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Through IV-E Internship, Daniel McKinnis Discovers Child Welfare Is 'a Perfect Fit'

Experience in Dependency Drug Court was pivotal to realizing his love for working with families

“I always knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession,” says Daniel McKinnis.

But an M.S.W. wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. Initially, he thought he’d follow up on his B.A. in psychology with an advanced degree in the same field, recalls Daniel. Then he did his homework, and, he says, “I found that an M.S.W. was a degree that had a lot more versatility to it, which meant having one would provide me with more career choices.”

Reflecting on his decision to pursue that degree, Daniel says today, “It is clear that I made the right choice.”

Child welfare wasn’t the first concentration that came to mind either when he thought about an M.S.W. But he’d heard about the Title IV-E Stipend Program at CSU Fullerton, where he’d earned his B.A., and “I decided I should give it a shot,” Daniel says. “Child welfare seemed like a field where I could make a difference in the lives of families and children.”

RELATED: Read more about the Title IV-E Stipend Program

Being in the IV-E program meant spending a year interning at a county child welfare agency. In his case, it was the Orange County Social Services Administration, which proved pivotal.

Realizing Child Welfare Is a Perfect Fit

“That year was one of the most exciting in my life,” recalls Daniel.

“I absolutely fell in love with the work. I realized that I truly enjoyed working with families. I interned in a program called Dependency Drug Court, where parents were provided with a lot of support from the court, Social Services, and Mental Health Services.

“It was a wonderful experience and allowed me to realize that child welfare was a perfect fit for me. Had I not participated in the Title IV-E Stipend Program, I may have never found my place in the social work field,” notes Daniel.

“I can say that my M.S.W. program and the training I received as part of the CalSWEC program really prepared me for working in child welfare,” he adds.

Prior to social work, Daniel spent 20 years as in the private sector as Quality Manager for ESP Aerospace Fasteners. The transition from that to a county agency “working as a case-carrying social worker was not too bad,” says Daniel, “and the fact that I loved what I was doing made all the difference.

“It was not until I was promoted to supervisor that the difference between private and public sector jobs became most apparent,” he observes. “It has been a challenging transition, but I have managed to muddle through,” he says. 

RELATED: Read stories about other CalSWEC alumni

Enthusiasm for Profession Endures

Currently Senior Social Services Supervisor with Orange County Children and Family Services, where he started out as a senior social worker, Daniel remains ardent about his chosen profession and every facet of the work it entails.

“My favorite part of being a social worker is the fact that every day is different; I never know what my day is going to be like,” he says.

“I also love making a difference in people’s lives. I know I can’t help everyone, but I have managed to help some, and that’s amazing.

“The other thing I enjoy is mentoring other social workers,” says Daniel, who has been very active in Orange County’s Intern Program. He has also served as a field instructor for five CalSWEC recipients. “As a supervisor, I also get to mentor the social workers in my unit,” he adds. “I love to teach, and I hope I am able to pass on my enthusiasm for this field.” As well, he is able to use his skills and share his knowledge as a certified trainer for the Safety Organized Practice curriculum with the Academy for Professional Excellence at San Diego State University.

“Lastly, I love the opportunity to do so many things,” says Daniel. “Some of the things I get to do are reading and approving reports, training the social workers in my program, training new social workers to the agency, participating is workgroups and collaborative planning committees, and presenting new initiatives and practices to my colleagues. The variety really keeps things interesting.”  

RELATED: 5 Things You May Not Know about the IV-E Stipend Program

Volunteering Keeps Him Grounded

Daniel’s devotion to his calling isn’t confined to his work; he is as dedicated to volunteering in organizations dear to him. “I work with a local In-patient drug treatment facility and have been doing so for almost 10 years,” he says. There, he facilitates psycho-education and process groups weekly.

“I do it because it keeps me grounded,” Daniel explains. “When I am feeling overwhelmed or overworked, the clients I work with help me to keep my perspective and to keep my gratitude.” He continues, “I have worked hard and as a result I have been given a lot. I truly believe in giving back to the community, and the organization that I volunteer for does some really amazing work for people who would not normally be able to receive treatment, typically because of financial reasons.”