Helping others more than a career for Shelby County’s social worker of the year

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Ask around, and many social workers will say they chose the profession to give something back to society, to help out others where others once helped them.

Lisa Bledsoe said she’s no exception.

Raised in a single-parent home in Mobile, Ala., she went on to graduate with a degree in social work from the University of Montevallo as a non-traditional student in her 40s.

She graduated in May 2001 and has been a social worker for the Shelby County Department of Human Resources for 10 years – the first eight years working with foster parents, the last two years working primarily with adoptions.

In those 10 years, Bledsoe has overseen nearly 100 foster cases and 30 adoptions for children ranging in ages from newborns to 18 year olds.

“We try to match the child to fit the foster parents abilities,” said Bledsoe, who was recently named the SCDHR’s Social Worker of the Year.

If a child’s biological parents’ rights are terminated, the child’s foster parents get priority consideration for adoption, Bledsoe said. Sometimes, though, the foster parents aren’t in a position to adopt. In those cases, there’s a slow, steady transition to an adoptive family.

“It’s not just a family adopting a child,” she said, “the child has to want to adopt the family.”

Bledsoe has a bulletin board containing photos of past foster kids, adopted kids and their families.

“Each one holds a special story,” she said. “The part I like about adoptions is there’s closure. There’s a happy ending, to see these kids leave the system and have a forever family.”

Most of the time, it’s the kids stuck in the system Bledsoe thinks most about long after normal office hours.

“You worry about them,” she said. “You think about them on their birthdays or at Christmas. They have so much change in their lives and it’s hard for them to understand the change because they have no control.”

Volunteers are always needed to help, and that doesn’t always mean foster or adoptive families.

“We have kids in residential facilities that have no identified resources,” she said. “We need people to come and sponsor a child, take them home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and send them a birthday card. The kids need to have somebody in their lives besides just a social worker. They need a mentor, a friend, a pen pal.”

Bledsoe traced her desire for social work back to her childhood. She and two brothers were raised by a single mother, Ethel Durrell, who is now a healthy 80-year-old Clarke County, Ala. resident.

Bledsoe’s dad, Jack Thomas, a river captain, died three years ago.

“I was probably one of the first latchkey children, but we were very independent,” Bledsoe said. “It was just unusual back then to be raised by a single parent, but she did a great job.”

Ethel Durrell also showed her children how to help others, said Bledsoe, who lives with husband Bill just outside out Columbiana and is the mother of two daughters and has two granddaughters.

“One thing that stood out in my mind is she had these friends, both were blind and deaf and mute,” Blesdoe recalled. “I’m not sure how mom met them, but we would go over and just visit with them. I can remember sitting there as a child, and I was learning to sign, and would hold conversations writing in their palms.”

These days, in conversations with foster parents, Bledsoe tells them two things: First, “there’s a special place in heaven for you.” Second, “your angel wings are under your shirt right now.”

“It takes somebody really, really special to take these children into their homes,” she added. “They’re a Godsend to this agency.”