Jennifer Wrayno – Regional Director, Children’s Services Agency of MDHHS

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Jennifer Wrayno says that she knew she wanted to go into child welfare as a teenager. Her mother grew up in foster care. And throughout her life, her mom stayed connected with her foster parents. Jennifer grew up knowing them as “uncles” and “aunts” until she was older.

So, soon after she became an adult, Jennifer Wrayno became a foster parent herself. She has fostered more than 17 children over the last 19 years. She has adopted five children. And she continues to foster.

“My children are all amazing,” Jennifer said.

Much has changed in the 25 years since Jennifer started her career in child welfare. She started at a private agency then moved to the State of Michigan in 2003. Today, Wrayno oversees 1,600 employees working in the five largest counties of the state.

Besides the technology that is helpful in managing cases and traveling to visit families, there are smaller caseloads, now capped at no more than fifteen per worker. Though they are fewer in number, the caseloads can be more complex as many children coming in to care now have many challenges.

“People think that we can just go in and remove a child,” Jennifer said. “We can’t and we don’t.” But, she adds, movies and TV shows may show otherwise, and therefore there can be misperceptions.

“I don’t think the public understands the complexity or the training and time that goes into each case,” Jennifer said. “There is a tremendous amount of time, energy, and a system of processes, as well as love, that social workers bring to each decision. Our goal is to keep families together, reunite them, or place them in safe and loving foster and permanent homes.”

MDHHS receives an average of 11,000 calls a month to investigate possible neglect or abuse. Yet there are only 9,900 children and youth in foster care. The state removes about 2% of children from their homes.

The fields of child welfare and social work continue to advance through the dedication of committed professionals, as well as through advancements in science, medicine and law, Jennifer said. She offers words of encouragement to those interested in joining the work as social workers and child welfare specialists as a career.

“There will be some challenging days,” Jennifer said. “Remember that every interaction you have with these children and families matters. You may have no idea at the time how much impact you are having on the lives of the people with whom you work. And always remember how important your work is.”