Alumni In Action: From BSW Grad to CPS Staff

Jackie Olson—Child Protective Services Worker
Vilas County, Wisconsin

Grad Jackie Olson stands at door to courthouseShe barely had time to celebrate her May, 2007 graduation from NMU with a BSW degree before Jackie Olson began work as a Vilas County, Wisconsin Child Protective Services Worker.  As part of her BSW degree preparation, Jackie had completed her senior field placement with the Michigan Department of Human Services office in Caspian, Michigan near the Wisconsin border.  In addition to getting her BSW, Jackie had enhanced her readiness for a career in social work by working as an aid for the Michigan Department of Human Services.  The combination of a BSW degree, field placement experience in a rural community and human service job experience made her a natural for this position.  She also had to take the social work licensing exam to qualify for the job.

In telling us about life after graduation with a BSW degree, Jackie writes:

The transition from being a BSW student to a Social Worker is a process that I am still undergoing.  I started looking for a job at the beginning of the winter semester of my senior year at Northern.  I did my internship at the Department of Human Services in Iron River, Michigan and worked there as a parent aide which exposed me to a great deal of experience in the field of child protective services.  I interviewed with Vilas County Social Services in Eagle River, Wisconsin in early March and started my employment with this agency May 7, two days after graduation.

Vilas County Social Services has recently begun to specialize and I have been assigned to Access and Investigations within the children’s unit.  My co-worker and I receive all of the child abuse complaints for Vilas County and determine if an investigation needs to be done.  If an investigation needs to be done we will do this as well.  If services need to be provided to any family after the initial investigation, then the case is transferred to one of two on-going workers within our unit.

When I first chose the social work profession I would have never thought that I would have been in the field of child protective services.  Not only did I have a negative view of CPS but I would have NEVER chosen it for a profession!  As the years past and I worked my way through college, one job led to another and I eventually found myself in the world of Child Protective Services.  Even as I first started my job as a parent aide I told myself it would only be for a few years to make it through college.  But as I became more and more involved in child protective services I found myself more drawn to the profession.  Even though it is challenging at times I love my job and can not imagine doing anything else with my degree.

My advice to any social work major is this:  Experience, experience, experience!  The more jobs and/or volunteer positions that you hold, the more employable you will be.  Not only will you be more employable but you will be able to explore areas that you may want to work in.  It helps to do your internship in an area that you want to pursue a career in.  Make the most out of your field placement.  Ask questions and be involved in all that you can.  Take advantage of the fact that you are a student because it will not be long before you will hold the responsibility of a professional.

Lastly, do not be afraid to take chances and try new things.  Moving out of your comfort zone may be painful and scary in the beginning; but it can lead to a world full of opportunity that you will be thankful you did not miss out on in the end.

Here are some details from a recent posting of a similar job description in another Wisconsin county:

JOB DUTIES

Conduct child protective services intakes and assessments of alleged child abuse and neglect referrals including interviewing family members and conducting home visits; implement appropriate intervention strategies; prepare written and oral testimony for Children’s Court appearances; and maintain current documentation on caseload.

SPECIAL QUALIFICATIONS: Possession of Social Worker Certification in accordance with the State of Wisconsin. Questions regarding Social Worker certification should be directed to the Department of Regulation and Licensing; 1400 East Washington Avenue; P. O. Box 8935; Madison, WI 53708; (608) 266-2112 (voice), (608) 267-2416 (TTY), or http://drl.wi.gov.

JOB KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES

Social work principles and practices; child and family development, family systems theory, crisis intervention theory, dynamics of child abuse and neglect; community human services and health resources; effective interpersonal, oral and written communication skills; proficient computer skills and use of automated case management information system to maintain accurate, current case record documentation and to prepare clear, concise reports. Spanish/English or Hmong/English-speaking individuals are encouraged to apply.

For official information on social work jobs like Jackie’s, you can check out the Wisconsin employment web site.