invitation that people can, that we invite our adults, we invite our parents to, we find space that they can begin to tell us their story and that they may never have done that. And I think that’s a very, Yeah, it’s a very it’s, for me, it’s almost like a very delicate and fragile space where we, we open the door for that story to be, to have to be shared.

Nicki Weld (21:35):

And in the, the delicate holding of that, because it may be the first time and that this could actually be, I believe that when we start to share the narrative of a trauma history, it is the first step in healing from that. So this is a very powerful place and moment in time if we can just suspend and hold our, what we have to do in this moment and invite people to tell us the story of their journey. And you know, I think one of the tragedies of child abuse and neglect is that it can unfortunately teach cruelty. And so it’s one of those awful things that comes from that. If people are exposed to that, then unfortunately you learn how to do it because that’s what you’re immersed in. And so when we see adults who may be behaving in ways that are abusive in their behavior, we’ve got to think, where did that come from?

Kate Cunningham (22:31):

Mm-Hmm. .

Nicki Weld (22:32):

Because for a majority of people, it’s learned. Yeah. So it’s come from experiencing that. And I, and I, I know it sounds so simplistic to say, but it, yeah. It’s a powerful moment when we invite people to talk about their childhoods with us.

Kate Cunningham (22:47):

It is. And I think kind of coming back to this balance of opening the space to come in with a compassion, allow for the stories, allow for the understanding, right? Of seeing the parent and holding your line, right? I think is super important as well.

Nicki Weld (23:07):

Absolutely. I mean, throughout all this, you must be holding and mind the child.

Kate Cunningham (23:12):

Mm-Hmm. .

Nicki Weld (23:12):

And Professor Harry Ferguson talks about that, you know, holding the child in mind and, and really encourages that, that we make a very conscious engagement with the child and baby, infant, you know, that we, we really look into their eyes that we get down on the floor, whatever we need to do to bring them to mind. And that becomes part of our anchoring in these very difficult conversations that we have brought them to mind. Cuz again, sometimes it’s a self protective place. We don’t do that, and they’re not in our mind. And that’s when, again, we can get very caught in providing a very sort of tick the box response, if that makes sense.

Kate Cunningham (23:53):

Absolutely. And it just makes me think, again, of the dangerous dynamics of sometimes we can get caught up right. In parents’ chaos and their stories and.

Nicki Weld (24:03):


Kate Cunningham (24:03):

Focus on that versus why are we here and what about the child?

Nicki Weld (24:09):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We’ve got to have them in mind and, and again, be, be very practiced at being able to say what we’re worried about and why. And again, as Eileen Monroe, just always linking that to, to child development, to what children need to be, be safe, to be cared for, to be protected, what we need to see happening. And, and also being compassionate about that, that people may literally not know that, that if they haven’t experienced that in their own upbringing, they won’t know what that looks like. And so again, those conversations that, that really talk about the evidence of what will be happening as opposed to the absence. So the, the presence of this is, this is what will be happening, this is what we’d see, rather than just saying, Well, you can’t do that anymore, or whatever, . So yeah, I think, I think we have to realize that people may not know.

Kate Cunningham (25:04):

I love it that you said that because we just did some training on, on safety planning with families and be very behaviorally specific to what we wanna see versus taking away something we, we need to, to actually talk about what, what is there and what we want to be there. And something else you said, sorry, that was, that I’m gonna come back to because you’ve said it now a couple times, but I like in different ways is that idea that of rehearsing and really being sure of what you need to talk about being comfortable with having that conversation of what is the, the worry, what is the, the risk to the child? What is the danger to the child? And I know when we talk about professional dangerousness, I think one of the ways to try to, to overcome that is to be ready for those conversations and really rehearse ’em so that you don’t get pulled in a different direction or, you know, you don’t, your emotions get in the way and you don’t want to upset the parents so you don’t say it, or it’s hard to say in the moment.

Kate Cunningham (26:09):

And I think really being able to clearly identify and be direct with, with what we’re worried about.

