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“It’s about the children”

Danielle Turnage
“The first step in working with anyone is getting a feel for what would put them at ease.”

An adoptive parent from North Carolina was eager to tell us how her social worker, Danielle Turnage, supported her family through three adoptions. She wrote:

“As a foster parent, I know Danielle is looking out for the children’s best interest. She gets to know them as individuals and not just a case…She looks at all angles and addresses any concerns I have. But ultimately I know that it is not about me, it is about the children.”

We asked Danielle to describe her approach to working with families and what she has learned over the years.

What drew you to social work?

I always knew that I wanted to work with children and families. I thought about teaching or becoming a counselor. But I wanted to have opportunities to work with families on a more personal level and for a longer term than those careers would provide.

I have been a foster care and adoptions social worker for six years now. I really believe that this is what I am supposed to do.

You work with children, their birth parents, and their foster parents. How do you approach your interactions with each of them?

I think the first step in working with anyone is getting a feel for what they need and what would put them at ease.

For foster parents, usually that is information. Of course sometimes they want to know more than I can tell them. When that is the case I try to reassure them that this is what I can share now, and when I can share more I will.

For birth parents, I have found that being understanding of their situation and taking a strengths-based approach is the only way to establish a positive rapport with them. I think about how the parents got to be where they are, what challenges they must have faced in their own life. To truly support the parents I have to assume that they are doing the best they can.

For the children, my focus is on their feelings and best interests, of course. And when reunification is not an option, my goal is to help them maintain some sort of connection to their birth families.

Why do you suggest adoptive parents keep children connected to their birth families?

One of the reasons I am a big proponent of foster-to-adopt is because it can give adoptive parents an opportunity to build a relationship with children’s birth parents or other relatives—even friends of the family.

When direct contact is not possible, sometimes you have to encourage foster and adoptive parents to get creative! Communicating by phone, email, or even letters delivered to a post office box are all good options for promoting communication.

I think it is also important for children to have something tangible from their parents, something they can hold onto. You cannot underestimate what a little family memento—family pictures, a high school trophy, a family bible, or special family recipe—will mean to a child. Any item from their birth family that a child can hold onto could help them feel more grounded in the long run.

Any final thoughts?

Those that are passionate about working with families believe in a person’s ability to change their behavior and circumstances. I have learned to recognize the limits to what we can influence and know that we cannot fix everything.