By: Ainsley Buck, Child Policy Research Certificate student ’22
The Center for Child and Family Policy welcomed Durham native and Duke alumna Dr. Sarah Rabiner Eisensmith on September 24 as part of its Exploring Careers in Child and Family Policy series. In her role as a forensic social worker, Dr. Eisensmith sits at the intersection of families and the justice system. She works closely with families facing issues that have brought them in contact with family court, social services, and/or child welfare. She reports that in the vast majority of cases she has worked, the families have been reunited. In a field that can be emotionally overwhelming, this serves as a prime reward.
Her passion for social work can be linked back to the gang presence she witnessed as a young middle school student. Dr. Eisensmith remembers listening in on conversations of two recently initiated gang members in her science class. This experience inspired her to work to prevent adverse circumstances, such as early gang participation, in childhood and adolescence. While her subsequent career explorations contributed to her profession today, her path was indirect. Dr. Eisensmith stressed the idea that linear career paths are not only unnecessary, but may prevent you from discovering unexpected ways to explore your interests, “You will learn something in any job that you have post college,” she says.
After graduating from Duke with a degree in sociology, Dr. Eisensmith worked as a teacher in St. Louis and Durham, as a researcher at a social-emotional health firm, and earned her master’s degree and PhD in social work. In doing so, she discovered her highest values:
“…a lot of my decisions, I felt like I was stumbling upon them but actually, I think are informed in some way by… core beliefs that help carry me…believing in the inherent worth of all humans, belief that each person is capable of success and growth. And a belief that both natural and formal support and validation encouragement are essential for people to be in a place where they can thrive.”
Dr. Eisensmith ultimately decided that “…social work seems like the direct application [of these values]… where the rubber hits the road.” While her daily work life varies, the overarching goal remains true to her core: to optimize child outcomes and promote healthy, beneficial parent-child relationships.