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By age 24, Dave Bruns had accomplished most of his life goals.
He’d graduated from the University of Toledo, married his love, and become a caseworker for Lucas County Children Services.
After working with thousands of struggling families in a job that has brought him the brightest of smiles as well as dark lows, Mr. Bruns is retiring after 35 years with Lucas County Children Services knowing he did exactly as he set out to do: help children.
“Like anybody else, I had days when I woke up and didn’t want to go in to work, but never, ever did I have a day that I got to the point where I didn’t want to do this anymore,” said Mr. Bruns, 59. “Like I told my mom when I was 6, working with children is what I want to do.”
In a field that often can have high turnover rates, the employees at children services tend to stay. As a 35-year veteran of the agency — he spent two years in Allen County Children Services — Mr. Bruns is not even the longest-serving employee.
Over the years, he has worked through changes and growth in the agency. He helped administer innovative programs such as one to help families where drug issues were involved, and answered phone calls from agencies across the country looking to follow suit.
During his final hours of work this month, Mr. Bruns recalled not only the thousands of families who have been touched by a children-services caseworker but also the hundreds of caseworkers who have done the work.
The agency receives about 4,100 child-abuse referrals each year. Most recently, as of the end of September, the agency fielded 3,771 referrals.
That means that at any given time, agency caseworkers are helping about 1,100 Lucas County children.
Saying an effective caseworker has to be compassionate but also able to set emotion aside, Mr. Bruns said Lucas County has been lucky to have so many answer the call.
“It’s not only the people who work here that amaze me but the families in our communities,” Mr. Bruns said. “I’ve seen how people step up in emergencies, both those who work here and the people who we work with.”
Mr. Bruns said each of the agency’s approximately 180 caseworkers labors to ensure that children in the community are safe. And he said they each understand the immense responsibility of making decisions to remove children from their homes.
So it is always the highlight of the job to hold a baby surrounded by a once-struggling but now-whole family.
“Those are the moments you really live for,” he said.
Dean Sparks, executive director of the agency, said working in children services is “not just a job, it’s a calling.”
“Dave has had a great career through the thousands of kids and families that he has helped,” Mr. Sparks said. “He’s had the opportunity to serve lots of people, and that’s what our lives are all about.”
After packing up the mementos in his seventh-floor office — one he’s had since 1994 — Mr. Bruns said he plans to relax, travel, and enjoy life. But he’s not yet finished serving Lucas County families.
He intends to volunteer with children services, although he is not quite certain when or how.
“I don’t see myself going completely away,” he said.
Contact Erica Blake at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-213-2134.