Nicki Weld (26:16):

Yeah. And I, I’ve been having some lovely conversations about this, both of my own supervisory space and also teaching around that, about the need to, to build a muscle , so kind of build a muscle for uncomfortable conversations and, and really with what that, that’s about is building the capacity for it. And, and I think there’s many opportunities in life that we can say to ourselves, I’m gonna go into that conversation. It could just be a simple assertive conversation with a colleague or something like that. And, but we actually make ourselves go into it because we build this idea of muscle that, and that’s in quotation marks where we, we increase our capacity. And so we’ve got more there for when we need to go really into these very hard spaces. We’ve got something to call on. It’s a bit like, you know, we’ve built ourselves up for the marathon, and so when we have to run it, we’ve got it there. And you can’t just run a marathon with no preparation that would end badly. So I really like the idea of how do, how do we, how do we, in everything we do, encourage ourselves to step into difficult spots, if that makes sense to, you know, to keep on practicing that because it really does make a difference. And so I would encourage anyone in this work to very consciously and deliberately keep, keeps seizing little moments to practice having somewhat challenging conversations.

Kate Cunningham (27:47):

I love that. Where in the, the first episode that I did with Cassie, where we were just explaining uncomfortable conversations, we clearly identified which one of us prefers to avoid uncomfortable conversations. And that was me. So I, I love the invitation to just try it, you know, just try it out and continue to just even possibly like in low risk situations first and then and I, and have the conversations certainly with your supervisor and or your colleagues as you’re going into having these kind of higher risk, higher impact conversations.

Nicki Weld (28:24):

Yeah. As I said, make a request, call out an an okay comment in the workplace, anything like that really helps us build that capacity, build that muscle. And, and I’m also really reminded of how important it is for supervisors and, and leaders to do this as well. Obviously again, from a compassionate place, but there’s that lovely piece of writing by Edgar Guest who talks about, I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather see a sermon than hear one every day. And it’s probably not coming over well on my New Zealand accent. But really important that that we actually demonstrate that we actually walk the talk and and that we too don’t avoid the hard conversations because the more that we do that, the more that we demonstrate, the more that we say you can have a really hard conversation. The relationship remains intact.

Nicki Weld (29:18):

You know how we do that. And for me, a very simple philosophy that I come back to most days is the problem is the problem, not the person.

Kate Cunningham (29:29):

Mm-Hmm. .

Nicki Weld (29:29):

And so that ability to externalize it, this is the difficulty, this is the behavior, the person’s okay. And we do need to make judgements around behavior in terms of child safety and protection and or is that lovely thinking, but we don’t, we don’t never have the right to judge someone, but we must judge behavior, you know, or, or assess behavior if that’s a more comfortable word for people. But yeah, in order to do that, we need to see people around us doing that. And so supervision’s a really good space to kind of practice this, rehearse this, how would you say it? What would you say? And I think, again, when I think about what really enables good workers as workers who are again, very clear about their role, very clear about their purpose, and can hold that that strong back.

Kate Cunningham (30:14):


Nicki Weld (30:14):

You know, not, not get swayed off, not get pulled off into, you know, very understandable resistance from families. It’s, it’s been able to really, Okay, I can hear that. I need to come back to this. And again, delivered in that calm way, logical, thought out, reasoned I think that holds us in better state.

Kate Cunningham (30:38):

I agree. Amen. I think that is very well said. And, and that’s exactly kind of when we think about having these uncomfortable conversations and doing so really to prevent any further danger or harm to children that was exactly well said. We need to be able to go in knowing what the core issue is that we’re talking about, listening with compassion. And again, just holding that like we know what our purpose is. And I think, and, and the parallel process a hundred percent in there from, you know, leadership on down. If we also wanna be seen this from, from leaders, having these conversations, having the ability to have conversations, supervisors to workers, again, workers to families, families to their children, I think it, it really does kind of play itself down.

Nicki Weld (31:31):

Very much. Yeah, absolutely. And then we, in part, we invite people to partner with us around the issue. How are we gonna, how are we gonna make things better? How are we gonna do this better? How are we gonna, you know, so we, we come in together and we say, Look, you know, we wanna partner around this, we wanna work with you around this. And we, we want the best out. We all want the best outcome here.

