Located in a neighborhood with roots as deep as Milwaukee, La Causa Crisis Nursery and Repsite Center is a place parents can find a safe haven for their children in times of crisis and emergencies. Children come to La Causa when abuse may be an occurrence in the family, when parents need to respite, and when parenting help is needed. Abuse can become an incident when stress is heightened in a parent’s life. This program has been working to protect children from abuse for the past twenty-five years. The center is one of the many programs operated by La Causa, an agency that has helped serve Milwaukee in the last forty-three years. Housing nearly nine-hundred youth yearly, children receive the best care from staff and volunteers. Though the center is open to families of any social status, it is the common for the children to come from low income households. Serving children, of all ethnicities, from birth to the age of twelve, La Causa provides shelter, food, clothing, and care to all in need. With the option to spend three nights or just a couple hours, it is a warm environment for children to be while parents handle the crisis’s in their life.
Awaiting my days to volunteer at La Causa, I was very excited to start this experience in my life. I wanted to make connections with the children while maintaining an emotional boundary, establish professional relationships with the staff, and learn how to react during challenging situations. On my first day of volunteering I was nervous as to what I was going to encounter. The center had a positive energy coursing though which counteracted the negativity
that may be occurring in the children’s lives. When I arrived at the agency I was met by an African American woman named Glenora who led me to the kids where they were playing on the second floor. There were four kids present that night, two left within the couple hours of my volunteering and a brother and sister spent the night. The children present that night were of ages two through four, with African American and Latino backgrounds. I was very hesitant to interact with the children the first night since I was not sure of their prior situation. Along with my hesitation, some of the kids also showed some caution while being around me. I had to build trust with them, which did not take long. When it was time to put the children to sleep, I realized how much fun I had while spending time with them. We colored, read books, watched movies, and played with dolls. As a service learner, my main job at the agency was to make sure the kids were happy and enjoying their time away from their parents. Some kids, mainly toddlers, had a hard time being away from their mothers while others ran around and played without a care in the world.
Working with children it is known there are going to be disputes. Speaking in the terms of social work roles, I identified with being a negotiator while volunteering at the crisis nursery. These disputes helped me with my goal of wanting to learn how to handle challenging situations. Many of the arguments that were created were due to someone taking someone else’s toy. Since some of these children came from abusive homes, I had to think of the best way to approach these situations. Having a physical interaction was not favored, by questioning my supervisor I received the advice needed in order to handle the situation. In this specific altercation, I was told to remove the item of which the dispute started, discuss what was right or wrong, have the children come to an agreement to play with different toys, and apologize to one another. Another specific situation that really impacted me was with a twelve year-old, Latino boy named Ray. At La Causa Crisis Nursery and Respite Center there are many activities for the children to engage with including a computer room, TV room, and multiple play rooms. On this afternoon there was one infant, two toddlers, four young children, and one pre-teen present at the nursery along with four employees and three volunteers. Ray was in the computer room playing games on the computer while everyone else including myself was preoccupied in the TV room with the smaller children. Two employees informed us that it was time for the younger kids to go to the third level for nap time. Doing as we were told, we helped the kids clean up the toys and two other volunteers along with the employees who were looking over the children headed upstairs. Figuring that Ray was older, the two employees thought it was okay for him to be left alone in the computer room. I stayed in the kitchen to help another employee help clean up when Ray had a break down because he thought everyone had left him. He ran out of the computer room screaming and talking in Spanish, crying since he was so terrified that everyone left him. Thankfully my supervisor was there to instantly handle the situation, I was stunned on what do to. I was taken aback since there was a language barrier between Ray and I. Watching Robyn, my supervisor, simply reassure Ray in Spanish that he was safe and people were there in the building with him demonstrated the importance of being bilingual and aware of how others might react in situations that seem fine, but might not be for the opposing person. It was explained to the employees and volunteers the importance of being in the room with a kid, no matter what age, at all times to ensure their comfort while at La Causa.
Diverse groups of children appeared at La Causa throughout the day and night. One of my main concerns while volunteering was being able to establish connections with the children without getting emotionally attached. Acknowledging that I am sensitive person, I was worried that I would get too emotionally involved with the kids. Worrying about what their home life was like or what kind of situations they will encounter while going home with their parents. Reflecting on myself, I found that I did not have a hard time keeping an emotional barrier while working at La Causa. Since the children are present for a short period of time, I felt like I was unable to form a concrete bond with them. Avoiding any possible dual relationship, such as a friendship, I was friendly and treated them all with love, but I did not find it nearly as emotionally damaging like my first impression. As my service learning continued, I no longer found myself nervous to work with the children. It was a pleasure to work with individuals who radiated brightness and positivity. Things became easier as I continued my work with this agency once I adapted to the schedules that were set in place for the children’s well being. Establishing professional connections with the staff of La Causa was a very important goal for me as well. In the near future, I would like to become an employee at this agency. It is important to make connections with the people working around you, since it could lead to possible job opportunities and healthy co-worker relationships.
In relation to social work, my agency focused on helping children and families in need. Social work has core values that are based on multiple ethical principles. Service, Social Justice, Dignity and Worth of Person, Importance of Human Relationships, Integrity, and Competence are the core values of social work that are reflected on at La Causa. Service is working with the needs of the clients, at La Causa the staff would make sure that every child was met with everything they needed. Another example of service could be La Causa’s Nursery being a place were the parents can leave their children a period of time while they figure out the crisis. Dignity and Worth of the Person is knowing every client deserves respect and is valued as a human being. The staff reinforced positivity with the children and made them feel valuable. Importance of Human Relationships is stressing the importance that interconnectedness is important. We helped the children notice their strengths by highlighting their interconnectedness. Integrity is honesty, truthfulness, and faithfulness. It was an obligation to have the parents know that their children were in a safe place. The situations of the parents and children were never discussed with volunteers since it was a confidential. That demonstrates the ethical principle of integrity in my opinion. At my site specific La Causa agency, the most predominate role of the social worker would be the mediator. Disputes happening among children can have a negative outcome if not dealt with. Multiple times throughout my experiences I’ve noticed that when there is a dispute, it would be handled with the same process. The social worker would have the children talk out the problem, make them apologize, and come to an agreement. An advocate is also a role that is present in a social worker’s life working at this agency. Being an advocate is working or speaking on the behalf of people who do not have the power in society. Even though this is not a direct role that is portrayed in the agency, this role comes with being apart of the agency. Seeing what backgrounds the children come from is something to be aware of, and it is important to make these things known to the rest of the population.
What I have learned most about myself during this experience is that I would like to pursue a career in social work, especially working with children. I strongly believe children are the key to the future. We need to insure children are growing in positive environments with the confidence they can be anything they dream to be. Using the strengths perspective with the children at La Causa was one of the highlights of my service learning. Reminding the kids constantly that they are strong, that they can grow, and change was something very important to me. Pointing out hidden talents and strengths was a very enlightening moment for myself. Seeing a child’s eyes light up when you acknowledged great qualities about themselves. A population that I realized I would like to work with while volunteering is women of intimate partner violence. Along with helping the females of IPV, I would like to continue working with La Causa Crisis Nursery and Respite Center to help prevent child abuse in households as well.
In closing, volunteering at La Causa Crisis Nursery and Respite Center has helped me realize how much I enjoy making people’s lives better in the slightest way possible. I achieved my main goals of making connections with the children while maintaining an emotional boundary, establishing professional relationships with the staff, and learning how to react during challenging situations. I look forward to continuing my volunteering with this agency, I would recommend this service learning site to anyone interested in working with children, especially in the social work field.