Searcy woman finds passion in helping children

By Lisa Burnett Published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Taryn Sheets has been the executive director of the Searcy Children’s Home for 10 years. Searcy Children’s Homes Inc. is a private, nonprofit child-placement agency licensed by the state of Arkansas.

When Taryn Sheets went to college, she didn’t know she would ultimately become a social worker, but now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

She was born in Indianapolis, Ind., and lived there until she was 15 years old.

“We moved to [Celina], Tenn., right after my freshman year of high school,” Sheets said. “That was really tough because we had the same church home, the same neighbors [all of my life]. That was a hard move.”

She graduated from high school and went on to college at David Lipscomb College, now Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tenn.

“I started out majoring in psychology, and my mom said, ‘What are you going to do with your degree?’” Sheets said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m not really sure,’ and she said, ‘Well, why don’t you look into social work? That might be a little more practical.’”

Sheets took her mother’s advice and ended up with a double major in psychology and social work.

“That was probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received,” Sheets said. “I don’t know why [she thought of social work], but I’m glad she did.”

Right after graduating from college in 1985, Sheets went to work in a psychologist’s office as an office manager because she thought it would be a good way to get her foot in the door of the working world. She ended up getting a taste of the “real-world” relatively quickly.

“After a month and a half, I was fired, because nobody told me you had to get permission to work overtime,” Sheets said. “I was not only doing my job, but I was doing someone else’s job while she was on vacation.”

When the psychologist who ran the office asked Sheets about her hours, the supervisor explained that it wasn’t OK for Sheets to work that many hours in a week.

“I came in the next day, and they handed me my last check and said goodbye. It was pretty shocking,” Sheets said.

She moved to Cookeville, Tenn., where she worked for the Putnam County Department of Human Services as a social worker. While there, she investigated child abuse. Sheets said she was involved with two cases in which she had to remove children from their homes.

“One of them was totally unjustified, but someone from one of the offices higher up said, ‘Go remove these kids,’” Sheets said. “It was one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had.”

Sheets said another caseworker went with her to remove the children.

“We had to peel this child off of her mother,” Sheets said. “It was horrible, and I still didn’t understand the justification for it. But when you’re young and you don’t really know a lot about what you’re doing, you trust that the people above you do, and that’s not always the case.”

When she got to court for that case, the judge said there was no reason for the children to have been removed from their home, and Sheets had to take them back to their parents.

“We could have completely avoided that trauma for those children, had someone investigated it a little more before just jumping to the conclusion that the kids needed to be removed,” Sheets said. “I was not fond of doing investigations.”

She then transferred to the regional office of the Department of Human Services, where she worked in therapeutic foster care.

“[Therapeutic foster care] is a more-intensive foster-care program, where foster parents have less children. One, maybe two, children are placed in their home,” Sheets said. “[The foster parents] receive special training for that.”

Sheets was able to see the children she was working with weekly, and she had a reduced case load.

In 1987, Sheets moved back to Indiana, where she worked as a psychiatric technician at Valle Vista Hospital in Greenwood, Ind.

“I worked with teenagers and provided counseling for teenagers and supervised activities,” she said. “Then I went and worked for the Marion County Department of Human Services in downtown Indianapolis.”

Sheets said that in the field of social work, jobs can vary greatly from location to location.

“There are so many things you can do,” she said.

While working for the Marion County Department of Human Services, Sheets worked in a relative-placement unit for about a month, then transferred to the foster-care unit.

“Our case loads were so big, unfortunately, the only time we got to see the kids was before court,” she said.

After about a year in the foster-care unit, she transferred to the home-finder unit.

“That’s where I started doing training for foster parents. We recruited and trained foster families and did their home studies, so I wasn’t actually working with the kids,” Sheets said.

A home study is the process people go through when interested in being foster or adoptive parents.

“It’s lots of paperwork,” Sheets said. “It’s also a series of visits individually and as a family, also home visits, where we just make sure the environment is safe.”

After five years of working for Marion County, Sheets worked as a social worker for a private residential facility for children with developmental disabilities in Camby, Ind.

“That’s where I met my husband,” she said. “He worked with the kids who had severe mental retardation, and when he would get them off to school in the morning, he would come by the office, get a cup of coffee, sit in my office and tell me to give up my boyfriend and start dating him.”

