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Summer internship inspires blog on social-service issues

There are internships, and then there’s the experience Sadie Meadows has had at the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Orange County, Virginia.

Meadows ’17, a psychology and gender, sexuality and women's studies (GSWS) double major, has chronicled many of her experiences – and their impact on her – in a blog on the GSWS web page.

She has worked in every department but one during the past nine weeks, doing everything from going to see how clients were faring and determining if they needed services,  to helping assess whether a child needed to be removed from an unstable home or making sure an adult wasn’t being exploited financially.

“If I’ve learned anything … it’s that this job is all hands on deck,” she wrote in her first post. “Around this time of year, there are approximately enough cases for each worker to have a full caseload (around 15 cases). Right now they have almost double that number.”

English Department chair Suzanne Raitt, who also teaches in the GSWS department and is Meadows' academic supervisor for her internship, said that’s exactly the type of insight that she knew readers would appreciate and why she recommended that Meadows pen the blog.

“Sadie proposed a journal; I suggested she take it one step further and share what she was learning with a wider audience,” Raitt said. “Faculty, students and the general public are always curious about what students are doing in their internships and Sadie’s looked especially exciting. I knew she’d have a wide range of experiences and encounter a number of issues that are relevant to her GSWS major.”Sadie Meadows

A short time after starting, she had already been out to pick up an abandoned baby, called shelters to find placement for a domestic violence victim and her daughters (only to discover that finding a open shelter between Fauquier and Richmond was nearly impossible), accompanied her supervisor on a visit to a child struggling to stay in school and went with another Child Protective Services (CPS) worker to remove children from a home (after several warnings to the parents had been issued).

Lately, she has accompanied a CPS professional investigating homes after complaints that the residents have been doing drugs in front of their young children.

“I’m a fairly sensitive person in general, and I knew up front that I would come across situations that wouldn’t be easy,” she said. “My co-workers have eased the emotional burden for me in terms of being able to talk about what I’m seeing at DSS and also in terms of being very efficient and driven in their jobs. The CPS workers are great at finding solutions that benefit the children.”

There are nuances to the internship that she never could have imagined, such as the requirement that she wear closed-toe shoes.

“That's one of the yuckier parts of the job,” she said. “I'm often in homes where there is some form of animal or human waste on the floor, and if I don't wear the proper footwear I could pick up diseases. If I don't wear the right shoes, I can't go out on a call and that could make a worker's job harder if they really needed the extra person to talk to other family members or watch kids.”

Among her blogs is one titled “Community Involvement and the Elderly,” in which she describes her experience with Adult Protective Services as “heartbreaking.”

“Many of these people are elderly and disabled, either mentally or physically or both, and are living on obscenely small amounts of money,” she wrote. “A lot of them don’t have people to care for them, and even if they do, it’s almost impossible to work fulltime, make a living wage and take care of an elderly person.”

But she detailed two “relatively easy ways to make life easier for the elderly, and particularly the disabled elderly.”

Meadows encouraged people to go to the Wisconsin Healthy Brain Initiative website and get a copy of that state’s manual “Building Dementia-Friendly Communities,” then downloading the Alzheimer’s Association of America’s PowerPoint presentation and starting a campaign locally with the suggestions found there.Meadows at work

The second thing Meadows suggested was to find a religious organization that offers a program similar to Williamsburg United Methodist’s “Respite Care,” which she says functions as adult daycare. This enables caregivers to run errands, seniors to socialize ands get out of the house. The Methodist program is taken from an initiative on disabilities adopted by the church in 2000.

Recently assigned to the foster care branch of DSS, Meadows offered observations gleaned from training exercises on how to deal with a foster child’s sexuality.

She made five points: Sex and gender are not synonymous; gender and gender identity are; just because they may be young doesn’t mean they don’t know; just be respectful and it’s OK if they change their mind.

“Who a child is and who they think they are is the same thing,” she wrote. “Remember, they probably know themselves better than anyone else could ... I really want to let these families know how to be respectful of what kids know and who they are because it’s really that simple.”

Meadows said the internship has reinforced in her mind her choice of undergraduate majors, and has led her to think about counseling and even to consider becoming a foster parent “when I’m more suitable to parent.”

Raitt said she is impressed with Meadows’ immersion into the topic of foster parenting.

“One of Sadie’s special interests is in LGBTQ children and teens,” she said, “and she’s done some fantastic research on that – including enrolling in training to become a foster parent and offering a constructive critique of the ways in which gender is discussed.”