By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
For many in Central Texas, working with children is more than just a job – it’s a calling. But for those who work in Child Protective Services, it’s a passion.
“Being an investigator is not just a job; it is a lifestyle,” Lisa Orellana, CPS Investigator, said. “Work does not start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. This lifestyle is not for everyone. You have to give a part of yourself to do this type of work effectively. Being an investigator requires making a commitment that goes above and beyond to ensure the safety and well-being of the children and to best serve the families that one is working with.”
More than 50 CPS caseworkers were recognized last week for this exact passion and their drive to ensure every child’s safety, no matter how many hours they had to put in.
Shawn Rizzo was one such caseworker. As a CPS Investigator, Rizzo is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect by parents or other family or household members. This includes interviewing and examining the child(ren).
“Being an Investigator for CPS means your number one focus is the safety and well-being of each child you encounter. It means going into each case with an open mind and not only identifying areas which could be improved upon, but also emphasizing strengths within a family. It means putting these vulnerable children first and not going home to your own family until you feel the children you are working with are safe. It means you have a passion to protect the unprotected,” Rizzo said. “As a CPS Investigator, you wake up each morning knowing you may encounter dangerous situations or see heartbreaking evidence of abuse and neglect, but the reward is being in a position to potentially save a child’s life.”
Part of being a CPS Investigator also includes working with parents to discuss the investiagtion’s findings, as well as conducing background checks on the adults in question.
“Every day while out in the field, my hope is that the parents I work with will take something positive away from the Department’s involvement and learn new skills that will benefit the health and safety of their children,” Rizzo said. “It’s ironic because I often find myself learning just as much, if not more, from the children I work with. Often times they have experienced things that are normal to them, but are inconceivable to the majority of the world. They are innocent victims, yet so very brave. Each child I work with gives me the courage and strength to get up the next morning and do it all over again.”
And that’s why being a caseworker is much more than just conducting interviews.
“In my opinion, being a CPS caseworker is a high position to hold in the life of the children and families that I serve,” Christopher Lusk said. “Often times we are involved with the family in the worst case scenario, it is my job to make that time in the life of the family to be a pleasant one. We not only help and assist the children in Conservatorship but also get a chance to work with the parents and extended families, if at all possible.”
Caseworkers often join CPS for a variety of reasons, but overwhelmingly, they stay with CPS for the same thing: making a difference in the lives of children.
“I love that I am able to provide guidance and support to the families that I work with to enable them to be better parents to their children to ensure their safety and well-being,” Orellana said. “ I am able to be that voice to ensure that the children I encounter will be heard and hopefully can and will be saved if necessary after I have become involved.”
But the caseworkers aren’t the only ones who impact others.
“The children are nothing more than AMAZING! Each one is unique and memorable,” Investigator Edwynna Phillips said. “I genuinely care for them and treat them as my own. This job offers rewards far beyond monetary compensation. You will have the opportunity to permanently change lives.”
And of course, being around other people with such a passion for children just makes a caseworker’s desire to help that much stronger.
“I enjoy working with a staff that is always willing to lend a hand and be able to assist, if I need them,” Lusk said. “I have to give a big kudos to my CVS unit (D4-Supervisor Greg Morris) for always being there to assist if I need any help with a case.”
And Phillips wholeheartedly agrees.
“I have GREAT leadership,” she said. “My support staff is the best on this side of Texas. My job can be consuming, but I have a passion for it.”
That being said, CPS still needs more caseworkers to help the children of Bell County. Each case requires something a little different, but it also leaves caseworkers with a little something extra in their hearts.
“Abuse and/or neglect does not discriminate; it effects children of all color, race, religion, ethnic backgrounds and social status. All children, no matter what county they are from, that are victims of abuse and/or neglect impact my life,” Orellano said. “These children have opened up my eyes to a dark world that exists right next door, in our backyards. These children push me to be a better person, parent and investigator.”
To find out how you can begin a career working with children in Bell County, visit www.dfps.state.tx.us.
“For those interested in becoming a CPS Investigator, I can’t tell you it will be easy, but I will tell you it is worth it,” Rizzo said. “If you have a passion for children and equally care about the family’s success as a whole, then CPS may be a fit for you. Flexibility, determination, compassion and a sense of humor are helpful personality traits in this job. Irregular work hours, writing affidavits at midnight, and stale French fries in the backseat floor board of your car are all worth it when you crawl in bed at night knowing that all of your children are safe.”