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October 2012 Caseworker of the Month
Jamaica, New York
For most of the 15 years that Anne Carlo of Long Beach, New York, has been a foster and adoptive parent, she has had help.
Through the good times and the tragic, the ups and downs, there has been someone accompanying her along her path, her caseworker – the woman she calls “my angel.”
For the past 10 years, Nancy Holland, 46, has helped place children in need of foster care with Carlo. Most of the children have severe disabilities and have suffered extreme abuse.
“She is a dear, dear friend and part of my family, she truly is,” said Carlo, 52.
Holland, a caseworker in the Foster and Adoption Resources Unit for the Nassau County Department of Social Services in New York, is our October Caseworker of the Month. She performs her job with the utmost attention given to families and children, but Carlo also nominated Holland for the recognition because of the solid relationship the two have built.
“She learns quickly the needs of each foster baby that is placed in our home and responds to those needs with ideas, resources, and concrete solutions to any problem,” Carlo wrote in her nomination letter. “She has walked with us side-by-side through some incredibly sad situations and has celebrated with us some astonishing joys. I can call on Nancy for anything. She is always available to us. We are blessed to have Nancy in our lives.”
Building and sustaining a relationship on trust
The relationship between the two women, a single head of a family and a professional child welfare worker, was built and is sustained by trust.
It starts with the trust Carlo has in Holland, knowing she will always make time to answer any questions and be there to help in any way possible. Holland has also proven to be a friend. One of Carlo's adopted children, Anthony, died three years ago at the age of 6. Carlo credits Holland with helping her open up her heart again and take in additional children in need.
As a hospice nurse, Carlo deals with death and the emotional fallout from it every day. However, when Anthony died it broke her heart. He had been shaken as an infant, and suffered from a seizure disorder. He would have been 9 years old in December.
“I consider myself pretty much a loss expert,” Carlo said. “But when it happened to me personally, it hit me hard. In a lot of ways I fell apart.”
In order to grieve her loss, she put a hold on accepting any more foster children for two years. Through it all, Holland was there for her.
“She has such a beautiful sense of humor, even in the most difficult situations, she can find the joy in it, the good in it, she sees light on the other side. She was huge in helping me after my son passed away,” Carlo said. “Just having that ability to communicate with her, she helped me move forward.”
Trust is a two-way street
Also key to Holland and Carlo’s relationship is the trust Holland has in Carlo. Holland said developing the relationship between caseworkers and families is vital to ensuring the needs of children are met.
“It's very important, I have to trust them,” Holland said. She makes sure to tell parents that if they need an answer, or if she can be of assistance, to call her, day or night, weekday or weekend.
Sometimes Holland will be the one to call Carlo, on a Saturday morning, to say she has been thinking of her.
“She doesn't have to do that, that's just Nancy,” Carlo said. “As a foster parent, you are kind of in the trenches. A lot of time it feels like you are alone. When you reach out to Nancy, you know she is going to get back to you as soon as she can take a deep breath and go on to the next thought.”
Holland said she feels personally responsible for the children and families she serves.
“I have to sleep at night as well,” Holland said. “I always tell my foster parents, 'I don't want to leave you in the dark, I don't want to leave you alone.'”
The journey to fostering and adopting
Carlo's journey in fostering, and ultimately adoption, started about 15 years ago, when Carlo's two birth children were heading off to college.
“I didn't want to be by myself in the house,” she said with a laugh. She began taking foster parent classes, and decided to bring children in need into her home.
“It went big from there,” Carol said.
She doesn't have an accurate figure of how many children have come to her house, counting the emergency placements, the short-term placements, and taking in the children of other foster parents to allow for a respite period. But she said Holland has been involved in the majority of the placement.
In addition to her five grandchildren from her two biological daughters – Megan, 30, and Kerri, 29 – Carlo has two adopted children, Joshua, 12, and Shravonie, 10, plus two children whom she currently fosters.
Being an advocate for caseworkers
Although Carlo has formed a long-term bond with Holland, she is an advocate for other caseworkers in the system.
“They are all such incredibly hard-working women and men,” she said. “It's a system stretched as tight as could be, and they do the very best they can for the kids and for us, the foster parents.”
Holland has worked for Nassau County for 19 years, the last 11 with foster children and families. But the desire to have her life's work in helping others started early. As a youngster she volunteered for the Red Cross.
Originally from Hempstead, New York, she now lives in Jamaica, New York. Holland received her undergraduate degree in social work from York College of the City University of New York and her Master of Social Work from Adelphi University. She is single and enjoys spending time with her nephews and godchildren.
She said she was a little surprised, and a little embarrassed, when she heard she had been nominated by Carlo for Caseworker of the Month, but appreciates the recognition.
“When you are passionate about what you do, and believe in it, you are going to have bumps in the road,” she said. “You just have to keep going. The child welfare system is not always a sunny system, it's dark sometimes, and in those times you do feel helpless. You have got to scratch your head, and trust that you are making the right decisions.”
Inspired by this story?
- Child Welfare Professionals: Take action by finding out more about strategies to retain foster and adoptive parents.
- Families: Take action by learning more about post-adoption resources that might be available to you.
- Media: Consider sharing this story and other real stories about adoption and foster care, joining our public service advertisement campaign, or by taking advantage of our resources for the media.
Download the October 2012 Caseworker of the Month press release (PDF 1.8 MB).