Written by: Julie Bushong, on behalf of the entire Adoption Team
The Adoption Team of Central Pennsylvania is nominating Donna Smith for the Outstanding Supervisor Award. Since 1999, Donna Smith has been a loyal employee of Pressley Ridge’s adoption program. She joined the team as a Family Service adoption caseworker, and in 2009, she became the adoption program coordinator. Donna helped to transition the program when Pressley Ridge encompassed Family Service in 2008. Her passion and commitment to children and family and adoption team is evident and is reflected in the success of this growing program. During her time, Donna has served over 100 families and children, some of those relationships extending nearly a decade, as parents seeking to adopt additional children request to work with her. At Pressley Ridge, we say we do whatever it takes to create success for children and families. Without a doubt, Donna takes this to heart. It is an inspiration and privilege to work under a supervisor who can truly say “I love my job… This is where I am meant to be… I have the best job in the world!” and whose life and work brings the Re-Education Principles to life:
Life is to be lived now. In the course of our work in adoption, as individuals and sometimes as a team, we feel the blows of disappointment, sadness, and helplessness as we work to help children understand the neglect and abuse of their pasts and how it has impacted their present. As part of this process, Donna encourages the team to remember that a child’s past does not define them. She encourages us in our very “present” work with children to help them gain a level of understanding appropriate for their current stage of development so that we also might help them look toward the future with hopefulness and a renewed sense of greater purpose.
Trust is essential. Donna truly believes trust is essential in our work and continually encourages her staff to protect the relationship we have with each child and family on our caseload. We are sometimes placed in difficult situations when families and/or children vent their frustrations about other agencies but ask us not to share those challenges with workers from those organizations. Donna often finds a way to tactfully bring this to the agency’s attention without indicating the family, child, or her staff as the source of information. By doing so, she allows to maintain the integrity of the trusting relationships we have built.
Competence makes a difference. As a member of the adoption team Donna consistently encourages us to be competent in all areas of our work. She encourages us to brainstorm ideas and activities as a team, allowing us to have projects specific to each child we are working with. Donna seeks opportunities to equip us with the skills necessary to be competent professionally. She is concerned with the process and each milestone we reach rather than the end result giving us room to grow and learn.
Time is an ally. Having worked for years in the field of adoption, Donna embraces the fact that time is an ally. She recognizes that children in foster care have often had a tumultuous past and will need time and patience to heal. Donna teaches families that foster children in their home will undoubtedly have challenging behaviors and need a loving adult who is willing to give them time, whether it takes weeks, months, or years, to feel safe again.
Self-control can be taught. Donna is a teacher at heart. She has shared her experiences in working with many different families. One lesson that comes up regularly is the importance of a working, trusting and flexible relationship between parent and child. Self-control is taught when the relationship is positively evolving. Her teaching and even modeling how important her own family is to her, shows that she subscribes to what she teaches and shares with others. Thank you, Donna!
Intelligence can be taught. Donna helps to teach adoption classes, showing that intelligence can be taught not only to our children, but to the potential foster families as well.
Feelings should be nurtured. Donna allows staff to openly express their emotions as they deal with the very complex cases encountered in adoption work. At times this occurs during one-on-one monthly supervisions and at other times in group settings during which, all staff are afforded an opportunity to share particularly difficult, frustrating, and/or joyful experiences with one another. This has fostered an environment of sharing and caring among our team and increases our appreciation for one another and the work with do with children and families.
The group is very important. This principle follows through the work that we do both as a team and directly with the services we provide to both families and Children. Donna encourages us as Team to reach out to other Team members as well as with other programs within in Pressley Ridge to collaborate and utilize services for our families and children that we serve. Donna also shows through her example of networking with other agencies and county’s that we can have access to more resources by being open with other affiliates about the work we do and share ideas.
Ceremony and ritual give order. In our adoption education classes, Donna talks about the importance of establishing rituals and routines early in the placement. She provides examples and simply ways families can do this and talks about the benefits to the child.
Communities are important. The nature of adoption usually involves removing a child from one community and placing them in a completely different one. Helping our adoptive families to understand that these children are coming from communities that we may know very little about—with a different culture, different racial and ethnic groups, different schools, norms, and so much more. Donna strives to help our families embark on a journey to learn about these communities and to immerse themselves in those communities to better help their new children embrace their culture, feel confident in their identity and feel supported by their new family. Donna reminds me often of this with each placement, to ensure our families are doing their best to help their new child to thrive in their new community by embracing their former one at the same time.
Know joy each day. Donna acknowledges that childhood is precious, and all children should be allowed to participate in activities that they enjoy. She advocates for children in the foster care system to be involved in things that will bring them excitement and not just learning opportunities.