Above and far beyond

AS AN ADOPTION SPECIALIST with UMFS’ Adoptive Family Preservation program, Michael Staton’s job is to help adoptive families weather crises in their lives. But Michael sees it a little differently. To him, his job is to empower families to make their own decisions — good decisions — that will help them find their own solutions to challenges.

Michael’s caseload is heavily weighted with challenging families, those who have chosen to adopt children with emotional and behavioral problems or a background of abuse. He is familiar with this kind of challenge; he started his career at UMFS as a cottage manager at Child & Family Healing Center, then moved to work in the treatment foster care program.

“Given the challenges these families are faced with, I’m constantly amazed by their commitment to their kids,” Michael said. “It’s phenomenal! I want to empower families and to make a difference. I am helping them resolve their own problems.”

One challenge adoptive families face is overcoming the habits created by being part of a foster care system that always told them what to do. According to Michael, part of his job is remind adoptive families that they are “in the driver’s seat.” “I offer advice, but I like to be a facilitator so they can discover solutions on their own. Ultimately, they will need to make decisions when I’m not there.”

That said, Michael is an untiring member of that team, often working well past a 9-to-5 day. “In order to do my role right, I need to be there for my families. If they are in crisis, I work late. That’s what I need to do,” Michael said. “This is more than a job, it’s who I am. I love helping people.”

His work varies — an aspect that he loves — and includes lending an ear to personal issues, navigating through the education system and getting services for families. He is also their advocate at special education meetings and helps educate community partners about the needs of adoptive families.

Michael also works with adoptive families at Charterhouse School Edinburg. He partners with school staff to develop a strategy for dealing with behavior problems, then helps parents implement that strategy at home. The result is consistency for the child.

“Mike is there every step of the way to develop plans and to explain to the family how we can make the child’s life easier,” said Tonya Salley-Goodwin, principal of Charterhouse School-Edinburg. “He takes on a real, passionate role in helping these students overcome their disabilities.”

Although he has been with UMFS for four years, he has been an adoption specialist only six months. In that time, he’s made a difference in many lives. One adoptive mother he worked with felt compelled to write to Rosemary Liberti, AFP project manager and Michael’s supervisor.

Michael remembers the case well, an adoptive mother with whom he spent hours on the phone each day as she dealt with various issues, issues with her children and with the special education system. “Everything was coming down on the poor woman,” Michael said. “It is important to listen for those long hours on the phone and in person.”

The mother certainly appreciated Michael’s dedication. “He is a remarkable person,” she said, noting that he was a professional, outgoing advocate who assisted her oldest child when he had problems with the legal system and school.

Michael encouraged her to call and helped her get the services her family needed. “Michael is always on top of situations and goes far beyond his job,” she said. “His attitude is refreshing and vibrant, and I wanted to let you know what a wonderful professional person he is. I have met many teachers, social workers and lawyers, and Michael is top notch.”

“This is a true testament to the incredible work Michael has done in the AFP program in just six months,” Liberti said. “Michael dove in headfirst and has shown commitment to families right from the start … This was no surprise to me, as I know the difference Michael has made for this family and their two sons.”

To this family, Michael has been an unwavering champion. “He cares about his job and goes far beyond his duties,” Liberti added.