The Caring Force Blog November 2022 Workforce Hero: Kayla Rodrigues

| Caroline O'Neill

The Caring Force is pleased to announce that our November TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight honoree is Kayla Rodrigues, a clinical director at Old Colony YMCA’s DCF Residential programs. She recently helped Old Colony complete its accreditation process and has been a leader throughout the pandemic and the ensuing staffing shortages. She also provides great clinical service to the youth.

1. Tell us about your background.  How did you decide to pursue a career in human services? 

When I first arrived at Elon University for my undergraduate program, I was sure that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Though psychology/diagnosis and helping people had always been an interest of mine, which I served through local volunteer efforts in high school, I was sure that teaching was my route.  However, as I thought about it more and completed a service learning program my freshman year, it became clear to me that I was more interested in socio/emotional learning and working with individuals than teaching academic curriculum, which are both equally important in a youth’s development.

I changed my major to human services with the intent of pursuing individual counseling work in the future.  During my second year of my MSW at Bridgewater State University, I went outside of my comfort zone (latency aged children) and accepted an internship at the OCY New Bedford STARR program, serving adolescents in a residential setting.  It became clear very quickly that the adolescent population was a better fit for my personality and that the constantly surprising, fast-paced, and changing environment of a residential setting that serves the state’s most at need youth was the fit that I had been looking for. I was hired by the OCY for a clinical position as my internship came to a close and have continued to work in our DCF residentials since that time.

2. What does a typical day look like for you at your organization? 

This is a very difficult question to answer.  For those who have worked in residential, one of the things that we discuss all the time is that no one day ever looks like another.  The youth and young adults that we serve are constantly surprising us with their resiliency or with new situations that we have never seen before.  If I had to say what a day would look like if I could script it with no changes to the schedule, no unexpected events, and no impromptu meetings to put our heads together as a team, I would say that I arrive to the program and read shift updates, incident reports and emails.  I then check in with my supervisor, Ana Estrela, who I have been working with since my first day with the OCY before outreaching to each of my clinical teams to check in.

Throughout the day there are a number of internal and external meetings, where our clients’ progress, program development, and treatment planning are discussed.  However, days where these things all happen smoothly are rare.  There are often client interactions mixed in for varying reasons which happen at youth’s request, impromptu supervisions with clinicians and directors as challenging situations arise, and requests from our licensors or referral sources that require immediate attention.  Residential care is truly a unique setting that challenges those who choose this area of work on a daily basis to think creatively, react quickly, and always look at problems through a lens that puts our youths’ best interest and safety at the forefront of decision making.

3. What is your favorite professional memory?  

In this field, relationship building is the most important part of the work that we do with our youth and young adults.  When you work that closely with youth who reside in your programs, there are so many quality interactions and memories that start to accumulate.  There are also moments that stand out in my interactions with the staff that are invested in our clients’ success and go above and beyond to be steady and caring in an often chaotic and sometimes difficult setting.  If I had to pick one, I would point to a recent example with a youth that was struggling with complex grief, substance use, and the pull of negative resources in the local community.  We made significant progress in building trust and stabilizing this youth while he was in one of my programs to the point that running and substance use were almost eliminated before his discharge.  These are areas that are often challenging to reduce in this particular level of care.

Months later, when interviewing this youth for another one of the OCY programs, when the program director asked him a question, he answered and then stated “Kayla can tell you more about that, she probably knows me as well as anyone”.  That was a very validating and rewarding moment for me.

4. This question is from our October TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight, Jessica Ssenfuka: What have you achieved?
In my time at the OCY, I have gone through two Request for Proposal processes in which I was actively involved in responding to DCF’s request for proposals for a number of levels of care.  In both occasions, the OCY and the team that I worked with were successful in receiving the contracts that we bid for with the DCF.

Additionally, I have been a part of the team that participated in the OCY residentials receiving a 3 year CARF accreditation in 2019, and was actively involved in our recent renewal survey with CARF.  I have had the honor of supervising and developing a number of clinicians within the agency and have learned a lot from them along the way.  Above, I talked about the importance of relationship building, and I would say that my greatest achievements are in the relationships that I have built within the OCY, with our contracting agency (DCF), and with the youth that we serve.

5. Do you have a question for the next person we spotlight?

How do you know that the work that you are doing is providing a positive impact to those you serve?

Thank you so much to Kayla and all of our wonderful human services workers who bring joy and passion to work every day! We are so thankful for your efforts and for making the Commonwealth a better place.

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