Author’s note: This is a guest post from a child welfare professional. It is necessary to seek out the perspectives of everyone involved in the foster care system, and to learn a caseworker’s view of removals.
Removals. There are many definitions of the word. Sometimes, removals can be good things; such as the removal of a brain tumor, or a pesky rodent in your crawl space, or the removal of an unwanted weed in your garden. Other removals can be tragic; such as the removal of a parent from the home due to death, or the removal of a pet from a home due to neglect, or of a teenager’s cellphone due to poor grades (tragic to the cellphone-dependent teen).
But what about the removal of children from their homes? Some may say tragic. Others may say good. I would like to share a story about the removal of children from their home, and let you decide.
I worked a case recently where our office was sent orders to remove three teenagers from an unsafe situation. Upon arriving to the home to carry out the removal of these youth, it was sudden, pure, chaos. Myself and my co-worker arrived at the home with law enforcement where all three youth were inside the home, supposedly planning their escape.
Lots of pleading and knocking on the door. Kids were in shock, screaming, crying and shaking uncontrollably. Eventually, we were able to get the kids placed. It was 2:00 am when placement was made. I got back to the office at 3:30 am. All together, the removal and placement of the kids took six hours – basically, an entire night.
The following day was a holiday, so our office was closed. I tossed and turned as I tried to sleep. I kept thinking about how traumatic the experience had been for those youth, and for myself and the other worker. During our 6 hours with them, we were called “monsters”, we “stripped them of any self-respect and dignity” they had, that we take kids for a paycheck, we didn’t care about them, we made their lives a living hell, and that we were useless workers.
Six hours of belittling and degrading. Six hours of holding back tears. Six hours of feeling so sorry for what they were experiencing, that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We were hungry, tired, and trying to make trauma-informed decisions for youth who could’ve cared less what we felt.
I laid in bed awake the next day worried sick. From adrenaline rush to total exhaustion, I wondered if they were okay. I thought about them being dropped off with strangers, going to a new school, and how they were visibly shaking walking into their foster home.
I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake for hours thinking about how I could’ve better handled the removal. If I had said enough encouraging words…if I fed them enough…what my next encounter with them would look like. If I felt all of this…. what were they feeling? This is a caseworker’s view of removals.
I drove to work the following day; into the parking lot so slow you would’ve thought it was ice covered. I hesitated to turn my car off. I sat there in the parking lot and cried. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to be a “monster” as those youth had put it. I didn’t want to participate anymore. It was very clear that I had secondary trauma from that removal. Some would give us accolades for removing those youth from a neglectful and abusing home life, but I have some questions to pose.
What could we as a society do to prevent removals from happening? What could we do to provide proactive services to at-risk families? What could we do to provide supports to youth in crisis? What could we as a society do to assist workers who do have to work with childhood trauma, thus often incurring secondary trauma?
What extensive damage may we unintentionally cause that could possibly be worse than remaining in the natural home with supports? Did we really provide all preventative efforts?
Please pray for these youth, and any other youth who are at-risk. Please pray for workers who have to work with these families on the daily basis who see and hear more than one could typically stomach. Please pray that doctor, juvenile officers and law enforcement officers can see the whole picture and the lasting impact that may come from signing those papers.
A caseworker’s view of removals is often heartbreaking, and I ask that you please pray for guidance on how you might help this broken system.