Just two years ago, Rachel Harrell was working as a “criminal research analyst” after receiving her undergraduate degree in criminal justice.
“Criminal research analyst” is a fancy title for someone conducting background checks, but it was a first step in what she thought she wanted to do in her professional career.
“I wanted to be a cop at first,” said Harrell, 24.
Of course, life doesn’t always care for our plans.
That first job was becoming tedious for Harrell, she said.
And her frustration prompted a family friend, who works for the state Department of Family and Children Services, to suggest that Harrell apply for a job with that agency.
Harrell interviewed in Gwinnett County, but felt intimidated by the environment, she admits.
Then, she interviewed for a case manager’s opening with Hall County’s DFCS office, and she immediately felt like this location was a better fit.
Less than two years into the job, Harrell has already found success in her role working with foster care children.
So much so, in fact, that she recently received a statewide certificate and recognition for her efforts to reunite foster children with their parents.
“I actually had no idea I had made that kind of impact,” Harrell said.
Harrell will mark her two-year anniversary as a case manager in October, but she’s already successfully guided the reunification of 10 children with their parents.
“I give thanks to a lot of people for that,” Harrell said, adding that reunification, always the goal for foster children, is a team effort that includes developing a strong rapport with colleagues, families, attorneys, therapists and service providers.
An average of 313 family reunifications occur across Georgia each month.
“Our goal is to strengthen families so they can provide safe, stable, loving homes for their children,” state DFCS Director Tom Rawlings said in a press release. “We help them through whatever struggles may be interrupting stability, and if things were serious enough to require the child to be temporarily removed from the home for safety reasons, then we rush to get the family back on their feet and reunite them as quickly as possible.”
Harrell told The Times that she experiences several emotions when a child is reunited with their family.
“The first one is relief,” she said.
And while she misses the children because of the bond she develops with them, Harrell said she also feels a sense of reward for having taken “what little power I have and poured into them.”
“Rachel Harrell is truly a hero in her community for her professionalism, compassion and effectiveness in enabling families to solve their personal crises and return to caring for their children,” Samantha Walker, state reunification manager, said in a press release. “She proves our approach works when we partner with parents on a reunification plan and work together to equip parents for the toughest job there is – being a mother or father.”
Harrell said that, as with any job, burnout is possible when working in social services, particularly because she is working with families at their worst moments.
“We have to remind ourselves we have a reason for doing this,” she said.
And the state recognition she has received is “confidence boosting,” Harrell said, and has motivated her to help her newer colleagues just as she was helped when she first started the job.
The recognition is also a testament to the hard work of DFCS case managers, Harrell said.
“You never hear anything good that DFCS does,” she added.
Anyone interested in learning about becoming a foster parent can visit FosterGeorgia.com or call 800-210-KIDS.