Former Foster Child Exhorts New DYFS Caseworkers

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Former Foster Child Exhorts New DYFS Caseworkers
by Angela Dellisanti, Associated Press
Star Ledger (Newark N.J.) 

More than 130 newly hired New Jersey child welfare workers got a pep talk yesterday from a one-time foster child who told them they have the power to change young lives, as his was turned around by a caseworker and a foster parent.

Bob Danzig was abandoned by his alcoholic parents and bounced through five foster homes before his file landed on the desk of a caseworker who told him, “You are worthwhile.” He later heard another life-changing mantra—”You are full of potential”—from a foster mother who recognized in Danzig the fragile ego of a child neglected.

“When a woman in authority says to a foster care kid, ‘You are full of promise’—she gave me permission to grow. I never thought of growing before,” he said.

Danzig put himself through college and went on to become CEO of Hearst Newspaper Group. He later built a motivational speaking business, whose proceeds he donates to children’s charities. He waived his customary $10,000 speaker’s fee and appeared at the Division of Youth and Family Services training session for free.

Human Services Commissioner Jim Davy addressed the new hires first, proclaiming this “a very exciting time” because a blueprint for comprehensive child welfare reform is in place. More than 500 caseworkers will be added to the agency’s payroll this year as part of the sweeping, court-mandated reforms.

“But today is about the tools of the heart and spirit,” Davy said. “It’s about seeing how you can touch the lives of people in very significant ways.”

Danzig reinforced that theme: “You never know when you give your heart how indelible an impact you will have.”

Incoming DYFS caseworkers receive 18 days of training before being assigned their first case, then are required to take eight mini- courses during their first year, said Dan Mills, the agency’s training supervisor. Pre-service training includes sessions on diversity, ethics, abuse, neglect, safety and risk, he said.

Yesterday’s training session resembled a graduate-school orientation—a group of young professionals being urged to succeed despite pitfalls by their caring, grandfatherly dean.

“You cannot do the work you are embarking on without a passionate conviction of the value in what you are doing,” Danzig said. “You must feel the noble purpose in what you do. You must let that flow out to the people that are the beneficiaries of your choosing to be in this line of work.”

Using humor and storytelling techniques, Danzig engaged his audience by reaching out—sometimes literally—grasping the hands or patting the shoulder of someone in a front row. The result: A standing ovation, plus all of the recruits lining up afterward for a complimentary copy of Danzig’s book, “Every Child Deserves A Champion,” which he autographed for each one.