The Ripple Effect of Social Work

by Kristi S. Wood, MSW, APSWKristi

Twenty-five years ago, I was the unit coordinator of an emergency respite unit for youth in Madison. I had arrived two years prior from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. They did not have a social work program at the time, but I gravitated toward the closest thing: a degree in psychology with an emphasis in Human Services. The respite unit was a new resource for youth who were deemed Severely Emotionally Disturbed, and in need of a short-term break in an effort to keep them in their homes and avoid a more restrictive placement, such as a group home or residential treatment.

Alysia came to the unit a few different times that summer. The majority of the kids on the unit had challenging behaviors, but Alysia was different. She was annoyed by the behaviors of the other kids, yet she did not act out. She tried to talk sense into them. I watched her go home on more than one occasion, and return under more and more stress. I learned that her placement options were limited. She had been severely abused and neglected at home, but would run away from group homes the minute she was placed there. She wasn’t afraid to tell her judge that she would run from wherever she was placed.

I offered to be licensed as a foster home for Alysia. She lived with me from age seventeen to eighteen. I helped her get her first job at Ella’s Deli. I taught her how to make lasagna. She braided my hair. I was only seven years older than her, and I had no idea if I had made an impact on her. I just needed to be there for her; that was all that mattered.

Our lives got busier, and we lost touch. For years I thought about her, wondering how she was. One day I received an email from Dane County Human Services; Alysia had contacted them to reach me. We exchanged emails. I cried as I told her how proud I am of the woman she has become. She told me that I had helped her end the cycle of abuse in her family.

Alysia is now a wonderful mother to four children, and a director of a child welfare agency. She has two masters degrees, and is currently working on her LCSW. She is a continual inspiration to me. I share her story with my social work students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She considers me her mom, and I am so very proud to call her my daughter.

Alysia has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of children in the child welfare system, and she has decades of work to do.

How many lives will you impact on your social work journey? More than you will ever know.

Have an inspiring summer.

Kristi S. Wood, MSW, APSW

President, NASW-WI