Hi Everyone! My name is Alyssa Tiren and I am a rising senior at Skidmore College. I am a Psychology and Dance double major, with minors in education and the Honors Forum. After graduation, I hope to attend a program to complete my PsyD in Clinical Psychology. Since the end of May, I have been interning for the State of New Jersey, Department of Children and Families, specifically in the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP+P). CP+P is the agency responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and, if necessary, providing services to the families that they serve.
When I was researching internship opportunities for the summer, I knew I wanted an experience that would benefit a future psychologist and educator. I felt it was important to explore what working with this population of children and their families would be like, as well as becoming familiar with what resources are available to these populations from the state and the community. I contacted the internship coordinator Zachary Vogel in Trenton, New Jersey and sent him my resume. I filled out the required forms and was reviewed for placement in one of their offices. After being accepted as a candidate, I was placed at the Bergen South Local Office in Hackensack, NJ in one of the two adoption units.
Although as an intern I was not given my own caseload, I was able to shadow caseworkers and follow their cases throughout the summer. Some of my responsibilities included home visits, supervising visitation between children in foster care and their families, attending IEP meetings, attending early intervention evaluations for children with a psychologist, attending court hearings for children in foster care, and observing guardianship trials. In the office, I sat in on training sessions, meetings, and conference calls. I also called for, and obtained collateral contacts from police stations, schools, pediatrician offices, therapists, and substance abuse programs. I was able to experience “field work” as I accompanied investigators and learned how child protection service reports are further examined and how the caseworkers assess a child’s safety. Through this, I was able to visit the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office during a physical abuse investigation.
During my experience working with abused and neglected children and their families, I learned that I must be able to remain truly objective in this work as many parents and children are struggling with trauma from mental health, substance abuse, and patterns of domestic violence. This trauma can cause negative behavior patterns in both the children and their families, so I could not involve my own feelings when assessing a situation, but rather would learn about and understand the family’s story in order to make the best decision. I also found that it is important to stay organized as investigators and caseworkers are working with as many as 12-15 families at a time, meaning the pace in the office is fast, especially during intake. They need to assess and ensure the children’s safety, while at the same time making referrals for the appropriate services. To work with this population, you must understand that abuse and neglect come in many forms and in different degrees. It is important to see the differences in every situation and understand that every child and family is unique.
This internship experience closely relates to my studies as a psychology major. It has helped me to understand more about mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse as well as how these situations can lead to individuals and families facing abuse and neglect throughout their lives. This understanding of families and children will be helpful to me as a psychologist during evaluations and during therapy sessions, as I have developed skills in interviewing and engaging with others. It will also be beneficial for me to have this inside understanding of how the Division works, as they are an incredibly valuable partner and asset when working with this population in order to ensure that they are getting the best services possible. This experience has shown me that I am truly interested in working with children and their families in the future. I hope to become a clinical psychologist, and take referrals from CP+P for psychological evaluations in order to provide therapy and counseling to their clients.
I also had the opportunity to learn about many of the community partners such as Care Plus; Audrey Hepburn Children’s House; Bergen’s Promise and many other community resources, such as mental health centers and substance abuse programs in and around Bergen County. I gained knowledge about the foster and adoption processes as CP+P is the largest adoption agency in the state of New Jersey, processing many adoptions every year. It will help me as a clinical psychologist to understand the process and timeframes and to understand when and how reunification can take place.
My tips for students interested in finding their own internship and in participating in the funded internship awards process is to start early, get connected, and build rapport with potential future employers. I am so grateful to have received this funding because it allowed me to devote as many hours as I could to my internship as I had the financial freedom to really dive into this work.