Longevity in the Field

Turnover in this field is high, but some people stay for their whole career and thrive. Join Leslie Stapleton from VT- CWTP as she talks with Tracey Brown and Shannon Morton, two “thrivers” who have managed to stick it out, to find out what keeps them doing this work, despite its many challenges.

Host Info:

Leslie Stapleton, MSW is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. Leslie specializes in curriculum development and online training design for new workers. Prior to her work at VT-CWTP Leslie worked for 18 years for the Economic Services Division of DCF, as a director of a district office and before that as a supervisor of the Reach Up program.

Guest Info:

Tracey Brown, MSW. Family Service Worker- Burlington Office.

Tracey started her 24 year career at DCF in 1995 as an intake social worker in the Brattleboro DCF office, after graduating with her MSW from UVM through the IV-E Program.  She transferred to the Burlington DCF office a year later.  In Burlington, she continued her work in intake, with a brief stint as an intake supervisor, two assignments totaling over 8 years at the Chittenden Unit for Special investigations. At the 15 year mark she left DCF, but returned to the same work two years later.

Shannon Morton, MSW, Certified Threat Manager (CTM)

Shannon is the Staff Safety Manager for DCF-FSD. She started her career as a front-end social worker in 2003, stepping up into the newly created position of Staff Safety Manager in 2015.


Cassie Gillespie (00:02):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie. And you’re listening to Welcome to the Field, a podcast for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. Today, we’re talking about longevity in the field of child welfare. Turnover in our field is high, but some people are able to stay for their whole career and thrive. So we’re here to talk to two thrivers who have managed to stick it out and find out what keeps them doing this work. Despite its many challenges with the hope that it might inform others who intend to commit to a career in child welfare for the long haul. My colleague, Leslie Stapleton will be your host today, and she’ll be talking with Shannon Morton and Tracey Brown. Shannon started her career as a front end worker in 2003, stepping up into the newly created position of staff safety manager in 2015. Tracey started her career 24 years ago in 1995 as an intake social worker, and has also worked briefly as a supervisor and as the family service worker assigned to the Chittenden unit for special investigations, or as you might know it CUSI at the 15 year mark, she left DCF but returned two years later.

Cassie Gillespie (01:10):

And I should also note that Shannon also worked at CUSI. So that’s something that Shannon and Tracey having common. Okay. Welcome both of you. And thanks for being willing to share your experiences with us. Here we go.

Leslie Stapleton (01:22):

Thanks Cassie. This is Leslie and I’m sitting here with both Tracey and Shannon from family services. Tracy, let’s start with you. Tell us about your history with DCF family services.

Tracey Brown (01:33):

Well, I graduated from the MSW program at UVM in 1995. I was a part of the IV-E program. So I spent my first year at DCF in the Brattleboro office, and then I transferred to the Burlington office in 1996. And I’ve been in Burlington since then. Over the years I’ve done a few different things. I’ve always been an intake social worker. So I do assessments and investigations. I have spent a total of eight years at the Chittenden unit for special investigations doing those types of cases.

Leslie Stapleton (02:14):

Will you just tell our listeners what type of cases those are.

Tracey Brown (02:17):

Sexual abuse and serious physical abuse, investigations. So there were two different tours there. I was a supervisor for, I think, less than a year and then decided that wasn’t for me. So I went back to direct service and also in there about, at about the 15 year mark. I left for two years to be with my family more. And then I came back to this same position, as an intake social worker. So I’ve been there now, I think next week will be 24 years.

Leslie Stapleton (02:54):

That’s a long time. I appreciate you sharing that you moved into a supervisor position and decided it wasn’t for you. And then left, you know, there’s a lot of pressure on people to sort of move into leadership positions. It’s kind of like how you show your worth to the organization by moving up. And it’s not for everyone. And I think really the way you really impact the work, the child safety is directly in the field. So, and we need good people who stay in the field. So thanks for sharing that. Shannon, you’re someone who started out as a front end FSW right? And you made the switch to leadership and you’ve stayed with it. Tell us about your career history.

Shannon Morton (03:32):

Sure. My heart is still in the field, so it’s always tough to hear that I moved out of it. It’s never, it wasn’t something that I ever envisioned, but I just work at a different location. Now. My heart’s still there. Fair enough. So I started with SRS. It was then SRS. Tracy also was a part of multiple name changes.

