For this week’s Woman Wednesday, AY About You sits down with Mischa Martin.
Martin is the Director of the Division of Children and Family Services within the Department of Human Services. She says that she is, in essence, the child welfare director.
Martin, from Sherwood, has been married for 16 years to her husband Blake, and has twin boys who are nine. Martin went to UA Little Rock for her undergraduate degree before going on to obtain a juris doctorate and a master’s degree in public administration. After getting married, she wanted to stay in Central Arkansas. In her spare time, Martin loves to cycle and mountain bike. But she is passionate about the work that she does, and says that it has become who she is as a person.
The Division of Children and Family Services covers all things related to child abuse and neglect.
“We’re responsible for over 30,000 cases, serve over 14,000 children, 4,500 children of which are in foster care. Eight hundred and 1,000 adoptions a year are finalized with us,” Martin says. “My day consists of many meetings, along with public relations and politics, because it’s really important for people in the community to understand the work that we do with kids, and how we interact with political support and funding.”
Martin’s division has an ongoing partnership with Project Zero. “We’re trying to match families with kids. We’re always advocating for kids.”
Martin explains the journey through her career and education.
“I went to law school because I had a political science degree, and had been working full time in undergrad, going to school at night. I had no intention of being a lawyer, but I wanted a career – I applied for one job, and I wanted to help kids. I applied at DHS to be a lawyer representing them, and to my surprise they hired me. I’ve been here working about one year, but for 8 years I represented them as their attorney. You have to be cut out for this work, because it’s really hard to see the abuse and neglect, but it’s also rewarding to see families get better and improve, along with adoptions,” Martin shares.
After applying and being hired for the director’s position five years ago, Martin is immensely thankful to have a great team, especially in the midst of a challenging career.
“I thrive in a challenge; this is a challenge every day – every day there is something new, and there is a real life impacted by the decisions that we make.”
After a pause, Martin shares with us what it means to be a woman. “You know, I was raised by a strong mom and a strong dad who taught me that I could do whatever I wanted to do and that being a woman in no way held me back. I’ve been in this line of work with a lot of strong female mentors around me. I have been so grateful for the female leadership that I have had throughout the years– succeeding has never been an obstacle for me as a woman. A lot of people have seen me for who I am, and not for being a person. It is my personality to not let this get in my way. I will do what’s right and I will defend my position.”
Further, Martin shares the struggles that she has faced as a woman. “For me, it hasn’t necessarily been being a woman, but being a younger woman. It makes the job a little more difficult – it’s really intimidating. You need the self-confidence to know that you’re here for a reason, you’re doing the right thing. I really have to talk myself into speaking on some topics – I have to empower myself to advocate for doing what’s right,” she says.
Martin shares a word of advice to women and girls who might read this article.
“I talk about this with young girls every time I get the opportunity– the importance of education. I was dedicated to my education and forwarding my career. My education has been invaluable to me. So many people underestimate the importance of a great education. No one will ever take away my education. I encourage women and girls of all ages to go out and seek education. It really is the gateway to further learning, change, and empowerment. Do something you love. I love coming to work everyday. Every day I do something that I am passionate about, and I can’t imagine just working for a paycheck. I work because I want to make a difference.”