From a young age, Carmen Collado, MSW ’92, knew she wanted to help people. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, Collado said, “I saw quite a lot of people suffering. I saw single mothers, children without fathers. I realized that a lot of mothers were able to function in crisis if they had a support system. If you could give people tools, their lives improved. I knew I wanted to work in a profession where I could help improve the lives of others.”
She learned of the social work field at age 15, and thought, “I want to do that!” With this career in mind, Collado attended Queens College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
Following her graduation, Collado began a career as a therapist, specializing in foster care, early intervention, and bicultural communications. She used her keen ability to perceive the needs of others to help children and families in crisis learn to work and live together. She understood that keeping a family together is the ultimate goal. But she realized that to affect the most change, she needed to return to school for her master’s.
“I always liked clinical work, and through my ability to run and organize complicated programs, I could see the larger picture,” said Collado. “More education would lead me to be more effective.” The NYU Silver School of Social Work’s reputation as a clinically strong social work program appealed to Collado, and she enrolled in the fall of 1990.
Asked to reflect on her memories of NYU, Collado spoke of the enriching and knowledge-expanding quality of her coursework. In a casework class, she was assigned a paper on the coming-out process. “This was one of the greatest pieces of research I could do,” she said, “because I realized that even though there were a lot of students going to NYU who were gay and lesbian, it was still a taboo subject among both students and administrators.”
She interviewed over 300 people who identified as gay or lesbian and came to understand that when people were in the right environment—an inclusive one—they felt comfortable enough to come out and express who they truly were. She concluded, “When you make people feel comfortable and accepted, everybody has a chance to move forward.”
Collado conducted further research in a social policy class, this time on homelessness in New York City. Through this research, Collado realized that she was drawn to macro-level social work. “I saw a perceived need,” she said, “and realized that my affinity for clinical work enabled me to advocate for better treatment and better systems.”
After receiving her MSW, Collado went on to obtain a post-master’s certificate from the Columbia Business School. Collado found an agency that offered opportunities to bridge clinical and public policy work at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) where she has worked for the past 11 years. She was hired to oversee post-9/11 services and two years later was recruited to develop, implement, and run a pilot program offering on-site mental health services to children in foster care settings. “We were able to show we could dramatically lower the rate of re-placements and provide a stable and supportive environment,” she explained. “The program became a model that was adopted by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and that was my first big policy achievement.”
Today, Collado works as the chief government and community relations officer at JBFCS, where she once again advocates for vulnerable New Yorkers who are unable to speak for themselves. Collado has the opportunity to work personally with government representatives (Mayor Bill de Blasio is a colleague and longtime friend.) to “bring awareness to the issues they need to change.” She does policy work and designs programs to “make sure we provide services and advocate for the underserved.”
Collado also serves as co-chair of the New York State Board for Social Work, which oversees licensing and disciplinary actions for social workers. Collado recently worked on a new law taking effect January 1, 2015, that will require every LMSW/LCSW to complete 36 hours of acceptable continuing education in each three-year registration period. Collado feels that mandating continuing education will ensure that the quality of clinical social work is consistent throughout the field. “It is important for social workers to stay current and have the training they need to serve all populations and make sure every community has the proper social work services.”
Collado encourages MSW students to take advantage of the macro-level, policy-oriented studies that NYU offers. “NYU has a reputation of only being clinical, but it’s not. While in school I was able to move to look into and influence policy issues that directly affect people.”
She urges social work students to educate themselves and maintain an active presence in the political process to maximize their potential to be change makers. Collado credits her education at NYU for preparing her for the field of social work, and for her success today. “My education has given me the tools to be able to help people. I love NYU,” she said. “If I were to do it over, I would go back to NYU.”
By Penelope Yates, MSW ’16