March is National Social Work Month… a welcome opportunity to celebrate the invaluable work of our professional social workers and to highlight the important role they play in fulfilling the Mission and Vision of our 110-year-old agency. Modern social work grew out of attempts, often by volunteers, to tackle the unmet needs of our society. This was certainly the case for Family and Children’s Service (FCS), which was founded in 1909 on the promise to “improve the conditions in the homes of the poor.” What started with a gesture to deliver toys to children at Christmastime, developed into an effort to provide food, clothing, fuel and other essentials to impoverished families living in Long Branch. As the needs of the community grew, so did the agency, hiring its first professional social worker a decade later as the profession started gaining recognition. Today, our team of more than two dozen social workers serve nearly 8,000 clients in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties and throughout the state.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) chose the theme “Elevate Social Work!” for this year’s celebration — a fitting tribute to our team who work every day to empower people with the ability to solve problems, cope with personal roadblocks and get the resources they need to live with dignity and respect.

Our Adult Protective Services (APS) teams in Monmouth and Middlesex counties, led by Director Jessica Reyes, investigate cases of suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults living in the community. Last year they handled more than 900 calls, many of them involving frail or elderly individuals who could no longer care for themselves or live independently without assistance. Others involved the physical abuse or financial exploitation of a client by a caregiver, family member or friend. In every instance, the role of the APS social worker is to stabilize a crisis situation using the least intrusive methods while respecting an individual’s right to self-determination.

Our Community Support Services (CSS) team, led by Director Michele O’Shaughnessy, connects people with chronic physical or mental disabilities to an array of programs and services to keep them living at home for as long as possible. Services might include home care assistance, medical equipment or transportation to and from a doctor’s office. For those living alone, it might include a reassuring telephone call. Or for those overwhelmed by their caregiving duties, it might mean respite care or adult day care. Every case is different, which is why our CSS social workers are uniquely qualified to help, using their professional skill set and knowledge to address concerns and offer guidance.

Our Representative Payee (Rep Payee) team, led by Director Susan Thiers, manages the social security benefits of more than 1,300 clients, who, because of physical, cognitive or mental health disabilities, cannot manage their money on their own. For some clients, the inability to manage funds puts them at greater risk of homelessness. By ensuring their rent and other bills are paid on time, our Rep Payee social workers help our clients maintain their dignity and respect, while promoting their independence in the community.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for more than 15-years, I am acutely aware of the challenges our social workers face in and off the field. I admire and appreciate the professionalism and dedication they bring to their job every day, even in the most challenging of circumstances. As the new Chief Executive Officer of FCS, I look forward to working alongside them to help us realize our Vision to strengthen, protect and preserve the dignity and independence of people in need.

On behalf of all of us, thank you!

Colleen Verriest, LCSW

CEO, Family & Children’s Service