“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Social work attracts people who want to help others. So does foster parenting. Sometimes people decide to combine both and pursue social work as a profession and foster parenting as a calling. For these people, working with kids in foster care permeates their very souls and they know deep in their hearts that this is what they are meant to do. There are dozens of people like this in CT. This story is about one of them.
When Michelle Cintron enters a room the first thing you notice about her is her smile. Even her eyes smile. The next thing you notice is how centered and calm she appears. Apparently, kids and families notice this about her too. And they really respond to these qualities.
Michelle works for Family and Children’s Aid as the Foster Care Coordinator. She does a little of everything, in fact a lot of everything. She teaches pre-licensing training classes. She acts as a social work case manager. She helps with the foster family support group. She is part of the “matching” team. In short, she does what needs to get done in the 13 bed program. But Michelle also “walks the walk.” She has been a licensed foster parent for the Department of Children and Families for the past six years.
Michelle began her career in social services working at a group home. Her best friend, Tammy, worked there with her. The two women are so close that they refer to each other as sisters. Tammy also exposed Michelle to the world of foster parenting through her sister, Jayme. Jayme became a foster parent when Michelle and Tammy were young. The women watched Jayme and found that they, too, wanted to become foster parents. Eventually, after the two women moved in together, they went through the licensing process as a team. DCF licensed them and continues to support them.
Michelle met her friend and current supervisor, Mindy Solomon, while working in the group home. When Mindy left that job and joined Family and Children’s Aid, she asked Michelle to come along. Twelve and half years later they still work together. The two make a great team. “Michelle is extremely dedicated to our families. She definitely goes above and beyond. She just honestly desires to help. She wants to see every child and family succeed,” says Mindy. Asked why she chose to work at Family and Children’s Aid with Mindy, Michelle talks about the kids who have captured her heart. “You read their case histories and its like, my God, they’ve been through so much and they have no family to go to. It’s my soft spot. I want to help them. I just love to see the growth in the kids.” And Michelle definitely has not only a “soft spot” for these kids, but she also is determined to help them thrive in their foster homes.
One child and family in particular stand out for Michelle. The youngster was 9 or 10 when the FCA team, including Michelle, “matched” the child with the family. Although the child did well in the home, the child struggled at school. And foster mom struggled to understand the child’s behaviors and how they reflected the child’s history of trauma. Michelle worked patiently with the family for over 2 years to understand the impact trauma had on the child. She explains the difficulties many families’ experience, “You can’t erase the impact of trauma. For some kids they may look like their 10 years old but they actually function at a lower age. In this family, a number of interventions were provided before mom met with a clinician and it clicked.” She smiles and definitely looks pleased about the “magic” when you can help change things for a family. This family eventually adopted the child in their care. Mindy states, “Michelle worked with this family for over two years. She remained patient and always calm, always willing to talk with the family. Michelle never gets frustrated. She empathizes with where the parents are at. She really puts herself in their shoes. It is what makes her such a great asset to our team.”
Michelle and Tammy have cared for at least 17 children over the past six years. Just this past October Michelle got married and moved in with her husband, leaving Tammy as a single licensed foster parent. But Michelle is not done – she and her husband are currently waiting for DCF to approve their application to be respite care providers. They want to be able to continue to support Tammy and the children in her care and they are thinking that eventually they will likely become foster parents together. You can tell that Michelle misses caring for the kids. “Tammy and I cared for a sibling group for over 3 years. The girls were 3 and 1 when they came to us. A boy was born 6 months later and we took him home from the hospital when he was three days old.” Michelle and Tammy worked closely with the children’s mom to help her regain custody. They started slowly. Michelle explains, “At first we were a little nervous but with DCF approval we invited mom to one of the kids’ birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. Eventually she ended up doing some of her visits in our home.” Tammy and Michelle worked on their comfort level and in doing so they realized that mom was really worried about what they thought of her and wanted to do well by her kids. Although mom stumbled from time to time Michelle says, “She continued to try. Her primary struggle was to find and retain employment. But she always visited her kids.” The children’s mom became very connected to the women. Although the children moved back home with their mom 18 months ago – and they have a new sibling – they continue to visit, sometimes spending weekends with Michelle and Tammy. The families get together for the kids’ birthdays and they maintain regular connection by phone.
“Being a foster parent has helped me be a better social worker,” Michelle says. Michelle’s DCF support worker, Gary Saam, speaks very highly of Michelle and her new husband. He can’t wait for their paperwork to be processed so he can license them. Gary says, “Michelle is so very kind and considerate. She is very sensitive to the kids’ physical and emotional needs. She has a soothing effect on kids. She just seems to calm them by her presence. We need more people like her who have this kind of calming effect.”
Michelle is a “giver” by nature and it makes her happy. In fact, it has made and continues to make many people happy. Michelle embodies the very best in social work and foster parenting. During this, National Social Work Month, we salute her and all social workers for their dedication and commitment to Connecticut families. We wish Michelle the very best in her new marriage and look forward to the day when her newly made family begins their foster care journey.
~This article was written for Annie C Courtney Foundation, Inc. by Deb Kelleher