Career of care brings national honor

Pikesville woman named Social Worker of the Year

Regional

October 12, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

A 25-year career of helping people has brought Judith Schagrin of the Baltimore County Department of Social Services a sense of satisfaction - and, now, national recognition.

Schagrin, 50, of Pikesville is the department's assistant director of children's services. She is also president-elect of the board of directors of the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and a member of the organization's Children, Youth and Families Task Force. She was recently recognized by the National Association of Social Workers as the organization's 2004 Social Worker of the Year.

The national award, which will be presented to Schagrin in March, recognizes her work with children and teens throughout Baltimore County; her efforts with advocacy groups such as the Maryland Children's Action Network and the Coalition to Protect Maryland's Children; and her involvement in establishment of foster care programs.

"She is well-known in the child welfare community for her efforts beyond her professional commitments, which include a weeklong, overnight camp she founded four years ago to reunite foster children living apart from their siblings," the association said in a statement announcing her selection for its prize.

Dana Grubb, chairman of Children, Youth and Families Task Force, said he recommended Schagrin for the award because of her dedication. "She has such good judgment, is very discerning, thoughtful and above all, makes a lot of sense," he said.

The national recognition was bestowed months after Schagrin received the Maryland Social Worker of the Year award.

Bruce Mermelspein, assistant county attorney for Baltimore County who has known Schagrin for 14 years through their work in social services, nominated her for the Maryland award, which made her eligible for the national award. Mermelspein said he nominated Schagrin because of her optimism.

"She is a zealous advocate for her client population," Mermelspein said. "She is optimistic ... and always looks for something positive in her work."

Schagrin had aspired to be a social worker since she was in the fourth grade in Binghamton, N.Y. She said her parents set an example of service to the community. Her mother taught elementary school, and her father was a rabbi.

The national award showcases a career dating to 1979, when Schagrin began work with the Baltimore Health Department a year after receiving a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland.

In 1980, Schagrin moved to the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, which she remembers as being a training ground because the adolescents were "challenging" to work with.

Schagrin then became a child welfare worker in Baltimore County's Independent Living Program for teens in 1983. In that program, Schagrin prepared teens for living on their own after foster care.

"I loved it because many teens were very engaging," Schagrin said.

"There they were on the brink of becoming adults, and it was nice to nurture their talents and aspirations and very energizing.

Schagrin became supervisor of the Independent Living Program in 1989 but went back to more hands-on work in 1995 when she joined the Foster Intake Unit, which specializes in dealing with children when they start foster care.

Schagrin also works on programs for foster children.

Her most recent effort is "Camp Connect," which she established in 2000. Each summer, the one-week camp brings together siblings who became separated in foster care. More than anything, Schagrin said, it is an attempt to promote lasting family relationships.

Siblings at the camp participate in horseback riding, tubing and arts and crafts with a sibling theme. Schagrin said this is her favorite event because, "This is a wonderful reminder of why I love this work."

Schagrin said she has no regrets about any part of her career. "Because I was challenged by others to embrace this work, that was what inspired me ever since," she said.

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