UMD child welfare scholar creates change.
Poignant moments stay with Melissa Meyer. She remembers a toddler's face lighting up he runs toward his father. She recalls small details such as half-eaten cookies and ice cream spoons waving to the beat of a nursery rhyme. She can still see a small hand held close by a large hand and on another day, a mom, standing in an open doorway, wiping tears from her eyes.
Meyer has spent time with a lot of parents and children for nearly a decade. Now she's studying social work at UMD.
Meyer grew up in Duluth playing on the UMD fields and walking around campus. She was a stay-at-home mom living in Duluth, Minnesota until 2012. That’s when things began to change.
She got involved in Head Start, deeply involved. She spent thousands of hours working with parents and children in the Duluth area.
The Head Start program recognizes that parents are children’s first teachers. So does Meyer. She began leading and then facilitating classes called Circle of Security and Circle of Parents. The classes help all kinds of families, even those in crisis. “When parents have unresolved traumas they unintentionally bring these into their parenting,” she says. The classes help.
Meyer also took on a role as a Head Start Parent Advocate in Duluth. “It was an elected position and a sort of passion project for me.” She became a board representative to Head Start in Duluth, in Region V, and finally at the national level. “It was an amazing experience to be a voice that could create change to make families' lives better."
“There is a misconception that parents in poverty and especially parents of color are not involved in their children's lives,” she says. “I find that to be very far from the truth. I had an opportunity, and thankfully the means, to represent these families. I felt honored they elected me to fill the position. Head Start taught me how to truly become an advocate.”
The skills that Meyer learned took her to the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative under the umbrella of MN Communities Caring for Children, and that brought her to Parent Leadership for Child Safety and Permanency. Her involvement in the Parent Leadership cohort had a profound effect on her.
“I met former foster children, foster parents, kinship parents, and many other community leaders from around Minnesota,” she says. “Everyone was there because they wanted to improve systems for children and families. They inspired me to go back to school and become a social worker and try to help change the system.”
Landing at UMD
The passion that Meyer had for policy change urged her to apply to the UMD Child Welfare Scholars program, which provides resources and financial support to social work students who are committed to working in public and tribal child welfare.
Meyer engaged in learning about all of Minnesota’s many communities. “UMD puts an emphasis on assisting American Indian families,” says Meyer. “They have a special commitment to them and they have made strong ties to the American Indian community."
Ready to Graduate
Meyer graduated this May with her bachelor’s degree in social work and is jumping right into the master of social work program, continuing as a Child Welfare Scholar.
She also plans on mixing work with graduate school. In the summer of 2022, she'll continue a job with Douglas County Social Services as a social services aide where she monitors and supervises visitation between parents and their children. She’ll also continue to work with the Circle of Security parenting classes for St. Louis County.
UMD has prepared Meyer to work in many different areas through real-life training. “And I’m ready,” Meyer says.
This story was written by UMD student Eva Moua, who is majoring in communication. Eva works with Cheryl Reitan in University Marketing and Public Relations.