Shelly entered the field of social work in 1979, when she started her college internship at the Department of Social and Health Services, Child Protective Services, in Tacoma. Over the years she has worked as a social worker in several capacities, including CPS intake and investigations, family reconciliation services, and carrying a caseload of more than 40 dependent children, primarily adolescents.
After moving to Moscow, Idaho, in 1985, she spent five years working in rural Whitman County, Washington, as one of two social workers for that community. It was at this point she added adoptions and licensing to her resume. When she returned to Western Washington, she spent several years as a child care licensor, where she was responsible for both the licensing and monitoring of child care providers. In addition, she was the regional trainer for new day care applicants. In 1996, she transitioned to training the foster parent and relative caregiver population, something she continues to do today, as the state-wide coordinator of contracted trainings.