From a young age, Heather Burke was aware there were kids in the world who didn’t have enough to eat, who didn’t have a place to call home and who didn’t have parents.
She vividly remembers seeing malnourished children living in shacks on Save the Children campaign commercials on TV. This sparked her interest in child welfare and helping families out of situations like the ones she saw.
When Burke graduated from high school, though, she wasn’t entirely sure what career would enable her to do this. She failed her first semester of college at Pikes Peak State College before taking some social work classes. Those courses clicked for Burke.
She then transferred to Colorado State University-Pueblo, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. After, Burke chose to pursue her Master of Social Work degree at Newman University, as the program was a good fit financially and she could take her classes in-person at night after she got off work.
Burke enjoyed Newman’s small class sizes and the professors.
“They had a lot of in-field experience, which I hadn’t seen before,” Burke said. “That was always a joy to have professors who knew what was going on.”
She also appreciated that her classmates had full-time jobs like her and brought similar experiences to the table.
Burke earned her Master of Social Work degree in 2012, after which she was hired as an intake investigator for the child welfare program in Adams County, Colorado. A few years later, she transitioned to the adoption program, helping children find adoptive homes.
Today, Burke, a member of AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Local 3972, continues to work as a social caseworker with Adams County. This past year, she also began a job as a foster parent recruiter and organized her coworkers to form a union through AFSCME. Now that they have a voice on the job, they can better advocate for the resources and training they need to best serve the children and families who rely on them, she said.
“That has been a big reward,” Burke said.
Another standout moment from her service with AFSCME was when she testified on a collective bargaining bill in Colorado that allows all public sector workers the right to organize.
“The biggest thing was to have a voice at the table,” Burke said. “We get to have some say and some influence and speak to politicians who are making those decisions on child welfare policies.”
For Burke, working in child welfare and as a foster parent recruiter has been a great privilege. She’s also honored to serve her peers through her union work.
“We’re always taught to help others out, but I don’t think we’re ever really taught to advocate for ourselves, so this has been a different form of social work, which I enjoy,” she said.
Earn your Master of Social Work at Newman University
The Master of Social Work program, with a focus on trauma-competent practice, offers students a supportive and individual education in the classroom and in field education.