March is National Social Work Month

As we celebrate National Social Work Month in March, the outstanding work performed by social workers is recognized throughout the country.  In recognition of National Social Work Month, we have profiled two Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social workers who are at opposite ends of their careers. Janice Spicer and Sandra Maldonado both embody the caring professionalism of the thousands of social workers employed by the department who are recognized and appreciated this month.


Janice    Sandra

36 Years Investigating Cases

Janice Spicer never intended to be a social worker.  But, she was a young, single mother with two sons and needed a job.  Then she saw the ad in the newspaper for an intake worker at the Old Age Program and applied.   The fit was perfect.  That was many years ago.  How many, Spicer won’t mention, but for almost 36 years, Janice has been a Dependency Investigator (DI). Spicer explained that she never tires of the job. She has investigated cases throughout the County, from Bel Air to South Los Angeles.   “Just when I think I’ve seen everything, I haven’t,” said Spicer. Enthusiasm is what she brings to the job on a daily basis. 

Over the years, Spicer has seen many changes in social services and many department directors come and go.  She remembers the day DCFS was created 20 years ago and the excitement.   She has seen psychosocial trends come and go such as the War on Poverty, Recovered Memory Syndrome and Satanic Ritual Cults.

Throughout all these changes, being a DI has remained a “perfect fit” for Spicer.  The excitement of being on the line for 36 years has kept her from moving into supervising or administration.  Prior to becoming a DI, Spicer had been a training supervisor and program director in other programs.  She says that she is not interested in the bureaucracy and feels, “Now that I have the hang of it (being a DI) there is no downside.”

Patricia Cegarra has worked with Spicer for over 20 years.  She describes her colleague as “a shining example of what it means to be a Dependency Investigator. Her work is used as examples for staff to follow and shows her compassion and commitment to the children and the families we serve and has never wavered even after all these years.”  

You have to have the right temperament for the job, explains Spicer.  “I enjoy accumulating the evidence, analyzing it and presenting the results to court in a readable way.”  She also doesn’t even mind testifying in court. Spicer also attributes her job satisfaction to always having good supervisors; good relationships with co-workers and not letting things bother her.  According to Spicer, to succeed at being a social worker one needs to be a realist, a quick learner, adaptable and have a strong ego and stomach.

Regional Administrator Chuck Tadlock describes Spicer as “a highly talented and knowledgeable social worker who is seen by all of the Century Office staff as a tremendous resource. She is extremely committed to the safety and welfare of the children that she serves.”

New Position Brings New Challenges

At the other end of the spectrum, Sandra Maldonado-Sandoval began as a Children’s Social Worker II just last September.  “Sandra has displayed both outstanding social work skills and an exemplary attitude in her short tenure with DCFS,” notes her former supervisor Beth Minor.  Minor already describes Maldonado-Sandoval as an asset to the department. 

Unlike Spicer, Maldonado-Sandoval set out to be a social worker.  “People have always told me their problems,” she said.  However, besides people’s reliance on her, she brings a good deal of past experience with her.  Since the end of high school and continuing throughout her college and graduate work, Maldonado-Sandoval has worked in the field of social services in some capacity.  She was a program coordinator at a Community Center in Santa Ana, a secretary for a criminal defense attorney whose clients were mostly DCFS parents and a Department of Mental Health Case Manager for Pacific Clinics.  She has also coordinated an HIV program and written grants for Prop 10 funding, which she received.  Throughout all these experiences, Maldonado-Sandoval said she has always had good, supportive supervisors.       

Since completing the DCFS Academy and being on the line, Maldonado-Sandoval has found her work challenging.  Supervisors like Beth Minor and Adrian Gonzalez, along with having a number of schoolmates in her unit help.  Working in an atmosphere that is inclusive and encourages tapping other colleagues beyond one’s own unit has made the challenge less daunting.  She adds that having had a wonderfully challenging internship with the department helped to smooth the road towards having her own caseload.

One of Maldonado-Sandoval’s first cases put her knowledge to the test. The court ordered a newly detained 16-year-old boy to remain in his current school and attend his extra-curricular activities although he needed to be moved to a new placement.  The child was very upset about the transition and Maldonado-Sandoval did all that she could to comfort him, which included calling over 75 foster homes in the area of his current placement, to support keeping the neighborhood familiar.  No home could be located in the immediate vicinity.  However, a home was located within about 10 miles of the child's school.

Maldonado-Sandoval was concerned about how the boy was adjusting to his placement and called to check on him from her cell phone. The youth used caller ID and tracked her phone number.  He called her repeatedly over the course of a weekend leaving her angry messages.  Sandra relayed this information to her supervisor in a calm and professional way, telling her that she had changed her cell phone number and was planning to speak with the child so that they could establish appropriate ways of him seeking her help. 

Maldonado-Sandoval then took on the responsibility of leaving her home (about 50 miles away from where the child was placed) early each day for about two weeks so that she could ensure the child got to school as she worked to arrange for appropriate transportation. 

Several weeks later when Maldonado-Sandoval was visiting with the youth, out of the blue, he told her that he could tell that she really cared about him. He apologized to her for treating her initially with such disrespect. Since then, Maldonado-Sandoval has built a bond with the boy; made him feel special, earned his trust and showed him adults (including social workers) could be trusted.

Despite the different points in their careers, both these social workers are energized by the job challenges they face but also by the supportive atmosphere they find from their colleagues.