Leslie Stapleton (03:55):

Social rehabilitative services, I think.

Shannon Morton (03:57):

Social and rehabilitation services, I think were something like that. And I actually started in the Hartford district office as a graduate of the undergrad, the BSW program. I was a IV-E undergrad. That was in 2004 and I was in Hartford for seven months with a mixed caseload. I really enjoyed the front end work, the investigations and assessments. And I was scooped up into the Burlington office after those seven months in Hartford. It was a long commute, 97 miles each way from Burlington. I was living in Burlington. So I was really grateful to move into the Burlington office and I joined the front-end team in Burlington. And that’s where I remained for 12 years. A long time. Yeah. I did go back to school during that and I was a IV-E student for my MSW and then went back into the Burlington office from there and then yeah, transitioned in February of 2016. So early 2016 into the, it was then called the staff safety coordinator position. That was a newly formed position. And as it exists now as the staff safety manager out of Waterbury.

Leslie Stapleton (05:21):

So a big part of your work is around safety culture. There is a safety culture work group, and there’s just a lot of attention spent on keeping people physically and psychologically safe within family services. Will you talk a little bit about that?

Shannon Morton (05:35):

Yeah. So it’s been an interesting transformative phase, I guess, to be a part of. I don’t think that, you know, we’re still, I feel like it’s still sort of in its infancy, we’re still getting the legs underneath us getting our foundation in safety culture. But I joined that group pretty early on and, you know, it was nice for me to be able to bring the staff safety lens into the safety culture work, because I think so much of staff safety has to do with yes, your physical safety, but also the psychological safety and having a workforce that understands that their safety is paramount and it is the thing to focus on to get them to come back to this work each and every day. And so blending that in with the safety culture work and the ideas around secure base and really just sort of what I like most about it is prioritizing the relationships of this work with our colleagues and with others outside of our district and really looking at that and examining how we can grow it so that folks are their most comfortable in the work.

Shannon Morton (06:45):

And, by most comfortable, I don’t mean that we don’t have uncomfortable conversations. But that it’s, you know, that we have that culture where we can talk about tough stuff because we all do tough stuff day in and day out.

Leslie Stapleton (07:00):

Yeah, for sure. You know, self care is definitely a critical part of the work needing to care for yourself. What are each of you doing to take care of yourselves and how do you consciously attend to that?

Tracey Brown (07:11):

I can list all the things I do, but I just want to say, I don’t always do them. I’m just being real about that. I’m not always good at it, but I try my best to set boundaries, you know, between work and home. And that has not been easy this last year, of course, for any of us. And for me, exercise is a big piece of taking care of myself. I try to prioritize that as much as I can. It really clears my mind, so I can continue to do this work and also do all the other things in my life that I need to be healthy for. And I have to do a lot of self talk with myself, like, okay, I’m always behind, but always reminding myself that I have another whole life that I feel like I’m good at.

Tracey Brown (08:01):

So I pay my bills, I own a house. I have a to do list. I take care of my three children and I do those things well and on time. So I’ve had to tell myself that a lot and just remember that, you know, the system we’re working in isn’t conducive to getting everything done. So I have to remind myself of that a lot because it certainly can make you feel doing this job can certainly make you feel like you’re never doing enough. You’re not doing it right. You have bad time management skills, you know, because there’s always too much work.

Leslie Stapleton (08:45):

So telling yourself those things, as you drove to work this morning, I got that email that says here’s what you’re behind on.

Tracey Brown (08:52):

Yeah. Yeah. And you know, another piece just this past weekend, you know, the feedback I got from one of my kids was mom, you’re always working, you’re always on your computer. And that really stuck out to me. So I, really tried to separate that this weekend and not check things. And now I knew I was behind, but now I know for sure because I’ve received the email.

Shannon Morton (09:21):

It was always interesting to see Tracey. I mean, you know, because we worked in the same office for the longest time and she was at CUSI for a really long time. And I don’t know, it was just amazing to see how good she was at boundaries. And it was something to aspire to. And so awesome. I mean, really everyone in the office knew how amazing Tracey was with her boundaries. And it was also on for a newer worker to see someone else behind on their paperwork. Cause that is always something that I struggled with. So I just so identify with some of the things that Tracey said. So, I mean, my self-care, it really changed over the years. I was not good at it for a really long time. I would say the first 10 years of my career. I like so many in this field find myself in a position of being a people pleaser.

