Outstanding Caseworker: Mariela Arias

A licensing specialist in Miami talks about what makes a great foster parent and common misconceptions people have about fostering.

May 21, 2018

Outstanding Caseworker Mariela Arias
Every single day is different—new people, new challenges. Constantly learning keeps me young!

Mariela Arias is a foster care licensing specialist in Miami, Florida. She has been working with families for 15 years.

A mother whom Mariela worked with suggested that we feature her as an Outstanding Caseworker.

The mother wrote:

Mariela has many cases, like all social workers. But she treats each family as if they were the only one and dedicates all the time that each family needs. Mariela always has a smile. She always answers the phone. She is always kind, loving, sincere, clear, and warm. Thanks to Mariela, today we have our son.

Mariela, can you describe your job?

My role is to develop a relationship with families. I help them decide whether foster parenting is right for them while I assess whether they have the necessary skills and are ready for the responsibility.

As part of my assessment, I do several background screenings—FBI, Florida law enforcement, etc.—to make sure there is nothing in their history that might prevent them from being foster parents.

After the families are approved to foster or foster-to-adopt, I work with our placement team to help match them with children.

What do you think makes a good foster parent?

A good foster parent is someone who understands that our mission is keeping children safe and partners with us to achieve that goal. A good foster parent does everything they can do for children—just like they would for their own kid.  

A great foster parent goes the extra mile. They make sure the kids can participate in extra-school activities—even without reimbursement. They take the children on trips. They make sure they have things other kids have. They might even mentor other families.

In addition, a great foster parent knows that working with foster children and the foster care system can be very challenging. They learn how to successfully manage the behavior of challenging children and—most importantly—learn how to communicate with others.

How do you decide whether a family is a good match for a child?

I do everything I can to suggest a good match—a foster family that is equipped to handle a child’s needs—because the very last thing you want is for a placement to disrupt and for a child to have to move.

But of course, things come up that a parent might not have anticipated or be prepared to deal with. So I tell every family: as soon as you see something you cannot handle, let me know. Call me anytime. If I can’t help, I will find someone who can.

And families do call—at all hours—even in the middle of the night! And I’m glad they do. Because getting them the services they need keeps kids safe and in place. I’ve never had a placement disrupt. Never.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about being a foster parent?

A lot of people think that you can’t adopt after fostering. But many of our foster parents end up adopting the children they foster. Short of reunification, that’s the best case scenario—to have a child stay in the same home.

Another misconception is that teenagers are scary or hard to parent. People want to foster younger kids because they think teenagers are bad or have problems they can’t solve.

Of course, no kid is a bad kid! What they need is attention, care, and love. That’s why they act out—due to the lack of attention. I’ve had two homes that didn’t want to foster teens and then they ended up adopting them! And I’ve had teens come and thank me for giving them a home. That is pretty satisfying.

You’ve been doing this work for 15 years. What keeps you doing it?

Seeing children in safe homes and being part of families coming together. I get invited to a lot of adoption parties even though I am not in the adoption unit!

I also love working with the families. They are like friends—sometimes like family. I learn from them—from seeing how they work with the kids. I went through PRIDE training many years ago and thought I knew it all! But far from it.

In this job, you never stop learning. Every single day is different—new people, new challenges. Constantly learning keeps me young!


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