New police social worker aims to help those in need, one interaction at a time

Ashley Dawson at Edmonds’ Cafe Louvre as she ducked in from the rain between her appointments. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

She may not be new to the community, but Ashley Dawson is about to become lots more visible in Edmonds and Lynnwood in her new role as an embedded social worker with those communities’ police departments.

Dawson started the job two weeks ago after working for the past seven years as a lead social worker for the Edmonds School District.

Her new position, created in late 2017, was initially designed to extend the reach of the Lynnwood PD’s Community Health and Safety section by providing an important bridge between traditional law enforcement services and the need to involve other disciplines in addressing the uptick of complex societal problems such as mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness in our communities.

Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis puts it this way: “To best address the underlying issues that are afflicting our homeless, mentally ill and substance affected individuals requires a multi-disciplinary approach. It is my belief that a highly skilled professional, who is capable of meeting and assessing people where they are, will be an excellent addition to our departments’ outreach efforts.”

Concurrently, the Edmonds Police Department, at the initiative of the Edmonds City Council, offered to assist with funding this position as part of a collaborative effort between the two departments to provide these services across both communities. The two jurisdictions began the search and hiring process in late 2017.

Ashley Dawson in her formal Edmonds Police Department photo.

“We are extremely excited about this new partnership. It will enhance our ability to better serve the needs of those individuals within our community who are struggling, connecting them with much needed services,” said Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan.  “The partnership will also be very beneficial to our first responders, helping to better coordinate available referral resources. Ashley Dawson is a fantastic addition for both departments, bringing with her years of experience, and an enthusiastic approach, helping us all to make a difference.”

Dawson has definitely hit the ground running. My Edmonds News caught up with her as she was rushing between appointments. A dynamo of energy, she fairly brims with excitement and enthusiasm.

“I was so excited when I first saw the job announcement,” said Dawson, who holds a Masters of Social Work from Eastern Washington University. “I really loved my job as a lead social worker with the Edmonds School District, but the opportunity to work with more diverse populations and tackle a whole new range of social issues was too tempting to ignore. I’m definitely not done chasing the adventure of social work!”

Growing up in Kalispell, Montana, with her parents and two younger brothers, Dawson recalls in particular summer vacations at the family cabin. “The cabin was on Ashley Lake,” she laughed, “and my parents actually named me for the lake!”

Her approach to her profession reflects her deep-seated love of people and her passion to make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.

“It’s all about relationships, learning peoples’ stories, and what got them here,” she said. “Once I know that, I can start identifying a client’s particular barriers and challenges, and ultimately connect them to resources targeted to their individual needs. Not everyone is ready immediately, but by making sure I’m available and maintaining contact, I’ll be there when they are. For me, the catchwords are consistency and persistence, and working with people one-on-one as they make their journey.

“I go out with the officers on calls and receive referrals from local providers. I can also visit the jails and talk with people there, really meeting them where they are as they try to get back on track. I work with key contacts at the various social service agencies. I meet people, talk with them, learn about them,” she added. “If they’re ready, I try to make connections to services and navigate the system with them. If they’re not, I can listen and understand what’s going on, let them know we are here to help when it’s time. There’s no such thing as typical day in this job. As we understand the true issues in our community we will be better able to know what the next steps will be.”

As a local resident for the past two years, Dawson feels right at home with the pace, ambiance and values of the community. “I love to eat,” she confesses, “and the great quality of the local restaurants in Edmonds is big draw for me. I enjoy being near the water, and am lucky with the proximity to great skiing, camping and hiking.”

But in the end, it all comes back to her passion for social work and making a difference in peoples’ lives. “It’s literally walking alongside people,” she says. “I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love in a special place like this.”

— By Larry Vogel

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