A Story of Transitions, Families and Love

During my 16-year career in child welfare, I have seen a lot of transitions. I’m now a supervisor in SaintA’s Family Services, but I have had several different roles getting to this point. I was thinking recently how that reflects what the families we serve go through. Their whole experience with the child welfare system is a series of transitions.

They are served by several different entities, from initial assessment to case managers to therapists, Family Services staff, Children’s Court personnel, and on and on, depending on the family’s needs. They have to work with a lot of different people to get to the goal of reunification with their children. Or, in some cases to see their children placed with loving families because they simply cannot properly meet their needs.

Penny Liddell
Penny Liddell

My job has always been, regardless of the position I was in, to help families adjust to change. And that has been something I have personally had to do as well. The various transitions in my career were challenging at times. But I can say I have learned a lot. And I learned a lot through others.

It’s always been difficult working with new moms. We see a lot of them in this work. They’re excited to be a mom, but they’re not ready to care for that baby. They face a lot of distractions, from big economic issues, unresolved mental health, alcohol, drug issues, to problems with the baby’s father. They’re not ready to put that child’s needs before their own, and this leads to neglect or abuse.

I have to admit that I have always avoided jobs where I had to work directly with cases like this, which lead to removals. As a mom myself, I can’t imagine having my kids taken away. But over the years I have had to change my mindset and focus on what is best for the child and work with the parents.

I remember a case with a new mom. There was severe domestic violence, and the baby was removed from the home. The mom actually told the judge removal was best for that baby. As a mom, it was sad for me. I asked myself, “How can you say to a judge it’s good that my kids not be with me?” But as a case manager, I told myself it was OK to hear that; she gets it.

When I first started as a case manager I had two small kids. They’re now 18 and 16, and I have a 12-year-old, too. Again, as a mom, it was easier for me working in Intensive In-Home Services, where we get families to stabilize to meet the children’s needs and the kids stay in the home throughout the process. As my roles changed, I worked with different families with more severe barriers and needs. You have to make the call and determine if you are going to recommend that the child really needs to be removed.

I remember the first time I was present when children were removed from a home. There were two small kids with their grandparents, and their biological parents weren’t around. I got really emotional and I knew I couldn’t let the children see that. I had to remove myself. I got in my car and started to cry. I had so many fears for those children. Will they be safe? Will the grandmother ever get to see them again?

When I got home that night, I questioned myself. I had to get the image in my head that stability was not there and that this was best for these children. My light at the end of the tunnel was hoping the parents would get it together enough to get their kids back.

But that night I had to pick up my son and I found myself just staring at him. He was like, “Why are you looking me like that?” I told him, “I just wanted to look at you, to make sure you’re OK.”

Wise beyond his years, he just said, “It must have been a bad day at work.”

Facilitating removals has been the biggest emotional battle I have had. But over the years, I have come to believe that removal may be the last resort, but the best resort.

And although my older teenagers really don’t want a lot of hugs from Mom any more, my sixth grader will sit next to me and nestle with me when he knows I’m having a tough day.

That, and knowing that what I do really is always in the best interests of children – my own or other people’s — always makes things better.

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