LaTava, a foster care counselor in the Therapeutic Foster Care Program in Memphis, began her career at Youth Villages on our Bartlett Campus. The social work major from Mississippi started out as an overnight teacher-counselor for a cottage of girls. Though she loved helping the teenage girls, her passion was working in foster care. After getting her feet wet in residential, she eventually moved to our foster care program. Click through the slide show to follow LaTava for a day and to see why she loves working as a foster care counselor.
8:35 AM. LaTava begins her day at the office. LaTava generally begins her days checking e-mail and voice mail in the Shelby Oaks office in Memphis. Today, she has a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. with some members of her team. Before the meeting, she logs onto clinician's desktop (CDT), the Youth Villages web-based electronic medical records system that stores notes and information on all the cases Youth Villages serves. She quickly completes some notes on a foster family she visited the day before and heads to her meeting down the hall.
9 AM. Team meeting. LaTava works closely with her team. They share notes on cases and discuss the best strategies to help a young girl in foster care who is supposed to be reunited with her grandparents. The team brainstorms ideas to resolve how the grandparents can best learn to deal with the girl's serious medical needs. They arrive at some ideas to try and end the meeting. All of them have appointments coming up with their supervisors, foster families, foster children and additional meetings.
10 AM. Meeting with supervisor. LaTava meets with her supervisor in her office. They are going over monthly notes when a phone call interrupts their meeting. Nicole receives an update from the Department of Children's Services (DCS) on a teenager in foster care who has got the go ahead to return to his aunt. DCS has approved the home study for the aunt, and the teenager will be able to leave foster care soon. Both are happy about the news. Reuniting children with their biological families, including family members if the child cannot return to his or her parents, is their top priority whenever circumstances allow. In those cases where family reunification is not an option, Youth Villages counselors work closely with the Youth Villages adoption staff to identify an adoptive home for the child. At Youth Villages, 60 percent of the children who are adopted, are adopted by their Youth Villages foster families.
10:45 AM. Preparing for first family session. At 10:45, LaTava heads back to her cubicle to complete notes on a case in clinician's desktop (CDT). Then, she makes a quick phone call to a foster family to confirm a meeting at noon at the family's home. She wants to check on the foster family to see how the three foster kids are progressing and to begin discussing steps toward reunification with the child's aunt. She recently agreed to become the guardian for the three toddlers.
12:40 PM. Tracking mileage. For many Youth Villages counselor, visiting families in their homes is an important part of their workdays. Because counselors spend much of their day driving, LaTava records her mileage before leaving and after arriving at her destination. She gets reimbursed monthly for her driving expenses. Then, she drives off to meet Mrs. Dotson and her foster kids at their home. It's a 15-minute drive. LaTava often stops somewhere for a quick lunch or brings something with her from home. Sometimes, when she visits her foster family during lunchtime, they invite her to eat with them.
1 PM. Greeting foster family and children. LaTava arrives at Mrs. Dotson's house when the kids are just seated for lunch. They say grace before eating and are rewarded for their good manners. The three foster siblings are joined by another toddler, the son of a former foster child who still lives with Mrs. Dotson. The two formed a close bond and have become like family. Mrs. Dotson is supporting 19-year-old Nicole, the young mother, and her son until she finishes her education and is ready to live on her own.
1:15 PM. Session with foster mom. After lunch, LaTava and Mrs. Dotson sit down in the living room to discuss how the kids have been doing since LaTava's last visit. They are developing normally and have really warmed up to Mrs. Dotson, whom they call "mom." It took the siblings time to learn to trust their foster mother and also LaTava. "They used to hide and hold hands when I first came around," she says. "They used to think I was coming to take them away." They now know that LaTava is there to help. "I would make a point of coming by only to leave soon and wave good-bye so they'd see that I was no threat."
1:25 PM. Checking on children's progress. Mrs. Dotson shows LaTava the progress the youngest one has been making. He responds well to commands and is building an increasing vocabulary. He minds Mrs. Dotson and is beginning to feel at ease around LaTava.
1:55 PM. Building rapport with children. LaTava always spends some time with the kids, playing, reading, coloring or chatting. She is pleased with how the kids are doing and how they are opening up to her. Youth Villages staff recently was able to connect with the children's biological aunt who agreed to become a caretaker of her sister's three toddlers. Soon, they will begin supervised visits with the aunt. Mrs. Dotson will help with transportation and will try to build a strong relationship with the aunt to help her gain custody of the children. At Youth Villages, foster parents become intimately involved in the family reunification process. When children cannot be reunified with their birth families, many foster parents decide to adopt. Mrs. Dotson already is providing a former foster child and her son with a permanent home, and although she will do what she can to make family reunification a success, she knows that she would adopt if the children could find no permanent home.
2:50 PM. Second family session. LaTava arrives at Mr. and Mrs. Ishi's pizza restaurant in Midtown Memphis. She is here to talk to the Ishis, foster parents of Angelica, about the girl's progress in school and how well she is learning independent living skills. Angelica, born with cerebral palsy, needs a walker to move about and has some trouble keeping up in school. The Ishis, parents of three boys, one with cerebral palsy, became foster parents of Angelica to allow the nearly 18-year-old to grow up in a family setting when her own family could no longer take care of her.
3:15 PM. Talking about independent living goals. Angelica proudly tells LaTava about ironing her first shirt in her life. LaTava is thrilled at Angelica's new independent living skill. They also discuss Angelica's need for hanging a basket on her walker to carry books and other school supplies, as well as help safely carry food and other things without dropping them. Angelica does not want a basket for fear it will make her look more handicapped. Angelica still has a lot of skills to learn before she can begin living on her own. After finishing high school, she will most likely stay with the Ishis until well into her 20s, enough time to finish additional education or complete job training.
4 PM. Meeting with direct supervisor. At 4 p.m., LaTava is back in the office. She has a meeting with another supervisor to discuss a difficult case and to update her on Angelica's progress. Overall, LaTava has had a successful day. For the remainder of the day, she will complete paperwork and enter notes into CDT. She also has a few phone calls to make, scheduling sessions for the rest of the week and checking in on a couple of additional foster families who left her voice mails. She also wants to speak to the child who got permission to return home. She wants to make sure the child has transportation and has a suitcase to move clothes and other belongings.
4:50 PM. Discussing case with team members. It's almost time for LaTava to go home, but a couple of counselors from her team call her into an impromptu meeting about a child who acted out in school. The three discuss the situation and end up chatting for a few minutes. "We have three teams here," LaTava says. "But you wouldn't be able to tell who's on what team. We all get along and support each other. We're like a big family here." LaTava heads home shortly after 5 p.m.