Youth Voice Mini-series: Part 1

Join host Kate Cunningham as she speaks with Hailey and Mercedes, about their experiences as children in custody in the VT DCF child welfare system. Using the list of hopes and aspirations for any youth in state’s care that the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors created in 2020, Hailey & Mercedes tell their stories, and dig into the importance of the relationship between a youth in care and their DCF worker, the need to be seen and heard, and the need to feel that their lives matter to their workers.

Show Notes and Resources:

Hopes and aspiration for children in state care: https://vermontcwtp.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Hopes-and-Aspirations-for-Children-in-State-Care-1.docx

St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Justice: https://www.stjosephsrjinquiry.com/

Youth Development Program: https://vtyouthdevelopmentprogram.org/

Host Info: 

Kate Cunningham, MS, is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. Kate is a VT licensed School Counselor and National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach 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 eleven 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.

Transcript:

Hailey (00:00):

I think a question that’s never asked is, are you safe?

Kate Cunningham (00:03):

Mm.

Hailey (00:03):

Because they just assume that you’re, because you’re in a state placement that’s licensed and has licensed people that you’re safe, and that’s not always the case.

Cassie Gillespie (00:16):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to the social work lens, a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Today we are bringing you the first episode in a three-part mini series, focusing on the experience of youth in Vermont’s foster care system. But before we start, Kate Cunningham, your host, is here in the studio with us to share a little context about what you are about to hear. Hi Kate.

Kate Cunningham (00:43):

Hi, Cassie. I think it’s great to give a little context for these episodes. Back in the fall of 2021, CWTP worked with the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry, and we did a listening session which involved DCF workers and other survivors from the St. Joseph’s Orphanage where we heard stories of the experiences of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors. They also had written a hopes and aspirations list, which we pull from in all three of these episodes, for youth who are in state’s care. As many of the survivors had been in state’s care many years ago, one thing that we learned with the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors was that telling their stories brought a lot of meaning to their experiences and helped build resiliency and healing. What we hear in the podcast here with these two youth, Mercedes and Hailey, is their own experiences and their own storytelling of what happened to them while they were in state’s custody.

Kate Cunningham (01:53):

The stories are raw, they’re honest, they come from their heart. These two young women didn’t know each other before coming in and doing the podcasts. And you hear throughout the three episodes that they just get to know each other and feed off of each other and realize the commonalities that they have and the experiences that they shared. Some of these experiences are hard to hear. They talk about being in different foster homes in different residential centers. Times that they had when they ran. Experiences they’ve had afterwards. So do what you feel necessary as you are listening to take care of yourself, to process afterwards, and to really kind of let settle in what these two amazing, resilient women talk about. And we hope that you enjoy and learn something.

Kate Cunningham (02:54):

I am sitting here today with two beautiful women, Mercedes and Hailey. Mercedes and Haley were in the Vermont foster care system and are here for this episode plus two more in our series to talk about their perspective of being in the foster care system and offer some good advice for DCF workers, caregivers, and anyone else who is involved in the DCF system. And I’m gonna let you two introduce yourself.

Mercedes (03:26):

Hi, my name’s Mercedes. I was in the foster care system from about seven to 10 years old, and then I was put back into the system at 13 and was in the system until a little after 18 years old.

Kate Cunningham (03:40):

Thank you. Mercedes.

Hailey (03:42):

Hi, I’m Hailey. I went into the foster care system at 11 and I was discharged a week before my 16th birthday.

Kate Cunningham (03:50):

Great, thanks, Hailey. So the way that we’ve structured these three different episodes is by using some hopes and aspirations that were written back in January of 2020 by the survivors of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage. They were in a group, a restorative group called the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and they came up with six different key points or hopes and aspirations for children in the care of the state. We’re gonna start with this first episode with the first two points, which really cover the DCF workers’ relationship with the youth and how key that is to supporting the youth and helping them when they are in our foster care system. So I’m gonna just read the first two hopes and aspirations, and then we’ll have some questions and, and have some follow up. So the first hope is that kids in state care should be checked in on, on a regular basis, kind of under that they wrote safety is a must and children’s emotional and physical wellbeing must be continuously evaluated.

Kate Cunningham (04:53):

The second point is that children should be listened to and believed. Under that they wrote, don’t discount what the child says, be accessible to the child, get to know the child as a person, not just a file, and every child in foster care should have a guardian ad litem. So kind of for Haley and Mercedes, thinking about those two points that they’ve written down or their hopes for, for youth in foster care what what has worked for you with communication with your worker? Kinda when I think of, you know, being checked in on, on a regular basis and being accessible, what has your experience been with your worker with those?

Mercedes (05:39):

I mean, I know personally I’ve had some really great workers the last few years that I was in foster care, but me starting out because I was young and I, I didn’t have, not to say they weren’t good workers, but ones that couldn’t pay as close attention to me. And the one one that stands out to me the most is the getting to know the child as a person, not just a file. Because I know a lot of I was also in the program system for from the age of 13 or 14 to 18, so I was in that for about four years. And a lot of people kind of see you as almost a monster when they see your file and not just you as a person. And some staff and workers will say, oh, it’s just we, we do see you as a person, but it, it just doesn’t feel like it. And and you can tell that it, that’s not the case.

Kate Cunningham (06:34):

Yeah, two things just ’cause our audiences might not know what the program system is.

Mercedes (06:40):

So I mean, there, there’s different programs. There’s programs that reintegrate you back into the community that basically let you do things as you know, you regularly would in the community. There’s other programs that are completely locked down where you’re either a danger to yourself or in the community and you need a higher level of care. So there’s different intensities of programs, but it’s basically just like a holding place for youth. Usually teens, they don’t have a whole lot of programs for younger children.

Kate Cunningham (07:14):

Great. Thank you for that. Yeah. And so, yeah, it’s really just in the, in the system, in the DCF system, there are so many documents, right? Like there’s case plans, there’s case notes, there’s affidavits, and so when you’re talking about reading about.

Mercedes (07:31):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>

Kate Cunningham (07:32):

A child or a youth, you really, you can read the information, but getting to know that youth.

Mercedes (07:37):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (07:37):

As who they are specifically is much more important.

Mercedes (07:40):

Yeah, I know as I’ve gotten like older I’ve been able to make more of a personal connection with staff and with workers and stuff. And growing definitely helped with that. And as a kid I didn’t really understand, I didn’t know I had a file. I didn’t know that there was paperwork following me around that people could just freely read my life on a piece of paper. And when you figure that out, it’s quite violating <laugh> that you know, you know nothing about them and they get to know absolutely everything about you. And it’s, it’s a little intimidating. It’s very scary. It’s all of the things.

Kate Cunningham (08:16):

Yeah. That’s a lot. The last episode that we’re gonna be doing is actually based on kind of having access to your information.

Mercedes (08:25):

Yup I did see that.

Kate Cunningham (08:25):

And yeah. And, and you are kind of an open book, right? For the adults and the people who are working with you.

Mercedes (08:31):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (08:32):

Thanks Mercedes.

Mercedes (08:33):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (08:34):

Hailey, anything you wanna add?

Hailey (08:36):

Yeah, I’d like to kind of bounce off what Mercedes said. I didn’t really feel like I was more than just like a file. I felt sometimes with some of the caseworkers that I had that I was just their paycheck that they really didn’t care about me and I was just a paycheck in their hand. And it was quite annoying in ways because I had caseworkers who didn’t listen to me, didn’t feel like they were hearing what I was saying, didn’t believe me because of my past. And it just didn’t feel fair that I wasn’t trusted or believed when certain things were happening in the system.

Mercedes (09:14):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (09:15):

Yeah. That has to be a really tough place to be. If, when you say you didn’t feel heard or that you were really just in your eyes seen as a paycheck, if you were to tell a worker like, what would be helpful? How can they, they actually treat a youth as a youth and not a paycheck and really listen, are there things that you can think of that, that you could offer as advice?

Hailey (09:41):

I feel like just making the slightest compromisation, like just being able to compromise on some things and you know, yeah. You might not be able to compromise on everything because that’s not in your hand, but trying to make a way to compromise, to make things as easy for a transition as possible.

Kate Cunningham (10:01):

Yeah. So really sometimes it feels like people stick to the like, this is the way it is and this is how we do it, and no changes.

Hailey (10:10):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (10:11):

No compromise.

Mercedes (10:13):

I think what also could be helpful is like during like team meetings and such like asking us like how we are not just how’s your behavior been? What’s your strengths? What’s your we, what’s your weaknesses? Okay, let’s get on with our meeting. Because a lot of the times when, because I mean team meetings were monthly and I was in the system for years, so it’s like I’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings at least that happen once a month. And it’s, sometimes you can just feel that it’s very rushed and you can feel like every, everyone’s just trying to get outta there and everyone’s just trying to get their job done and yeah, it doesn’t feel good sometimes. So I think just really not thinking, yeah, like you were saying, Hailey, not thinking of us as a paycheck would be nice. <Laugh>,

Hailey (11:08):

I mean, me personally, like I’m going to college to be able to become a social worker because my last social worker that I had really made a big impact in my life and it made me want to do social work. And so like being in college and now knowing the things I know, and I also follow a bunch of social groups on Facebook. Yeah. I think the Vermont state system, especially overloads, caseworkers with cases, I feel like.

Mercedes (11:35):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (11:35):

Caseworkers should be assigned a set amount of cases and not being overloaded because it does make it hard to be able to check in on a regular basis with your client. And you know, I mean, years we’ve watched for years on the news is how kids end up dead in foster homes, placements, and you know, and that’s caused by the social worker not being able to do visits as much or being able to actually see what’s going on.

Mercedes (12:08):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (12:08):

Yeah. I think it kind of brings me to that first hope and aspiration there of that kids in state care should be checked in on, on a regular basis.

Mercedes (12:17):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (12:17):

So there is a federal guideline that children have to be seen once a month.

Mercedes (12:23):

Yep.

Kate Cunningham (12:23):

By their worker, which doesn’t sound like much, but I know there are times that that even gets hard for, for some DCF workers to kind of fit into their schedule.

Hailey (12:33):

There were some placements in foster homes that I wasn’t checked in once a month. Yeah. I’d go two, three months at a time without seeing my caseworker or even hearing from them.

Mercedes (12:43):

Adding on, like going back to the like, just feeling like a paycheck and just feeling like almost like a nuisance. Like sometimes my worker would call me and just not my last worker, but just like workers in general would be like, oh, I need to cram in this meeting with you. And it’s like the last day of the month and it’s like, you couldn’t have done this earlier? Like you’re just doing it now because you have to, not because you care.

Kate Cunningham (13:05):

Yeah, sometimes oversharing maybe a little bit.

Mercedes (13:09):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (13:10):

Is something to watch for. Just, and, and remember that you, you’re working with a youth, right?

Mercedes (13:15):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (13:15):

And you wanna be seen as a, as a real person and important and someone who’s cared about by a worker who’s supportive and trustworthy. Yeah. What other ways, like, are there ways that, that DCF workers could communicate with you just to at least let you know that they’re thinking about you or if they have questions that there are ways, are there ways you did it other than just that monthly visit?

Mercedes (13:39):

I know my situation was really weird with contacting my worker because at programs they almost put like a, a stigma around you calling your worker because they feel like they’re gonna get reported or you’re gonna talk badly about them. So if I said I need to call my worker, they’d be like, you can wait a bit. Or like you, no. Like they couldn’t outright tell us no, but they would be like, how about you just do this first and blah, blah blah. And not my last program I was at, but a couple years ago, other programs, they treated it as a bad thing, like us contacting our workers. So it was really hard for me to get in contact with my workers.

Hailey (14:16):

I had the same experience in some programs of not being able to contact my workers. Thankfully, like I did have a worker who would call me every other day. And so they couldn’t tell me, no, I can’t answer the phone call. ’cause they call, they have to talk and then they have to come get you.

Mercedes (14:33):

Right.

Hailey (14:34):

So it was really nice to be able to have that worker who called every other day because a lot of workers at these programs, they tell you like, oh, not right now, or that you have to wait a little bit and then they push it off until phone call time is gone.

Mercedes (14:55):

Right.

Hailey (14:55):

And then you can’t call past phone call time.

Mercedes (14:58):

Yep.

Kate Cunningham (14:58):

Yikes. And yeah, that does, that’s so important to, to really have that, that communication. And it sounds like you did have one worker who was clearly very communicative with you and and supportive. Yeah. And so I, one I’m curious ’cause I know also when I did some work with the survivors of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage and one of the things they did talk about that being super, super important, and I don’t see it here on the list, but was just having that private time. And I know for workers that that is part of when you’re doing your kind of, we call it the face-to-face visit with your youth every month that you have some private time with them. Right. Some time alone so that you do have time to maybe share your worries or really share what’s going on without having someone else around.

Mercedes (15:49):

That’s, that’s hard because even if you are taken to another space or your phone calls taken to another space you, at least for me, I always had the fear that, and this was again a few years ago in programs. My last couple programs were amazing. But I always had the fear that my DCF worker would say something to the program and say that I was saying bad things or whatever, or that they would just communicate in some way and it wouldn’t be like private anymore. Because they do do that a lot. Like they, I know communication is key and they’re supposed to communicate, but it just gave me this like deep rooted anxiety that I couldn’t say anything to my workers and I couldn’t say anything to staff. And it was, I mean, ’cause I was in programs for over four years and I went to, I believe I moved more than 30 times in my first two years of programs. And it was, it was a very hard road of not knowing who to trust and who to talk to. And I didn’t trust my workers and I didn’t trust staff and I trusted absolutely no one.

Kate Cunningham (16:59):

Yeah, what, what would’ve helped that trust, what could someone have done or said?

Mercedes (17:04):

I mean, I was in a really rough space then I had, I had just gotten out of a really terrible home that DCF had placed me in years prior. And I I needed a lot of help and support and attention. And I think they were just trying to mitigate my behaviors and not see the root cause of what was happening. And I think if someone had just sat down and said, maybe this child just needs to feel some belonging and needs to feel like they ’cause in that setting the word loved is a little inappropriate. But I’m gonna use the word loved because we’re humans. You know, you need to feel loved and you need to feel like you, you have attention because in programs you don’t have a family, you don’t have people there. And it’s, it’s weird and it’s sad to think that that is your family.

Kate Cunningham (18:00):

Right. That’s where you belong, but.

Mercedes (18:01):

Right.

Kate Cunningham (18:02):

You need to feel like it.

Hailey (18:02):

When I was, I was in my longest program and the staff members there, like, they almost started to feel like moms in a way.

Mercedes (18:09):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (18:10):

And like, you know, there was this one lady who like, literally she, she works so much overtime, she was there almost every day of the week and she was like a mom to me. And so like, you know, when I got into like my mood and I couldn’t get out, she would bring me into a private room and be able to bring me down to a level of calmness that I needed. And you know, like Mercedes said, like it doesn’t matter where you are if you’re in a program for that long, you need to feel loved. You need to have someone that feels like they love you because when you don’t like, it, it just makes it harder. Like it’s not, it’s not a good setting to be in.

Kate Cunningham (18:48):

Yeah. It’s not your home. But it is where you are living. Right?

Hailey (18:53):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (18:53):

And the people who surround you are the people who for that period of time, however long it is, become your quote unquote family.

Mercedes (19:01):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (19:01):

And that sense of belonging is super important for sure. What questions could workers ask to actually like, get at what would’ve been most helpful for you?

Mercedes (19:12):

It’s a hard question.

Hailey (19:14):

Yeah. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, it is a hard question. Like

Kate Cunningham (19:16):

What questions weren’t asked?

Mercedes (19:19):

If we were okay. I mean if a worker had just, you know, maybe asked me if I was okay, like I was just at a point in programs where I just so wasn’t okay and it was just making me so much worse. And yeah, I just needed somebody to ask that. I’m not sure if I would’ve given an accurate answer.

Kate Cunningham (19:44):

Yeah.

Hailey (19:45):

I think a question that’s never asked is, are you safe?

