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A Motivated Children’s Advocate

Published: April 3, 2017

Standing outside the School of Social Work are (l-r) Master of Social Work candidates Hazel Tanag, Gloria Villagomez, Reina Avila, Imahny D. Walker, Professor Eileen Mayers Pasztor and Sarah Heitz.
PHOTO BY KEVIN TRAN
Standing outside the School of Social Work are (l-r) Master of Social Work candidates Hazel Tanag, Gloria Villagomez, Reina Avila, Imahny D. Walker, Professor Eileen Mayers Pasztor and Sarah Heitz.

As a foster and adoptive parent for many years, Social Work’s Eileen Mayers Pasztor has extra motivation to be a national advocate for children who have been separated from their parents because of abuse or neglect. Pasztor, a proponent of what social workers call “strengths-based language” emphasizes the word “separated” instead of “removed.”

“Young people who are in foster care told me that garbage and snow are removed, not children,” she said. She uses the word “family” not “home” because it is families that help or hurt children, not homes. She uses the word “child” and not “case” because social workers serve people, not things.

Prior to joining the university in 1999, Pasztor served as the national program director for family foster care, adoption and kinship care for the Washington D.C.-based Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). She moved to Los Angeles to become the director of its western office, helping several hundred child welfare agencies in the 15 western states with advocacy and standards. Her time serving as a field instructor for CSULB social work students who had internships at that office inspired her to turn to full-time teaching.

However, Pasztor continues to be a curriculum developer for CWLA, co-authoring, among other publications, the PRIDE Model of Practice to Develop and Support Foster and Adoptive Parents as Team Members in Child Protection and Trauma Informed Care of Children. This curriculum is used by public and private child welfare agencies across the U.S. and has been translated for use by countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

A recent article published in the Chronicle of Social Change headlined “A Letter from the Future: Celebrating Achievements for Vulnerable Children and Families in 2017,” illustrates Pasztor’s commitment to change. She and her colleagues from CWLA and the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA), of which she is a board member, imagined the date was January 2018. The letter thanked lawmakers for what is hoped would be their commitment to improving outcomes for at-risk children and families, referencing the National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare as a framework for children, families and communities to flourish.

“You understood that child welfare agencies must also respect and support the National Foster Parent Association Code of Ethics as well as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, both providing principles to guide practice,” wrote Pasztor and her co-authors in the future-looking letter. “You understood that family foster care is a public trust that requires foster parents to have essential supports from their agencies; be dedicated to service for the welfare of the children in their care and their birth families; and use the knowledge upon which fostering is based, serving with dignity, integrity and competence.”

Pasztor and her colleagues are helping several state foster parent associations to advocate for local child welfare agencies to include the Foster Parent Code of Ethics in training programs.

“The idea is that if foster parents follow our Code of Ethics,” said Pasztor, “then we can ask for child welfare agency staff to follow the six major principles of the NASW Code of Ethics: being competent, having dignity, having integrity, committing to the importance of relationships, providing service and advocating for social justice.”

Pasztor is passionate about inspiring her graduate students to be advocates and contribute to projects of national and local significance. A favorite course is serving as a thesis advisor where she has the privilege of working with individual Master of Social Work students on policy analysis, curriculum development and grant writing projects.

“Students are analyzing state legislation that is hindering children in foster care from being connected with their incarcerated parents, as well as preventing youth in foster care for successful transitions,” she said. “One student is developing a self-instructional workbook for foster parents with high school-age youth to learn strategies that support graduation. Another is developing resources to help foster parents say good-bye to children who are reunifying with their birth parents. One student researched strategies to help prospective foster parents with birth children prepare to bring children who have experienced physical and sexual abuse into their families.”

Some projects are local. One student is writing a grant for a Long Beach agency to help African-American young people graduate from high school. Another student developed a training program bringing “mindfulness” to high school teachers. Two other students developed grants for projects focusing on trafficking awareness for middle and high school students and services for homeless families.

Pasztor uses the turtle as a teaching tool. Her students can explain that social workers are like turtles—tough on the outside, soft on the inside, progress is slow and happens only when they stick their necks out. Pasztor places her hope for advocacy in everyday people. She connects the NASW and NFPA Code of Ethics with a favorite quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—”The time is always right to do the right thing.”