Luck Has Nothing to Do With It

Worker Builds Relationships to Finalize High Number of Adoptions

To hear Adoption Children's Social Worker (CSW) Nicole Engel tell it, her outstanding track record of finalizing a high number of adoptions is based on luck.  But those who work with Engel know better - luck has nothing to do with it.  Engel's steadfast dedication to providing permanent homes for children is what drives her to succeed.


"Committed," "an advocate" and "willing to work with others" are all terms co-workers use to describe Engel.  But Engel remains humble and instead, heaps praise on others.  "I get by because my co-workers are all here," she said.  "There are a lot of great workers out there."  Despite her humility, the proof of Engel's success is in the numbers.  Last year, she placed more than 20 children in adoptive homes, well above the average of one a month. 


Engel has worked in the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Lakewood Adoptions Office since beginning her career with DCFS six years ago. She decided to become a social worker after college during an internship where she worked with inner city seventh graders in Washington, D.C.


When she started as an Adoption worker, Engel describes the experience as “death by fire.”  At the time, she was carrying a caseload of about 100. Things have settled down and now her caseload is at about 55. 


“She has developed and matured into an excellent team player, a dedicated and very sensitive social worker,” said Supervising Children’s Social Worker Jose Lujan, who has supervised Engel since 1999. “The quality of her overall case management skills as an advocate for children and as a clinician is excellent and consistently demonstrated in her casework.”


Recently, Engel became part of the expanded Torrance Adoption Model. The Torrance Adoption Model uses a team approach to promote early and on-going case planning coordination between the child protection and adoption social workers assigned to a child’s case to achieve the goal of timely adoptions.  Engel has been highly effective in developing constructive, collaborative relationships with regional colleagues through implementation of the Torrance Adoption Model in the Lakewood office. 


"I am always impressed with how positive Nicole is, even when facing very challenging case circumstances. She has a great deal of stamina and a 'can do' attitude. She is determined to achieve the best permanency outcome for each child.  She clearly believes in a team approach and in working collaboratively. This is the basis of the 'Torrance Model' and it's a natural fit with Nicole's style, explained Adoptions Assistant Regional Administrator Joe Prusak.


Regional Supervisor Hollis Hollingsworth, whose unit works with Nicole, agrees.  “She is the perfect example of how well generic social workers and Adoptions can coordinate services placing first and foremost the best interest of our children.  She makes an effort to maintain an open exchange of information in regard to the home, the child and the prospective adoptive family.  She makes herself readily available for conferences and responds to all telephone inquiries quickly, exchanging needed information to satisfy the court's requirements for .26 hearings.” 


Co-workers also view Engel positively.  Unit member Kateri Carriere said, “Nicole is one of the favorite people.  She offers her help readily and is always available to give advice.  She is so generous with her time and knowledge.  In the six years I have worked with her she has made my job so much easier and so much more fun.  She is so well respected and so well liked around here!”


For now, Engel is happy meeting challenges head-on such as setting up an adoption for older, higher-needs youth or putting a sibling set back together in an adoptive home.  “Putting together an unattached family with a child is exciting and feels good,” she said.