“I decided to be a social worker after working as a juvenile probation officer,” says Melinda Iremonger. “I discovered that the majority of youth came from broken homes and were also victims of abuse and neglect. It inspired me to want to reach the youth sooner and try to make a positive impact on their lives before they enter the criminal justice system."
With this insight, along with her experience and motivation, Melinda began working at group homes, with the goal of obtaining her MSW. She started out at the River Oak Center for Children’s Residential Facility in Sacramento. Later, she was Lead Residential Counselor, then Clinical Case Manager at Sacramento Children’s Home, providing assessment as well as an array of social services for children placed in the shelter.
More significantly, Melinda began pursuing her MSW. “After working in group homes, I knew that the department that had the most impact on the children I was working with was Child Welfare,” she says. “When I found out there was a specialized cohort program for CPS, specifically Title IV-E, I was thrilled and applied immediately.” She was accepted into the program at Sacramento State University, where she had earned her B.S. in criminal justice.
TITLE IV-E PROGRAM GIVES HER A HEAD START
“I knew that I wanted to further my career in Child Welfare, specifically in child protection, and with the Title IV-E opportunity, I was going to be able to get a head start,” says Melinda. “The program allowed me to focus on the population in my studies as well as in my field internships.”
She speaks glowingly about her IV-E experience and credits it with her professional success. “The program was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It afforded me the opportunity to begin my career while I was still attending college for my master’s,” she says. “I believe strongly that the field placement and the people I had the opportunity to meet and work with truly allowed me to become the strong advocate and trainer I am today.”
Following graduation, Melinda took a position as Social Worker IV in El Dorado County Department of Health and Human Services, performing case management activities and training social caseworkers, among other responsibilities. Following that, she joined Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services as Social Work Supervisor II, where her responsibilities included planning, assigning, and reviewing the activities of 9 to 12 social workers; screening referrals to determine risk levels and eligibility for services; and building relationships with public and private community-based service providers.
Over the years, Melinda gained extensive and varied experience in Child Welfare Protection and Policy, Structured Decision Making, and Safety-Organized Practice. Developing a thorough knowledge of California law in the process, she was well equipped for her next position, as Social Service Consultant III with the California Department of Social Services Child Welfare Program Policy and Program Development Bureau. There, her tasks included developing regulations, policies, and procedures related to CWS; analyzing related state and federal legislation; and interpreting provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
IMPORTANT ROLE IN STATEWIDE TRAINING
In 2015, Melinda joined CalSWEC’s In-Service Training Program as Training and Curriculum Specialist. She routinely collaborates with statewide regional training staff and stakeholders to coordinate and oversee the development, revision, and implementation of the Common Core Curricula for social workers and their supervisors in the state’s 58 counties. She also facilitates statewide and local work groups focused on training content and curriculum development, besides monitoring legislative and practice changes to initiate development of new training supports that ensure standardized curricula reflect current best practice.
“I find that the most rewarding component of my current role is being able to reach so many new workers. The current projects I work on reach all the newly hired social workers, and this is a very amazing thing to be a part of,” says Melinda.
“The most challenging aspect is not knowing how the training is going to be received by each social worker, as they all have different educational backgrounds,” she says, “so finding the balance of ensuring the materials are challenging enough to learn something new but not be too challenging that it’s overwhelming.”
TEACHING AND SHARING HER EXPERIENCE
Since 2012, Melinda has been MSW Field Instructor at Sacramento State, her alma mater. “The thing I enjoy most about teaching is sharing my experiences in a way that become a new tool for those working in the field.” She concedes, “CPS is a very hard field to choose and then to remain in. Luckily, I have had amazing mentors and have stuck with it for over 15 years. I believe that I have learned so many things from others, and being able to share this with students has allowed them to learn self-care and self-confidence and see what they bring to the families and what families bring to them.
“In California, the Child Welfare System changes frequently to try and meet the needs of the families we work with. With the students, I have had the opportunity to teach them how to look at the changes and embrace them, as many changes incorporate the methods and foundations they are familiar with and already use daily in their work with families. It is all about perspective.”
Over the years, Melinda has held positions in direct service, policy development, and training, but, she says, “I don’t prefer one over the other. I believe all of the experiences have given me this very unique opportunity to see the Child Welfare System with a variety of lenses which complement each position. Having had such a variety of roles at varying levels of government, I have been able to see first-hand how each system works and provide insight into how and what works in each position.”
She says, “Having such a diverse career within the field of Child Welfare has been by far the best part of my career. I feel like I have had so many opportunities to make real changes in the Child Welfare System.”
One accomplishment especially stands out. “I think the achievement I am most proud of is being able to work so closely on the ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] regulations and see them through to implementation,” Melinda says. “These regulations hadn’t been updated in several years, and being one of the few people to edit state regulations first-hand is definitely what I am most proud of.”