University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Recognition: A Special Report
Working as an agent for change

     When Cynthia Keighton Knapp, Delaware '85, began as a
caseworker for Children's Choice, a private, nonprofit,
specialized foster-care agency, she felt a natural kinship for
her case children, many of whom were teenage girls.
     At age 23, she shared many interests with them. Outings-like
shopping for school clothes at the mall-were fun.
     "I felt I could relate to them," she says. What she found
challenging at first was keeping professional boundaries.
     "We are in a strange position because, even though we often
feel that we are their friend, we also are in a counseling
position and we have to enforce the rules. We have to maintain
objectivity. Your personal feelings may get involved, but you
have to make sure you are doing what is in the best interest of
the child."
     Knapp, a music/psychology major at UD, has learned all those
lessons in her 10 years at Children's Choice. And, as the agency
expanded, so did her responsibilities.
     Currently regional director, she supervises five offices,
including three in Maryland and one each in Dover and Newark,
Del. Among the
professionals who work at Children's Choice are two other
Delaware graduates: Deborah Daisy Street, Delaware '79, and
Suzanne Ford Iverson, Delaware '84.
     What sets Children's Choice apart from other such agencies
is that it provides community-based, Christian-oriented
specialized services for children with special needs, be they
emotional or behavioral.
     "We have children who run away, who have been sexually
abused, who exhibit violent behavior and who are self-
destructive," says Knapp.
     Although she misses the direct involvement of casework in
her administrative position, Knapp says she still feels very
involved with the children. Based in Dover, she spends half of
each month visiting the other branches, meeting with caseworkers
and reviewing each case.
     "I always ask if 'permanency planning' is being met," says
Knapp. "That is what we are striving for-either getting the kids
to return to their natural families, if that is possible, or
seeing that they are adopted in a long-term, foster-care
     As Knapp has watched children grow up with foster families,
her ideas about what constitutes success have changed.
     "Before, I would have thought that success would be for a
child to graduate from high school and go to college. Now,
success is seeing that a child is happy and doing what she wants
to do," Knapp says.
     "One of my girls graduated from high school and now has a
full-time job with benefits and is going to school part-time.
Most importantly, she is happy. That, to me, is a success story."
     The nature of this job is up and down. "We had a family of
three children who came into foster care because of their
mother's drug addiction. She got herself together and the
children returned home," Knapp says. "I just learned she is back
on drugs and the children are back in foster care."
     Also, she says, the children who need help are getting
younger and younger. "It used to be the teenagers who were tough.
Now, we have 6- to 12-year-olds who are fire-setters and who are
trying to commit suicide. This job is an emotional roller
     "You learn that you can give people the skills they need to
change their lives; you can be an agent for change, but you
cannot change it for them."
                                            -Donna Kinney Speers