Erica M. Harris
Erica M. Harris is a social worker and forensic interviewer for the Pataula Center for Children. She has one daughter, Millie Henderson (8), and one foster daughter, Elizabeth (10 months).
WP: How long have you been a social worker? What made you want to enter this career?
EH: I have been in the social work field for six years. I entered the field of social work because I recognize the need for more social workers in my small community. Social work is a profession where social workers make a difference not only in the population they serve but in the community and the world as a whole. We are trained to see the entire person and situations affecting them rather than just one component.
WP: Do you find it can be difficult to separate yourself from the situations you see as a social worker?
EH: I find it extremely hard to turn off being a social worker. I see and hear so much at work that it is difficult to separate the two. I hate being the “helicopter mom” but I cannot forget some of the things I see and hear in the run of a day.
WP: How do you make sure you’re not pouring from an empty cup?
EH: To ensure I am not pouring from an empty cup, I practice self-care. I enjoy reading, planting flowers, and taking vacations.
WP: You’re working with children in the community that you grew up in. How does it feel to be giving back to the place you were raised?
EH: Working in the area I grew up in feels great. Within minutes of meeting with clients, we identify a connection of some sort. My grandmother, Norma Harris-Great, was an educator within the Early County School System and was a huge pillar in the community. My father, Eric Harris, is a retired educator and has taught many students in his 30 years. My grandmother and father left a lasting impression on each of the students and their families, which has helped make clients feel comfortable.
WP: In addition to having a daughter of your own, you’re also a foster parent. What made you want to bring additional children into your home?
EH: I chose to become a foster parent because I love children, but, more importantly, by being a foster parent I am able to directly help children who face issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health disorders. My assistance gives birth parents the chance to receive assistance to overcome the problems that led to the removal of their children.
WP: Blending families can be difficult. Talk to me a little about some of the challenges you’ve faced as a foster mom and how you overcame them.
Before I made the decision to become a foster parent, I talked with my daughter to get her thoughts. She was very receptive to the idea and redecorated her bedroom to accommodate additional children. My family is a major support system. I am so thankful to have wonderful family and friends, including my daughter’s paternal grandparents. Everyone is on board and jumps at any opportunity to lend a helping hand.
EH: I am a foster parent to a Caucasian child. My family and I love her just as much as we love my own biological child. Since having her, I had to develop a thick skin because I have had many racially-based comments and remarks made in public. So many people do not understand foster parents are there to assist case managers with reunifying families. I received my current placement when she was 3 days old. It would hurt me to see her leave, but I am praying for her mother to successfully complete her plan and be reunified with her beautiful daughter.
WP: What advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a foster parent?
EH: Go for it! There is a great need for foster parents in every state. It is a heartbreaking yet rewarding act of service. It is the policy of the state to keep children in the county of residence, but if there are not any foster homes available in that county, the children are sent to neighboring counties. This can be further traumatizing to children.
WP: How would you describe your parenting style?
EH: I am an authoritative parent. I am a social worker, so a lot of that spills over into my parenting style. I talk to my daughter about my expectations and what consequences will be enforced if rules are broken. I am sensitive to my child’s needs. We have an open line of communication and I tell her to never fear coming to me when she has an issue. I let my daughter know I am not perfect and do not expect her to be. So far my parenting style is working. My daughter is a straight-A student and excels academically and is often recognized for being well mannered. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I had to discipline her.
WP: When it comes to parenting, there’s a lot of talk about ‘the village.’ Is there anyone who has helped you throughout your journey through motherhood that you would like to give a shout-out to?
EH: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am extremely thankful for my wonderful village. My siblings, friends, extended family, coworkers, and colleagues have all helped in some form. Had it not been for them, I would not be as successful at parenting. A key player was my grandmother, Norma. She passed away in October, but I am thankful for the many lessons she instilled in me as a child and find comfort in being able to pass them on down to all the children who enter my home.
Kimberly Fleming (Millie’s paternal grandmother) and Sarapehnia Igles (Millie’s paternal great aunt) are my superheroes. I can never pay them enough for all that they do for any child in my care. My father is another huge supporter. He farms full time and is always busy on the farm, but he proudly stops what he is doing to ensure his “sweet babies” (the name he uses for Millie and Elizabeth) are well-taken care of.
WP: What’s something your parents taught you that you’ve carried with you into adulthood?
EH: My maternal and paternal grandparents taught me the most important lessons there were, which were establishing a relationship with Christ and work ethics.
WP: What’s something you hope your daughter is learning from you, even if it’s not a direct lesson?
EH: It warms my heart to hear my daughter say she wants to be like me when she grows up. I am hoping she is learning compassion, grace, and humility from me. Each summer we plant a garden and give vegetables to the elderly in our area. As we are making deliveries, I talk to her and tell her how important it is to give to others. I talk to her about God and how he put us on Earth to help others. These are the lessons that were taught to me by my grandmothers, Millie Smith and Norma Harris-Great.
WP: Mom burnout is a thing we all experience from time to time. What does self-care look like for you?
EH: My village is always a call away when I need to take a day of self-care. I enjoy going to get facials or to the spa. Some days I curl up on the couch with a book and read.
WP: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
EH: I would remind myself of Romans 8:28. Everything, regardless of what it looks like, will work out for my good. Just keep the faith and keep believing.
WP: Any advice or words of wisdom for new parents?
EH: I encourage all parents to take the time to nurture a relationship with their children. As a single mother, full-time employee, and graduate student, I know all too well how hectic life can get. You have many chances to correct career choices and moves, but only one chance at parenting.