Amanda Binford was named NACo’s Social Worker of the Year; foster-care outreach program also awarded
PRINCE GEORGE – The county’s Social Services Department was recognized twice this year by the National Association of Counties (NACo) for the work in its community. Foster Care and Adoptions social worker Amanda Binford won Social Worker of the Year, while the second award went to an outreach program the department created.
Going into the NACo awards ceremony in February, the department had half of the finalists for Social Worker of the Year. Binford and her colleague Theaster Smith were two of the four. In the end, Binford’s name was called at the Hotel Jefferson ceremony.
A foster parent in the Prince George system nominated Binford for the award. The social worker explained that while exciting, it’s also refreshing to be recognized working with some of the county’s kids.
“It’s more usual that someone is calling to complain about something they’re not happy we’ve done,” Binford said. “We’re going into people’s lives and we are changing them for forever. Whether that be in a positive way or a negative way, it’s really something you can’t take lightly.”
Binford said she first started thinking about the profession as a student at East Carolina University. Her boyfriend at the time was adopted as a child, and his adopted mother was a social worker.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the helping profession. There’s lots of rewards and there’s lots of challenges but I think the rewards always outweigh the challenges,” she said.
Binford was surprised when she came back to work in her home county after graduation, not realizing the extent of the issues families in Prince George are faced with.
“I think I was very jaded and naive growing up because I didn’t have those experiences,” she said.
Prince George’s Foster Care division has seen increased activity over the past year. Previously, it averaged 12 to 15 kids in foster care. Now it works with between 22 to 25 kids. Shel Bolyard-Douglas, director of social services, attributed it directly to the opioid epidemic, saying it’s caused increased referrals.
“Neglect is our number one issue,” Bolyard-Douglas said. ”... (opioids) are making it more intense, so whatever was there before has gotten worse.”
Prince George Social Services has developed two programs that reach into the community, trying to catch some of these issues before they become too severe.
These programs are centered around fun, while also offering the educational tools and support that families might need.
The five-year-old Back to School Fair was recognized for an award by NACo for the program’s contribution to Prince George.
Social Services gathers more than 60 community partners for a fair at Scott Park in August, for a family-themed event with bubble soccer, hot dogs, bounce castles and other events. Social Services collects school supplies throughout the year to hand out at the fair.
The community partners are organizations like youth groups, child care providers, the girl and boy scouts and the Rec. department, that have value for families with children.
“We ask that each partner offer at least one back to school item at their table that people can take advantage of,” Bolyard-Douglas said. ”... Is it everything our kids need to fill up their backpacks, no. It is just a little something extra to say, hope this helps. Here are some other resources that I hope will help.”
Sticking with that strategy, Prince George Social Services developed a second program which it hopes will be awarded in the future.
The Toddler Fair is designed for families with children under five. The Toddler Fair is similar to the Back to School Fair, bringing families together with fun attractions like a petting zoo, first responder vehicles on show and more fair food, while also having expert help on-hand.
“You and I can go anywhere and you’ll see a health fair for us to get our cholesterol checked, everywhere. But, there was nothing really for our little people.”
Health specialists at the fair offer free health checks for the kids, checking their ears, teeth, eyesight and overall health. Kids can normally receive this care in school, but being too young, some children go without these tests.
“We were going out and we were seeing kids whose teeth were rotting, or we were getting complaints, we got this one family and we thought all of the kids were deaf,” Bolyard-Douglas said. “But, it turns out there was so much wax build up inside their ears, they just couldn’t hear. Once we took them to the doctor and got their ears cleaned out, It’s like oh, it’s a whole new world.”
Bolyard-Douglas said these kinds of ailments are preventable, but if unchecked, severely impact a child’s development at crucial stage of brain development.
Families are given referrals to the appropriate doctors if tests come back with any issues.
“Our whole goal is, let’s see where you are today and if we have any immediate concerns, then we are giving you resources, giving you referrals and getting you hooked in with services at that point,” Bolyard-Douglas said. Because the goal is, if we can find it at two, and get you on the right track, the curve is a little bit better.”
By Sean Jones, Staff Writer
Sean Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-722-5172.