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story.lead_photo.caption Rene Brinkman

Four simple words can change a life.

In this case, the encouraging words came from Rene Brinkman, who was chosen as Missouri's State Employee of the Month for April.

The narrative nominating Brinkman, who has served in the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services for more than 13 years, tells the story of four simple words.

Years ago, a young mother, addicted to methamphetamine, had an open case with the division. While the mother's child was in protective custody, Brinkman worked diligently with her as her case manager, but ultimately, the young woman's addiction overwhelmed her, her parental rights were terminated and her child was adopted.

Five years later, Brinkman was promoted to supervisor. She learned this mother had another child who was taken into protective custody. Brinkman wrote, "I believe in you!" on a note and asked the mother's case manager to deliver it.

The worker handed the note to the mother, telling her who it was from. Years later, the mother contacted Brinkman, now a program manager in the division's Hillsboro office, to explain how much the note meant to her.

The mother revealed she had taken the note on one of the darkest days of her life and stuck it to her wall. When the adhesive wore off, she used tape to keep it up so she could look at it any time she felt discouraged. She successfully reunified with her second child. She credits those four words of encouragement for helping to get her through the hardest times until she was strong enough to believe in herself.

"This is just one of many examples of how Rene goes above and beyond to encourage and support the children and families we serve as well as the staff in the 23rd Circuit," colleague Shellie Knuckles wrote in Brinkman's nomination form. "In Rene's role as a Children's Division program manager, she has worked to strengthen our agency's relationship with the community and with our service providers."

Knuckles noted Brinkman is a member of the Faith Based Initiative, which in 2019 sponsored the 23rd Circuit's first annual Trunk or Treat event.

"Through the Faith Based Initiative, all of our youth in residential placements have been 'adopted' so they regularly receive letters or phone calls and care packages," Knuckles explained. "For our youth with no family involvement, this is sometimes their only support other than their worker and has provided support so they do not feel as if they've been forgotten. The Faith Based Initiative has also made repairs to homes so that it was safe for children to remain in their own home."

Brinkman, who lives in Festus, sits on the board of the Jefferson County Foster Children's Fund, which sponsors an annual Christmas party for foster families, an Easter egg hunt and a foster parent appreciation picnic, as well as a birthday buddies program and scholarships for children in alternative care for camps and other activities. She often speaks in the community about the needs of the division's families and children.

She is a team decision maker facilitator supervisor and also serves as a back-up facilitator. She was the first to develop a TDM Brochure for Older Youth so they would understand their voice matters and why it is important for them to participate.

"Though Jefferson County is the largest circuit in the Southeast Region, we have the lowest number of youth in residential placements," Knuckles concluded. "Rene conducts regular staffings with alternative care workers and works diligently to utilize resources that allow youth to remain in their communities in a home setting."

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