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Social Work Services News

Child Welfare Workforce: A Different Kind of First Responder


 

“I see social workers grapple with the frustration and heartache alongside the family when reunification cannot be safely achieved. I see social workers shed silent tears, even years later, for the ones they couldn’t protect in time.”

-Buncombe County Child Protective Services Worker  

 

There are so many stories I could share about being a part of child welfare and social work for over 20 years. Instead of highlighting my own stories of witnessing transformational change in the lives our families and children, I would like to share that my fellow co-workers are my inspiration. 

 

As we continue to learn more about trauma and resilience, we are able to use that knowledge to be educated and mindful when working with families that need it. We have learned so much about this aspect of child welfare practice that it has prompted some reflection on the importance of our own exposure to secondary trauma and self-care practices as a social worker. Many social workers sacrifice true rest during their social work career, especially after 5pm and sometimes on the weekends and holidays, to ensure that someone else’s child is fed, calm, and safe from harm. The public probably doesn’t recognize the emotionally taxing experiences, the worry that continues even when we are off the clock or at home with our own families, or the high expectations we have for excellence within our documentation and social work practice. Between the relationships that we build with families and children and the stringent requirements and mandates as social workers, it can be an emotional rollercoaster and stressful at times so we have to take care to guard against our own fatigue and hopelessness as we are trying to build safety and stability for children. We are working on our own resiliency and balance so that we can continue be present for our families.   

 

Even in light of the nature of the work, here is what I know: social workers are empathetic and compassionate people at their core. Frequently, I see social workers who take extra time to dig deeper to find the true reasons for behaviors, and not just what the surface of the story seems to be.  I see social workers being so mindful, articulate, and delicate when talking to parents about how they parent their children so that they are better able to connect and get their message across without making the parents defensive. I see social workers make five referrals to community agencies instead of two, and will actually help fill out the forms and then drive the family to their appointment so they be connected with the support needed to ensure sustainable stability and avoid cps involvement in the future. I see social workers grapple with the frustration and heartache alongside the family when reunification cannot be safely achieved. I see social workers shed silent tears, even years later, for the ones they couldn’t protect in time.  

 

Collectively, our social workers are many hearts making a difference; a force that pushes through the heartbreaking details, the occasional resistance to change, and overwhelming demands of this field. I am truly inspired to continue this work because I’m surrounded by so many selfless people who actively choose, every single day, to sacrifice some of their own state of balance and peace of mind, to help this community grow stronger and safer.



“Now, whenever I need encouragement, I just look up to her high school graduation invitation that I’ve posted above my desk that has her smiling face on it. Next to it is a note that she wrote to me during her most recent trip home from college. She had come by to see me, but I was not in the office. “I love you so much. I miss you. We will do something when I get back.”

-Buncombe County Child Protective Services Worker

 

One of my most cherished moments as a social worker was the night I was invited to watch one of my foster children graduate from high school.

 

This, now young adult, had been my client for years. She was graduating from high school and had the look of accomplishment and pride as she crossed the stage and reached for her diploma.  She was already enrolled in college and was looking to the future. She had a high GPA and was a cheerleader.  She had already accomplished so much and the fact that she was a foster care kid didn’t deter her in the least.

 

She was lucky to be raised in a foster home with her sister and with people, though not biological, she recognized as family. She was never told that she couldn’t accomplish her goals and nothing held her back!

 

Now, whenever I need encouragement, I just look up to her high school graduation invitation that I’ve posted above my desk that has her smiling face on it. Next to it is a note that she wrote to me during her most recent trip home from college. She had come by to see me, but I was not in the office. “I love you so much. I miss you. We will do something when I get back.”

 

While not my own child, I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is truly a fantastic person. Knowing that I played a very small role in her success keeps me motivated every day. Knowing that she loves me for my efforts is my most important moment.

 


 

“This social worker’s selflessness and actions illustrate the ultimate mission and role of our job: ensure child safety. She was key in preventing what could have been a terrible tragedy in our community and while I am always proud to work on a team with her, the pride was shining brightly this day due to her actions.”

--Buncombe County Child Protective Services Worker

 

A pre-custody CFT (Child-Family Team Meeting) was being held with a mother and child here at the office. There were concerns about this mother’s mental health and the safety risk it posed to the child—so much so that in a meeting earlier in the day, there were concerns that this mother might kill herself and/or her child since she knew that BCHHS was looking to take custody.

 

Meanwhile, a separate social worker who was not involved in this case, had called me at the end of a long day to tell me that she was back at the office to grab her stuff and was then heading home. Later that evening, this same social worker called and told me that after she got off the phone with me and was heading out of the building, she saw a woman run out of the building, screaming, with a child in her arms- running towards the street. The woman ran in front of oncoming traffic with her child and was stopping cars to try to get in. This social worker immediately ran after her and was the first to arrive. The mother was very erratic and acting dangerously. By the time, law enforcement and other staff arrived on the scene, the social worker had calmed the mother down enough to get her to come back into the building where she was able to speak with the mother, separate from the child, which likely saved the child from bodily harm or even death.

 

The mother did not want to engage with anyone other than this social worker, who stayed at the office to engage with the mother so that she, and the rest of team, felt safe. The child was able to be placed in a safe environment, so that the mother could be assessed so that she could get the help she needed. The mother later made a statement to staff that led them to believe that the mother would likely have killed the child and herself if she would have gotten home. I strongly believe that this social worker saved the child’s life that day and that if she didn’t jump in when she did (even not knowing anything about what was going on), the mother could have gotten into a stranger’s car with the child, and killed the child and herself.

 

It wasn’t just that this social worker was at the right place at the right time—she took action when she saw that a child’s life was in danger. She had already worked a really long day and was exhausted when she saw all of this happening right in front of her and instead of looking to see who was handling it, she jumped right in. This social worker is one of the most empathetic and caring people in this agency, and I believe that this, along with her strong social work skills, saved a child’s life that day. She was able to engage with the parent in a way that shifted the situation towards safety and was able to keep the child here at the office and out of danger. This social worker’s selflessness and actions illustrate the ultimate mission and role of our job: ensure child safety. She was key in preventing what could have been a terrible tragedy in our community and while I am always proud to work on a team with her, the pride was shining brightly this day due to her actions.