How does Cookson Hills “do social work different”?


In real life, social workers are largely unknown to children and families…until they are in crisis. The turmoil of their crisis makes it difficult to trust anyone, let alone someone they don’t know. Unfortunately, many families are in crisis. Quite often these families receive help from a social worker who is overloaded, overworked, and overwhelmed. Social workers want to help children and families in need; however, due to the sheer volume of people who need help, it can be difficult to help them all and do it well.

So, how does Cookson Hills do social work differently? Relationship.

At Cookson Hills, we believe that relationship is the number one tool we have to work with children and families in crisis. Our Trauma-Informed Care model focuses on relationships and strengths instead problems.

Children need to know that people care about them. This is no small task considering the trauma many have experienced. They may have been abused and neglected by those who were supposed to love and care for them. While many teens display an “I don’t care” attitude, it is often a carefully designed wall of protection that has been built brick-by-brick by the pain and trauma they have experienced. Relationships allow us to earn the children’s trust and free them to tear down these walls.

We build relationships by being PRESENT

Our social workers carry manageable caseloads and, like other staff members, live on campus. At Cookson Hills, a social worker is not someone the children see only when things are bad; they are a part of the Cookson Hills community. Children see the social worker doing life alongside them; watching ball games in the gym, walking the dog, eating lunch in the dining hall, playing with children on the playground, etc. These non-threatening interactions help the relationship by revealing to the children that social workers are real people (yes it’s true!) and not someone who lives in the office.

We build relationships by being INTENTIONAL 

Our Trauma-Informed Care model influences everything we do. We understand that children with trauma think and react differently. We understand that every interaction children have can be helpful or hurtful. We actively listen to them so they feel heard and understood. The way we act towards children, even in crisis, is designed to help them believe they are capable, significant, and influential; that they can achieve their goals, they are worth the work, and they have a say over how their life will turn out.

We build relationships by being AUTHENTIC

Since they see us often, the children know if we are being genuine or fake. The ability for children to see that the way social workers interact with them is the same way they interact with everyone else is powerful. This allows them to see what we do is a lifestyle choice and not just our job.

Working with children from hard places is tough and what we do isn’t fool-proof. But strong relationships built on empathy, genuine love, and support opens the doors to helping children believe they can change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Brandon Jackson, Social Worker, is from Indianapolis, Indiana and enjoys a good meal, playing games, and spending time with his family.