by Catherine Donnelly
Vernita Thompson MSW ’21 connected very early in her academic career to her current path via the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) after a field placement at the Erie County Department of Social Services (ECDSS). As a result of her student experiences, she was promoted to senior caseworker upon graduation. Now, in addition to managing her own caseload, she serves as a field educator and manages current UB students in their field placements at the center.
“I am glad that I can work with the current students. Being on the other side is such a blessing,” said Thompson. “It is important for them to learn how to work with diverse populations. I want to support them through any difficult situations and give them the skills they will need when they graduate.”
Thompson was a part-time student with a family when she started at the UBSSW. Juggling a busy life with her studies was a challenge, but one that she is grateful to have completed. As a student, she was one of the first cohorts of students to receive a scholarship from the NCWWI because of her interest in pursuing a career in child welfare.
“I know that they said that it would be a huge time commitment to complete this degree, but I was still surprised by the amount of work I needed to do. However, I knew early on in this process that I was on the right path,” she said. “In addition, as a result of my involvement with NCWWI, another student and myself created the Child Welfare Chronicles Podcast. It discusses issues in child welfare including client management and support along with explanations of policies and procedures that affect our work.”
A typical day for Thompson involves training new team members on how to investigate allegations surrounding neglect and abuse in addition to meeting with her own clients. She is focused on linking families to appropriate services to help them learn how to prevent future welfare challenges.
“I only have 60 days to work with a family moving into the child welfare system via child protective services. That is not enough time to understand the nuances of any situation, but I can make an immediate impact to improve that situation,” she continued. “[Clinical Assistant]Professor Todd Sage helped me to understand that I may always have a love-hate relationship with the child welfare system but that I needed to appreciate the good that I bring to difficult situations. Social workers are not always acknowledged for the work that we do, we have to find our own satisfaction with our efforts.”
Thompson also appreciated [Assistant]Professor Noelle St. Vil’s influence in her academic career. She was inspired to seek a position of leadership and training after taking St. Vill’s research methods class. “Having an African-American educator in higher education inspired and influenced me as an African-American woman to focus on issues such as disproportionate minority representation within the child welfare system to help bring awareness to children of color in the foster care system.”
Her advice to current students is to build strong connections to be able to support one another in the future and to fully engage in their field placements.
“I know that there is a lot going on, but don’t neglect your peers. I missed seeing my classmates and coworkers during the pandemic and experienced more sadness in my day-to-day life as a result. It is important to find ways to nurture yourself so that you can keep moving good energy into the world.”