By Jonathan Sperling
For Administration for Children's Services veteran Jennifer Wade, praise is not something that comes often in her job as a child protective specialist. The work is demanding, the hours are long and cases can occasionally turn risky.
But for Wade and many other Queens-based child protective specialists, the reward lies in the ability to protect and advocate for some of the borough’s most vulnerable people.
“It’s one of those jobs where you really have to be willing to be flexible. It can be going out on emergency or doing the court reports. Yesterday I was in Long Island City, then I had to come back to go to Jamaica to do two different visits and two different emergencies. Last night I was grocery shopping with a client, so it varies,” Wade told the Eagle in an interview ahead of ACS’s Child Protective Specialist Appreciation Week, which began on June 3.
CPS Appreciation Week gives New Yorkers the chance to thank the more than 2,000 “first responders” for children citywide and provides several free events to CPS agents and their families through June 10. The week also attempts to clarify some common misconceptions that surround the profession while encouraging people with relevant experience to become CPS workers.
Wade, who has been with the agency for 17 years and is now a supervisor, explained to the Eagle that the job is more than just about kids, as many believe — it’s about protecting and advocating for families as well.
“People do it because they really care about these kids that have no voices and many of us are trying to be the voice for these children, and also to help their families,” Wade added.
CPS agents are also tasked with helping families create a safe home environment for their children, making related court appearances and work as advocates between families and landlords, doctors or judges. The average CPS agent is responsible for 10 to 12 different cases, according to Wade.
The role of a CPS agent can take on a new sort of importance in Queens, according to Wade, and her cases can sometimes even take her outside of the borough depending on the circumstances.
“Sometimes, especially in Queens because we have such a large immigrant population, I think there’s an inherent fear of authority and sometimes when we come in we can break that down a bit as an advocate for them,” she told the Eagle.
Though she hasn’t been hurt herself, Wade told the Eagle that a risk of danger is part of the job.
“We have had workers attacked. We have had workers in very scary situations. When the police are going two at a time with their guns, we’re going in with a smile and a pen. There is an inherent risk to this job.”
So what makes the job worth doing?
“It’s the little things really, it’s just the little things. I remember one client, one of her children made me a lanyard keyring.” Wade said. The lanyard still sits on her keyring to this day, she told the Eagle.
“This was a little girl who didn’t really didn’t talk much to people and she said, ‘Look Ms. Jennifer, I made you this.’ “That is why I do it.”