I have 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 that perhaps due to the fact I’ve had plenty of time to grow 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 the last I heard, is missing, which frightens me greatly. I shudder when I imagine how she feels.
The parents of a teenage boy with whom I worked, I discovered a few years ago, were busted and arrested for the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine. I live in a small town, where news travels 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 sexually assaulting his daughter during a stop on the way to drop her off at school.
The foster child was a teenager at the time and would now be in her twenties. 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. I even counseled two of my kids during my stint as a therapist about two years ago.
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 been 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 broken ribs of an unexplained cause. 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 child 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 reflect on and practically smack myself on the forehead for not acting then as I would now, 10+ 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.