Outstanding Caseworker: Marianne Conheady
A New York State caseworker shares some of what she's learned while serving families for 23 years.
July 17, 2018
A mother who adopted several children with ongoing medical needs from other states suggested that we recognize Marianne Conheady as an Outstanding Caseworker. The mother wrote:
Marianne goes above and beyond to be available to the children and foster families who are adopting—and she never lets a work-week schedule limit her availability. Marianne sees kids early in the morning or late at night and works overtime to ensure home studies are done and caseworkers in other time zones are contacted. She has advocated again and again for children and families to have the supports they need and deserve, even after adoptions are completed. Her commitment to the job is paramount and has ensured permanency for many children.
How long have you been working with children and families?
In some ways it seems like forever! But in all, I have worked for the county for about 23 years. It has not been continuous, though. I took several years off to raise my kids, and then came back.
I’ve been a senior in the adoption unit in Monroe County for the last five years. I do a lot of different things, including working on all of our interstate adoption cases.
Of all of the things I do, my favorite part of the job is working with families. As much as I have learned in nearly two decades of working with children, they know more. I learn from them every day.
How do you approach your work with families?
I start working with parents during their home study—and I keep working with them through inquiries, placements, and finally—family! I get to go from asking parents to show me a child’s room during that first home study visit to eventually watching a child make it their own room. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of bringing families together.
The most important thing I do is to advocate for my parents, because I know them and I know when they are going to be the best choice for a child who needs a forever family. That means making tons of phone calls, asking hard questions of children’s workers, taking my phone home at night to talk with a worker in a different time zone, and making home visits before I go to work if that is the most convenient time for families.
What has surprised you when matching parents and kids?
My parents own and love these kids from the minute they see them. Sometimes from the minute they read about them. They know that this is their child.
I can read a child’s profile and think, Oh, that’s a nice write-up. And they read it and think “That child belongs in my family.” I have literally had parents call me up and say: “I’ve found my son on a website.” It’s amazing to me. If they can tell me that—and the child can tell me: this is my mom, this is my dad—then I need to help them make that happen.
Is offering post-adoption support part of your job?
We are fortunate to have a lot of post-adoption services available in our county, including a specialized day care for medically fragile kids. It’s the only one in the state where a child can get all of the services they need right there—including early education, intervention therapies, and special healthcare. But yes, because I work so closely with the families, they know they can always call me if they need something. And they do!
What are your biggest challenges to bringing children and families together?
Because I handle all of our interstate adoption cases, most of my challenges involve bringing systems and people together. For example, I might need to figure out how to translate a child’s Florida IEP [individual education program] to meet New York State requirements in time for a child to start school as soon as they move. Or if a kid has been in their foster home for a year or two, I will try to connect the adopting family with the foster family so that they can learn from them and keep things that are working the same.
What advice would you give caseworkers who are new to the adoption field?
That’s a hard question, because there are so many things that they will learn as they go. Here are my top three:
- Be flexible! Your day rarely goes as you plan it to—you are working with people, after all!
- Learn from your families—and share what you learn with the families you work with in the future.
- Be kind and understanding. It only takes a few extra minutes, and it makes a world of difference.
What has kept you doing this work for 23 years?
In all of the different jobs I have had within the county, it has always been about the kids, their needs, and their right to have a family. They need someone to speak up for them. That is why I am here.
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