Dear All Readers,
Due to the spirited debate going on in the comment section of recent blog posts, I'm putting out this PSA.
Let me make my stance on this clear. I am WELL aware of the faults of the Child Welfare System. They are plentiful and egregious - the fact that children are harmed at the hands of people in a system that is supposed to help them makes me sick. The fact that social workers let their own anger or prejudice override their education and training, is inexcusable. That even one foster parent has hurt or allowed a child to be hurt in their care, is outrageous.
I left the system two years ago because I didn't think I could deal with the red tape, jaded staff, and children who fell through the cracks.
But I came back.
It certainly wasn't for the money. Despite the repeated claims that social workers earn extra money for "adopting out" children, let me set the record straight once again. My salary for the first year I worked as a caseworker, the year I completed my Master's degree, was $29,980. I have recieved two bonuses in my 7 years of social work. My first year as an intern I got a $50 gift card to Target. My first year as a caseworker, I got $225 - the exact same amount as every other caseworker in my agency because they doled out bonuses based on your title. I had not had any children move towards adoption - I did have two children return home that year. The next two years I didn't get a bonus at all because our agency's budget was too tight. Instead, we got to have a pot luck dinner at a co worker's home and exchanged Secret Santa presents. In my four years as a caseworker, I never got to see a child adopted. But I returned 5 children home to their biological families. My ending salary, just a month after I recieved a pay raise for becoming licensed, was $33, 140.
I certainly didn't return to Child Welfare because it got easier - this year, the state I live in sent everyone into a tailspin when it cancelled ALL services for children in foster care and threatened to cut foster parents' board payments. We were quite scared about children being disrupted when foster parents recieved letters stating that they were losing all their services and that payment cuts were imminient. The state budget still isn't passed and layoffs are still hanging over every staff member's head.
And I didn't come back because I "believe in the system" either. Just yesterday, I sat in on a clinical staffing with a young mother who has 4 children in the system. The worker and supervisor explained the case history with disgust. This mother called the Hotline on herself because she had lost control and hit her child with a belt the night before. She realized that she was at her wits end - and this wasn't the kind of parent she wanted to be. She called and requested parenting classes - outrageously, all of her children were removed. She has fought for the last 4 years to have them returned to her care. She has been treated horribly by the system and almost lost the rights to 2 of her children. But the agency holding the case closed and her family was transferred to my agency. In the past year, the goal was changed back to Return Home and she is having unsupervised visits with her children. The meeting yesterday was to discuss moving towards overnight visits in her home. Every single person there had nothing but positive things to say about this mom and we are all hoping that her children will be home by Christmas. It is horrible that this family has been ripped apart for nearly 5 years!
So, why did I go back?
Because I would rather be trying to change the system from the inside... than complaining about it from the outside.
Do you smile understandingly at the mother struggling with her screaming two year old at Wal-Mart?
Or are you judging her with your eyes as you check out?
Are you helping out the single mother down the street?
Or are you complaining about her grass not being mowed?
Are you offering to watch your neighbor's kids while she gets some grocery shopping done?
Or are you muttering under your breath about them needing to get their priorities straight?
Are you making efforts to be a mentor to a child?
Or walking the long way around to avoid the pack of teenagers hanging out at the mall?
Are you volunteering in a family preservation program, substance abuse program, domestic violence or homeless shelter?
Or are you telling yourself that it could never happen to you?
Are you a foster parent who can provide a safe home for a child and help them return home? A social worker who works 14 hour days to try to meet everyone's needs and insane state mandates? A CASA worker who looks out for the best interests of children in court?
Or are you stereotyping everyone by the actions of a few?
Are you actually doing something?
Or are you just sitting around and pointing out the failures of those who have at least had the nerve to try?
I have lain awake at night worrying about the major decisions I made in the lives of children and their parents. I have agonized over chosing a home for a child - only to pick them up when they ended up being kicked out a year or sometimes even a week later. I have been sick about the children that I was supposed to protect - but couldn't. I have raged with other social workers when our hands have been tied or our suggestions unheaded. I have consoled foster parents when they had to say goodbye to children in their care. I have comforted biological parents as their rights were terminated. I have cried for children that had neither foster nor biological parents who were invested in their lives.
Not just stories in the news or that I read in a blog.
Real children whose hands I have held and pain I have witnessed.
Real parents - biological, foster, and adoptive - who care about those children.
Real Social Workers - who are trying to make the best of the huge responsibility in a broken system.
So please, consider this my blog's PSA:
I know the system is flawed.
I know that some of its players are flawed.
I know that I am flawed.
But I'm still willing to put myself out there and try to make it better.