Three caseworkers from across the state were honored for their commitment to families who find themselves in the child welfare system. Among them was Julia Weisz, a licensed social worker who is a licensing specialist and adoption case manager with Morrison County Social Services.
Weisz, who started her career in Morrison County just out of college more than 30 years ago, was nominated by her supervisor, Melanie Erickson.
On April 19, Weisz received the “Exemplary Service Award” from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) during its spring conference.
The CASCW said the award recognizes frontline child welfare workers who demonstrate a commitment to engaging families, use of a strengths-based approach with families, a focus on reducing disparities in the child welfare system, and use of research-supported practice.
Weisz started with the county in 1986, working to help child care, child foster care and adult foster care families get licensed.
Now her work consists of licensing foster care families to take care of children who have been taken out of their family home. The goal is that one day those children will be reunited with their biological families.
Weisz gets involved with a family when child protection investigators determine a child or children must be removed from a home.
She then determines which licensed foster family might be the best match for those children. If at all possible, Weisz tries to place the children with their own relatives.
Those relatives, however, must go through the process of getting licensed, complete with background checks, before that can happen.
“Relatives have to follow the exact same rules as licensed foster parents,” she said.
When children are first placed into foster care, the expectation is that within 24 months a child is in a permanent situation, said Weisz.
The children may spend a year of that time with their parents as they try to get their parental rights back.
“Sometimes that can go to 1 1/2 years,” said Weisz. “Most adoptions are taking roughly about six months, so when all is said and done it fits within 24 months most of the time.”
It can be a long and difficult process, she said.
“We want to give parents every opportunity to get their children back,” said Weisz. “It’s not our goal to terminate their rights; the goal is to have them get their children back.”
In the case that a child is not able to return to their parents and is put up for adoption, Weisz, as an adoption case manager, is instrumental in finding adoptive families and permanent homes for the children. There is one other adoption case manager in the county.
As of Wednesday, Weisz completed the 90th adoption of a child since that part of her job was implemented in 2003. She gave a rough estimate of about 150 adoptions in the county between the two case managers, since that time.
Those numbers do not include adoptions when younger girls decide to give their babies up for adoption, as they are sent to private adoption agencies for help.
Weisz is good at what she does.
“Julia provides steadfast leadership and mentors staff who are working with her on complex cases. She is an essential member of our agency placement screening team and brings great expertise and experience to this critical team,” said Erickson. “She has completed 90 adoptions of children in need of a permanent family who have experienced significant trauma. Julia is most deserving of this award due to her great compassion and commitment for these children, often seeing them through some of the most difficult and painful times of their young lives.”
The hardest part of the job for Weisz is when a placement fails.
“When we make a foster placement and it doesn’t work out, or even harder when it’s a pre-adoptive placement and the parents decide not to keep the child,” she said.
Having her own children changed her perspective during her career, and gave her incredible empathy for each of the families, Weisz said.
“I’d see someone going into the foster care system and think, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s the same as my son, or same as my daughter,’” she said. “Your heart goes out even more to them, because you can just imagine if that were your child.”
While Weisz didn’t initially intend to stay in Morrison County when she moved here from Fargo, N.D. fresh out of college, she eventually decided to make her home here. Her college boyfriend moved two years later to be with her, they married and now have three children, the youngest being 18.
Weisz enjoys working with the people in the community to benefit the lives of children, whether that be through licensing a home or helping finalize a child’s adoption, she said.
In addition, she said, “I think I have a great management team and wonderful group of co-workers,” she said, adding any one of them is deserving of this award.”
Social Services Director Brad Vold is glad she stayed.
“Julia has been a dedicated employee for 31 years who has the same passion today as she had when she started,” Vold said. “She is a valuable member of our agency who has worked hard to support and improve the lives of the children and families she has worked with.”
Weisz said she feels grateful for and humbled by the award.
“I feel very blessed to have received the award because I feel there are many of my coworkers who are deserving of the same type of recognition,” she said.
Her coworkers feel the same. Part of her nomination read, “Julia’s colleagues say that she supports an environment in Morrison County that honors children, their families, their culture and their roots.”
Others honored with Weisz included Sara Crotteau and Helen Martin, both of Hennepin County.