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Outstanding Caseworker: Oneida Petrino

Oneida Petrino

“It’s exciting to go along on a journey with families and see everybody grow.”

Oneida Petrino lives in a small town in northeastern Colorado. A mother she worked with suggested that we feature Oneida as an Outstanding Caseworker.

“Oneida has been a huge support in my foster-to-adopt process. She has always remained committed to making sure our adoption was successful… In a small community when foster kids on your caseload become teammates with your own children, she never wavered her professionalism or confidentiality.”

How would you describe your job?

I’ve been with the department for 11 years. For the first 10, I was supporting adoptions. Recently I moved to the other side, helping families remain intact and reunify with their children.

It was hard to leave adoptions! But I wanted a new challenge and to learn from a supervisor whose work I’d long admired.

What attracted you to social work?

My mom was a Head Start teacher for more than 30 years. I’ve always been very community oriented and like connecting with people and feeling like I am making a difference in their lives. Even if it’s just making them smile at a difficult point in their life. Whatever I can do to make a  tough situation better.

I thought I was going to go into law enforcement—most of my training is in the criminal justice field. But I guess divine intervention placed me where I need to be in life!

The mother who wrote to us made a really interesting point about your work in a small community. How do you make the separation between work and home life?

In some ways, you don’t! My kiddo can be on a team with a kiddo who just returned home, another kiddo who was just adopted, and a third kiddo who is in placement. That’s happened to me—and it’s really great! Because at the end of the day, we’re all families.

Of course, there are the awkward moments too. But you use what’s in your bag of tricks to deal with it. When I am out in the community with my husband and kids, say at a grocery store, and a family I work with approaches me, I signal to my husband to walk away with the kids. That way, if I need to, I can have a private conversation and not violate anyone’s confidentiality or create an uncomfortable situation.

What are the best parts of your job?

It’s exciting to go along on a journey with families and to see everybody grow. You see children go from finding out that their life with their birth family is not good to feeling lost and overlooked to finally finding a place where they are going to fit for the rest of their lives. That’s a pretty amazing transition to be a part of.

How do you maintain work-life balance and stay healthy?

I try to stay busy with my family. Which is pretty easy, because I have two young kids!

I spend a lot of time outside. We live on 40 acres, so I can physically leave the area where I work at the end of every day.

What is your advice to parents who are planning to adopt?

Understand that your children’s past isn’t going away. They are almost always going to hold their birth family in high regard. But don’t be threatened by that.