Shannon Morton (10:15):

And also, as I’ve talked about with my therapist, you know, struggling with a hero complex, right. That that’s not, I don’t see it as a negative. I think that it’s a very common thing to have and wanting to be a strong helper. And so for a really long time, I struggled with saying no to anything. I would put other people’s needs in the division’s needs honestly, uh, ahead of my own. And it’s something that I still struggle with. And so I, you know, I’m trying to think about the things that I did back then for self care. I, you know, had really strong relationships with colleagues and that’s probably the one thing that sustained me through everything. I mean, I think in this work, you develop those trauma bonds and there’s just such close connections with those folks and it really does help keep you coming back.

Leslie Stapleton (11:08):

Alot of people who are going outside of the child protection work, who really fully understand what it’s like to go to work every day. Right? And see people do the worst of things to other people. Like not a lot of people see that and totally understand that.

Shannon Morton (11:19):

Yeah, absolutely. Literally this week I’ve mentioned to somebody and my work, isn’t something that you talk about at dinner parties. So, you know, and, and that can be tough, uh, on relationships. I’ve been through a divorce. And some of it was due to the, just disconnect between, you know, me having my whole world be work. And so now I really, really try and develop my personhood outside of work. And like Tracey said, there are so many things that I do outside of work that I feel proud of that I’m good at. And honestly for me, it all changed about seven years ago. Seven years ago in May. When I got sober I struggled for a really long time with active alcoholism and refused to accept that I needed help and that I had a problem because I felt like it would take away all of the strong, good work that I had done.

Shannon Morton (12:28):

You know, I had referred to it as like a miracle moment where all of a sudden I realized that I didn’t have to lose all the good parts of me by saying that this was a problem. And I became a whole person again, I didn’t have a secret side. I, you know, I just sort of became. And so with that, there’s a, you know, just a ton of work that you do in recovery that I oftentimes think I’m at an advantage to, at some points because I sort of have a roadmap for living and perspective and a way to remind myself about, you know, the things that are important. So that’s a huge part of just my daily living. My husband now is also in recovery and so it’s, you know, we just have that sort of in common.

Shannon Morton (13:12):

And so we live a really honest life, meaning that we talk about when things are not going well, and we really celebrate you know, the positives. And so that’s a huge part of my self-care now. And I’ve been able to embrace some of the things about people that I’ve loved throughout my life and work those into my daily routine and gardening and building things like my Grampy. And so there’s little things that I do, but I am certainly not as disciplined with exercise as Tracey is. I wish I was, but you couldn’t catch me running. I mean, you could catch me running cause I don’t do it. But.

Leslie Stapleton (13:51):

I think discipline is an important term to pull out there because it is, it is a discipline. You have to work at it, right? Like you have to attend to yourself care because it is really hard in this work. It’ll, as you both have demonstrated, it could take takes over. Tracey, how have you used your team as your secure base to support your work?

Tracey Brown (14:14):

For me, it’s always been really important. I love, I’ve always loved being a part of the intake team. I feel like no matter who was in it, it was just a great group and is a great group right now. So I think something you said before really resonates, especially in intake. I feel like everyone you’re working with knows exactly what the job is like. And there’s really no one else. I’d rather talk to about what I’m doing at work than my coworkers who are doing it right then. So we’ve always had a really strong group. I mean, through the years, all different people have come and gone and I think it’s crucial to have that group together. So we’ve in Burlington. Intake is pretty big. So we’ve sort of been split up before into two different teams, but still an intake group. And then over this last year, we’ve all been really together, again doing our zoom meetings. And for me, I found that really helpful, just having that large group of everyone doing the same job and they know exactly how to help you, if you need someone to jump in to assist you with something. So that’s big for me.

Leslie Stapleton (15:39):

That’s great. Shannon, you’ve been in your role; you are the, the loan safety manager, but I think you’re getting a counterpart here. Am I right about that?

New Speaker (15:46):

I do hear that we might be adding a second staff safety position, which I think will be phenomenal. I think there’s just so much more work to do and doing it alone is it’s lonely, right? It’s, uh, it’s a, it’s a heavy load. And you know, that that team is secure base is something that I’ve struggled with coming out of the Burlington office and out of that intake team into central office and being sort of like a solitary practitioner. Right, I don’t belong to like the, I’m on the operations team, but I’m not an ops manager. And so they have their own meetings. And then, you know, there’s just all these little subsets and I sort of, you know, myself and some colleagues who are in similar positions, we talk about that.

