Sometimes a mediator; sometimes a surrogate; always an unwavering champion for children, teens, and families.
Family Support Specialists (FSS) help families who are caring for children in the UMFS Treatment Foster Care (TFC) program overcome challenges. They’re available at all times to TFC families at UMFS. “They’re making sure children and families get what they need to be successful,” said Abby Spence, Community Based Services Supervisor for the UMFS South Central Region. “That could be anything from coordinating medical and dental care to psychiatric care.”
But as Abby pointed out, coordination is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. “Family Support Specialists are case managers,” she said, citing the many different hats an FSS might have to wear. Specifically, Abby pointed to the skill of Kyna, an FSS in the South Hill office, who recently navigated a particularly difficult day.
In the morning, Kyna was called to defuse a situation with two teenage girls in foster care. The de-escalation lasted into the afternoon. That evening, Kyna was brought in to help find an emergency foster care placement for a medically fragile young boy. Both scenarios required patience, professionalism, and an inherent quality that Abby said is ever-present in Kyna.
“She never bats an eye,” Abby said. “She went above and beyond. Not just because it’s her job, but because she genuinely cares about the kids she works with.”
The same can be said for all UMFS community based services employees across the state, Abby continued, even when much of the service was completely virtual at the onset of the pandemic. “Our teams have done a really great job adapting,” Abby said. “They’ve all been extremely willing to do what they need to do to care for our families.”
Until recently, community based services teams had been completing home visits virtually once a week for families that had internet access. But it’s not uncommon for families to be without internet, a computer, or both, so when telehealth wasn’t an option, phone check-ins and an occasional physically distanced meetings were utilized. “It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Abby said.
When it finally came time to return to in-home visits, substantial planning took place. Protocols and procedures were set — including screening forms that are completed before visits, mask usage, and adherence to physical distancing recommendations. But workers are at their best when they’re in the home, and ultimately that’s where they wish to be.
“Our community based service workers all said just how much of a relief it was to finally lay eyes on their kids after so long,” Abby said.