Our collective conscience seems to be in the hands of journalists like Erin Rhoda who remind us that tragedies occur and why they continue to occur. Her brilliant article in noting the two-year anniversary of the death of Marissa Kennedy and the culture of Child Protective Services is a ray of hope to those of us who serve children and families.
Anyone who has worked in the trenches of social services, medical services, or as a first responder knows this:
- The system is broken.
- Nobody cares that the system is broken until it affects those closest to them.
- We’re perpetually outraged as a society because our collective attention span only lasts until the next headline.
- We refuse to learn from history
Logan Marr died in foster care in Maine in 2001. Marissa Kennedy died in her parent’s custody after dozens of child welfare reports in 2017. What changed between those years? The short answer is: not nearly enough. More importantly, our measures going forward are woefully insufficient.
Speaking truth about government and social services is like screaming into an abyss. The simple truth is that our laws and safety nets for the welfare of children continue to demonstrate:
- Children are legally defined as property
- We are collectively unwilling to acknowledge how common child abuse in our society is.
- Children have to die to bring our attention to their plight
Here’s some more truth: rarely, if ever, has anyone had a healthy childhood and thought to themselves, “When I grow up, I’ll be a social worker who gives countless hours of unpaid time to a system that refuses to accept responsibility for the wellbeing of children.”
Nearly all of us who work in the system have very personal reasons for being here. Why else would we live the words Mother Teresa spoke long ago:
“We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
I love that it was someone revered as a saint who spoke those words because she sounded like a burned-out social worker coping through gallows humor.
The truth is we will continue to turnover Child Protective Services workers at an alarming rate. We will continue a long tradition of understaffing and overworking good people who want to make a difference in the world. Our systems rely on coercion: using aa person’s good nature against them.
If we wanted to ensure the well-being of children in our state, the very least we could do:
- Fully staff Child Protective Services immediately.
- Acknowledge the pain and suffering that workers both bear witness to and experience.
- Implement measures designed to increase both resilience and sustainability for those who do this incredibly honorable but taxing work.
- Provide clinical supervision weekly to process the prominence of vicarious and secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout for all those in state employment regularly dealing with traumatic events.
- Restore foster care and treatment foster care reimbursement and support to levels they’ve been consistently cut from nearly 20 years now.
- Move out of the board rooms and committee meetings and talk with folks in the trenches about what’s needed.
My greatest thanks and sincere respect for all those who serve our most vulnerable: be you CPS workers, foster parents, social services professionals, medical or first-responders.