By David A. F. Sweet For the first time, the Lake Forest Police Department hired a full-time social worker in 2022 to provide counseling for clients, to conduct critical incident stress debriefings and to offer other important services to the community. Lauren Perez was tapped for the new role. She became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in 2017 after obtaining her master’s degree from the University of Illinois Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work and her bachelor’s degree from DePaul University. Lake Forest Love caught up with the busy social worker recently. How did you get interested in social work?
I started out with a bachelor’s degree focused in law and society. Upon completion of my studies, it became apparent that if I wanted to help people, working in the mental health field was a better use of my time and would afford me actual opportunities for growth and change -- not only on an individual level, but on a macro level as well.
"Knowing that I have the capacity to change a person’s outlook and shift them from hopelessness brings me joy and fulfillment," says Lauren Perez.
What would you say is the main focus of your job?
Community support and case management services, as well as offering myself as a resource and a support to those who engage with Lake Forest. What’s a typical day like?
Every day I come in and review all the calls from the previous day. Anything that the Police Department interacts with that has a social or emotional component, I reach out to those individuals to provide aftercare and additional resources as needed. I also get referrals from the officers who may observe something concerning and believe that I could provide additional support to that family or individual. My radio is always on so as the calls come in, I have the privilege to either respond alongside the officer or wait until the scene is secure to follow up shortly thereafter.
What’s an example of how you’ve worked with a local business or organization?
I had a staple of our community reach out with questions on how to manage a patron who is clearly experiencing a mental health crisis. The staff want to remain empathic and supportive while also maintaining their own safety and operating within their scope. The conversation quickly launched into a Q&A with the entire staff on safe and reasonable responses to a person who is externalizing their behaviors (responding to someone who isn’t there, erratic physical gestures) or possibly scaring other patrons. The officers and I are here to manage those situations so that business owners and others within Lake Forest don’t have to do it alone.
What should Lake Forest residents know about the work you do and how you can support them?
As the mental health crisis continues, socially we are interacting with more and more people who struggle to manage severe and chronic mental illness in public and community spaces. I think everyone can benefit from learning how to interact and communicate with someone who is struggling. If a Lake Forest business would like for me to come speak to their staff or answer questions they may have about mental illness, I’m happy to do so. I’m here to answer questions from all residents of Lake Forest as well, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
What brings you joy in this job?
The people who I work with, the residents and the other employees of the city. I enjoy the fast-paced nature of mental health and crisis intervention. What I love is that no day is the same. We have days where few calls come in and we have days where the fire department and police department are responding to calls nonstop. Knowing that we as an organization are coming at those emergency call ls with varying levels of support, is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. Knowing that I have the capacity to change a person’s outlook and shift them from hopelessness brings me joy and fulfillment.
In what ways has this job been different than what you expected? My engagement with the police officers has exceeded my expectations. I chose this police department because of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and the reputation the officers made for themselves in working with individuals experiencing crisis. I work with detectives and officers who conduct themselves in a calm, empathetic and patient manner, and it makes my job that much easier.