Alumnus Strengthens Child Welfare System Through Caseworker Coaching
Sean Lazarus ’05 has developed an innovative program to help caseworkers engage with their young charges and their families.
At the Child Welfare League of America’s national conference held in April 2023 in Washington, D.C., Sean Lazarus, Program Director of Adams, Franklin, and Cumberland counties for the JusticeWorks Family of Services, addressed a captivated audience.
Alongside him was Amanda Wagner, the Adams County Caseworker Field Coach for JusticeWorks, which provides child welfare services and assists youths in the juvenile court system. Together, they unveiled the innovative Caseworker Field Coach Program, which promises to creatively innovate child welfare practices.
The presentation, titled "Put Me In, Coach: Strengthening the Frontline Through the Caseworker Field Coach Program," provided an in-depth exploration of the program's inception, implementation, and its transformative effect on caseworkers and agencies.
Lazarus, a York College of Pennsylvania Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, graduated in 2005 with a degree in Sociology. The native of Orange County, NY, was drawn to this major as a means to understand groups and cultures and to have an impact on individuals.
"I realized I wanted to study groups of people and cultures on a macro level while helping people," he says.
Facilitating relationships and well-roundedness
Reflecting on his time at York College, Lazarus remembers the welcoming atmosphere that fostered lasting relationships. It was there he met his future wife, Andrea Lazarus ’07, who currently serves as Assistant Director of Engineering Co-op and Computer Science Internship Program at the College.
On campus, Lazarus was involved in an array of activities, from hosting a radio show to playing intramural sports, which contributed to his well-rounded development. But it was his professors who played the pivotal role in helping him forge his path.
"It was really the relationships that I made with the professors who went out of their way to build a relationship with me, esteem me as a peer, and show me the different options I had," he says.
This emphasis on relationships and mentorship laid the groundwork for Lazarus' approach to applied sociology. In 2017, he earned a Master's in Social Work degree, which propelled him into the realm of child welfare. In addition to being the Program Director for JusticeWorks in Franklin, Adams, and Cumberland counties, he is a licensed social worker.
His dedication led him to develop the revolutionary Caseworker Field Coach Program, a hands-on approach to training caseworkers. In this program, a social worker accompanies each county caseworker in the field, providing real-time support, coaching, and skill-building as the caseworker meets with clients. The uncommon approach ensures that caseworkers are better equipped to navigate the complex situations that families face and to foster deeper connections and more effective interventions with them.
Impacting communities and caseworkers
The impact of the Caseworker Field Coach Program has been profound, Lazarus says.
"We’ve seen that the caseworkers we’re helping are growing professionally. We’ve also seen a lot of reception from the families because they’re seeing the caseworkers engage them in a way they haven’t been engaged before," he says.
The program’s success has sparked interest from other counties, prompting discussions about implementing it more widely.
Despite his demanding role, Lazarus maintains a strong connection with York College, participating in career-oriented events and mentorship programs as he nurtures the next generation. One key to his success has been the network he established at the College, which he continues to foster.
“Build those relationships with your professors and the people you go to school with,” he says, adding, “more importantly, maintain those relationships.”
From York College to the forefront of child welfare innovation, Lazarus combines his education, compassion, and creativity to make a positive impact. As he and Wagner continue to present their groundbreaking program at conferences, they are shaping a better future for vulnerable families and communities.