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August 2011 Caseworker of the Month
Dori Weeder, a social caseworker with Broomfield Health and Human Services in Broomfield, CO, is our August Caseworker of the Month. A generalist who handles cases from beginning to end, and has helped place 10 children in permanent homes, Weeder has worked to bridge the gap between foster and birth parents in order to put children’s needs first.
Weeder didn’t decide right away she would devote her career to helping children and teenagers.
Originally, the native of Denver thought she would spend her professional life in court as a lawyer and a judge, a job path she started considering in junior high school. Despite the diverging path she chose, she still has regular encounters with black robes.
“It’s interesting, because I deal fairly frequently with judges,” said Weeder, 38, wondering if it was anything more than a coincidence that she had once intended to become a judge.“I don’t know how the mind of a young kid works.”
Following college, Weeder started looking for a job while working as a volleyball coach. A friend who worked in a shelter mentioned to Weeder she should apply, and thus started her life as a social worker.
“That’s how I got hooked in,” she said.
Focusing on the Best Interest of the Child
Weeder was named our August Caseworker of the Month for her work helping ease children and families through termination and adoption processes.
“She is the type of caseworker who always sees the case from the child's point of view,” said Lucinda Connelly, the program planning administrator for Broomfield Health and Human Services, in Weeder’s nomination letter. “Her decisions truly reflect the best interest of the child.”
Connelly also wrote that that when working with children who would not be returned to the care of their birth parents, Weeder often worked to maintain a positive relationship with the parents by reaching out and softening the loss.
“Her level of compassion for everyone involved is evidenced in her willingness to facilitate meetings between biological and adoptive families with everyone focusing on the best interest of the child,” Connelly wrote. “Several previous clients (children) maintain a connection with Dori even after adoptions have been finalized. She provides a strong, positive role model exhibiting kindness, thoughtfulness, humor, and a gentle nature that everyone who comes in contact with her appreciates.”
In one case, Weeder convinced foster family and birth family to meet face to face. What could have been a tense interaction was described by Connelly as “wonderful.”
“It was truly one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen happen,” she said.
In bridging that gap, the birth mother was able to calm her fears that her child would not remember her. And the child’s new parents were able to understand the birth mother was not evil, or a villain, but a young, vulnerable woman who was unable to raise her own children, Connelly said.
For the past seven years, Weeder has essentially served as a generalist working cases from the beginning to end. Recently the agency brought aboard an adoption worker, which led to Weeder’s surprise at being named AdoptUSKids’ Caseworker of the Month.
“Obviously you are flattered that people think you are doing a good job,” she said.
What keeps Weeder going, however, isn’t the accolades. It’s the small victories that come from working the job day in and day out.
“It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s feeling like I am making a difference in somebody’s life,” Weeder said.
Challenging Assumptions about Older Children
One way Weeder has made that difference is by challenging assumptions about whether a child is too old to be adopted.
In the past, older children were not given the same attention as younger children when it came to adoption, Weeder said.
“We’re switching that up,” she said.
One of the attitudes she encounters from prospective families is they don’t have much to offer an older child, one who would be legally independent in a matter of a couple years.
But Weeder said a person does not stop needing parents when they turn 18.
“If you think about it, I take it back to myself. I went from high school to college, but I still needed my parents well into my 20s,” she said. “For kids to not have that safety net, it sets them up to be homeless or for jail or wherever else. They just haven’t gotten the same skills and don’t have anyone to call when they need help.”
In her experience, Weeder said it can be a tougher job helping to raise an older adoptive kid as opposed to a younger child.
“You have to find somebody willing to roll with the punches,” Weeder said, compared to adoptive parents who bring infants and younger children into their homes. “I think they have to have some skills in place already.”
Not skills necessarily gained from parenting, Weeder said. The experience can come from working in the system, or working with older children in another capacity.
The adoptions Weeder saw fail, when the child ultimately was removed from the home of their adoptive parent, were the result of a naiveté of parents about teens.
Weeder has encountered the attitude, “If I love them enough everything will work out.” Although that attitude may demonstrate the parent is loving and caring, it doesn’t mean they can handle the emotional baggage that can accompany a teenager who recently lost their biological parents.
“You are always looking for a fit,” Weeder said. “There is nothing worse than telling a kid placed for adoption that now you have to leave. I had that happen one time.”
Knowing Social Work is for Her
Weeder received her undergraduate degrees in political science and English and her Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver. She also played volleyball for the school, and still holds two single season records for service aces.
The hardest part of the job for her, besides the paperwork and bureaucracy, is watching families struggle. But Weeder cautioned that being a social worker isn’t for everybody, and career burnout is a real threat for professionals.
“You just have to know it’s for you,” she said. “You have to have a reason for doing it. Otherwise, you will be like, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Inspired by this story?
- Child Welfare Professionals: Take action by taking advantage of our free recruitment and retention resources designed with you in mind.
- Families: Take action by learning more about how to foster and how to adopt.
- Media: Consider sharing this story and other real stories about adoption and foster care and learning more about joining our PSA campaign. Download the December 2011 Caseworker of the Month press release (PDF 1.8 MB).