Sheets said he kept that up from December to February.

“I finally [started dating him],” she said.

Sheets and her husband, Jeffrey, have now been married for 20 years.

While she was working for the residential facility, Sheets received a master’s degree in social work from Indiana University’s School of Social Work.

Working at that facility then took a turn, she said.

“I had put up a newspaper [story] that Focus on the Family had placed in the Indianapolis paper, and it was a really good article. I put it up on my door, and the next day when I came in, it was not on my door,” Sheets said.

Her supervisor came to talk to her about the article.

“He said, ‘These may be your beliefs, but it is not the belief of this agency, and so you need to either reconsider your beliefs or consider other employment,’” Sheets said. “So, I prayed hard and heavy and said, ‘God, open doors, because I don’t think this is where I’m needed right now.’”

Doors did, in fact, open.

“I got a job as a case manager working under the Medicaid Waiver program, working with people with developmental disabilities,” she said. “Some of the people were people who had been institutionalized in the state hospital, and a lot of them had mental retardation and some type of psychiatric illness.”

Sheets said the people she worked with were dually diagnosed, and the goal of the facility was to get the people out into the community to live in apartments or houses.

“They would have people come live there with them — sometimes it was in three shifts — but they would come in and help them acclimate back into the community,” Sheets said.

After two years of working as a case manager, Sheets went to work at the Adult and Child Mental Health Center in Franklin, Ind.

She worked with children and families in therapeutic foster care. She was there for four years, then got a job as adoption coordinator for the Independent Adoption Center in Indianapolis.

“I provided training to people who were wanting to adopt children,” she said. “These were all newborn adoptions, and they were open adoptions. So we worked with the families and helped them create their birth-parent letters.”

The agency had birth-parent letters on file showing what adoptive parents were open to, such as adopting a child whose birth mother might have used marijuana during her pregnancy. Sheets said open adoptions allow the birth parents to choose the family that will adopt their child.

“It’s more of a win-win situation for everybody. Some of the birth mothers, once they placed their babies, we never heard from them again, and the adoptive parents never heard from them again because they felt good about their decision,” Sheets said.

That’s not the case for all birth parents. Some of them need that first year of contact for closure, she said.

“That might even mean coming to their birth child’s first birthday party. It really depended on the relationship that the adoptive family had with the birth family,” she said.

While Sheets was working at the adoption agency, her husband, who had his own remodeling business, became ill.

“He was in the hospital with pneumonia and was diagnosed with asthma,” she said. “The doctor told him, ‘You need to stay away from the drywall, and you need to think about [doing] something else.’”

Sheets’ husband had been thinking about becoming a preacher for some time, and the couple thought it might be the time for him to do that. While her husband was searching for a place to go to school, he thought of Harding University during the night.

“It was funny because Harding wasn’t even on his list,” Sheets said. “The next day he made a phone call to someone at Harding to talk with them, and the person he talked to was the only one who actually had a prayer with him on the phone. Nobody else did.”

She looked at job possibilities in Searcy before the couple moved and came across Searcy Children’s Homes Inc.

“I spoke to the director, and I told them I would be interested in doing something part time,” Sheets said. “They said, ‘We don’t have anything open right [now], but once you get here and get settled, let us know.’”

Sheets said she hung up the phone and said to her husband, “Wouldn’t it be wild if we moved to Searcy, and when you finished school, I got the job as the director of Searcy Children’s Homes?”

“He told me, ‘Let’s be realistic.’”

Sheets and her family moved to Searcy, and she was a stay-at-home mom for two years while her husband went to school, and when he completed school, the executive director position at Searcy Children’s Homes Inc. was open.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness; I’m going to apply,’ and the rest is history,” Sheets said.

She’s been the executive director of the Children’s Home in Searcy for 10 years. Searcy Children’s Homes Inc. is a private, nonprofit child-placement agency licensed by the state of Arkansas. Sheets is in charge of supervising and hiring staff for the Searcy facility, along with developing social services at the home.

The children who come into care often “don’t look like little children are supposed to look — they are expressionless and have been tremendously neglected,” Sheets said. “I love watching them go from that situation into a blossoming [child].

“I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at

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