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March 2012 Caseworker of the Month

Jenny Kilpatrick

Jenny Kilpatrick

Spanish Fort, Alabama 

Phone calls going unreturned, emails left unanswered, it was all adding up.

Amy Fooladi and her husband Michael of Elsanor, AL, had been wading through their home study application for 10 months. Dotting the i's and crossing the t's was expected, and Fooladi knew the required vetting and education wasn't intended to be easy. But when she had a question, she couldn't easily get it answered. When she reached out for assistance, she either felt ignored or that she was imposing on someone’s time.

As if the home study wasn't enough, which she described as exhausting and draining, she had three birth children at home to look after. Fooladi said she would not have phrased it this way, but in the language of foster and adoption caseworkers where family retention is vital, she did not feel that she was being retained.

Retention involves supporting waiting foster and adoptive families to ensure they don’t become overwhelmed and simply opt out. And that was something the Fooladis were considering, which was deciding against adopting a child from foster care.

“It was almost enough for us to quit the home study process with the public agency and go to a private adoption agency,” she said.

That changed though after the Fooladi's caseworker left her job and they were assigned to Jenny Kilpatrick, a senior social worker in adoptions at the Alabama Department of Human Resources in Baldwin County.

The Fooladi's home study was additional work outside of Kilpatrick’s normal job description, but she made it a priority.

“They had become frustrated with the process,” said Kilpatrick, 34. “I really wanted to get in there and really try to get the process moving.”

Shortly after having Kilpatrick assigned to them, Fooladi had a question so she picked up the phone and dialed Kilpatrick's number.

“I honestly, sincerely expected her to have an air of annoyance with me,” Fooladi said.

Instead, Fooladi got the opposite reaction. She remembers Kilpatrick saying, “That's what I'm here for.”

“She just really picked up the ball and ran with it,” Fooladi said.

It was because of Kilpatrick’s great customer service to the Fooladis and putting a priority on retaining them as a resource family that she was named our March Caseworker of the Month.

'Jumping' at Information Requests

The way Kilpatrick sees it, without families there would be no place for waiting children to go.

“Families are the ones we depend on to take care of our children,” Kilpatrick said. “I can't think of anything more important than that. They are on the front lines, even more so than we are. I just feel like we owe them the courtesy of keeping them informed. Our system can be very cumbersome and very confusing and a lot of times social workers use terms not everyone is familiar with, so part of working with our families is explaining a lot of how the process works. The unknown, often times, is so much worse.”

When Fooladi had a question, she said Kilpatrick would “jump” and get her an answer, sometimes within an hour. She also went through the Fooladis' paperwork almost immediately after being assigned to them, making sure it was correct. She gathered the rest of the documents, scheduled a safety inspection, and tracked down information about reimbursements for CPR and first aid classes. The home study was finally completed a month ago.

“Jenny is a little ray of sunshine,” Fooladi said.

Serving Families, Serving Children

Kilpatrick said there is vicious cycle working against retention efforts. Budget cuts lead to positions remaining unfilled with caseloads being distributed to the remaining caseworkers. In some instances, caseworkers then feel overwhelmed, and begin to question if they are performing at the standard they expect of themselves. After that, caseworkers might start looking for other career options. When they leave, their cases are then distributed to other caseworkers, continuing the cycle.

“You are just up to your eyeballs,” Kilpatrick said. “When case workers leave I think sometimes things get lost in the transition.”

But despite the difficult times, Kilpatrick said it was important as ever to not let good families walk out the door.

“We aren't serving our children well if we are not serving foster and adoptive parents well,” she said.

A little understanding and an adherence to the golden rule can go a long way.

“Often times it can be a lengthy process,” she said. “And often times they have been thinking about it for so long it feels like it has gone on longer than it has.”

Motivating Factors

Kilpatrick didn't set out to work in child welfare, although she always had an interest in working with people. Raised in Spanish Fort, AL, she received undergraduate degrees in psychology and fine arts from Huntingdon College and later her masters of social work from the University of Alabama.

Before deciding on a career in social work, Kilpatrick worked in an art gallery and a hospital, where she first became interested in social work.

She has worked for the Alabama Department of Human Resources for two years. Kilpatrick and her husband Bobby live in Fairhope, AL, and have a 6-month-old daughter, Olivia.

Kilpatrick said she was honored to be nominated for Caseworker of the Month.

“It's nice to have someone recognize the work you do,” she said.

She is hesitant to say her efforts were extraordinary, though.

“I understood their frustration. I understood that it really had taken much longer than it should have and they are very, very eager to adopt their children. Just knowing that there is a family out there in my county who wants to adopt, and there kids who are out there who need to be adopted was another motivating factor.”

Inspired by this story?

Download the March 2012 Caseworker of the Month press release (PDF 54 KB).

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