Workforce Inclusion and Innovation: Closer to the Problem with Esmeralda Martinez

Overloaded: Understanding Neglect

Jan 31 2024 • 1 hr 8 mins

Host: Luke Waldo

Experts:

:00-:17 – Esmeralda Martinez - “So those closest to the problem are those who are best suited to help fix it.”

:30-4:32– Luke Waldo – Opening

4:33-5:12 - Luke - Welcome, Esme. What happened in your life that led to child welfare becoming involved in your family’s life? How did the different challenges that you were facing begin to overload you with stress?

5:13-6:36 – Esmeralda Martinez – Esme was struggling with addiction and homelessness when she was pregnant with her second child. She didn’t want to raise this child in the condition that she was in, so she left the baby at the hospital. Child welfare took custody of the child and placed her with Esme’s sister.

6:37-7:08 - Luke – Can you share what was happening in your life that led to the abusive relationship, homelessness and financial challenges that would have made it hard for you to raise your second child?

7:09-9:30 – Esme – Childhood trauma and access to alcohol at an early age. Struggled with alcoholism in her teens with moments of sobriety. She struggled with finances as a young mother, so she decided to go back to school. She met a man who at first was really good for her and her son. But over time, he became controlling and then physically abusive to a point where she ended up in the emergency room.

9:31-11:34 - Luke – What do you feel was missing that led to your coping through alcohol? What changed that led to your moments of sobriety and pursuit of education?

11:35-15:39 - Esme – Education about what can lead to abusive relationships was missing from her youth. Her mother worked three jobs. Her family struggled with poverty, so she didn’t always have her around to support or educate her. High school students should receive education on healthy relationships and what to do if abuse does occur. People with lived experience could be powerful teachers of healthy relationship curriculum. Addiction and alcoholism was part of her family history, so she may have been predisposed. Esme’s parents took her son when she was struggling with alcohol, and they made an ultimatum that if she didn’t get sober that they would take legal steps to address her parental rights. She wished she had gotten into treatment earlier, but she wasn’t aware of them. She leaned on her faith until her daughter was removed from her care by the child welfare system. A charter school took a chance on her, which allowed her to see what healthy living looked like. It inspired her to make changes in her life.

15:40-17:07 - Luke – We often underappreciate the impact of a single person or institution on one’s motivation to overcome challenges. The school clearly helped you find your motivation. What was your experience with the child welfare system?

17:08-22:09 – Esme – For the first months after she left her daughter in the hospital, she was homeless and struggling with addiction, so she didn’t receive any documents or information as she didn’t have an address. She wanted help, but didn’t know how to get it or what the first step was. She didn’t know where to turn or that there was a process from detox to treatment and so on. After being in survival mode for so long, she was so tired. Then, a woman that she had gotten close with on the streets had disappeared for awhile, and showed back up to let her know that she had gotten treatment. This was her moment of inspiration. She contacted her sister to let her know that she was going to seek treatment. The screening and intake process was challenging as she didn’t have a working phone, so if there weren’t beds available she would need to call back every day.

22:10-22:18 – Luke - Esme, can you share more about your recovery journey and what it was like to navigate the Substance Abuse and Child Welfare systems at the same time?

22:19-29:12 – Esme - After a couple weeks, she was able to get in. But then there wasn’t a residential placement available, so she was going to be released. She knew that she couldn’t go back to the streets, so she asked her parents to come up to support her until she was able to get a residential placement. There was one worker who worked so hard for her until she got a placement at Meta House. She was then able to get five months of residential treatment, which is beyond the norm. In the midst of this, she was able to connect with her child welfare case manager and begin visits with her daughter. There had been some turnover with the case manager, which can be difficult for families.

29:13-32:32 - Luke – There are tensions in our systems – the time addiction recovery takes versus the short period of time a parent has to recover so that they can be reunified with their child – and the real challenges that overloaded families face that make it even more difficult to overcome these tensions. How did your experience with child welfare inform your work in your current role?

32:33-34:48 - Esme – The impact of peer support specialists in her treatment and recovery was so important, particularly the inspiration of seeing how far they had come. Knowing how hard this is is invaluable in giving encouragement. She does relive some of her darkest moments, but she works for an organization that takes care of her.

34:49-35:58 - Luke – What does the Parent Advocate role look like?

35:59-37:40 - Esme – A direct support for biological parents who are going through the child welfare system. Sometimes a listening ear, transportation to appointments, a mediator between a parent and case manager, a support during visits.

37:41-38:18 - Luke – What do parents tell you is the greatest value of your role?

38:19-39:11 - Esme – That doesn’t happen as you might imagine, but she realizes that she didn’t see the value necessarily in the moment when she was working with peer support either. But the exchange of information and encouragement is really important.

39:12-40:18 – Luke – How have you seen the Parent Advocate role serve as a bridge between the case manager and the parent?

40:19-41:08- Esme – The parent may be more willing to connect with her and receive the information because they know that Esme’s been through this. She works through documents and information in a way that takes some of the emotion out of the process, and it helps them understand that it’s not personal, but rather the case manager’s job.

41:09-42:19 - Luke – Is there a credibility or trust-building that happens because you have been through the system in a way that a case manager hasn’t?

42:20-43:43- Esme – Indeed. She doesn’t have to be professional in the way that case managers have to be. Maintaining professionalism when we are in somebody’s life the way that we are is very difficult.

43:44-49:38 - Luke – It is important to explore this concept of professionalism within human services and child welfare. There is so much lived experience within our field, and yet there has been this expectation that we create strong boundaries to button it up. How might we find the balance so that one’s lived experience can help build trust with those that are in the system now? How do we support people with lived experience so that you can do your job well and for a long time?

49:39-52:18 - Esme – She feels supported by Children’s as she has the best supervisor that she’s ever had. It would be great to have another Parent Advocate to have weekly check-ins so that she could consult with them on what they are experiencing. More funding would be helpful to provide incentives to the parents that she works with to engage them.

52:19-53:50 – Luke – How do you overcome the tension of being part of the organization that is partially responsible for their family separation?

53:51-55:12 - Esme – Her role allows her to maintain confidentiality with parents. She works hard to build trust through that.

55:13-57:11 – Luke – How have you been involved in the decision-making process? Do you feel like your perspective is changing how we think about our work?

57:12-59:33 - Esme – Partner programs such as Family Support have consulted with her. She has been involved in many focus groups exploring opportunities for systems change. Garbage can example.

59:34-1:02:00 - Luke – References Mark Cabaj, Liz Weaver and episode 2 in response to Esme’s statement of “So those closest to the problem are those who are best suited to help fix it.”

1:02:01-1:03:56 - Esme – The support that this role has received from our organization and system. Systems change takes a long time. The sincerity in the people that are leading systems change efforts. Seeing the acknowledgement of the humanity of people in the system.

1:03:57-1:05:09 - Luke - Closing and Gratitude

1:05:10-1:05:26 – Esme – Thank you

1:05:27-1:07:25 - 3 Key Takeaways

1:07:26-1:08:56 - Luke – Closing Credits

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