Daniel Wilson Helps to Improve Lives Both as Social Worker and Change Leader

February 12, 2018

“The Title IV-E program completely shaped my career trajectory,” says Daniel Wilson, Staff Services Manager I with the Critical Incident and Oversight Support Unit, Children and Family Services Division of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).

While the Title IV-E Stipend Program may have propelled him into child welfare, Daniel’s choice of social work as a career isn’t surprising.

“Growing-up in rural Georgia, I learned from my family the values of helping people in need through giving, volunteering, and social justice, and I was exposed to the social issues of racism and poverty,” he recalls. His mother, who had a BASW, worked as a child welfare and eligibility social worker, and various family members were helping professionals, such as special education teachers and therapists.

Daniel was further exposed to social work volunteering at organizations in Atlanta and Sacramento that provide support to low-income families and individuals. “I started at Sac State with a plan to major in business administration and minor in social welfare,” he says. “However, after taking my first social work course, I found my academic and professional home, and soon thereafter changed my undergraduate major to social work.”

Pursuing the MSW

After earning a BA in Social work, Daniel says, “I decided to pursue my MSW, because I loved—and still love—academia, specifically the unrestricted theoretical and real-world discussions and research regarding social problems and solutions. Further, social work is not just profession, it is a community, and I wanted to further my connection with social workers in our community.

“Also, I decided to obtain an MSW because it opens doors to a variety of career paths within the field of social work, unlike other, more specific degrees.” 

Read more about the Title IV-E Stipend Program

Being a student, then alumnus of the Sacramento State IV-E program “has been a truly valuable experience,” Daniel says. “Being part of a small cohort of students created a sense of community and shared experience. We quickly became friends and relied on one another through the emotional and intellectual journey of the MSW and Title IV-E programs.

“I also enjoyed and appreciated the additional support and attention via frequent additional program-specific trainings, check-ins, and mentorship opportunities, which ensured our success as students and as graduates,” he recalls.

His career to date has reinforced his belief that “Title IV-E graduates are a valued commodity in child welfare.” He adds, “I am inspired everyday by the work of child welfare social workers and graduates of the Title IV-E Stipend Program, and I am very proud to be a part of this community.”

Challenges and Rewards as Supervisor

As a Staff Services Manager I, Daniel says, “I have learned that the skills we developed around family engagement parallel and easily transfer to working with staff. One of my biggest challenges as a supervisor is the balance of staff accountability and staff support, both professional and personal. While my natural role is that of a collaborator and cheerleader, accountability and tough conversations are as much a part of the job of a supervisor as with a child welfare social worker. Finding the right balance of both is a learning experience.” 

The position also has its positive aspects. “As a supervisor, my greatest rewards include witnessing and supporting staff growth and development,” says Daniel. “It’s incredible to be a part of an individual’s accumulation and application of new knowledge and information to improve work products and, in the long run, improve outcomes for the children and families we serve in California's child welfare system.

“I fully expect my staff will continue to develop as leaders, championing continuous quality improvement. They will probably wind up supervising me one day!” he says.

Court Services in Sacramento County

Before joining CDSS, Daniel was a court services social worker in Sacramento County. There, he says, the focus was the assessment of safety, permanency, and well-being of individual children and family units, and balancing the best interests of specific children, the trauma of a removal from parents and caregivers, and the likelihood that a parent would be able to address barriers to reunification.

In contrast, in his current position, “My team and I assess county child welfare practice in individual counties and across the state,” says Daniel. “Specifically, we seek to understand systemic issues and strengths, then build upon the strengths to address recurring issues via technical assistance with county child welfare and probation agencies, policy development and interpretation, data analysis, and collaborative development of strategies and interventions,” he explains.

“I have always had a keen interest in macro social work,” he says. “I enjoy the research, analysis, and assessment it takes to understand the strengths and issues of a system as large as California’s child welfare system. However, I do also miss the direct work with families and children, building relationships, and being in the very rewarding, challenging, and emotional role of a front line child welfare social worker, which is really the heart of our entire child welfare system.”

Leading for Change

Daniel has served as Chair of the Sacramento Unit of NASW—California, President of the Social Work Student Association, and Director of Macro Level Engagement of the MSW Association. “I have found myself in these positions because I demand change—change for social, racial, and economic justice. Regardless of my role as student, line staff, analyst, or supervisor, I see so much opportunity and passion in the people around me, and I can’t help but try to bring people together to create change,” he says.

Read stories about other CalSWEC alumni

“I've never been particularly interested in any title other than social worker—in fact, I would like to see the hierarchy flattened. My involvement in the National Association of Social Workers and the Social Work Student Association at Sacramento State has been to bring people together to create team-directed change.

“I see social workers as helpers, educators, researchers, case managers, and therapists, but our roots are in advocacy and organizing, and I wholeheartedly believe that bringing people together is the most effective way to improve lives,” Daniel says.