We are Called to this Work

Shioban TrotmanIn March 2020, Siobhan Trotman became the first employee at the Department of Children and Families to test positive for COVID-19. This began a period like no other she had experienced in her almost 29 years as a career social worker.

From where did she gain her strength? What was the experience like? How did she lead the Torrington Office during a global pandemic?

Siobhan's devotion to helping others actually started as a child.  Her parent's instilled in her the values of helping others and this was woven into her daily life and the culture in her community. Growing up in an African American Baptist church community, the church had a variety of ministries - all with the goal of demonstrating compassion while helping others. 

 "I have always seen my work at DCF - like the work in the church - as a ministry to serve the most vulnerable in our communities," Siobhan stated. "We are called to this work and I am honored to be called to serve through my work at DCF."

Since 1992, Siobhan has worked in a variety of capacities within DCF including as a caseload carrying social worker, supervisor, working on Consent Decree related Outcomes, the Adoption and Resource Exchange, Office of Foster and Adoption Services, Program Manager and currently as Office Director in Torrington.

"I am so humbled to work alongside such incredible people that work diligently day in and day out to meet the needs of children and families," she enthusiastically stated during an interview. 

In early March, Siobhan found herself traveling to pay respects to a terminally ill friend out of state. On the return home, she immediately experienced some concerning symptoms and visited her doctor the following morning. Siobhan and her medical provider thought she had a simple virus and she was provided with medication for a sinus infection.

At the time, COVID-19 was just starting to aggressively make its way across the globe and our country. Minimal testing was available and much about the virus was unknown. "I actually heard the doctor ask another health provider that called over the phone, where he could get a COVID-19 test for another patient," Siobhan remembered.  Siobhan felt relieved that her symptoms seemed to be a simple and common infection. 

A few days later and feeling better with over the counter and prescription medication, Siobhan went into the Torrington office building as one manager was out, and she wanted to help with the coverage of the office. The day was long, and she began feeling ill again that afternoon.  She worked a full day but left at the end of the day exhausted. She stated, "I took my laptop home with me that day, which was not my daily practice. How ironic that I would need that laptop to work from home once I had recovered because the entire state had shut down."  

SW CallingHer symptoms continued. Now with a fever, she called the doctor again. This time, he ordered a COVID-19 test. She went to a drive-thru testing site that was just established in her hometown and experienced no wait.  "I think they were actually glad to see someone," Siobhan stated. "There were no cars in line, and I drove up and got my test in minutes." 

After 7 days, the results came in - she was positive. "I immediately lost It and started to cry," Siobhan stated. " I was actually physically feeling better and started to turn the curve when I received the news. But hearing those results jolted me and I worried for myself and my family. It was two weeks from the time of my initial symptoms to the positive test result."

The national news was now saturated with COVID-19 information. Siobhan worried about possible staff exposure on the one day she worked in the office. Precautions such as maintaining distance of at least 6 feet, wearing masks and hand washing were not common points of discussion or practiced at that time. 

Siobhan healed and strengthened and eventually returned to work remotely at the end of March. Now it was time for her to lead her staff, some of whom have subsequently tested positive. "I would ask their supervisor how they were feeling and remind them to tell staff to take it slow, listen to their bodies and not try overexert themselves," Siobhan stated. She worried about them and could relate to many of the symptoms they may be experiencing.  Siobhan felt fortunate that she never had to be hospitalized for her symptoms but worried that others may not be as lucky. 

Her experience as a leader during a global pandemic entailed balancing the mission critical work with the health and safety of both staff and the families. There was no training for what she would experience. No playbook or seasoned veterans to consult. 

"Build as we go. Stay in the moment. Stay in the day," these were the mottos Siobhan articulated and modeled. "As leaders, we had to get it done,” she said. “We would put clear information out and pull in suggestions from staff. We remained focused on our mission of safety, permanency and well-being."

National Women's History Month is celebrated in March. Siobhan Trotman's experiences and leadership have made history. When she looks back, part of her legacy will be the manner in which she tried to lead her staff and the permanency outcomes achieved during this time.

Siobhan speaks with pride of the Torrington office's creative approaches to supporting and empowering families during the pandemic. She points to the number of children reunified, families where protective supervision was proactively ended, and the quality of relationships established with children and families as evidence of progress — data she proudly displayed during the virtual listening tour with Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes and her Executive Team.

Would Siobhan have ever thought after being with the Department for almost 3 decades she would experience teleworking, TEAMS calls and virtual visits?

 "We have all learned so much about our work,” she said. “This opportunity allowed us to think differently. I hope that we take the good lessons and cultivate them so that we can continue to develop and grow as an agency and create an environment that allows our staff to do what it is they came to do."

In March, we celebrate National Social Worker Month with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) designating this year's theme as "Social Workers are Essential."

The essential part of being a social worker for Siobhan Trotman is to ensure her values are embodied in each action she takes as a leader to support those most in need.

"We are called to this work and each and every day we must never forget that we have the lives of the children and families we serve are in our hands, we can never forget that."