Monday, May 10, 2010

Meet Kerstin Manderson - Aspiranet FFSN and Foster Care Worker, San Jose/Salinas

"I pour my heart into my work. I have compassion for the children I serve and still find myself grieving over the injustices that have occurred to them. I find that I connect most with the children by taking them out for ice cream or throwing a football with them. They become open, honest, and willing to listen to advice."

What do you do as a Social Worker?
I see myself as a bridge creating opportunities for foster children to be successful. I spend time with foster children, counseling them, and ensuring their safety and well-being. I work collaterally with therapists, WRAP teams, County Workers, birth parents, foster parents, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) workers, and other community members such as education liaisons.

What motivates you to do this work?
The bond formed with the foster child and foster family is the highest motivator. Knowing that the child is safe, cared for, and is in the current placement environment encourages me to continue working.

What are some of your guiding principles?
I strive to be empathetic with the foster child and see behavioral acting out as a means of communicating pain and lack of coping skills. I have respect for the foster family and see them as the experts with the foster child. Instead of lecturing I listen and challenge the foster child to create an individual set of beliefs through questioning and thinking while considering the positive and negative consequences.

What led you to choose this career path?
In college I wanted to be a missionary pediatrician because I liked children and I wanted to help those who were not given the same opportunities as I had been given. I questioned my choice when in school I was doing nothing but studying science. I then learned of the social work profession and it seemed to make sense, because I realized that I could get paid for the volunteer work I had been doing and enjoying.

In what ways do you feel you’re making a difference in the lives of children?
I am working with the foster families and monitoring that their children are in safe and supportive environments. I spend time with the children listening to, caring for, and challenging them.

What sort of challenges do you face in your work as a social worker, and how do you rise above/meet those challenges?
I often feel I am pulled in too many different directions. People often tell you what to do and add more work to your load. So, I learn how to set boundaries and prioritize. The kids and foster families are absolutely my number one priority.

What do you find to be rewarding about your work generally? Specifically in working for Aspiranet?
I find it rewarding when I see or hear success stories from the foster children. The foster families working with Aspiranet are extremely caring and dedicated. My co-workers are also very dedicated to their jobs.

In what ways do you think social workers inspire community action? And you specifically in your own work?
I think social workers provide support for, believe in, and challenge people to be successful. We also work as advocates on behalf of our communities. When the California budget proposed a cut to foster care, I and many foster families wrote letters advocating against the cuts.

What “makes it all worth it” at the end of the day? Can you provide a specific story or situation which was particularly rewarding/memorable?
Recently, I was able to connect a foster family unwilling to adopt with a foster family willing to adopt and the County Social Worker. The adoptive family is ecstatic and has begun visiting with the children. The possible adoption has now gone from one identified child to possibly his three other siblings as well. How admirable of a family to be willing to adopt a sibling set of four children, one autistic and another being tested for developmental disabilities. And in addition to a previously adopted son with autism!

In what ways do you think social workers have helped shape the quality of American life?
Social Workers act as the voice for the speechless. They advocate for safety and opportunity.

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