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For Jason Eberly, child welfare practice is a passion

This month, we catch up with alumnus Jason Eberly, who graduated from the MSW program in 2012. Eberly is a former N.C. Child Welfare Education Collaborative Leadership Scholar and works in child welfare in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Collaborative scholars receive financial support for their education in exchange for committing to work in a county department of social services after graduation. Eberly completed those requirements long ago, but his passion for child welfare and direct practice remain.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in social work?  
I never had any intention of being a social worker. In 2003, I graduated undergrad with a double major in criminology and. sociology. I found a job working as a case worker at a small public child welfare agency in Ohio, where I focused on youth who were involved in the juvenile justice system and child protective services. I liked the work. I liked being able to help families and children, and that’s what led me to pursue my MSW and stay in the field. Next April will be 17 years in child welfare for me.

Tell us about the various places you’ve worked since graduation. What’s the most important lesson you learned during those early years? 
This is a tough question to answer because I have learned so many lessons having been in the field this long. When I graduated in 2012, I had already been in the field eight years. I moved back to Ohio with my family in 2015, and have worked at two different agencies, both public child welfare agencies. Currently, I am a supervisor in short-term services in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. When I look back at my time, I think the most important lesson I learned early on is that you have to be willing to do anything. You may not end up in a department you want to be in, but use it to gain experience because it will most definitely help you down the line.

Tell us about your current position as a supervisor for short term intakes in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. What are your responsibilities and who do you primarily work with?  
I came to Cuyahoga County in 2018. I am a supervisor for a team of six case workers who investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. We primarily do investigations but also carry caseloads of voluntary in-home protective services cases. During the pandemic, we’ve been managing more foster care cases due to staffing needs, but investigations are our primary focus.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?  
Cuyahoga County is a large county and includes the city of Cleveland and mainly its closest suburbs. We are a large, urban, child protective services agency, and we deal with many of the issues large agencies deal with. The volume of cases is challenging and as a supervisor of six, it can be challenging to make sure each of my staff gets the attention they need to manage their caseloads.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your work and the clients you serve? Have you seen examples of resiliency that give you hope? 
COVID has been very challenging. Keeping staff safe has been important and for me, trying to ensure their safety has been a priority, even more than usual. As I mentioned above, our workers have been carrying a foster care caseload, which has been tricky given that we are still working investigations. For clients. we have been lucky to have good community partners who have been working. As far as hope and resiliency, I will say that through this entire pandemic, our child protective services staff has continued to show up, see families, and do the necessary work to ensure children are safe and families get the help they need. That has made me the most proud and given me hope and hopefully, given hope to our families as well.

In what ways did your academic training as a social worker prepare you for what you’ve faced in your career?
I think my academic training best prepared me by stressing the importance of evidence-based practice in order to best serve children and families.

What advice would you offer social work students considering a career in child welfare?
Like most social work careers, it is not easy, but it can be very rewarding. I think child welfare is a good starting point for everyone to get a good feel of the issues that families and children face in our communities. I know many start a child welfare career and seek out other opportunities, but I would encourage everyone to start with child welfare for the experience. You may end up liking it. I know when I started, I had no intention of sticking around, but here I am almost 17 years later, and I don’t think I would want to be in any other social work field.