Nominated for child advocate of the year in 2018, Selena Owen’s commitment to families—birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents and children—is strengthened by bonds developed sometimes over many years. Family successes have kept her going for the nine years she’s been a caseworker at Caritas Family Solutions. Seeing positive results come out of extremely negative circumstances is what inspires her to keep going.
Upon graduation from college with a degree in juvenile justice, Selena began working in group homes. After learning about social services and foster care, she knew that was what she wanted to do and pursued the required licensure and training. As a foster care case manager at Caritas, Selena worked with birth families and children with the goal of bringing the children home and improving their family situation.
Selena’s successes were based both on having a connection with the families and understanding their needs. Seeking to meet those needs, through counseling, transportation, health care, and household resources for birth parents and children, are the many challenges of a case manager. There’s always a mountain of paperwork, including court reports, service plans, case notes, and more. The working hours often include evenings and weekends. “Seeing a case through start to finish is rewarding,” said Selena. In 2014, Selena was promoted to lead foster care case manager. In this role she trained case managers and took more complex cases.
A stand out among Selena’s many success stories is one that involved working with a birth mother who was addicted to drugs. Her child was in foster care for more than two years. The birth mother faced many hurdles and it didn’t appear as if she was going to turn her life around. However, she was eventually able to complete her program of recovery and be reunited with her child. Today this birth mother is married, has another child, and is an RN. When asked what she thought helped the mother turn the corner, Selena replied, “Trust, connection, support and patience. I don’t ever give up on them. Anyone can change. It may not be in the 1-2 years I need them to change in order to reunite with their children, but people are capable of change.”
The philosophy that “people can change” is what Selena brings to the table when working with challenging cases. She believes that one or two bad things don’t define a person. She has a natural empathy for people faced with extreme circumstances such as birth mothers who have their children placed in foster care.
Sometimes a foster placement doesn’t always work out. Selena recalled one such situation when a child in care was returned to the agency on less than a day’s notice. The child needed a new home before bedtime. Selena brought the child and his belongings to the Caritas office and began making phone calls to find a new foster placement. She was able to successfully place the child into another foster home.
Another success story Selena likes to share is that of a child who was moved around to several foster families due to her special needs and difficult circumstances. This little girl had experienced two failed adoptive placements and eventually found her forever family with a couple who had adopted three other children through Caritas. Because of Selena’s persistence, compassion, and resourcefulness, she has been able to find families who have fostered or adopted several children and were always willing to take one more child into their home.
Outside of work, Selena has her hands full with four boys, ranging in age from eight to 21. She and her husband, Kent, have also assisted in providing care for two other children which gives her a firsthand view of what it’s like to be a foster parent.
In 2017, Selena became more focused on supporting families who are actively in the adoption process, and in 2018, her role shifted from case manager to adoption specialist. She is proud to report that so far she has coordinated more than 50 adoptions or guardianships for families who have cared for foster children and want to adopt them. It’s no wonder Selena was nominated for child advocate of the year in 2018.
Story by Sandy Budde, contributing writer.