A foster care therapist works to make sure her kids “have better tomorrows”

A child’s drawing of two handprints sits atop Carolyn Catania’s bookshelf. Inside one is the child’s description of Catania: “She is kind, she helps kids feel better, and she likes coffee.”

One of the handprints is Catania’s. The other belongs to a girl Catania works with at Good Shepherd Services’ family foster care program in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.

“This is my dream job,” says Catania, who provides individual supportive therapy to children ages 5 to 21 in New York City’s foster care system. “I feel lucky that I get to spend my days working to make sure my kids have better tomorrows by helping them heal from their past, learn to have hope, and recognize they are more than just a foster kid.”

A Long Island native, Catania majored in psychology at Fordham and went on to earn a master’s degree in social work at the Graduate School of Social Service—while also pursuing a master’s degree in public health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and working full time at Good Shepherd Services.

She became a staunch advocate for change within the foster care system, striving to help those who work with foster children understand childhood trauma and mental health conditions. The goal, she says, is for children to stay stable in their foster placements, develop healthy relationships, and avoid retraumatization. She creates fact sheets and training sessions to make issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder more approachable for staff members and families.

“I aspire to change the conversation tone from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What’s happened to you?’” she says.

In 2016, after completing her MSW and licensure requirements, she was promoted to her current position as a therapist. She hopes to work in international child welfare, an area she glimpsed while participating in two “life-changing” projects, in Guatemala and South Africa, sponsored by Fordham’s Global Outreach program.

Kathy Sommerich, the senior program director of health and mental health services at Good Shepherd Services, praises Catania’s “passion for doing the right thing, even if it’s the most difficult,” and says the children she works with reap the benefits, including the little girl who made the handprint drawing.

Inside her own handprint, the girl wrote, “I am brave.”

—Stefanie Sorrentino

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