Is my Daddy here, yet? {innocent words caught up in corrupt world}

I was heading back into the office after lunch and ran into a foster mom dropping a little girl off for a visit with her biological father.  The girl, with big eyes, curly hair, and absolutely adorable, caught my attention.

“Is my Daddy here, yet?”

This little girl, not more than five-years-old, asked repeatedly if her daddy had arrived.  She then said,

“Is my Daddy here, yet?  I need to find him.”

After hearing that, my heart and thoughts immediately began to ring out: “This is not the way it is supposed to be.”

I have thought about this precious little baby all day.  Still thinking about her.  I’m not even sure if her daddy showed up for his visit, and honestly, I don’t want to know.  I don’t want to find out if he, for whatever reason, could not come.  I’d rather think that he did show, and that he played and loved on her with the time he was allowed to.

I’ve heard that child welfare workers like myself build a “wall” to what we witness.  I don’t know if it is a wall, or not.  I do know that whatever it is that we build…resilience, wall…whatever you want to call it…does not keep us from feeling the heart-break of the work at hand.

This isn’t how it is supposed to be.  Babies should not be asking where their fathers are.  It is upsetting to be a first-hand witness to it.  It is far easier to think in terms of case numbers, but when I am face-to-face with the actual face of a child going through it, I feel anger.  It makes me sad.  Quite frankly, it pisses me off.

No wall, or defense, or resilience, could ever prepare or secure our hearts from being a little punctured when we witness what we witness, and when we are faced with what our eyes and ears experience.

After thinking about this little girl looking for her daddy, I started to think about my relationship with my Earthly Dad, and my Heavenly Father.  My Earthly Dad has supported me, and as I have grown through the years, I have become mightily aware of just how important this is.

When it comes to my Heavenly Father, I have often wondered, “Where are You?  I need to find You.”  And now that I’m fully immersed in child welfare, I still find myself thinking this when I consider all of the horribly wrong situations that so many children and families find themselves in.

The truth that I feel in my heart is that the Lord is present in each of these moments, but I still wonder why He doesn’t intervene when we wish He would.  I question why He would allow for children to go through what they go through, why there are orphans in this world, and why adults find their only refuge in drugs and despair.

As a Christian, as a mother, and as a child welfare professional, I am always in a place of growing, stretching, and yearning for what the Lord is trying to teach me through the burdens of the day.  I seem to be always “waiting on Him”, but then I am brought back to the Cross.  I am fully reminded that He is already all I need.

The fact that my job demand is based on the abuse and neglect of children weighs heavy on my heart.  I suspect other child welfare workers feel this way, as well.

“Is my Daddy here yet?  I need to find him.”

These innocent, yet heartbreaking words from a precious little one caught up in the turmoil of this spinning world, stuck to me.  How could they not?

“Where are You, Daddy?  We need to find You.”

Perhaps, this is what we should all be speaking.  

for my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families

I watched out the window as one foster family loaded three little ones into their car, spent time talking to the other foster family, and eventually drove off.  I thought to myself, “I bet those children have no idea that the family who has tucked them in bed the last few months of their lives will no longer be tucking them in.”

I do not blame the foster family – life happens, situations lean themselves to not being a good match, often trauma is so intense that it does not create a safe situation, and after all, we are all just human.  Sometimes, foster families have to let go of children they are attached to.

I watched the foster-mother wipe away tears from behind her sunglasses, and made a mental note to check on her after the weekend.  I listened to the case worker cry in the lonely confines of the bathroom, and then checked on her after she planted herself at her desk.

During all of this, my mind escaped back to when I was a new soldier in the awfully disgusting, seemingly inhumane, and never-ending war of child abuse.

My first “case” was a six-year-old girl with brown eyes, blonde hair, tomboyish temperament, and an infinity to act older than her age.

I received her file, which happened to be a very thick binder, on my desk the very first week I started my job.  “Here’s your first case.  She’s disrupting from her adoptive home”, my supervisor said.  “You need to find her another foster home that might be interested in adopting.”

In situations like this, case workers are left to scramble and search for a new family to be found.  I remember calling county offices asking…essentially pleading for a new foster family for the little girl to whom I had not even met.

Shortly after my frantic calls, I drove to her foster home..the one that promised forever…introduced myself to her…stacked her belongings in my truck…buckled her in…and drove her to the next foster family.

I literally remember every moment of this experience.  I can see the pictures on the walls of the family who gave her up, and I remember the awkwardly silent ride to her next home.

I also remember reading her file, and the many others that crossed my desk through the years.

I recall the initial trauma I felt when learning about the extent of abuse that had occurred in the lives of the children who had just started their own walk in the world.

I got angry.  I cried.  I wondered where the heck God was while all of this was going on.  I became motivated.  I worked a little harder than I thought I would.  I became passionate about the field that chose me.  I prayed.

The little girl whom I bared the responsibility of finding a family did get adopted by her new family. Even after she became comfortable with her new family, she would run and hide when she saw my white truck pull in the driveway.

I’ve been reading about the impact of child welfare work on social worker’s lives. Poor sleep, stressed relationships, depression, nutritional issues, weight gain, nightmares, and secondary trauma all seem to creep up in the lives of workers in the front lines of child welfare.  And, let’s be honest…social workers do not make a lot of money…at all.

Having been in child welfare as a professional for thirteen years, and a former foster-mother (now mother through adoption), I find myself with the ability to tuck away the painful reality of it all into a corner that I very rarely enter anymore.

I do not know if it is possible to process all of the information of tragic life stories that I have read through the years.  Sure, there are the moments of grief and anger that are witnessed as they unfold in the lobby of the office before my very eyes.  I still cry from time to time about the very nature of what is truly going on in the underbelly of our seemingly idealistic and happy communities.

Although I am weathered by the years, it really does not get easier.  It just becomes less traumatic, more expected, and a seemingly natural part of life.

That seems awful, doesn’t it?  Why in the world would child abuse and neglect become a part of life?

To be honest, if I dwell too much on it all – the sounds of children asking why they can’t go home with mommy, babies crying from feeling stressed during visits, and mixed up, lonely children being bounced from home to home – I end up getting angry.

I get angry that God would allow any of this.  I am reminded and aware of freewill, but it does not make me less outraged, less saddened, and less frustrated.

There are many opinions about children’s protective social service workers.  If there is media attention, it is usually centered around the one case of hundreds where something went wrong.  Attention is very rarely spotlighted on the day-to-day choices that case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents have to make.

It does not capture the tender moments of social workers picking out gifts (often from their own money) for “their kids”.  It does not show the hours of work spent by workers in the field.  

Attention does not get up in the middle of the night to answer the “on-call” phone, travel to a meth lab in the middle of the night to pick up children who are confused and weary from the unknowns, or visit with adults trying their best to turn their lives around.  

It does not celebrate when permanency is achieved through adoption, or when children, whom desperately love their parents, are able to return to them. 

It does not hold a raging or sobbing child who seeks comfort from the stranger who just took her in.  It also does not lend an ear to listen to older youth as they wonder about their future.

Media attention definitely does not highlight the words of encouragement case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents speak to the families and children who find themselves caught up in the system.

I have listened as people (whom did not know that I work in child welfare) slam foster families, children service workers, and the system as a whole.  I have been shocked by their opinions of how easily this war could be fixed.  I have also found myself wondering, “What are you, opinionated one, doing about it?   When have you called a child welfare agency to offer your time and talent?  Have you taken the time to care enough to bring a child into your home, support a family who is struggling, or advocate for change?”

For my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families in this unending plague of child abuse, remember this, everything you do matters…a lot.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy