July 21, 2014
When we talk about creating families for children and raising the bar in orphan care, we are referring to the strategic ways we are able to wrap around each Acres of Love Forever Family in order to encourage each child to thrive. It’s hard to understand the complexities of caring for children orphaned and abandoned in South Africa without explaining the different teams participating in the daily work of Acres of Love. One important and valuable support system in place is our Social Work Team, led by Linette and Kathryn, two passionate and hard working individuals who diligently serve and advocate for our children. When children first arrive at Acres of Love, they are referred to us by registered Child Protection Organizations such as the South African Department of Social Development. The government social worker refers the child to our Acres of Love social workers who are some of the “behind the scenes” heroes of our organization. Their work doesn’t end when a child arrives, as our social workers are active participants in making sure each child continues to have their individual needs met in the best possible way. A normal day as a social worker at Acres involves many aspects.
Involved in the daily lives of our children as much as possible, our social workers visit the Forever Homes regularly to check in with the children. They connect with the House Parent staff, as their health and wellbeing is paramount to ensure our kids are receiving the highest quality of care. They write reports for the Child Protection Organizations and the Department of Social Development, ensure that our children’s school documentation is up to date, and guarantee that medical needs of the children are being met. They have a close working relationship with the Acres of Love Team Coordinators in each region; to plan activities, outings, medical appointments, schooling, and assessments. They determine what further interventions are necessary for each child, such as speech therapy, physiotherapy, play therapy, etc. If a child comes to Acres of Love without a birth certificate (this happens often), our social workers take the tedious steps to apply for the certificates and ID documents. In addition to all of these tasks, our social workers are trusted friends to our children, a support system for our House Parents, and frequent fixtures in their homes. They offer one more layer of relational support, as our children understand that they have a network of adults around them who are all passionately committed to their growth and wellbeing.
Our social workers are our resident experts when it comes to dealing with transitions. If a child can be reunified with their birth family, our social workers act as a liaison between the reunification agency and the Acres of Love Forever Family, as well as helping each person within the Forever Family process the change. If a child can be adopted, our social workers work with the adoption agency to prepare the child (and their paperwork) for placement, as well as preparing the Acres of Love Forever Family for the transition before and after the child leaves to join his or her adoptive family. Our social workers also help our children understand the complexity of their story- whether it is in a conversation about trauma and past abuse, building a life book, or waiting with a child for a family member who has failed to show up for a visit. In many parts of the South African system, social workers are overburdened with caseloads without being able to form long-term relationships with the children they serve. One of our social workers came to us from the statutory field, where she worked with cases of children in need of care and protection. Upon hearing about Acres of Love from a colleague, she was touched by the idea of being able to be a part of the hope and new beginnings for children who have been through so much pain and trauma. We are able to provide our social workers a working environment that functions more like a family. They are able to be involved directly with the children they serve, and see the long-term transformation that comes from being a part of a stable, loving family system.
One of the highlights of the job for our social workers is being actively involved in the daily lives of the children, and having the opportunity to see the changes and growth in their lives over time. The changes that we work toward in our children’s lives do not happen overnight, but take patience and teamwork to see hope take root to allow for transformed lives. All of the Acres of Love team members, House Parents, and children function as an extended family and it is of the utmost importance to provide the best possible care for our Acres of Love children and families. We are so grateful for our social workers and the love, commitment, and enthusiasm they put into caring for our children.