For Antoinette Ramos and Cara Thompson, this means tuition for their last year of school, along with all fees and books, is paid in full. The two also get a $750 stipend for fall and spring semesters. After graduation, they can choose to pursue a master’s in social work as part of the program — also for free — or go straight into a guaranteed job. The only caveat is they are required to work (with full pay and benefits) for the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s for one year for each year of aid they receive.
The program is a partnership between the Division of Family and Children’s Services and participating Georgia schools of social work, which includes Augusta University.
“I think it’s a really great thing for of course the students, to be able to have this training and get funding for school and having a guaranteed job, but having the amount of experience that I’ve had with DFCS, also, is that it infuses the agency and the child welfare system with some really good new professionals that do really well once they get into their year-long training, but also when they start working next year,” said Program Director Dr. Jessica Ziembroski.
Students in the social work program are required to intern for a year at a local organization such as iCare or Safe Homes to gain valuable, hands-on experience in the field. But Ramos and Thompson are required to serve their internships with DFCS. Both said the experience completely changed their perception of DFCS.
“Because you have that stereotype that they take your children, and that’s all I’ve known,” Ramos said. “But being on the inside and seeing behind the scenes gives you a better understanding of everything. It’s actually not as crazy as I was expecting.”
Ramos said she’s always wanted to help people but wasn’t sure how until she learned of the social work program.
“I found that with social work, I can help people in every which way,” she said.
Thompson discovered a love of helping children while working in her grandfather’s psychotherapy practice.
“I was interested in children’s mental health because I feel like they’re kind of brushed away. I feel like they always say they have behavioral issues instead of mental health issues,” she said.
In addition to their work with DFCS, Ramos and Thompson are court appointed special advocates, who advocate on behalf of children in neglect and abuse cases, and have volunteered with Safe Homes of Augusta and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Augusta.
After graduating in May, Ramos and Thompson both plan to pursue master’s degrees in social work.