Op-ed | How to make an impact this Social Work Month

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I’m proud to be a social worker in New York City, where I feel I can have the biggest impact on children and families, helping them to reach their full potential. Many people may not know that one of the largest contingents of social workers in NYC is at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), where I began my career as a Child Protective Specialist (CPS) and I am now Chief of Staff to the Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Child Protection.

During the course of my career as a social worker, I have had the opportunity to work directly with children and their families, build stronger relationships with community-based organizations, and influence child welfare policies. And I want residents of Brooklyn to know how, as a social worker, you can do this too. 

Like many of my fellow social workers, I have always wanted to help children and their families. Growing up in a big family in Bedford-Stuyvesant, I was keenly aware of the challenges we faced when, at that time, crime and substance misuse plagued my neighborhood. I became a child welfare professional, and later a social worker, because I wanted a job that would help the children and families of New York. Decades later, it has turned into a deeply rewarding, long-term career.

In 2001, I got my first job at ACS as a CPS, where I served children and families in my community by responding directly to reports alleging that a child might be abused or neglected. I worked with other ACS staff and community-based service providers to assess child safety and identify interventions that could support families so children could be safe. 

After a few years, I decided to go back to school for my Master of Social Work through ACS’s Professional Development Program so that I could better serve children and families, and to engage and partner with families and community resources. 

My priority during my studies was understanding the policies that directly impacted children in Brooklyn and beyond, and especially for children and youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I wanted to make sure I understood how their lives had been impacted, and how I could be a champion for their well-being. 

Soon after graduating, I became a Supervisor, where I managed my own unit of CPS. I later worked as part of the Sobriety, Treatment, and Recovery Team (START) Program, an exciting initiative designed to provide intensive support for families who struggled with addiction and had at least one young child in their home. CPS worked with “family mentors,” who were on-call for families 24 hours a day to help support them through their recovery. I was so proud to be a part of this innovative program that offered comprehensive services to families in need. 

Now, as Chief of Staff for an ACS Deputy Commissioner, I am in a position to impact policy – a goal I set for myself when I began my career. In my current role, I feel I can truly make change on behalf of the children and families of New York City. 

In the 20-plus years I’ve spent at ACS, I’ve seen firsthand how social workers and child welfare workers band together to enact change and meet families where they are. Since my first day at the agency, I’ve seen more mental health services, more manageable caseloads, a prioritization of worker safety, and a shift to more service-focused responses for families. As a result, the number of children in New York City’s foster care system is under 7,000. That’s over 30,000 less than 25 years ago.

I hope my story can serve as an inspiration to young people in Brooklyn who are thinking about a career in child welfare and/or social work. As I look back on my experiences, I’m so thankful for my time as a CPS not only because I had the opportunity to work so closely with vulnerable New Yorkers, but because of the resilience I saw within families in the face of so much adversity, which inspired me to become a social worker.

This year’s theme for Social Work Month is “Social Work Breaks Barriers.” I’m proud to have broken barriers on behalf of children and families in Brooklyn and across NYC. This March, I encourage you to take time to learn about the many positive contributions of the profession, and celebrate all the social workers you know.

Sharice Randall, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Child Protection, New York City Administration for Children’s Services