Kate Cunningham (19:48):

Mm.

Hailey (19:48):

Because they just assume that you’re, because you’re in a state placement that’s licensed and has licensed people that you’re safe. And that’s not always the case. I mean, I was sexually assaulted in plenty of programs that the state licensed <laugh>. And so, you know, the question, are you safe Is is never asked. I was never asked that.

Mercedes (20:11):

It’s crazy how like I even look at it myself and I, I gaslight myself and say, oh Mercedes, you’re probably just overreacting. But like a lot of programs do some terrible things. And you don’t realize it until you get out of it usually. Or at least for me, I didn’t realize it until I like left. But it’s cra like Hailey was saying, like it’s, it’s crazy how like unsafe you can be in such a place that’s supposed to be like so safe.

Kate Cunningham (20:42):

Yeah so really checking in on, on your safety.

Mercedes (20:45):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (20:45):

And wellbeing.

Mercedes (20:46):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (20:46):

Would be key. And what Mercedes, I am curious with that, like what actually allowed you and Haley if you got there, like what would, what did allow you, what does allow you to, to speak up?

Mercedes (20:59):

Usually when I feel like I’m in a physical environment where I am safe enough to speak about it. If I have stable housing, if I know I’m going to be safe from whoever could not come for me physically, but like, just think bad things about me and put in a bad word about me. If I know that I am safe enough to give my opinion, then I will speak about it.

Hailey (21:24):

I only ever spoke up about it once and I wasn’t believed, so I never spoke on it again.

Mercedes (21:28):

That’s a big thing too, is like staff and social workers yes, there should be no reason that they lie, but, but it does happen a lot. And it sucks when you’re the kid who’s trying to speak up about it and kind of like programs, like they’re supposed to be the safe people and sometimes they’re not. And you’re, you’re not believed about it because you have all of this history and because you, you’ve been through so much and you, you have a quote unquote motive for lying in some people’s eyes.

Kate Cunningham (22:06):

Yeah. So kind of the aggregate of what they know about you is.

Mercedes (22:10):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (22:10):

Is just the behaviors.

Mercedes (22:12):

Yep.

Kate Cunningham (22:12):

More so than kind of why, right? Or what would be helpful to change.

Mercedes (22:17):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (22:19):

One of the, one of the items here underneath the, the second hope or aspiration that children should be listened to and believed which I’m hearing is, is certainly not always something that happened, but under that is that every child should have a guardian ad litem. I know that they get assigned. I’m curious either whether it’s Guardian or any other adult who worked with you in this system kind of in the, as a support person who was helpful.

Hailey (22:48):

I didn’t get a guardian ad litem until my second year in the system. I was two years, two and a half actually. I didn’t even know a guardian, a litem was a thing. I went to court one day and randomly I was introduced by this lady and she’s like, I’m your guardian ad litem. And I’m just like, what the hell is that <laugh>?

Mercedes (23:09):

I actually never really accessed my guardian ad litem. Like she was such a wonderful person and I love her so much, but because I was in programs and stuff, the only person I was really allowed to contact was my DCF worker. And I didn’t use her nearly as much as she should. Even like sitting here right now, I don’t even really know what her job was. I don’t even really know what her, you know, I, I loved that she was at my team meetings and she was a great person. But I don’t really know what she did.

Hailey (23:37):

Mine never really spoke up for me. <Laugh>.

Mercedes (23:39):

Yeah.

Hailey (23:40):

And then I, then she left and I got another one and he didn’t really know what he was doing. He was pretty new into the the program. So <laugh>.

Mercedes (23:51):

Yeah.

Hailey (23:51):

He had no clue what he was doing and he didn’t speak up for me either.

Kate Cunningham (23:55):

That brings me again to kind of, what questions could a guardian ad litem ask? ’cause A guardian ad litem is your court appointed advocate.

Hailey (24:04):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>,

Kate Cunningham (24:04):

Right? So it’s someone separate from any other court person and who is really just speaking up on your behalf clearly just what’s best for you without any influence from either attorneys or DCF. And so yeah. These experiences that you have, what would, what advice would you give to a guardian ad litem?