Kate Cunningham (31:50):

Appreciate that.

Nicki Weld (31:51):

People might find it hard to hear in the moment, but it might filter through a little later. Yeah. There was a a lovely example many years ago that I, that really stuck with me around a mother talking about the day her child was removed from her care and just what a horrific date that was. Pretty much, I mean, we think about it, you know, that this is a primal fear for people of losing their children generally. And, and she said the only thing that kind of made that, even just the tiniest bit more bearable, where she saw tears in the, in the social worker’s eyes.

Kate Cunningham (32:27):

Again, I, I’m gonna go back to that quote of, you know, it’s the, it’s the human experience.

Nicki Weld (32:32):


Kate Cunningham (32:33):

And that is the connector.

Nicki Weld (32:34):

Yeah. And that ability to, to be that to, to, you know, to have tears in your eyes. I, you know, again, we manage that and we regulate around that, but to say this is extremely hard, you know, like, this is a really awful place that we’ve landed in and, and we’re all sorry for that.

Kate Cunningham (32:52):


Nicki Weld (32:53):

Mm-hmm. .

Kate Cunningham (32:54):

Again, I think it’s that, that balance of the compassion with this is what we have to do and we can do so with compassion care.

Nicki Weld (33:02):

Absolutely. Always. We must always do that in the really, really hard places.

Kate Cunningham (33:06):

Well, Nicki, I could certainly stay here all day and talk to you. I’ve always enjoy hearing what you have to say and learning from you. And I know it’s, you know, it’s 8:00 AM in the morning there and you probably wanna get your day started for, for real, for earnest there. Thank you so much for your time. And just would love to know, like, is there any last kind of words or words of wisdom that you wanna share?

Nicki Weld (33:30):

Well, I’ll probably give the words of wisdom to one of your great leaders, which is Eleanor Roosevelt. In one of her quotes that I come back to over and over and over in my life, both personally and professionally, is she says, You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fair in the face. You’re able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along. You must do the things you think you cannot do. And I really, I really wanna say that that’s where we grow. I think we’re all here to learn, and life is about that. Life is a wonderful learning journey forever, how long it might run for us. And, and I think we must walk ourselves into the hard places because they are vulnerable and they are scary, and we can feel kind of shaky, but every time we turn and face and walk in, I would suggest that we grow and we learn, and we need to, we need to walk into those places again, like building the muscle because we’ll call on them again and we’ll call on them for the next one.

Nicki Weld (34:38):

And I think it’s really important that we reflect and connect ourselves to times when we did show courage and remind ourselves of those times and, and how we did that and what took us there and what motivated us there to make that conscious decision to turn and face and walk in. So yeah, so I really want to say do it, you know, these, this place is a, this work is a profound space of learning and every time we engage with a family, a child, a young person adults, there is this moment, there is this opportunity. So yeah, I find that really powerful in my life, that turning and facing the most difficult. It is, it gives us strength to carry on and, and carry forward into whatever else might be coming. And, and in my research, I I landed on we need courage to face adversity. We need grit to endure it, and we essentially get resilience, which helps us adapt to it. So in this field, I think you need courage. I think you need grit and and you need some resilience. And you only get all those things by walking yourself into these spaces. But doing that, doing that carefully and doing that well, and yeah, and always holding that child in mind.

Kate Cunningham (36:00):


Nicki Weld (36:01):


Kate Cunningham (36:02):

Beautiful. Thank you.

Nicki Weld (36:03):

Thanks, Kate. It’s been a great conversation.

Kate Cunningham (36:06):

Well, thank you so, so much and I look forward to our next conversation.

Nicki Weld (36:10):

Lovely. Okay.

Kate Cunningham (36:11):


Nicki Weld (36:11):

Bye. Bye.

Cassie Gillespie (36:14):

Welcome to The Field is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership, and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering is brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house technical production assistant Emma Baird. For Welcome to the Field, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

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