James McClay, Child Protective Services Supervisor
"This is important work and for some of them, you are the only positive in these kids' lives."
James McClay — a state employee originally from Ireland — knows that even though he works with kids who are experiencing the worst traumas of their lives, Child Protective Services may be the only positive in these kids' lives.
Back across the pond, McClay was at a job he loved, and one that didn't feel like work. For kids living in group homes without family members to visit, the organization took them to summer camp for several days. While many were on the verge of crisis, McClay's job allowed the kids to stay in lakeside cottages, enjoying boating and the great outdoors of Northern Ireland.
"If you were to parachute blindfolded into Fermanagh, you wouldn't be faulted for thinking you were still in Maine. You know, pine trees everywhere, hills, and lakes."
One night, McClay's phone rang. It was his mom. She had seen a newspaper ad to consider living in Maine, doing similar work. He called the number and discovered the person on the other end was also from Ireland and living in the United States. After a lengthy conversation, McClay agreed to an interview and was feeling excited about this opportunity.
The night before the interview, doubt struck. He felt it would be a lot to give up everything to spend 18 months in America on a J1 visa. After drafting an email to say, "thanks for the opportunity", McClay changed his mind. He never sent the email.
McClay walked into the interview still feeling ambivalent about the idea of moving nearly 3,000 miles away. 90 minutes later, he was applying for a visa, giving his notice at work, and was stateside within a month.
Fast forward five years and McClay felt like his career trajectory was flatlining. He started exploring opportunities with the State of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services.
"I got that sense of pride in my work life again when I came to the Department. I didn’t feel like I was on a dead-end street anymore, you know, I felt like there's opportunity. I started to enjoy work again."
This was four and a half years ago. Since 2017, McClay has been responding to reports of child abuse, conducting investigations, and working with law enforcement and the courts. Recently, he was promoted to an Investigations Supervisor. In this role, he will be less involved with the field work he loves and more involved with another lifelong passion: mentoring people.
In his mind, a supervisor should always be supporting their employees' growth and professional development. Eventually, they'll fall victim to their own success. This is exactly what happened with McClay's mentor at Child Protective Services.
"She was so supportive of me, recognizing my strengths and helping me develop my strengths and work on challenges, and to take the chance to apply for a promotion."
McClay recognizes that his team does such important work, and that it's work that not everybody can do. It is work he takes great pride in — James and his team serve their communities and the people of Maine. And it’s not just his role within DHHS that has this kind of impact — James feels all state employees should have pride in themselves.
“And I think people [state employees] should take a lot of pride in that as well, no matter what your role within the state is. I mean you're literally giving back, you're spending your days working for the people of Maine... a lot of people that get the least amount of recognition are the backbone of everything we do.”
Want to share your story in a future edition of Meet: Our Employees? Email your idea to Meghan Jellison, Bureau of Human Resources.