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Outstanding Caseworker: Lori Nichols

Outstanding caseworker Lori Nichols

Lori Nichols is a foster care recruiter for the state of Nevada. A colleague suggested that we feature her as an Outstanding Caseworker. The colleague wrote:

“Lori has worked as the only foster care recruiter for all of rural Nevada for well over seven years now. She has put all of her efforts into getting as well as retaining foster parents, all while having an understaffed Foster Licensing Unit. Lori goes above and beyond in her job, works hard to support her co-workers, and is always that positive, loving energy that a child and family services agency needs!”

We talked with Lori about her work.

How do you describe your job?

I am responsible for recruiting foster families in 15 rural counties that are spread out across the large State of Nevada. I am also the first contact for all families in rural Nevada that have questions about foster care licensing.

There are times that I will be asked to complete a home study, but often, I am working on building relationships with community leaders—judges, pastors, business leaders and even local politicians—whoever it is in that community that people see, trust, and will listen to.

Focusing my efforts on respected leaders and getting them on board with recruitment is one of the most effective ways to recruit and retain local foster parents. One judge in a very rural town in Nevada recruited six foster families for that area, and each one was licensed and good to go in a matter of months. I could never have been that effective! The real blessing came when children did not have to be moved to another town just because they came into care. They stayed there because there were homes to care for them!

You’ve been recruiting families for nearly nine years. That’s a long time! What keeps you doing this work?

I really believe in the idea of blooming where you are planted—contributing what you can, where you can. For me, that means being a good representative of the child welfare system: being responsive, going beyond my job description, and giving people more help and information than they asked for. If I do my job well, I can improve the way that people think about the child welfare system, which will mean more foster parents and more kids living in good homes and in their own communities.

What makes a great foster parent?

Someone who can recognize their strengths and weaknesses and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Flexibility and patience on the part of the foster parent are key when you are talking about kids that have various levels of trauma they are dealing with and healing from. Of course, we are also looking for foster parents that understand the importance of reunification with birth family.

Being a foster parent is the ultimate sacrifice: they give unconditionally and then say goodbye, often never knowing what a difference they made in a child’s life.

Final thoughts?

It’s so important for people to know that kids in foster care didn’t get there because of something they did. They’re not “bad” kids. They are kids who go to school, get good grades, struggle with relationships, run around the baseball diamond, and like to watch movies and snuggle up on the couch with you and a bowl of popcorn.

It sounds cliché, but these kids are our future and it’s up to us to give them the safety, security, and love they deserve.