Interview with Katie Krause, MSW on Child Welfare Social Work
About Katie Krause, MSW: Ms. Krause is a child welfare social worker who works for Contra Costa County Children and Family Services. As a Continuing Services social worker, she provides case management services to families whose children need to be removed from their parents’ care. Prior to her current role at Contra Costa County Children and Family Services, Ms. Krause interned at the Department of Family and Children’s Services in San Jose, CA where she assisted with dependency investigations. She also interned at the law agency Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, where she conducted psychosocial assessments of children and monitored their well-being in various settings. Ms. Krause earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley in 2011, and her MSW from UC Berkeley in May of 2014. Katie Krause was compensated to participate in this interview.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What types of mental, emotional, social and legal challenges do the children and families you work with face, and how do you counsel and support them?
[Katie Krause, MSW] My current job is with county child welfare agencies. I’m currently doing case management for families involved in child welfare in Contra Costa County. I am the social worker who manages families’ cases after the court has determined that the children need to be removed and the parents need to complete a case plan and make life changes before children can be returned. As part of the continuing services unit, I currently have 26 children that I am required to see monthly. I also meet with the parents to ensure that they are working to make it safe for their children to return home. I write reports to the court on the family’s progress and make recommendations about whether or not to return the child home. I collaborate with therapists, WRAP providers (individuals who provide youth and their families with “Wraparound services” that focus on holistic mental, emotional, and social support), Therapeutic Behavioral Services clinicians, teachers etc. to ensure that families’ needs are met, and attend a variety of meetings including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) at schools and other meetings with the treatment team.
The children I work with experience a variety of hardships:
Emotional: A child’s removal from their parents is an inherently traumatic experience. Whenever possible, social workers try to make the transition from living with their parents to living with strangers as easy as possible. We encourage parents to help put their children in the car, give them a transitional object they can take with them, and talk to their children on the phone as soon as possible to reassure them that everything is going to be okay.
Mental: Every child that comes into contact with our system is assessed for therapy and additional mental health services. Almost all of the children who are removed from their parents participate in some sort of therapy. We also have a number of children with diagnoses that range from PTSD and depression to more complex diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar.
Social: Many of the children I work with have trouble relating to their peers and participating in age appropriate activities. Many of my clients are parentified–meaning that they act older than they are and have been responsible for caring for younger siblings. If you are spending your afternoons/weekends caring for younger siblings, it is hard to develop relationships with your peers. My clients also experience bullying related to their foster child status. Many of my clients are also suffering academically as they have had inconsistent school attendance, changed schools frequently, or not received the help they need to get up to grade level.
Developmental: Exposure to trauma can impact a child’s development. Many of my clients have speech/language and/or physical development delays. Also, children who have developmental delays are more vulnerable and often more suspect to abuse by their families.
As a social worker, I assess each child in all of the above areas. We refer for mental health services, behavior support services, tutoring, extracurricular activities to work on social skills, and developmental assessments through the regional center. I also act as the “broker” and make sure that all service providers are communicating.
Many of the parents I work with also face similar challenges. We are seeing more and more parents with severe mental health diagnoses. Many of our parents have experienced significant trauma in their own childhoods, including growing up in foster care or having parents who have abused substances. Many of our families are impacted by poverty, lack of stable housing, domestic violence etc.
My job is to support families through the reunification process. A lot of that is monitoring the completion of a case plan. A case plan could include things such as: anger management, domestic violence support group and education, counseling, couple’s counseling, family counseling, parenting classes, drug testing, and in patient or out patient drug programs. I refer parents to all of these services. I also listen to them complain and vent about the court system. The court system is extremely complicated. I really try to explain to families what is going on as best as I can since the attorneys don’t really do that. I try to encourage them and draw on their strengths rather than only seeing the problems. I like to see the big picture and really get to know the family.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Could you explain the structure of your team at Contra Costa CPS?
[Katie Krause, MSW] Although it varies by county, social workers can generally move from unit to unit pretty easily. All CPS social workers in California go through the same core training when they are hired. There are 20 or so classes that all social workers must take, and they have the same curriculum all over the state. This includes basics like how to identify abuse, the different types of abuse, the welfare and institutions code and penal code (which is the legal basis for child welfare), safety, mental health, substance use etc.
In Contra Costa County, we have not had a court unit for the past several years. We are just starting to transition into having the three types of units again. Most counties have all three units. A family actually comes to our attention through the screening or intake unit first. A call comes in to the hotline and social workers answer the phone and assess to see if the case is evaluated out, an immediate response (ER worker has to go out within a few hours) or a 10 day response (ER worker goes out within 10 calendar days). Screeners screen out more than half of the referrals that are called in as they use the CAT (California Assessment Tool) or SDM (standard decision making) tool to determine that they do not rise to level of CPS involvement. If a case meets the standard based on safety and risk, it is assigned to an Emergency Response (ER) worker who will go out and interview the family. Most of these cases are referred to community agencies, as the risk is not high enough to warrant court involvement. The social worker looks at the allegation (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, general neglect etc) and determines if it is substantiated (true), unsubstantiated (false) or inconclusive (not sure). If it is substantiated and the risk is high enough, a petition will be filed in juvenile dependency court and a detention hearing is set.
