April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart, a cause which I've supported in my profession off and on. So I wanted to write a piece on my blog from a social worker's perspective. While I make an effort to keep my blog very family friendly, this story may be disturbing to some, so reader discretion is advised.
I will never forget the first time I had to remove a child from her parents. I'd received the Priority One case just an hour earlier, groaning to myself when I saw it was a dreaded "dead baby" case. I wouldn't be investigating the 9 week old deceased baby (killed by his father due to negligence and drugs) - that would be up to the police. I was there to check on the other child - a two year old that I'll call H.
It didn't take long in assessing the hostile situation to place the call to my supervisor requesting to remove the child from the home. Thankfully, the cops were already there to intervene when the irate grandfather, who'd hoped to gain custody himself but who had lied to me about his own drug history, lunged for me. The child sobbed, scared, as I carried her rapidly to the car, the screams of her hungover mother in the background.
The drive back to the office was bumper-to-bumper traffic, so typical for Houston. Steamy sun blared in through the windows, and the child in the backseat was silent. When we arrived at my office she held my hand softly in the elevator to the sixth floor, and didn't say a word. I tried to reassure her, to talk to her, but she remained quiet, wide blue eyes staring bravely at the wall.
I set her up with a small pink dollhouse I kept in my office. She just sat there, a tiny awkward lump of child limbs. She was a child that was shut down - that seemed to need nothing from the world or from adults. I sat on the floor by her side, ignoring the mounds of paperwork on my desk, and attempted to show her how to play. Finally, she seemed to realize it was alright, and she began to move the tiny figurines through the rooms of the pink house. As I watched her, I had no idea that just days later a foster mother would take her to the pediatrician for a physical exam, only to discover H. had been violated in ways that no child should experience. As I watched the subdued child, blond curly hair tumbling in her eyes, in occured to me that she was so beautiful she should have been in a Huggies commercial, not sitting on the floor of Houston CPS.
Just one day she spent with me, playing on the floor of my office. That evening I'd drive her to a foster home and say my goodbye, as the case would then be transferred from investigations to substitute care. Even though it was just a few short hours I was acquainted with H., not a week goes by that I don't remember her, and wonder what happened. She'd be a teenager today. Did she stay in foster care, maybe even find a nice family to adopt her? Or did the legal system fail her in some way? Is she struggling today, going down that common path of victims, abusing drugs or exploiting herself? She wouldn't have any memory of me today, but here I am thinking of her and so hoping that she has found happiness.
I know that the public can become jaded by negative experiences with burned out social workers. They do exist. But most of them? Well, most social workers care immensely about the children they work with, and believe that they can make a difference. If you suspect a child is being abused, please call your local CPS. You can report anonymously, and your call may be a turning point for a child.