In the middle of the summer, when most of us are trying to keep cool, our DHHS caseworkers are thinking about Christmas. Not for themselves, mind you, but for their clients.
It’s with the caseworkers that the process begins for Operation Santa Claus every year. Caseworkers identify families in need, but they must also identify specific needs for each child and provide a brief history for the child. This, of course, comes in addition to already heavy caseloads.
Chapter 45 member Shannon Murphy, a Family Services Specialist in Laconia, started working for the state in January and jumped right into the OSC process. She said her colleagues were helpful with advice on balancing caseloads and what was needed for OSC.
“I have a great team that I worked with and they’ve helped me every step of the way,” Murphy said. “The teamwork that my district office has shown me has helped me balance my daily tasks and OSC.”
As Murphy noted, it’s a big group effort that extends beyond the caseworkers to administrative staff who help keep the process on schedule and supervisors who stay flexible to allow workers to participate (many supervisors take part in the process, too). In the Concord district office, Carol Caron helps coordinate the process.
“I just notify family services workers who have kids that are long-term cases with us,” said Caron, an executive assistant with the Department of Children, Youth and Families. “Some of the children have been with these caseworkers for a half dozen years, so the caseworkers know their needs and help guardians fill out the forms. Once the process is complete (and gifts are purchased), the caseworkers will end up coordinating a visit or a pickup.”
Murphy said that getting personalized recommendations from guardians proved to be difficult, with some not providing enough information. Others, she said, asked only for “needs,” like clothing but left the toy section blank.
“I thought it was great that they focused on what the children needed, but I felt badly that they wouldn’t get any toys,” she said. “I had to do some follow-up to ensure the children got a little more than clothes.”
The entire process is a lot of work for those involved, but these workers are deeply invested in the lives of their clients. Plus, it’s Christmas.
“Everybody’s willing to go out of their way because they want the children to have a nice Christmas,” Caron said.
“The struggle has been worth it for the simple thought that children all around the state will have gifts to open on Christmas Day and that they will know that they are cared about,” Murphy said.