Ending the Cycle of Abuse: The life of an adoption social worker
For Pamela Piero, MSSA, a career in social work seemed to be her destiny. Growing up in northeast Ohio with many adopted cousins, nieces, and nephews, she also watched as her next-door neighbor fostered babies until they were adopted into loving homes.
“There was some connection there that made me decide I wanted to work with kids and empower them, and work with families and empower them,” she says.
For the past sixteen years, the Case Western Reserve University alumna has advocated for the youngest members of society. As a family services specialist for the Richmond Department of Social Services in Virginia, she helps find adoptive parents for children.
During a recent lunch with one particular former adoptee, Piero’s passion for her career was reaffirmed. Now a college freshman, the young woman said she’s majoring in social work — because of Piero.
“You had such a positive influence on my life,” she told Piero. “I wanted to be able to do the same thing for other children. I know how scared they are.”
Piero’s heart swelled. This was the highest kind of praise.
“To me, that was all the thanks I needed,” she says. “I’ve had kids say: ‘You never gave up on me. You helped me find a family.’ Those are the reasons why I do it — to stop the cycle of abuse.”
Back To School
Piero began her career in social work at an early age, starting at a group home for teenage girls. From there she went to work for Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children and Family Services, then on to Ohio Mentor, a therapeutic foster care agency, until moving to Virginia two decades ago.
Wanting to give herself more opportunities in the field, but knowing she couldn’t quit her full-time job to go to graduate school, Piero was contemplating her options when an ad popped up on Facebook one day for Case Western Reserve University’s online Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA, equivalent to an MSW) program.
“It was like a message from the universe,” she says. “I applied that day. I couldn’t believe I got in.”
Piero was one of seven students in the first cohort to go through the Online MSSA program.
Since earning her master’s degree, she’s put it to good use in her day-to-day work. For example, she recalls a day when she was filling out an application for a child and noticed an error in the Axis diagnostic codes, which she wouldn’t have realized before taking her classes at Case Western Reserve.
She credits her degree with helping her to become a better writer, communicator, and presenter. Plus, it earned her a promotion at work, where she now takes on more challenging cases, as well as recruitment cases for which she seeks out potential adoptive parents for children.
Self-Care and Healthy Boundaries
As others follow in her footsteps, her experience in the field of social work has taught her many things, and she offers some advice on the need for a good self-care routine and the importance of setting healthy boundaries.
“You have to set boundaries in terms of not bringing [the emotion] home with you,” she explains. “You can’t talk about it, or you can only have a certain amount of time to talk about it or think about it. You can make yourself insane thinking about stuff.”
Regarding self-care, she says to find what works best for you. For her, meditation and walking do the trick, but others may prefer bike riding or running. She says that not having a good self-care plan can make surviving as a social worker more difficult because you won’t be healthy — physically or mentally — which means you won’t be able to do a good job.
A few years ago, Piero’s good work was recognized with a governor’s award for her outstanding service and dedication to the children of Virginia. The honor also recognized her contribution to the overall success of Virginia Adopts: Campaign for 1,000, in which 1,008 children in the state’s foster care system were adopted or matched with families in the process of adoption.
Looking Toward The Future
After having worked in many areas of social work throughout her career, Piero calls adoption “the happy ending,” although it’s not the place she plans to finish her career in social work. Eventually, she’d like to work in hospice or palliative care — a decision she made after seeing one of her former foster children in hospice.
“I feel like I’ve helped a million kids,” she says, “but, to me, it would be an honor to help kids or adults leave this world with some dignity and respect.”
Case Western Reserve University Online Master of Science in Social Administration Program
The MSSA degree at Case Western Reserve University is equivalent to an MSW and is recognized as such by employers, state licensing boards, other universities, and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). As the first university-affiliated professional social work graduate program in the country, the Master of Science in Social Administration retained its unique name as an indicator of pride in the university’s history and top ranking and is a source of distinction for its alumni.
The online master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University prepares graduates for advanced-level careers in social work. Students can choose from three concentrations in the program, including Community Practice for Social Change, Direct Practice (Children, Youth, and Families), or Direct Practice (Adult Mental Health).
U.S. News and World Report ranked Case Western Reserve University’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences No. 9 in the nation and No. 1 in Ohio.