Okay relax I have never snatched up a child that is no child that it was not my responsibility to snatch up.
I am starting this blog in part to memorialize thoughts and concerns I had when I worked in Child Welfare. Also I want my thoughts and words to help bright eyed youngsters fresh out of college who feel that Child Welfare is the chosen career for them, and also for slightly graying social worker professionals who may be contemplating a switch from their current hum drum job to the exciting fast paced career as a Child Welfare Worker. To the later I can simply say don’t do it. Child Protective Services is for the young. Unless you are the type that loves working over 60 hours a week, and never taking a vacation cause your case load is not current.
A little about me and my journey to and beyond being a baby snatcher. Okay I know that term baby snatcher is a tad creepy. It is just a common derogatory term for Child Welfare Investigators. If you go to work for your State’s Child Welfare Program as an investigator you will be called that term so get use to it. And sometimes you are that, you know, you go to a maternity ward, go up to a new mama whose tears well up when you introduce yourself to her and tell her, sorry mama, I am going to take your baby cause you are a drug using skank. No don’t say that to the parent but there will be times you do take a new born baby to protective services. If taking a baby away from a new mama sound unappealing, it is.
I actually never grew up or really at any stage really wanted to work Child Welfare. As an older male I was going through one of my frequent manopause segments. You know where you become consumed with a goal or an acquisition and that you get consumed with that goal. I had worked as a social worker for years mostly in various capacities working with developmentally disabled adult and children. I even had 2 years in Adult Protection Services and yes was a granny snatcher at times. I simply was being consumed with my dream, my goal. I had been in a few graduate programs and had advanced toward my master’s degree only having to stop. I now was mid way through my latest attempt, getting my Masters in Social Work. My ideal was to become a therapist.
So why the lure to Child Welfare? Two fold reason, one I was nearing the point I would have to enroll in my last practicum in my MSW program. The concentration year practicum requires a 25 to 40 hour a week commitment to your practicum site. I was working as a case manager in Developmentally Disabilities Service Division. That is a 40 hour a week job. The problem becomes how to work and complete a practicum. It is really impossible especially in the realization that your job and your practicum are both 8-5 gigs. Do the math, even if you could work weekends with one of those gigs still you are not going to be able to do it. But there is a rub in the State of Oklahoma. Child Welfare has a program where if you qualify they will pay for your schooling, and also provide the Practicum experience while working full time. Sounds sweet, it is sort of. I will hold back why I think this program is a sham. Mainly your practicum as a masters level social worker is suppose to be clinical in nature. The State of Oklahoma and the university I attended had an agreement.
So I transferred to child welfare for selfish reasons. I saw it as an opportunity to finish my degree and I figured I could do the two years post graduation with Child Welfare and then get the hell out. I was so wrong. So lets look at the path to becoming a Child Welfare Worker.
You will be welcomed to your unit with open arms. The fact is that for years Child Welfare goes through employees at warp speed. I have not seen research but I would be comfortable in saying the actual average of length of employment in Child Welfare in the State of Oklahoma is probably less than a year. The more workers a unit has some implications as to the assignment of the more serious Priority One cases. I will discuss the rotation and meaning of the assigned priorities later. The main benefit to a fully staffed unit is that the brutal on call period that your unit will go through every month or two is a little better. If your unit has say three workers and is on call then that means you will have to be on call for two days that week at least. Being on call also means that you will be getting calls and you will be going out to investigate serious matters late in the night and be required to go to work the next day with no sleep. Oh and when you are at work that next day you will be working on court papers if you took a child or children in custody and also you probably will be giving a Priority One through the normal rotation and have to leave your unfinished work to go rescue another baby. Oh relax I know what you are thinking, how can I do that in 8 hours, well the truth is you can’t. But you do have the options or working late even overnight at the office and also they provide you with VPN so you can work at home if you want or if you don’t want doesn’t matter if being at home is important to you, you will be working at home.
As a new worker you will be given a check list of tasks to complete. To be honest most of these are useless. The only part of your pre-training that is beneficial is that you will have the opportunity to go out with more seasoned employees as they investigate the newly assigned case. Remember though the seasoned employees you will be going out with some are just a month or two post academy and really know the same or less than you. But when you go out with a well seasoned employee you will learn some beneficial skills such as time honored shortcuts that become necessary when your case load docks into overdrive.
