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From Social Worker to Supervisor, Stevee Lopez Loves Her Work in Emergency Response

September 19, 2017

Stevee Lopez originally thought she’d pursue a career as a counselor. But, thanks to a childhood friend who worked in Fresno State University’s social work department, she says she was encouraged to consider social work.

“I attended an informational meeting about the Master of Social Work program and quickly learned that social work was where my heart really was,” she says. “After learning about different careers I could pursue with a master’s in social work, I was drawn to the option of working with children and families within Child Protective Services.” 

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While enrolled in Fresno State’s Department of Social Work Education, Stevee recalls, “My experience in CalSWEC’s Title IV-E Stipend Program was a positive one. I had the opportunity to attend workshops that focused on different areas in the child welfare field. Many of these workshops were beneficial throughout my internships and schooling, and I was able to apply many of the practices directly with my clients.”

Surviving the IR Team and CSEC ER Unit

Stevee’s first position after earning her M.S.W. was as Social Worker V in the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency, where she was on the Immediate Response (IR) Team and one of the CSEC (Commercially Sexually Exploited Children) Emergency Response (ER) social workers.

“Having a role in both of these areas was demanding and at times very stressful,” says Stevee, adding, “I firmly believe that one of the main reasons I was able to handle such a demanding role and job was due to the fact that I had a great team that worked amazingly together."

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“In Emergency Response, you see some of the most awful and horrifying cases, but you are never alone,” she emphasizes. “We have a close-knit team and everyone is aware of what the others are working on so that we can have that support if we need it. Also, the supervisor was knowledgeable and supportive in every aspect he could be. Without a supportive team of co-workers and supportive supervisor, I would have left a long time ago due to the horrific things I've seen and heard.”

Instead, it was this supportive environment that inspired Stevee to do more. “I decided to pursue a supervisor position so that I could continue to be a support to the Emergency Response Unit.” 

Since July, Stevee has been a Social Work Supervisor II—Emergency Response, directly supervising a unit of six ER social workers along with the entire ER Unit consisting of approximately 28 ER/Intake Hotline social workers and four other supervisors. She is also the Differential Response Liaison and works directly with community-based organizations and agencies to assist families.

Prepared to Take on Supervisor’s Role

As supervisor, Stevee notes, “I wear many different hats managing different roles; however, I truly believe that my time as a social worker prepared me for this.” She says, “As a social worker, each day brings new tasks and new experiences, and you become the expert in your cases and you know your clients the best. As a social worker, I also found that if I didn't know something, I would make it a priority to find someone who did and connect with them.” She handles her transition to supervisor similarly.

“Transitioning to supervisor has been an interesting experience,” Stevee says. “Each day brings new tasks and new experiences—just like being a social worker. I have to learn what each worker's style is and what areas they are familiar with and unfamiliar with, and also be a support system for the entire Emergency Response Unit.”

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Being a supervisor has its advantages, she notes, including “being a positive support system for my social workers, addressing issues and creating solutions that make the workplace better, and being able to take the time to teach social workers different things they might not have known to help different families succeed.”

Along with the pluses come some challenges. “One challenge is finding out there is not enough time in the day to address everything and get everything finished,” Stevee says. “This is similar to being a social worker, but I really thought I would have more time to work one-on-one with my workers. Another challenge is transitioning into the supervisor role and supervising my friends and colleagues, who in one day went from being my peers to being those I directly supervise. It has been challenging but for the most part has been a great experience,” she says.

So Much to Love about a Demanding Job

There is no doubt that Stevee loves what she does. “The field of social work is so broad; however, I wouldn't change working for Child Protective Services for anything,” she says. “It takes a special person to work in this field and to see and hear the things that we as social workers and supervisors do.”

She says, “I love that every day is new, every family is different, every child is different, but at the end of the day our goal is to keep children safe and we have to put our biases and beliefs aside to make sure that the children are safe.

“I love that we see families at their bottom, but then with our interventions are able to see families succeed and children return to them because their parents/guardians/caregivers have made the decision to address their issues to better themselves and to have their children reunited with them. It breaks my heart when children are removed, but many times these children have said ‘thank you’ to me and my fellow social workers for making sure they are safe and for helping their families.”

Supporting Social Workers to Support Families

Now, in her new role, Stevee says, “As a supervisor, I love being a supportive person for my social workers. I am focused on discussing cases, debriefing those extremely traumatizing and sad cases, but also talking about amazing cases that, without these social workers, could have been worse or could have ended differently.”

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She reflects, “This is a very thankless job both from the view of many of our families and the outside public community; however, I pride myself on making sure my staff know how thankful we are for them and how much these families have benefited from us intervening at certain times.

"Being a supervisor has been an interesting experience, and at times I feel that we spend more time in meetings than anywhere else; however, I wouldn't change being a supervisor for anything,” she says. “Seeing my social workers succeed by keeping children safe every single day is why I accepted this position. We have to support our workers if we are going to be able to support the families we work with.”