Tackling the toughest cases
Kylee Ballensky started her social work career working with sexual predators at a Washington state special commitment center. But today she will tell you that her current role of adoption counselor is the hardest job she’s ever had.
Kylee shares her thoughts and lessons learned in seven years of working with children, youth, and families with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services below.
What drew you to this work?
The short answer is that I’m a softie. Seeing a smile on a child’s face does everything for me. And when I see a match between a child and a family come together, it makes it all of the hard work and difficult days worthwhile.
What keeps you going?
Exercise! I go on runs with my coworkers most days and do half-marathons. Chocolate helps too. Of course there have been days I have cried or felt defeated and wondered if I could keep doing this. But it always comes back to the fact that I can’t give up on these kids.
You have chosen to work with children who are older and have special needs. Why?
I firmly believe that there is a family out there for every child, and my job is to find them. Often that means going outside of the box. I recently found a family for a 13-year-old girl who is medically fragile. I talked to everyone who knew her. Finally I located one of her previous daycare directors, a woman who just adored the girl but hadn’t considered adoption until we talked. The girl’s dream of having a forever family at Christmas is finally coming true.
Any other match-making tips?
Listen to what children say they are looking for in a family and ask them probing questions to get at what they actually want—and need. Engage them in the process of finding their family. Last year I had a teen who wanted to interview potential families. I helped him prepare for the conversations, and it worked out great.
What are the most valuable lessons you have learned on the job?
Don’t treat kids like they are numbers. They are real people, and they are going to push your buttons. But their behavior comes from a place of anger and of hurt. Teens especially feel expendable, but they want families just as much as the younger kids do. Be honest with them. Always tell them they are loved. And keep running, eating chocolate, or doing whatever it takes to burn off the inevitable stress of the job.
Recognize an “Outstanding Caseworker”
A family that has adopted several children with Kylee’s help recommended that we feature her as an “Outstanding Caseworker.”
Do you know a caseworker who has gone above and beyond to help children in foster care find permanency? If so, nominate an “Outstanding Caseworker” to be featured on our blog.