BOLINGBROOK – No one was more surprised than Yolanda Jordan of Bolingbrook when in March she received the 2014 Social Worker of the Year award from the National Association of Social Workers Illinois.
To Jordan, a Christian, her service to others through social work is ministry, as well as a career.
“Being a Christian allows me to be compassionate and insightful when it comes to mental illness,” Jordan said. “You have to look beyond the diagnosis and look at the patient. It’s important to take a look at that and be of service to other people.”
Joel Rubin, NASW Illinois chapter executive director, said that Jordan, the immediate past president of the NASW, had dedicated more than 20 years of her career to child welfare. Rubin called her “an exemplary public servant.”
“She cares about kids,” Rubin said, “kids, who, unfortunately, for whatever reasons, become wards of the state and need support to get on their way in life. It’s not easy working in child welfare. It’s very, very challenging and it takes a special person to stay at it for as many years as she had. She’s very positive.”
Jordan began her career in public relations. While studying for her master’s degree in public communication and human relations at Western Illinois University, Jordan said she volunteered at organizations that worked with youth in disadvantaged communities.
“I enjoyed that work so much that I decided it was more fulfilling for me,” Jordan said. “So, I decided to go back to school to get my masters degree in social work.”
Jordan earned her master’s degree in social work from University of Illinois in Chicago. In 1993, Jordan began working for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as a caseworker. Jordan said she loved interacting with families, witnessing their progress and seeing children returned to their parents.
“There’s so much good work that goes into serving children. Unfortunately, that’s not the part that gets the press,” Jordan said. “You don’t see the hard work case workers do to reunite families. You don’t see the young people in the system that became successful.”
For instance, children who are adopted in their teens – or who remain wards of the state at age 18 – are eligible for DCFS college scholarships, Jordan said. As an example, Jordan has known children who now work in medical fields.
“These are things the media does not report or, perhaps, doesn’t know,” Jordan said.
After five years as a caseworker, Jordan worked two years as a supervisor for a placement team, she said. She left briefly for six months for additional education at Aurora University and then returned to DCFS in the area of clinical services.
In that role, Jordan said she met with judges, lawyers, caseworkers and families to help formulate goals and move forward with those goals.
Eight years later, in 2008, Jordan became the placement manager for the northern region, an area that included Joliet. Jordan remained there until 2012, when that position was discontinued, she said.
She then became the area administrator in the Mayfield office for a year and a half before leaving DCFS to concentrate on mental health. Jordan is now the associate social work director for Madden Mental Health Center.
In addition, through her private practice, which Jordan began 14 years ago, she provides outpatient psychotherapy services to individuals and families, with a focus on women and depression. Future goals include offering support groups for her private practice clients.
People don’t often realize that licensed clinical social workers can counsel people, although they often take a cognitive behavioral approach, Jordan said, laying out issues and helping clients sort through them. Jordan feels her work in the system gives her a unique perspective with the clients she counsels.
“I’m seeing a lot of adults, perhaps some have child welfare history, that are impacted with mental illness as a result of trauma through their childhood,” Jordan said. “I think my background helps me better understand how people become chronically mentally ill, how trauma impacts the lives of people and how we can help them.”
This is why Jordan is amazed at receiving a formal acknowledgment for her services, since the satisfaction she receives from performing them is reward enough.
“I get fulfillment from what I do,” Jordan said. “I’m ministering to myself, too.”
For information regarding the awardees in other NASW Illinois districts, visit naswil.org/news/chapter-news/featured/2014-nasw-illinois-district-awards/ or view the organization’s news releases at naswil.org/news/for-the-media/.