Staff in Action: Gabriel D’Ambrosio

Gabriel D’Ambrosio, Assistant Program Director at the AFS Oakland office, is one of our fantastic staff members. In this interview, we’ll get to know Gabe and his work at AFS. 

What are your primary responsibilities at AFS?
I’m the assistant program director for East Bay Foster Care, working under the program director, Manisha Sandhu. It’s an oversight of the whole East Bay foster care program. That can mean a lot of different things including the intake of case managers of some mental health services and supervising some of our staff.  

What led you to work in this field?
I’ve always been interested in mental health. I had the career goal of being a clinician and then naturally fell into child welfare before working at AFS. I worked at a group home for about three years and loved working with the population. And then when I moved back to Oakland, I found out about AFS and started working here as a mental health counselor and then slowly went into other positions. I just fell in love with it.  

Why did you choose to work at AFS?
A family friend whom I’ve known my entire life and really admire and trust, worked for AFS. He was my introduction to AFS the agency’s core values and services. Once I started working here, it was the sense of community within our East Bay team that really inspired me. There’s a lot of invaluable support within the team that’s unmatched at other places. Plus, there’s a lot of value in the work we do.  That’s what’s kept me here.  

What are the three best things about your job? 
Number one would be our team. I really like and enjoy all the people that I work with who are on the Oakland side of things. Seeing them in team meetings is always fun. You know, we all have challenging jobs in terms of the subject matter and the things we hear about every day, but it’s a lot of great people doing really great things.
I think the second thing is the AFS mission. It’s something I buy into, and believe in, and it makes doing this work feel like we have an actual goal and we’re all striving towards the same thing.  

The third thing is I genuinely believe we provide excellent services for kids and families. I was a service provider before this position and worked with many different clinicians, MHRS, and support counselors. Although everyone has a unique style, the service delivery itself is excellent, and that’s something that I pride myself and the agency on.  

What would you say are the three most challenging things about your job? 
Number one might be being on call all the time. That’s just a reality that I wish were different. But, it is what it is, and most of the time, we’re not getting too many after-hours calls unless it’s truly an emergency.  

Number two would be the constant exposure to trauma. It’s not all day, every day, but it’s consistent enough that one can get numb to it. When we’re reading a kiddos case file, and we hear what’s happened to them, that’s challenging.  

The third thing is when we don’t have an ideal discharge for a client. They may AWOL, or placement may need to be changed. Even though we do the best we can every time, It’s hard for me not to wonder if I or the team could have done more. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about foster care that you would like to address? 
The first thing I think of is that foster parents only do this for money. Even when I started here, I had heard that myth. Having been at AFS for five years, it couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. What resource parents do is incredible. There’s no amount of money that can pay for the things that they go through and all of the work that they do.  

I think the other one would have to do with the kids or the clients being “damaged.” There’s a stigma about foster youth that they’re just going to end up incarcerated or out on the streets or addicts. They’re human beings who have been through some horrible things, let alone kids, that nobody should ever have to go through. But they’re all unique, capable, intelligent, and able to achieve in their lives just like we are.  

Can you tell us about an impactful moment that you’ve had since working at AFS?
Yes, I can tell you about two. When I was working as an MHRS (mental health resource specialist), I remember very clearly the first time that I was invited to go to an adoption for one of my clients. That was the first time that I felt like the work that I was doing was valuable. Like this means something. It wasn’t necessarily my achievement or my success, but it was just a beautiful thing to see, something that the whole team had been working on for so long. And now this kid finally has permanency.  

Similarly, about a year ago, I attended an adoption celebration where several families had gone through the adoption process and were sharing their stories. It represented the vision that we’re all working towards, which is permanency for kiddos. 
What is an interesting fact about you that others might not know?
I think people are surprised when I tell them that I’m an introvert. I have a lot of social anxiety, but because I talk a lot and I’m loud, I think people don’t expect that. But I think it’s kind of a cover-up for the introversion a little bit. I tend to stay home when I’m off work. I don’t go out too much. I like my alone time outside of work.  

What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who’s starting out in similar work?
Listen, pay attention, learn, advocate, and find your voice.  

I think all those things are tools that you absolutely need because in this work we’re put into very powerful positions in kids’ and families’ lives. And if we’re not mindful of that and understanding of that, we can do a lot of damage, and none of us who are getting into this field want to do that. We’re here to help, but without those skills, it can happen a lot easier than one might think.   

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Alternative Family Services

Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed foster care, adoption and mental health services throughout California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento region. Since 1978, the mission of AFS has been – and continues to be – to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and well-being in communities through foster care, adoption and mental health services.

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