Family & Children's Services: Meaningful work
The Finding Permanency program is also changing the lives of staff at Family & Children's Services:
As a child, Amy Gowing immersed herself in Choose Your Own Adventure detective stories. Today, her work as a family finder with the Finding Permanency project at Family & Children's Services (F&CS) is reminiscent of that make-your-own story series.
Family finding is about mining case files looking for people, including non-relatives, who are or were connected to a child. It's about chasing down even long-shot leads toward reconnection. And it's about the rush of discovering and engaging with those connections.
Sheila Markle, Director of Service at F&CS, cites an overriding belief that guides F&CS's Finding Permanency project, "Families do a better job of raising children than institutions."
Amy explains, "Even less-than-perfect families are more likely to take a long-term supportive interest in a child, which is hugely valuable even if it doesn't include placement. Kids often seek out their families anyway. And the Internet has made that a lot easier. We can help manage how those connections happen."
The work often involves pursuing leads that initially seem unpromising.
Amy recalls one example, "I remember a six-year-old boy waiting for his dad to pick him up and the dad not showing up. That's a tough image to get out of my head. So 10 years later, am I going to chase that absentee dad down and give him another chance to connect? A few years ago — maybe not. But today? Absolutely."
Alana Post, another family finder with F&CS, elaborates, "People change. A mom who's an addict can turn her life around. Or maybe a mom tells us to forget about the dad because he's a washout. But maybe he isn't a washout or maybe over time he's changed. We see that all the time."
Reconnecting often brings benefits to both children and their families.
Amy remembers speaking to one mom who had not seen her son in over a decade, "She said it felt like 10 pounds had been lifted from her shoulders just from talking about him."
Reconnection can enable individuals to revise the stories they've heard about their families and resolve old conflicts. In the case of that mom, Amy learned she had fought hard for custody of her son before drifting away, important information that her son had not known.
Amy sees her work as contributing to a bigger picture, "The work we do is incredibly meaningful. It just feels right — like we're making a real difference in people's lives."
Alana agrees, "For me, the work also affirms the goodness that's in people. When previously unknown relatives are asked why they would claim a child they don't even know they'll say 'well, he's family.' And that's the only reason they seem to need."
The thrill of unearthing a lost connection can sometimes spill out into the corridors of F&CS. Celebratory high-fives and joyful embraces punctuate the detective and engagement tasks that fill Amy and Alana's workdays.
For Amy, the family finding work she does for the Finding Permanency project has brought her full circle: she's moved from creating happy endings for Choose Your Own Adventure characters to creating happy endings for people in real life.