Mercedes (24:24):

Maybe, I guess make yourself known because I was pretty involved with all of my workers and I now am realizing that I didn’t even really know what she did.

Hailey (24:36):

<Laugh>. Yeah. I mean they definitely need to make themselves known and I feel like most guardian ad litems don’t actually communicate with you unless like you go to court and then they’re just there.

Mercedes (24:48):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (24:48):

I mean, I feel like if they’re gonna be your guardian ad litem, they should have like weekly, monthly meeting.

Mercedes (24:54):

Yeah.

Hailey (24:54):

Check in, like, Hey, how are you doing? Like anything I need to communicate for you. ’cause You know, their job in a sense is to communicate what you’re feeling but in a professional, educated way. Not just like, oh, I’m so fucking mad, I just need to leave. Like I don’t wanna be here <laugh>, you know?

Mercedes (25:15):

Yeah.

Hailey (25:15):

That’s what a kid would say. And then like the guardian ad litem would like bring it to the courts and like the caseworkers and social workers and everyone’s attentions and a way that is understood and not outburst it. <Laugh>.

Mercedes (25:30):

Yeah. Definitely checking in. Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (25:33):

So that’s a, a real key factor here.

Hailey (25:35):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (25:36):

And again, I know I said in the beginning it’s, you know, the, the once a month, the, what we call the face-to-face.

Mercedes (25:41):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (25:42):

But the phone calls, I don’t know if, did you ever have anyone text you, did you use text at all?

Hailey (25:48):

I wasn’t allowed to have, my phone.

Mercedes (25:50):

Wasn’t allowed. I didn’t have a phone until I was about 17 and that was about all my way out of programs. So wasn’t allowed to have a phone.

Hailey (25:59):

I wasn’t allowed to have a phone because that’s part of the reason I went to the system.

Kate Cunningham (26:03):

Okay so, so yeah. So there were safety concerns there.

Hailey (26:05):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (26:06):

So the different ways of, of communication for sure. Even, you know, if you’re in a program stopping by checking in for your day.

Mercedes (26:15):

Yeah. Stopping by is definitely the best thing because they do put a stigma around you calling any of your workers. It’s so weird. Like, it seems so shady now that I’m out of it now and I’m like, that’s so weird and creepy. Just let us talk to our workers. <Laugh>.

Hailey (26:31):

I think the stopping in part is really hard, especially ’cause like there’s not very many residential treatment facilities that people get put in around here when they’re from this area. So for your caseworker or guardian ad litem or anyone to come see you, they always have to travel two to four hours to come be at your placement.

Mercedes (26:51):

Yep.

Hailey (26:52):

And so that’s not feasible in the, in the world of social work. I mean, like I said before, caseworkers are so overloaded with cases, they don’t have time for that. So maybe widening and making more treatment facilities where you’re in the system would definitely help because to be able to lay eyes on your client on a regular basis is impossible when they’re four hours away.

Mercedes (27:22):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.Yeah. A lot of the programs are like down south more and I actually went to Massachusetts at one point to go to a program.

Hailey (27:30):

I was in New Hampshire.

Mercedes (27:31):

Yep. And I was five hours away one way I couldn’t see my family, which I only had one family member at that point. So I couldn’t see anyone and it was, my workers had to come down monthly, but I had some really great workers. The last like three years or so, I’ve had two actually that’s not true outta my way of DCF I had three workers within like two months. And so I’ve had some really great workers these last couple years, which is good. But they came to see me quite a bit, which is good.

Hailey (28:04):

Also, like when I was in treatment, I don’t know if like the law has changed, but when I was in treatment, it wasn’t mandatory for them to physically lay their eyes on you.

Mercedes (28:14):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (28:14):

It could be through a Zoom meeting.

Mercedes (28:16):

Yeah.

Hailey (28:17):

They didn’t even have to come see me. They could do a 10 minute zoom meeting, see me, see that I’m okay physically and be like, all right, awesome. That’s it. And then end the call. I think that it should have to be a physical face-to-face. Like you see them in person.

Mercedes (28:36):

Yeah.

