It’s National Social Work Month. I shared some of my journey to become a social worker last year, and it is on my mind again. It’s mainly on my mind because of watching a documentary on Netflix about a child who died by child abuse, and child protective services was involved with the family. The state even charged four social workers with criminal negligence. Maybe you saw this same documentary. Perhaps you are thinking about watching it. If you do, let me give you a heads up. It is heavy. It’s six episodes, each about an hour, and after each one, I felt quite somber.
Part of the reason I wanted to watch this documentary is to see what I thought about the charges against the social workers. I didn’t tell you last year, but I worked for Child Protective Services for a short while when I first got my Bachelor’s degree. I lasted 13 months. I saw on LinkedIn that my brother, who currently works for them, just had a 12 year anniversary. So he wins the longevity prize. But after that 13 months with CPS, I went to work for agencies that often worked alongside CPS. During that time, I felt like an ambassador for CPS. In private practice, I only seldom hear about CPS or, sadly, have to make a report to CPS. But even all these years later, I try to lean in and support the CPS workers because their job is hard! Soooooooo hard!!
Watching this documentary, I am not going to lie; I got a little mad at the social workers. I thought it was the right thing to prosecute them. But I think that those feelings are not necessarily accurate. Maybe I just wanted to get mad because this young boy “fell through the cracks.” It turns out that the judge eventually drops the charges, and I now think that is probably the right thing. I know that they are not the ones who inflicted harm on the child. The mother and her boyfriend were being prosecuted, and some justice was served because they were convicted. One of the social workers that was being prosecuted posed an excellent question, “if this problem is systemic, which it is, why are there only four social workers being prosecuted.” He’s right. There is a massive issue with the way these government agencies handle the problem. The workers are overworked and likely undertrained to handle the issues they are trying to handle. Maybe we’ve come a long way over the last fifty years, but maybe we have a long way to go. Did these social workers do things wrong? Yes, I think so. I don’t know all the evidence, but it seems they falsified documents on top of missing some glaring red flags. They may not have done some of the necessary procedural things that they are supposed to do. It seems they have some things to answer for and probably need not be working for that agency any longer. If they had gone all the way through the court system and ended up in prison, they would have simply been a scapegoat. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. We can all look at a situation and see the end result and see the danger coming. I don’t walk in their shoes. I don’t know what they saw and what they missed.
Still, this is a job that is needed. Children need to be protected because they cannot protect themselves. The agency and the workers can never win in the eyes of the general public. If they take a kid out of the home, they get criticized for breaking up families, among other things. If they don’t take a kid out of the home, they get criticized for allowing a kid in a situation that sometimes the general public doesn’t fully understand and assumes they are leaving the child in harm’s way.
Child protection is only one of the many areas that social workers do. Like I said last year, if you know a social worker, give them a hug. They need support. They are doing hard work, and often work no one else wants to do.