It is common knowledge that working for DCFS requires commitment to the welfare of children and families and a passion for helping people. It can be a very rewarding job for those who care about family reunification or finding the ideal foster family match for a young child. It can also be a heart wrenching job because you become witness to cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment. The Department of Children and Family Services is the primary employer of child welfare social workers, child protection officers and investigators and a host of administrative employees to support field operations. Social workers should be licensed and credentialed, typically after completion of a four-year degree in social work, psychology or child development. Some DCFS positions require completion of a master's in social work.
Documentation is Crucial
Policies and practices may differ from one DCFS office to another due to differences in state laws, mission focus based on prevalent issues in the locality and management styles. However, it is critical for everyone working for DCFS to document every client interaction according to the guidelines established by the office. This will ensure that paperwork pertaining to a particular case can be reviewed as needed and can be used by other investigators, support staff and legal teams.
Whatever your position is at DCFS, expect a lot of record-keeping and paperwork. Much of the paperwork will involve completing workup sheets or templates involving short detailed narratives. One of the skills required for this job is excellent writing ability so that you can create usable records of your encounters and interviews with children, guardians and other caregivers.
In this government service field, you can expect to spend most of your time in face-to-face meetings with the clients served by DCFS, in discussions with other child care workers and in direct contact via phone or in person with other people who may be tangentially related to the cases you handle. You will also be taking phone calls and contacting others by phone. A pleasant disposition and excellent oral communication skills are key qualities that will help you get the information you need to facilitate processing and approval of your requests for support and action.
If you are a child welfare social worker with the DCFS, expect to be assigned a number of cases that require immediate attention and action simultaneously. One of the more common observations about social work is that it involves time-intensive tasks. Each case has to be given individual attention, investigated independently and resolved on its own merits. Some of the social work cases take months, if not years, to resolve. You can expect new cases to be added to your caseload on a regular basis regardless of whether you have closed earlier cases. You will have to be organized and open to creative solutions.
Protocol, Procedures and Best Practices
DCFS deals with life-changing and life-saving decisions on a day-to-day basis. The clients served by this government agency are among the most vulnerable in society: young children, adolescents and senior citizens. Some of them are facing sensitive and life-threatening situations. As such, policies are in place to provide quick solutions, often in conjunction with law enforcement, to protect people from exploitative conditions. You can expect some rigid policies and procedures, many of which are designed to protect the clients, their families and you.
Working for DCFS is not for everyone. It may prove to be your calling, but tread slowly by trying an internship before making a full-time commitment to a job that may prove rewarding in the end.