So you get through your pre-training and it is time soon to go to Academy. Most State of Oklahoma jobs have an intensive training called Academy. The State of Oklahoma main facility is in Norman Oklahoma. This meant weakly drives to and from your home. Now they do have a Child Welfare Academy training in Tulsa. What will you learn in Academy? Mainly that most of those State Office types have been long removed as a field worker. The training with the Kids System is important. You will learn to navigate through the complex data system of Child Welfare. They will go through a provided case scenario and you will get to practice interviewing and role playing as family members and others involved in the case. You will get to type your interviews using the KIDS system. Oh don’t worry if you get hopelessly lost and behind, cause you really do not gain real experience till your working on a case you are assigned. The rest of the training, er um mostly fluff and useless, oh the Bruise Lady is interesting and there is important information but to be honest most of the useful training does not happen till you graduate Academy and are assigned cases of your own. Oh wait another good thing about the training is they show you this case, which if you are interested is about a former Child Welfare worker in Maine who quits then adopts some children, then ends up killing one, true story. .http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare/ That link takes you to the true story of Logan Marr who died as a result of being duct-taped to a chair.
Okay now you graduated academy, hurray, time to break your “cherry”. This will be the first time you have to take a child or children into custody. So your career begins as a child welfare worker.
A Little More About Me or Why I Quit and or was Fired:
After I graduated Academy and was doing cases and doing on call and having all that fun, early on I knew that I did not trust or respect my supervisor. Early on a supervisor from a different area of Child Welfare came to our unit, my desk was near the door, she leaned over to me and said I do feel sorry for you, you got the worst supervisor in DHS. lol shock, I know not professional but the truth is this supervisor was right. Oh and I need to add about the culture of the world of Child Welfare that there is one important thing you learn and that is that CYOB, is the prime directive. CYOB of course stands for Cover Your Own Butt and later I will give examples of how important that is.
Beyond the fact that I had a crappy supervisor, I soon learned that in my heart that Child Welfare was not for me. I believe that a child needs to be with their own family and this is the best environment for the kid. Now I know there are some really bad parents doing some really bad things. But there will be times you will have to take kids away from their parents even if you know in your heart this will cause more harm than good. I had a case that was the case that broke the camel’s back. I will discuss this case a little later. Also with child welfare they tell you that the State of Oklahoma is dedicated to hiring more case workers and reducing the case load. The thing is that the number of reported incidents of child abuse and neglect is just increasing at an exponential rate. With our society today the fact is children are being exposed to acute and chronic abuse and neglect.
So it is obviously that my case load always near the maximum and in fact went over as there are tricks the supervisors can use to assign you a case but not make it an officially assigned case counting toward your case load: This is the famous OTHER DUTIES AS ASSIGNED. I was working 60 to 70 hours a week at a salaried job. I worked at home every night except Thursday when the Kids System is shut down for weekly patches and Saturdays which was my day, as long as I was not on call. I remember one case I was working on typing in the report. I sent it to the supervisor box and she sent it back to make corrections. Yikes I had actually fell asleep writing that report, true story the report had several glitches like this: Mother said that her child had gone to school and when the kid came back zzzzzzzzzezeeeeeeeeeeeeee, then after going to th3eeeeeeeeeeeee nurse zzzzzzzzzzzzzz really so embarrassing.
The on Call was killing me, it came around every month or two and often meant 1 or 2 days of sleepless nights, One time the phone did not ring but most nights on call you are setting there in dread and just when you are relaxed and thinking of getting some zzzzzzzzzs, the ring of the phone and off you go in the middle of the night. Oh and if you are lucky you might get to wake the judge up in the middle of the night and take a family of 5 or so to the shelter. I am a person that has insomnia. I have to take a sleep aid so those nights of being on called meant no sleep. And the next day even though I was not on call I often had to rush through some paper work and then toward the end of the day rush out to a Priority One that had been assigned to me.
I needed a vacation but never could get my case load where I as allowed to take off. I was near exhaustion, one day after rushing back from court, I became dizzy and my supervisor convinced me to go to the ER. I was put on FMLA leave and basically never came back. My heart checked out well, the diagnosis was exhaustion and anxiety. I was overworked but also was faced with so many moral dilemmas, forced to do things I was not comfortable with. I wanted to help children and families and came to the realization that often involvement with Child Welfare Services does more harm than good to the child. This was especially so with my case that broke the camel’s back.