Student Spotlight: Khaila Nelson

Khaila Nelson is currently a junior working on completing a double major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. Over the course of the Spring 2020 semester, Nelson has spent part of her time interning with the Department of Social Services in Stafford, VA in the Foster Care division. This internship takes place through the Stafford County Government.

This internship speaks a great deal to Nelson’s aspirations as both a student of Women’s and Gender Studies as well as to her aspirations as a lawyer. Nelson stated, “Something interesting that I learned about Stafford Department of Social Services is that they contract a lawyer that is not directly associated with Stafford County Government; that could be me one day!” From the experience that she gained through this internship, Nelson gathered a better understanding of the legal aspect of foster care to inform her future career as a lawyer. Through her participation in this internship, Nelson has been able to explore a world with great relevance not only to her career aspirations, but also to her education in the Women’s and Gender Studies field.

Nelson began the internship with a desire to analyze the different ways the foster care is gendered. “I wanted to see if the system caters to women, given the stereotype of childcare and mothering that women have in the patriarchy.” In her work, Nelson found that there was quite a lot to unpack relating the treatment of different genders in the system. On top of an understanding of gendered experience within the foster care system, Nelson gained skills in writing, analysis, communication, and observation.

Due to the obstacles that the COVID-19 pandemic have set in place around the world, Nelson, like many other students worldwide, was faced with alterations to her internship position. The operating system of the entire Department of Social Services in Stafford, VA was shifted. Given the nature of the work, a great deal of the responsibilities, projects, and tasks involved changed dynamically. “Meetings occur daily between biological parents, foster families, and future foster parents,” Nelson says. “Shifting to an online method for these meetings was a drastic change for many of the individuals that rely on services of the Department. My work, particularly, changed. I went from drafting documents to creating presentations and conducting research.” Before the outbreak occurred, Nelson was generally responsible for tasks such as filing paperwork, drafting and preparing documents for court, observing and scribing visitations, and assisting with in-home visits. “I was able to interact with children, biological parents, foster parents, and other family members,” says Nelson. “A lot of my work was completed in a desk, but I often would alter my schedule to attend jail visitations and home visitations. COVID-19 changed my work completely. I did a lot of research and created a presentation about the foster care court process to be used in the future!”