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Profile: A Day in the Life of a Social Worker
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Profile: A Day in the Life of a Social Worker

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Profile: A Day in the Life of a Social Worker

Profile: A Day in the Life of a Social Worker
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In the first of two stories about foster care, we meet social worker Jessica Ambroze. She's lasted in the job longer than most, in part because she understands her clients' troubles all too well. Ambroze is a former foster kid herself. Gloria Hillard reports.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

Coming up could Borat and the Fresh Prince actually compete for an Academy Award? We'll find out from Slate's movie critic Dana Stevens, as she talks about Oscar worthy movies.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

First, there are a half million children in foster care in this country. This Thanksgiving week we'll glimpse into the lives of two people in the system. Today, reporter Gloria Hillard has the story of a young California social worker Jessica Ambroze.

GLORIA HILLARD: It's just before dawn and the near full moon from the night before lingers in the sky.

Ms. JESSICA AMBROZE (Social Worker): I love this time of morning. It's a good time to kind of really think the day out and relax.

HILLARD: For the 32-year-old California social worker this is the only time today to relax, sort of. She'll run five miles, like she does every morning, to help alleviate the stress of her job. With a slight of hand maneuver her shoulder-length blond hair becomes a ponytail and she takes off down the street.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

HILLARD: Ambroze runs fast, as if chased, moving past apartment houses, gas stations and mini-malls. Her mind is on where she's headed. At 8:00 a.m., she has to be in children's court in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of crowd talking)

HILLARD: Except for the child sized chairs the waiting area of children's court looks and sounds like a busy train station. The lawyers and social workers all have determined destinations.

Ambroze's is a young boy with sandy hair slumped in a chair. He's been living in a group home, since his mother went to prison and he wants to live with his grandfather. The judge will determine that today.

Ms. AMBROZE: So, I'm going to see where they are in hearing this. It should be before lunchtime, though. OK?

HILLARD: When she returns the boy is holding his head in his hands. She tells him his hearing has been postponed. The 13-year-old has heard this before. He doesn't say a word. He just shrugs.

Ambroze departs quickly. She has another hearing scheduled, three young siblings hoping to be reunited with their mother who just finished a drug program.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Unintelligible)

Ms. AMBROZE: Yes, you can.

Every time I see a kid I am doing like a full assessment. I'm looking at you from head to toe. Like, OK, are they dressed well, you know, are they complaining about being hungry? Do I see any marks or bruises that look inappropriate? Do they seem afraid of the parent or the grandparent?

HILLARD: The hearing for the three children has been postponed.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

HILLARD: Ambroze's next stop is Compton. One of her clients, a teenage girl, has runaway from her foster home.

Ms. AMBROZE: And one of the girls that she used to runaway with was found in L.A. in a hotel. She was kicking it with her homies and she was shot in the head. She was 14 years old.

HILLARD: The 14 year old died. Jessica's client was luckier. She's been found. An emergency meeting has been called because Ambroze has run out of foster homes for the girl. The temporary solution is found; a former guardian will take the girl.

Ms. AMBROZE: I'm going to fold it all nice.

Unidentified Woman #2: There's nothing in there. I cleaned everything out.

Ms. AMBROZE: I'm not (unintelligible). I'm going to fold it.

Unidentified Woman #2: No. I get an (unintelligible).

HILLARD: At first glance, the blond social worker and the small, thin African American girl would appear to be from different worlds. But Ambroze, a former foster kid has been there. She lived in five foster homes growing up.

Ms. AMBROZE: The apartment I live in now in Studio City, I've lived there for six years. That's the longest place I've ever lived in my life. I'm so humbled by my experiences. Like I love to open up the linen closet and see that there are clean towels and that they're my clean towels. That makes me really proud.

HILLARD: Back at her office Ambroze's desk is piled high with files and various stuffed animals. On the gray fabric of her cubicle walls, every square inch is covered with photos of children. A few have been adopted. She's still trying to find permanent homes for the others.

Ms. AMBROZE: They have to get out of foster care. They must have an unconditional person in their life.

HILLARD: But for the majority of foster children, especially the older ones, that unconditional person is almost impossible to find, she says. She points to one of the pictures, an 11-year-old girl with an easy smile and a blue t-shirt. She became part of Ambroze's caseload a year ago, when both parents ended up in jail.

Ms. AMBROZE: Nicole's sitting in the car going, where am I going to live? And I was like I don't know Nicole. We're going to have to figure this out. I don't know. That's - that's hard.

HILLARD: Since that day, Nicole has been in three foster homes.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. AMBROZE: Jessica speaking. May I help you?

HILLARD: It's 5:30 and Ambroze just learned she has to make an unscheduled home visit. She'll be delivering a prescription voucher for a child who lives across town.

Ms. AMBROZE: Hi, you guys. Let me see. What are you eating? Is your mom on her way?

HILLARD: It's 7:30 now. The moon is full and the social worker is heading home…

Ms. AMBROZE: OK, you guys. Bye-bye. Can you guys say bye-bye?

(Soundbite of door slamming and car starting)

HILLARD: …to an apartment with her own clean towels.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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