Stephanie Collum is a child and family protection specialist in Mississippi. She works with foster parents, birth parents, and children, and teens.
Stephanie has been in the role for just one year, but is already earning accolades from families. One mother wrote:
“Stephanie has been someone I can always get in touch with and someone I can always be honest with. She’s a positive influence on my foster daughters and is always receptive to my concerns about them…She has dropped everything and come to our house just to talk to our oldest after a bad day and has never made me feel like an inconvenience. Stephanie cares about her job and is great at it!”
We talked with Stephanie about her approach to working with children and parents.
What made you decide to become a social worker?
To be honest, when I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And my first year of college didn’t go well. It was a teacher in a sociology class who got to know me and told me that I would be a great social worker.
What did that teacher see in you that made her think social work would be a good fit?
I think she saw that my morals and beliefs meshed with the profession.
I love to help and support people. As a child, I would always take care of everyone in the family. I was the person everyone went to for help. Still am. I believe in family. I believe in giving people second chances—and third chances—especially when they are making progress. Sometimes people need extra help, and I enjoy being able to support them in making positive changes.
What is your approach to working with parents?
The first thing is to be authentic and try to empathize with what they are going through. Parents—like everyone—just want to be heard and acknowledged. So I let them know that I am listening and really trying to understand how they are feeling.
One thing that helps is that I always try to make myself comfortable in every situation by laughing, talking, and keeping the mood upbeat. Because my being comfortable helps to make everyone else in the room comfortable.
Does it always work? Am I always able to avoid conflict? No! People can get upset. If a parent is irate, I’ll let them know, “I see you’re upset now. We’ll talk later.” I give them time to calm down while letting them know that I’m not going away! I’ll be there every step of the way to support them.
And your approach to working with children?
It’s not that different from parents! I’m positive, I’m kind. I praise them and show them appreciation when they’ve done something right. If someone does a good job at anything—no matter how small—I comment. I like to let people know when they are doing a great job.
With kids—especially the little ones—I try to be fun. I make up special handshakes and joke to get a point across.
When kids are having a problem, I help them work through it and solve it for themselves. Because that is going to have a much bigger and more lasting impact than me telling them what to do.
The parent who wrote to us said that you are always available. How do you avoid getting burned out?
It’s true. This is not a nine-to-five job. But my perspective is that it is worth giving up a day during the weekend to assist a child or even a co-worker. However, I do know how to separate myself from work in order to rest!
I’m lucky to have a supportive group of friends that I can talk with and pray with. They aren’t social workers, but we get together regularly to discuss the challenges of our jobs and give each other advice. Hearing those different perspectives really helps.
What are the biggest rewards?
Recognition—from families like this one, from my supervisor, and from kids. When I hear “I love you, Miss Stephanie,” from a child, it makes all those early mornings and late nights worthwhile.