Hailey (28:36):

It should, it should legally have to be that way.

Kate Cunningham (28:39):

Yeah. So really laying eyes on not just on a screen.

Mercedes (28:43):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (28:44):

Or even a phone call, but being able to see you. See that you’re okay,

Hailey (28:47):

Well, on a screen you gotta think like in a screen view you only see the perimeter, you don’t see the entire thing.

Mercedes (28:53):

Yeah.

Hailey (28:54):

There could be so much more happening in that foster home or that residential treatment facility that you have no clue about. ’cause You’re just seeing what’s in the screen view.

Mercedes (29:04):

Right.

Kate Cunningham (29:04):

Yeah, absolutely. And we do a lot of zoom since the pandemic. It’s been a lot of zoom for.

Hailey (29:10):

Even before the pandemic though. Like there was a lot of Zoom, like half my meetings were held Zoom.

Mercedes (29:15):

Yep.

Hailey (29:15):

Or Microsoft Teams, whatever. It’s

Mercedes (29:17):

Yeah. Whatever platform.

Hailey (29:18):

That’s, that’s the platform that social workers mo mainly use is Microsoft teams. But that’s, that’s what it was. Like, I never really had a lot of face-to-face interaction until I got the good caseworkers that I had.

Mercedes (29:31):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (29:31):

Yeah. And it sounds like, I mean, travel is a thing, right? And so planning ahead and, and putting that travel in your calendar, knowing ahead, you’re gonna, you’re gonna see youth and do that, that real face-to-face.

Hailey (29:45):

I had begged to be in a placement closer to my family because I live so far away from them and so far away from my social worker, I begged. And what I was told was, and I just, I remember it. So there ’cause like, it, it literally was just like a slap in the face. It didn’t matter if you were in the back of your backyard of your house, you would still just want to be home. <Laugh>. I didn’t ask to go home <laugh>. I wanted to get the help that I needed.

Mercedes (30:14):

Yeah.

Hailey (30:15):

But I didn’t wanna be five and a half hours away.

Kate Cunningham (30:19):

So what I am hearing is you actually really wanted, you wanted support, you wanted help. And, and it would be really helpful if there were more resources close by so that you wouldn’t have to be so far that you didn’t see your, your casework or your family or anyone else that, that, you know, and you’re close to.

Hailey (30:39):

Yeah.

Kate Cunningham (30:40):

We are gonna talk about alternative caregivers and placements in the next episode. So this might be a good time to kind of wrap up this first episode. And maybe in closing, thinking about if you were to tell any one of your, your DCF workers from the past, you know, one thing, what would that be?

Mercedes (31:09):

Advice or just anything in general?

Kate Cunningham (31:12):

Well, yeah, <laugh>, good question. Yeah. If you were gonna give one piece of advice of the best way to work with youth to, to a DCF worker, what would that be?

Hailey (31:24):

Involve them in their case more.

Kate Cunningham (31:27):

Yeah,

Mercedes (31:28):

Yeah. Towards the beginning, I wasn’t very involved, but I, I became very, very involved as I got older. I was at every single team meeting and was correcting case plans and stuff and highlighting and sending back and checking over information and very involved. So yeah, including us is good.

Kate Cunningham (31:47):

So, including you.

Mercedes (31:48):

Yeah. ’cause it’s, it’s your life.

Kate Cunningham (31:51):

Yes absolutely. Well, thank you so much Hailey and Mercedes. This has been so lovely talking to you. I know. I appreciate all you’re sharing and your stories and know that you’ve really opened up in this podcast. Thank you so, so much.

Mercedes (32:07):

Yeah, thank you.

Kate Cunningham (32:08):

And we will, we will return again in the next episode, which we’re gonna talk about alternative caregivers and placements and ways to, to make those the best that they can be. Thank you both so much.

Hailey (32:20):

Thank you.

Mercedes (32:20):

Thank you.

Cassie Gillespie (32:24):

The Social Work Lens 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 has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house administrative production assistant Emma Baird. For The Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie and we’ll see you next time.

1 thought on “Youth Voice Mini-series: Part 1”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *