Improving Child Welfare
Clinical Assistant Prof. Jason Lester shares his experience improving child permanency with future child welfare workers
Clinical Assistant Professor Jason Lester’s social work career originated in his childhood: He was orphaned at 16 when both of his parents died of cancer. Lester remembers “so many social workers, therapists, school counselors all being in my corner,” helping him to be placed in his best friend’s home instead of with strangers in Georgia’s foster care system.
The placement worked out well for him, and he earned a band scholarship to Alabama A&M University (AAMU), where he says he “played trombone for the Marching Maroon and White” and was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. When it came time to choose a major, Lester chose sociology, like his late mother had. “I wanted to send the elevator back down to kids who experienced the same things I did,” he recalls.
Driven by the motivation to improve people’s lives and advance social justice, he earned a Master of Science in human development and family studies at AAMU, followed a decade later by an MSW at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), where Lester now is a full-time faculty member. He also holds a Doctor of Social Work from the University of Southern California, where he focused on innovation dynamics, leadership and social change.
Lester put that education to work helping children and families, striving to “try to keep more kids out of the system.” His nearly 20 years of social work practice included working as an in-home therapist in Alabama, serving as the permanency supervisor at Arapahoe County Child and Adult Protection Services, directing Family Support Services for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and serving as the deputy director for El Paso County Children, Youth & Family Services.
At the Colorado Department of Human Services, he was permanency manager for all 64 counties, replicating his own positive kinship placement experience on a statewide basis. And as the adoption supervisor at Denver Human Services, Lester’s team created permanency for more than 800 children over four years. “That was the highlight of my career,” says Lester, MSW ’16, who is an active member of the Prince Hall Masons and director of charity for the Denver-area Prince Hall Shriner fraternal organization.
As the new faculty lead for GSSW’s Child Welfare MSW concentration, Lester will teach across the curriculum and share his vast experience and knowledge at the micro, mezzo and macro levels. He aims to help future social workers to develop "a sense of comfort with their abilities."
He acknowledges that child welfare can be complex. “We have to embrace it’s normal to feel frustrated, to be disappointed,” Lester says, advising students to “keep showing up, keep fighting.”
“Nobody is going to advocate for your clients the way you will advocate,” he tells students. “Don’t be silent about the needs of your clients. When one is silent, one is being complicit with the negative outcomes that are happening.”
“Don’t give up,” Lester adds. “When our clients succeed, our community succeeds.”