Social worker receives national honor

April 21, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

A Washington County social worker recently received national recognition for her work with abused and at-risk children and their caregivers.

Stephanie Andrews has worked for the Washington County Department of Social Services' Child Protective Services division for more than 10 years.

"My main job is to assure the child's safety and make sure the child's needs are being met," said Andrews, 36, of Hagerstown. "There are no win-lose situations. It's all about protecting that child."

She was selected from among 18 nominees nationwide for the Lisa Renee Putman Excellence in Direct Service Award, which is named for a Michigan child protective services worker who was murdered during a home visit.


Andrews received the prestigious award on April 2 at the National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in St. Louis.

"I was shocked," she said. "It was just an honor to be nominated."

Child Protective Services Supervisor Keith Hoffman nominated Andrews for the award, calling her an "exceptional worker, willing to tackle difficult assignments, work long hours and share information with team members at the (Child Advocacy) center."

Hoffman also commended Andrews' decision-making abilities, assessment skills and willingness to implement safety plans for at-risk children no matter how complex the situation.

And he lauded her efforts to help launch the Child Advocacy Center, or Safeplace, in Hagerstown by soliciting for community support and securing grants totaling $405,000 to help fund the new program.

Safeplace is a child-friendly environment in which social workers, therapists, police, doctors and prosecutors cooperate to conduct thorough investigations and bring justice to abused children.

Andrews planned to pursue a law career, but changed her mind after following the haunting case of a young girl who died as a result of abuse not far from Andrews' hometown of Frostburg, Md., she said.

"I knew about child abuse, but that really brought it home for me," she said.

Andrews, who holds a master's degree in social work, now spends the bulk of her time investigating allegations of child sexual abuse and serious physical abuse by carefully interviewing children, caregivers, and in some cases, alleged offenders, she said.

"We try to make it as least traumatic as possible for the child," she said. "We reassure them that they didn't do anything wrong. The majority of the time, the kids will talk because they know it's OK."

Andrews has interviewed an estimated 1,500 children since she began her career - turning down only one case because she felt too close to the child involved, she said.

Andrews also testifies in court, and works with the caregivers of children deemed "unsafe" to create plans to curb abuse, such as removing the alleged offender from the home, she said.

"It they refuse the plan, the last resort is to remove the child from the home."

Some of the toughest aspects of her job are dealing with caregivers who choose to argue about the problem rather than try to fix it, and those who do the bare minimum required under the law, Andrews said.

But she enjoys the fast-paced and diverse nature of her work with young people.

"Kids are resilient and vibrant and spontaneous," Andrews said. "You never know what you're going to get."

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