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Staff Spotlight: Michelle Almanza

Michelle Almanza is passionate about figuring out what ChicagoCAC families need, and her role as a bilingual family advocate is a natural fit for her social work degree. During Social Work Month, we got to learn a little more about Michelle and what inspires her about her everyday work!

What brought you to ChicagoCAC? What keeps you here?

I started working at ChicagoCAC as an intern in October 2019 during my second year of graduate school to obtain an MSW. I was hired in April 2020, and I have stayed because of the supportive work environment.

March is Social Work Month, and you have a social work degree. What attracted you to the field?

I was attracted to the field of social work because I want to be a part of creating supportive communities and avenues of support and assistance for people who need it the most.

Tell us what a typical day of family advocate work might look like. 

A typical day for a Family Advocate begins by checking the schedule to prepare for the day while also being prepared for changes, like cancellations or emergency cases. Family Advocates typically work with 1-2 families a day. Family Advocates will introduce themselves to families, explain the Forensic Interview process, provide emotional support and psychoeducation, and offer resources and counseling services. 

Family Advocates assess clients’ mental health status and other needs using the Family Needs Screening. This is important when referring families to counseling services. ChicagoCAC refers families to counseling through a centralized waitlist. Through the centralized waitlist families are referred to ChicagoCAC’s mental health program, Family Hope Center or one of the various mental health agencies we partner with throughout the city. The role of Family Advocates is essential because we refer families based on their needs discovered through the Family Needs Screening. At the end of the day Family Advocates will check in with their supervisors to triage their cases and document the work of the day. Our triage helps us prioritize families with the most needs.

What’s your favorite part of your job? 

Through my job, I have learned how to work with a multidisciplinary team (MDT). Working at ChicagoCAC offers a unique experience to work alongside the Chicago Police Department, Department of Children and Family Services, medical clinic staff, therapists, and other service organizations. It is a difficult job to advocate for children among a team with different priorities. But I have learned to (and continue to learn to) do so empathically, compassionately, and with assertiveness. Ultimately, it has been truly inspiring to work alongside an MDT.

ChicagoCAC and its clients really benefit from bilingual staff such as yourself, and you’re also passionate about the Latinx IAG. How do those things change the way you do your work? 

My identity as a daughter of Mexican immigrants and Mexican heritage is very important to me. I believe that this part of my identity is an advantage when working with clients. Not only can I speak to clients in their native language, but I also feel like I can relate to them culturally and socially. Being bilingual and bicultural can feel isolating, so in being a part of Latinx IAG and working with clients in both English and Spanish I hope to create a more inclusive environment for both clients and staff.

How do you guard against burnout? 

I have been in therapy for over a year and the consistent support of a professional who understands me personally and my work has been incredibly helpful to me. I also have a part-time job as a dance teacher. This artistic activity allows me to shed the stress of an emotional day. Lastly, I have a large network of support outside of work.

What are you excited about for the future at ChicagoCAC? 

I am truly excited to see how ChicagoCAC expands their services to adults through CANHope.

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