At Spence-Chapin, our birth parent social workers play a pivotal role in carrying out the organization’s mission. Their work in counseling parents through their options and guiding them in creating a permanent plan for the future lies at the heart of our work in finding safe, stable homes for children.
“I think it all is a personal calling,” Mary McCabe, Associate Director of Birth Parent Services and Outreach at Spence-Chapin, says. “This work is meant for us.”
It is because of their importance to our team, as well as their admirable, earnest desire to help people through their profession, that we celebrate them for Social Work Month. March commemorates social workers for their contributions as advisors and advocates for those in need, and it encourages everyone in our community to reflect on their motivations and purpose in doing this vital work.
“It gives me a chance to stop and think and refocus—why did I come into the field?” Spence-Chapin Social Worker Michelle Monastero says about Social Work Month. “What was my reasoning behind it?”
Spence-Chapin’s birth parent social workers support parents who find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy or who are unable to provide for their child. This can be for a variety of reasons including special needs diagnoses, late discoveries of pregnancy, financial issues, behavioral problems, or a poor support system. Our workers inform clients of all of the options available to them and help them as they build a sustainable plan for themselves and their families.
For those who choose adoption for their child, our birth parent social workers are with them every step of the way—from selecting a family, to deciding on an open or closed adoption, to placement, and afterward. Many of our social workers still receive updates from their clients years later, and it brings them great joy to hear how they are doing in their lives.
Our social workers agree that helping those in need find their own agency, make progress in their lives, and access resources are what makes social work so important.
“We don’t want to create a dependence,” Leslie Nobel explains. Leslie, also an Associate Director of Birth Parent Services and Outreach, had twenty years of experience in social work before coming to Spence-Chapin. “Our role was to help people find their strengths and to be able to gain tools to move forward for themselves.”
Michelle was inspired to become a social worker after observing them care for her grandmother. She says the social work practice can help people take stock of their feelings. The goal is that they will then transcend “some very difficult traumas or things that have occurred in their lives that are affecting how they are able to function.”
Mary says a key part of their jobs is to make sure that birth parents’ decisions are respected, and that they are content and informed about the many possibilities for creating a loving, healthy environment for their children: “If I counseled this woman to be happy about her decision, then that’s the most rewarding thing to me.”
Her colleagues underscore this, saying their clients are taught that they have rights as birth parents, such as in selecting an adoptive family and determining whether the adoption is open or closed.
“What I see is women coming in feeling very powerless and frightened—frightened of judgment, frightened of repercussion from others,” Leslie describes. “And when they come to us and feel safe, they start to feel empowered to make a decision and to feel confident in that decision. It’s really an incredible thing to watch.”
Leslie notes she is encouraged by her colleagues as well, particularly younger, newer social workers. She thinks their schooling is more thorough than what was offered to her generation through higher education. At times, younger counselors can frame or articulate the issues clients are confronted with in ways that Leslie finds insightful:
“We’re all helping each other help our clients and I really love that–that everybody has a perspective.”
Even still, our social workers say they are ultimately driven by the courage and fortitude of the population they serve.
“I look up to our birth parents and I respect them because they’re so strong,” Mary says. She questions if she could make such sound decisions if she were in her clients’ shoes: “I give them a lot of credit for going through the process. It’s very emotional. It’s hard…they’re very resilient.”