I’ve been relaxing on the couch, watching Dr. Phil tonight. The subject matter of the particular episode I watched concerned a two-year-old child who is living out of a truck with his father.
The story caused me to reflect on my experiences as a still green social worker. My first real job right out of undergrad was working case management for the foster care division of my state’s Department of Children’s Services.
Fresh out of college, a newly minted social worker, I began working for the State and thus began what I now understand to be a chain of learning experiences.
Why I’m only realizing this now is beyond me. I figure perhaps due to the fact I’ve had plenty of time to grow up since that time that seems like lives ago, I’ve begun to simply realize just what I was dealing with.
I think a lot about where ‘my kids’ – the foster children who depended on me as their caseworker – are now. I do know that one particular girl, with whom I bonded and really wished I could adopt myself, has permanently lost custody of her baby and is missing, which frightens me hugely. I shudder when I imagine how she feels.
The parents of a teenage boy with whom I worked, I found out a few years ago, were busted for the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine. I live in a small town, making news travel fast, especially when it’s all laid out in the local paper.
Another child I represented was very troubled and very much in need of positive attention and unconditional love. Her mother dumped her in my state, not the girl’s home, with her ex-husband, who ended up committing suicide in jail after being caught molesting his daughter during a stop on the way to drop her off at school.
The girl was a teenager at the time and would be around 20 or so now. I long to know where she is and how she is doing, as I do all of my kids.
I did encounter a few of my kids through my work in agencies offering services such as shelter from domestic abuse and treatment for child victims of sexual abuse.
When I learned of the molestation of a then six-year-old girl while working at the child advocacy center (CAC), I was devastated, but deep down I wasn’t surprised. The girl had returned to the custody of her mother after a dramatic case with DCS.
The girl had entered foster care as a six-month-old, when it was discovered that she had unexplained broken ribs. Neither parent ever admitted fault. It wildly turned out that the child’s father wasn’t her father at all – it was found through a DNA test that the girl had been conceived during the mother’s illicit encounter with another man.
Looking back, there are things I would have done differently had I known then what I know now. For instance, I encountered many situations during my work in the foster care field that I now think of and practically smack myself on the forehead for not acting as I would now, ten years later.
I know I can’t change the past and that there is no sense in feeling that I failed the children with whom I worked, regardless of how their lives turned out. I like to think that I’m at the very least a bright, flickering light, nestled in the memories of the children whom I had the privilege of knowing.