From lifeguard to social worker: It’s not a career path that Arlene Goddard expected. But it’s a 17-year-and-counting journey that she is thankful she is on.
Goddard is an adoption and permanency worker serving the north.
“My love for working with kids started in my teens,” Goddard says. “I got a job working as a lifeguard at a native friendship centre. I had no idea that five years later, after university, many of those same kids at the friendship centre, some of them high-risk, would become ‘my kids’ as a social worker.”
Goddard says her connection to the kids she works with comes from wanting the best for them.
“Sometimes our kids don’t see the wonderful people they are when they look in the mirror,” she says. “But we see it. Regardless of where they are at in their lives, I feel tremendous hope for them.”
That means looking at each child that comes to her team differently. It’s also knowing that their future and their successes will be as varied as the circumstances from which they come. For some of Goddard’s kids, reconnecting with their birth parents is success. For others, it’s staying in school and going on to post-secondary training. And for some, just being okay and safe is a tremendous accomplishment.
“You have to have faith that just because a kid isn’t doing well in their late teens doesn’t mean they won’t succeed later in life. You can’t give up on them, even if others have,” Goddard says.
Case in point is a youth she worked with and followed through foster care. At a young age, he suffered the death of a caregiver, was separated from family and struggled to maintain a relationship with his birth mother who suffered from addiction.
“My boy is now 30,” she says with a laugh. “We still keep in touch and have lunch when he’s in town. I proudly provide job references for him when asked. And my heart broke for him when his mom passed away.
“He is stubborn and tenacious, two qualities that, as a youth, were difficult to deal with. Honestly, I often wanted to pull my hair out at times because he just didn’t want to listen and I worried for him.
“But he’s a survivor. The qualities that used to drive me nuts are, I realize now, what drive his inner strength. He has become an awesome adult and a strong leader.”
But as proud as Goddard is of “her boy,” she says her goal is to never have kids age out of care.
“When a child comes to me, it means a child protection worker and judge have made a very difficult decision that the child can’t return home,” she says. “I have a tremendous responsibility to them, and to their birth family and community, to keep them safe with others while maintaining ties – where possible – to their biological parents and relatives.”
It’s a responsibility Goddard is reminded of every day by two pictures she keeps on her office wall. It’s of her and two siblings, aged seven and nine: the first children she helped find a forever family.
“I’m only five-foot-three,” she says. “And they didn't even come up to my shoulders.”
Those same siblings, now grown, reconnected with Goddard last summer. It’s a reunion marked by a second picture proudly hung by the first. But this time, it’s the diminutive Goddard who doesn’t reach the shoulders of the brother and sister she found a forever family for so many years ago.
Asked if it’s hard to see these success stories overshadowed by others about vulnerable youth whose stories aren’t as positive, she says, “Most cases are hard, no doubt about it, and there are hard stories I could tell, too. But I can’t come to work and feel hopeless. I can’t give up hope because of the difficult situations, because then I give up hope for other kids.”
And it’s hope that is at the centre of Goddard’s approach to her social work practice.
“I try to make sure kids are not out there alone, and I try to make sure their next day is a little better than the day before. My greatest hope is that when a child or youth we have worked with enters into adulthood that they have the love and support of a family behind them,” she says.
Social Work Week (March 13-19) is an opportunity to honour outstanding social workers throughout the province and to thank those who make it their life's work to truly make a difference in many British Columbians' lives. To read the proclamation, please visit: http://goo.gl/C0CRZM