When the child is detained, a continuing worker is assigned to the case (like me). We start working with the family by providing referrals to services, setting up parent-child visits, and visiting the family. After the detention hearing, a jurisdiction hearing is set (about 3 weeks after detention). This hearing determines whether or not allegation is true by court standards. Next comes the disposition hearing, which is about a month later. At this hearing, the plan for the family is determined, such as Family Reunification (child out of home) and Family Maintenance (child in the home). A case plan of services is submitted to the court along with all the family history and information the worker has gathered so far. If there is a court worker, they would pick up before detention and work on the case until after disposition. The continuing worker works with the family until reunification or other permanent plan (adoption etc.) is ordered. The continuing worker writes the status review report at 6 months, 12 months, 18 months. There are all these timelines and complications but it would take pages and pages to explain.
To make it easier for the family, social workers try to do a “warm handoff” when they are transitioning between units or workers so that the old worker can introduce the new worker. The same file follows the family to each worker. All social worker notes are entered into a computer system so that each worker can read all the documentation from prior workers.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] As you interact regularly with the court system by writing reports on how families progress through the reunification process, can you explain in detail how child welfare social workers interact with the criminal justice system?
[Katie Krause, MSW] Child welfare has its own court system, the juvenile dependency court. This is completely separate from criminal court. Sometimes for physical or sexual abuse, the district attorneys office gets involved and prosecutes the parent in criminal court. We may be asked to testify or share information. Children are interviewed about sexual abuse and severe physical abuse on tape so that they do not have to repeat the story over and over for different court systems. Many of our parents have cases in both courts. Family court handles things like guardianships, and child support payments.
Social workers in all units will interact with dependency court judges as we frequently write reports. Social workers can be called to testify when parents contest the allegations or judge’s decision. Each party (parents, kids, social worker) is represented by an attorney in court. Our attorneys are called county counsel and they represent all social workers in the county.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Why did you decide to work in child welfare social work, and what have been some of your most rewarding experiences thus far? On the other hand, what are some of the greatest challenges you have encountered during your work in this field? How did you manage these challenges?
[Katie Krause, MSW] I originally thought that I wanted to be a teacher. I realized that I wanted to work with families, not just children. I have a family friend who is an assistant director of a county child welfare office, and she introduced me to the system. I interned in her office during undergrad, shadowing social workers and doing paperwork during my undergraduate study. I feel that child welfare workers really impact the lives of our families.
Overall, my work is incredibly rewarding. Although it is an uphill battle, I develop pretty good relationships with my families. I get to see the progress they make and see how their lives change for the better. Although it does not happen often, I love when a family thanks me for working with them. I also try to be timely, responsive, and compassionate, as I understand that my job is incredibly important. We are dealing with real people and make important recommendations about whether or not children can safely be with their parents. That is huge.
However, my job is also incredibly challenging. It is heartbreaking to have to recommend that a child not be returned to their parent. I hate having to tell parents that they are not making enough changes and that I do not feel their child is safe with them. It is also tough to see what being torn apart does to families. I firmly believe that most children belong with their parents in the long run. We regularly deal with challenges related to complicated court timelines, large case loads, having to communicate with many service providers, and traveling out of county/state to see kids who are placed elsewhere. One of the most frustrating things for me is having to deal with the judge. While I make a recommendation to the judge, it does not mean that she/he will agree with me. Often times I am having to enforce something that is not what I recommended.
Self care is really important. I have a lot of social work friends. We meet regularly to vent and complain about our jobs. We also share successes. I have a great supervisor who is always willing to listen. We also have internal meetings where all the supervisors come together to do case consultations. Generally, everyone in my office is very supportive of each other.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For social work students who are interested in working in child welfare, and possibly with Child Protective Services, what advice do you have for them in terms of preparing for this difficult field of work?
[Katie Krause, MSW] I would recommend that people be admitted under Title IVE concentration*. This concentration specifically prepares you for work in child welfare. I felt very prepared for my job as a result of my classes and internships. My 2nd year internship was basically like a trial job. A lot of things are the same in each county so it is pretty easy to transition between counties and units. In the title IVE concentration you are required to intern in child welfare. I do not recommend going into child welfare unless you do this concentration, as it is very complicated and busy. It would be very hard to try to learn the system and have a huge caseload. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is an amazing volunteer system that matches advocates with foster youth. Advocates work with social workers, attorneys, and other providers to make sure youth’s needs are met. They write reports to the court also. This is a great way to learn the system.
*Title IV E Stipend Program: This federally funded program is comprised of a nationwide consortium of schools of social work and public service that provide financial support to students and working professionals who pursue degrees or training in public child welfare. The amount that students can receive through this program depends on their state of residence and the level of education they are pursuing (BSW vs. MSW vs. professional training or continuing education).
Thank you Ms. Krause for your time and insights into child welfare social work.