Shannon Morton (16:31):

We sort of feel like we’re on the island of misfit toys and we just band together and, you know, try and do some peer supervision. That’s really unstructured. And just because we don’t, we don’t necessarily have a team. And so that’s been something that, you know, I really missed about being in Burlington and feeling like there’s that collectiveness. But I also am, you know, grateful for it. And I think it allows me to have maybe strong, I mean, I seek connection, right? So I seek connections with the districts and because I have to most often deal with them at a moment of crisis. It is really important for me to have those strong connections and those relationships and that they know that I’m there and, you know, like it’s just, and so it’s interesting. I feel like my secure base has like really long legs and has to like reach out to everywhere. But, you know, it’s always interesting for me to, to think about like who I, who I rely on day to day. And I certainly have a strong relationship with my supervisor now and past supervisors.

Leslie Stapleton (17:49):

I mean, that is an Iimportant part of the work, right? That you have a supervisor that you find is supportive. I think that’s one of the reasons, first of all, there’s incredible turnover in child protection work for a variety of reasons. People not feeling safe, the family life balance and feeling supported by your leadership and your supervisor. So when you have a good supervisor, that’s key that they support you, they listen to you, you feel supported by them. Yeah. I don’t know anybody want to say anything about that or the importance of that in your longevity, in the field?

Tracey Brown (18:23):

Well, I’ve had a lot of supervisors over the years, so it’s, it’s, it’s difficult to think of just one. I mean, I’ll say we talked about this before. I would say John Salter is right up there with the best of the best. Yeah. I don’t know if this will get in the final cut, but a lot of the things I think about that have been helpful to me in my supervision have been things that John would do, you know having a sense of humor. I mean, this is probably bad for John, but he always answered his phone when I had a question or I was out late.

Leslie Stapleton (19:09):

So much for those work-life boundaries.

Tracey Brown (19:11):

He just always had positive regard for everyone around him. And I think that’s so important to just feel like, you know, no matter if you did a great job or, sort of a mediocre job only because maybe there wasn’t time to do a great job, or you just weren’t on your, a game that day. He was just always supportive. So, you know, the paperwork issues. He always tried to support that yet never really made you feel bad about it, like you weren’t good enough. So he, you know, also supervisors like John that just modeled having respect for families and keeping the, power differential in check. I’m just trying to relate to people that you’re working with. Those are all really important things. I think that I’ve gotten from supervisors.

Leslie Stapleton (20:22):

So, you know, a common denominator between your stories is that you haven’t stayed in the same job or the same place the whole time. And there’s some value to sort of moving around and taking advantage of opportunities to sort of like switch things up, give new energy to the work. Even though you’ve stayed mostly frontline the whole time, Traecy, you’ve gone to CUSI and you’ve come back you’ve both have gone to graduate and returned to the work. You’ve maybe taken on some special projects or maybe participated in some work groups or things like that. And when we were thinking about this podcast, we were thinking, I was thinking about new staff, right? Thinking about turnover’s crazy wanting to offer up some nuggets of wisdom and information that might help support new staff in the field. And so they can stay in the job long term. And some of that is sort of switching up what you’re doing, even if you’re staying in the same job. Will you guys talk maybe a little bit about the opportunities that you took advantage of and maybe how that energized you or rejuvenated you in the work? So that other people out there, like, how did, how did you move from front end to CUSI? Like how did those apps, did they give that to you? Or did you seek that out?

Tracey Brown (21:38):

Yeah, that was that happened for me. I think I had been there about six years and they were just discussing, you know, having someone from DCF via CUSI and initially it was supposed to be a six month trial period just to see how it goes. And so I threw my name in the hat for that and I was able to go, and then I ended up being there for six and a half years. I don’t think there was a framework. So there was no end timeframe to it, which is maybe why I stayed so long. But I loved that it was just different. It was this, you know, the same work, but a different group of people. More experience in, you know, testifying in court. And when I started there was no such thing as forensic interviewing trainings. So we used to discuss that a lot.

Tracey Brown (22:42):

You know, what’s the best interview, what should we do? Should we even have a protocol that used to be what we would talk about years ago? I’m sure Shannon remembers that. So, and over the years, you know, that’s developed, so that was all just really interesting to me. I’ve always loved that type of work doing forensic interviews and investigations of sexual abuse and serious physical abuse. So then, you know, ended up going back there. There was another opportunity after I left for just under two years and came back. I had an opportunity to go there again for two more years. So that really, you know, that was eight and a half years of my 24. So that really gave me some variety. I also worked in a part-time position for three years when my kids were much younger.

Tracey Brown (23:43):

I don’t believe we have any part-time positions now, but it wasn’t a nice way to try to balance the work with the rest of my life. And then I left for two years, which also mixed things up. I was away from the work completely, just, you know, not just but being home with my children and then having another child while I was out. But I felt like when I left at the 15 year mark, I felt like I was pretty burnt out and I just needed to leave. And then while I was gone, I kept thinking about not the whole time, but towards the end, I started thinking about going back. And I felt like when I went back after that two years, it was a very deliberate choice. I was making that I wanted to go back and do this work again. So I feel like, you know, from year 15 to 24 has felt a little different for me. Because I made that choice and I, it there’s something about it that feels a little different being away and then coming back.

Leslie Stapleton (24:59):

Yeah, that’s great. Taking time away knowing that you can too, and that the field will welcome you back and there’s even some structures within state government that you can leave. And if you return within, under two years, you still return it like the same step level or whatever, you don’t lose all of the income that you’re earning. So there’s some, some protections for that. Yes, that’s good for people to know.

Shannon Morton (25:20):

Yeah, so my, I think my time away from the work was largely when I went to, when I went to grad school and got my MSW. And so that was in 2011. It was great for me. It was you know, I think the most beneficial thing was actually my second year doing my internship in central office and seeing the greater systems perspective and opportunity for change. And, you know, that it wasn’t just going to happen. Like you had to be active in trying to get things to be different and looking at things and you know, really sort of dissecting why they were the way they were. And so that was really interesting for me and something I really needed because I really identified, like I said, with, with being in the work, being on the front line and, sort of, I don’t know, like only gave value to that role and obviously to, you know, direct supervisors and stuff, but like, I didn’t, I didn’t understand the value of the work that was being done at sort of that higher level.

Shannon Morton (26:38):

And so being in central office and, and looking at those things, and then participating in the staff safety work group. I had been also been a part of labor management and I think I’ve always sort of been the type of person that, if I see a problem, I want to be a part of the solution and not just talk about the problem, like I want to work for change. And so being a part of those, you know, it was really interesting for me to watch policy form. And I would have never said that before grad school, like, are you like, I didn’t want anything to do with policy or data or any of those things. And so you know, it’s, it was, it was a nice shift. It, you know, it took my blinders off a little bit.

Shannon Morton (27:36):

And also let me see that I could be effective out of the field because I never thought that I could be that that was where I needed to affect change. And, and to, to see that on a, on a systems level. And I embraced that fully with the creation of my position and really that only came after I worked in Barre after the murder of our colleague, Lara Sobel. And I spent a few months down in Barre and started to recognize some things, you know, because I was out of my environment and there’s this gigantic trauma about our system and some areas that I thought we could change. And I don’t know that I did, I would have been as motivated if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to be able to go and work with our colleagues and buried during that time.

Leslie Stapleton (28:31):

How do you Protect yourself from the trauma, the sad stories, the bad press. Lord knows. There’s a lot of that negativity. How do you fill your cup with positivity and missed all of the sad stories? The, the murder of Lara Sobel being a large, large part of that?

Tracey Brown (28:49):

One of the things that someone I don’t remember who told me to do it, might’ve been in a training I went to early on.

Leslie Stapleton (28:59):

Maybe it was a training by the child welfare training partnership. I don’t know.

Tracey Brown (29:03):

I don’t know. Maybe did they have that in 1995? I don’t know. I don’t know there then they probably did. Yeah. However, I, someone told me very early on keep a folder and put things in it. Thank you notes, emails that someone sent you telling you, you did a good job, little things like that. And I’ve done that since I started in 1995, and I still have this thank you note from a family whose son and a bunch of other teenagers. I had, you know, runaway across the country and landed in Brattleboro. And we ended up helping to get them back there. So little things like that, I have a big folder and I’ve saved and printed out the most random emails of, you know, you did a good job on this, or did a good job on that because I honestly, you don’t hear that very often in this work.

Tracey Brown (30:04):

Occasionally when I’m going through things in my desk, I will look in that folder and read them again and add to them or stick things in there. I put all kinds of random things, little sticky notes, like good job. Because there are so many negative things and you’re, you know, often told you’re doing the wrong thing, whether it’s you know, by a family that maybe doesn’t want you in their lives, which is understandable, or an attorney or anyone really, I mean, it’s just a delicate balance in this work. As far as what is the right thing to do in every situation, what’s the best pathway, what is, you know, supporting the family and also protecting the child’s and you know, that, that fine line in between there. So that’s a big thing that I’ve always tried to do just to remember those positive moments.

Leslie Stapleton (31:13):

It’s great. That’s a great little tip to pass on to folks. Yeah. How about you, Shannon.

Shannon Morton (31:17):

Just keeping those, you know, those memories alive of those cases, where you’ve seen sort of the magic happen, the stories of success, the stories of strong connection, you know, just the, the ways in which we assist or, you know, help a family find their strength. And, those for me are really what, what has kept me going when I was in the field. And now it’s, it’s similar right? With our staff and those moments where after you know, I’ve, I’ve connected with a staff person and after, you know, a really scary and, and traumatic event when our staff are threatened you know, being able to be someone that can lean in and help them, and just sort of just remembering that because there are so many hard days and the work that I do now, it really does feel like such a parallel process to the work of child protection. Right, like my caseload is now 12 districts with however many, you know, family members in each, in each district and a lot happens to all of us. And, you know, and I think, again, it just comes back to those relationships and those connections and, and that is definitely something that, that has kept me going over the years. I think that, that was the initial question, right?

Leslie Stapleton (32:55):

The title of this podcast is longevity in the field, and we’ve been talking about longevity of staff in the field, but much of what we’ve been talking about also applies to caregivers too. Doesn’t it? The takeaways here can apply to foster parents, the need to take care of yourself, the value of education, taking time off, bearing your experiences. The trauma in the impact of the work. And we’re, we’re, we’re all partners with this in this, together in this work. And we share many of the same successes in the same challenges. What do you want caregivers to know about your work that might help them team with you?

Shannon Morton (33:36):

I’ll let Tracy go first.

Leslie Stapleton (33:38):

Okay. Tracey, thank you for that.

Tracey Brown (33:40):

I would say I would, what I would want them to know. I would want them to know how important I think their work is because I it’s just, I think one of the most crucial pieces to being able to do the work we’re doing is having, you know, safe, wonderful placements out there for kids to go to. And it’s always struck me, you know, we talk about boundaries and taking space and taking care of your family. And it’s just very different, I think for foster parents and caregivers, because, you know, how do you have boundaries with people that are in your home? I mean, it’s just, they become a part of your family. So you can’t really separate that. Like I think maybe I can do that from the work and the home piece, it’s all mixed together for them. So it’s, I think even trickier to be able to take care of yourself in the role of a foster parent or a caregiver.

Tracey Brown (34:55):

But I, you know, I always want them to know how important they are to my work, because there’s nothing like having a child come into custody on an emergency basis and knowing there’s someone there who can just step right in and make that child feel welcome and work with you to get everything done. I just had an interaction with a foster parent. And I don’t expect everyone to do this, but it was just incredible. I had this child that was coming into custody and she was saying, I can do this and I’ll do that. And I have a connection with a daycare spot and I’ll take care of that. And it was amazing. I mean, it was so helpful and such a relief to know that this person was there just ready to care for this child in such a wonderful way.

Leslie Stapleton (35:56):

Yeah, that’s great. That’s a caregiver that understands just how many tasks there are. When a kid comes into custody, there’s just so much to do so many boxes to check and things to do. So they’re, they’re teaming with you. That’s a great, that’s a great example of the teamwork that it takes.

Shannon Morton (36:13):

So for me, you know, my greatest wishes that our caregivers won’t know what it’s like to have to work with me, right. Because I do work with our foster parents and, you know, in situations in which they’ve been the target of a threat and there where there’s a safety concern related to a placement in their house. And, you know, so as much as, you know, I don’t want to ever have them have to interact with me to know that, you know, our system supports them and, and for very good reason, just like Tracy said, you know, it, it is an incredible commitment that our caregivers have to our kiddos, without which we would be paralyzed. And, I have always said that being a foster parent is the hardest job. You know, everyone always, I feel like says that to us.

Shannon Morton (37:09):

But I don’t think I could ever do it, you know, to, to open up your heart fully and care and take care of these children and youth with the aim of having them leave. Right. Like that you know, our biggest goal is reunification and you know, safe unification and, and they do that willingly, right. They step in. And, and so just to know that, you know, our system has certain pieces about it, myself included that are there for them and to not be afraid to ask for help and the great benefits that can come with asking for help.

Leslie Stapleton (37:50):

So to close this out, cause we were at a time, what words of wisdom would you give a new FSW family services worker, just starting out in this work? What have you learned over the years that you want to share with others?

Shannon Morton (38:06):

I’ll let Tracey go first.

Tracey Brown (38:08):

That’s been our pattern.

Leslie Stapleton (38:09):

Why should we change that up?

Shannon Morton (38:12):

I don’t want to mess the listeners up in there.

Tracey Brown (38:15):

I think the biggest thing would be something I mentioned before, which is remember what your own strengths are before you started doing this work and always keep them in mind while you’re doing this work. And remind yourself of that repeatedly. Because I think in the system there aren’t always feelings of, you know, I’m doing a great job. I’m on top of everything. I just don’t think this system is set up that way to make you feel like that if you’re going to do this work for any period of time, but especially for a long period. So just remembering what your strengths are in areas outside of your job because that’s who you are. And just because you can’t always keep up in this system, doesn’t mean you’re a failure of some sort. And also just to really try to focus on taking care of yourself, whatever that looks like, whether it’s exercise or whether it’s, you know, spending time with friends, family, gardening, whatever makes you feel complete, just really try to keep those things up. So that it’s not just about this work, which isn’t always the most positive subject matter. So, you know, keeping those positive things in your life and remembering the positive things about yourself.

Shannon Morton (40:00):

Yeah. So for me, I wish that I had practiced earlier in a way that embraced a strong self or a strong sense of self-awareness, you know, how am I doing, how, you know, why am I reacting this way to this situation? You know, really sort of just tapping into you in this work. I think that it can be really easy to just develop that, you know, mentality of get it done and get it done, get it done and not taking stock of sort of where you’re at and and being honest with yourself, right? Like if, if you need to take a day off or not get a certain type of case, or, you know, really spend some time processing something that’s going on you know, honest honesty with yourself is really important.

Shannon Morton (41:05):

And also being vulnerable in a way that you can be honest with others. And again, not sort of seeing it as a defeat to say that, you know, you’re struggling or that this type of situation is hard for you. You know, it is really important to go into this work with eyes wide open and to also be able to recognize what’s going on for you, as you move through it. And yeah, I wish that I had learned that a little bit earlier and, and also been generous more with myself, right about like, this is hard work, this, these are things that you’re good at. You’re you’re doing it well. And not constantly feeling, you know, like there was a giant rock being held up some very delicate net, and that’s oftentimes what this work feels like, honestly, it’s like, oh, when is that thing going to fall?

Shannon Morton (42:16):

When is that thing going to happen? and it’s, you know, Pete Cudney was here. He would, he would tell us about the brain science behind that. Right. Yeah. And, and having to operate, you know, in that, in that lizard brain of yours in this work for, for a really long time can be really tough. And if you’re not aware of that’s, what’s going on for you, it just bleeds out into all different types of ways that can be fairly unhealthy. So be honest with yourself, be honest with others.

Leslie Stapleton (42:51):

Yeah. Look out for each other too. Right? You see your coworker, who’s maybe not as you know them and you see, you see that they’re in a funk or something’s different that we’re all looking out for each other. It’s really about a culture that safety culture creating a culture of camaraderie where we’re looking out for each other. We’re looking out for ourselves, we’re looking out for each other with the hopes that people can stay in this, this work longterm, uh, for the long haul. It’s what’s best for child protection, right? Not to have this constant turnover of staff families and children are negatively impacted by constant turnover. Your co, people who stay in the field are negatively impacted by that constant turnover too, right? Like it’s hard to see people come and go all the time. You’re the one who’s left, sort of like still doing the work while you’re waiting to hire and, and training new staff. It’s incredibly hard. So hopefully this podcast can be one tiny little piece of the mammoth work. It is to support people in doing the work and staying with it. So thank you so much. Thank you.

Shannon Morton (44:00):

Thank You.

Cassie Gillespie (44:03):

Thank you for listening. Welcome to the Field is produced by the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our music is composed and perform by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Esmond communications and Egan media productions for Welcome to the Field. I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

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