Denise Hodges meets clients when they’re in the midst of a crisis.
As the head of our Homemaker Services program, Hodges helps families navigate difficult times and set a solid foundation for the future. Clients are referred to Hodges and her team by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) – often after they have been accused of abuse or neglect and have had their children removed from their home temporarily.
The Homemaker Services team then steps in to assist the parents in providing a safe and nurturing environment for their family – and to help the family stay together.
“We’re trying to help empower our clients,” Hodges said. “When we meet them, they feel like they’ve been stripped of all their power. They often don’t know what to do next. That’s where we come in. We talk about our services and our benefits, and we tell them: This is voluntary. We’re only here if you need us.”
Unlike other agencies that provide homemaking services, Children’s Aid attaches a social worker to each new client. That commitment to care is part of the reason why the agency recently was awarded a coveted three-year CARF accreditation. Right now, there are four social workers who are supporting about 40 homemakers.
At the initial assessment, our social workers and homemakers get a sense of what each family needs to be able to stay together in health and harmony. Although homemakers can and do help families with tasks around the house, such as meal planning or cleaning, that is not their main mission.
“People hear our name and they think, ‘The house is a mess, let’s call a homemaker.’ That’s not what we’re about,” Hodges said. “We’re a wraparound service. We start by listening to our clients and understanding their needs. Sometimes they don’t know how to clean, but we don’t do it for them – we teach them how to do it. Or we teach them how to buy and cook appropriate foods. Our goal is to get them to become self-sufficient.”
Many of the parents in the program come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They might not have ever had good examples of how to manage a household or how to care for children. They sometimes struggle with caring for themselves as well.
One of the main responsibilities for homemakers is to help families navigate the medical system. Social workers teach families how to access entitlements and benefits, and homemakers often accompany them to the doctors’ offices as well.
“Sometimes our clients are scared of going to the doctor,” said Elizabeth Erwin, another social worker on the team. “Sometimes they don’t know what to ask, and sometimes they’re afraid to ask the questions that they do have. With us, they learn to speak up for themselves.”
When clients trust their social worker and homemaker, they can learn to ask any questions. Recently, Audrey Rosario, another social worker on the team, was working with a single father who didn’t know how to comb his daughter’s hair. The homemaker not only taught him how to use the comb, but also showed him the specialized shampoo he should buy for her curls.
“We’re constantly advocating for them, from the little things like that to the big things, like keeping their family together,” Rosario said. “The clients feel that. They come to us struggling, but they leave us in a much stronger place.”