I signed up for the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project being run by Heather over at Production Not Reproduction. This project puts randomly assigned bloggers together to ask each other questions and see what comes up. Since there’s such a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences around adoption generally and amongst the adoption blogging community specifically, there’s a lot of scope for exchange and reflection in this project. I was matched to SocialWrkr24/7 who blogs over at Eyes Opened Wider. She’s a social worker (obviously) working in child protection in a big city in the U.S. You can read more about her here and you can find some of her most significant posts here. Given that SocialWrkr24/7 is a deeply committed Christian, a social worker and an American, while I’m an atheist, prospective foster parent and Australian, you might think our perspectives would be worlds apart. But reading her blog and the answers to my questions I found myself nodding in agreement more often than not and I think that’s the beauty of this project: I might not share the same experiences as SocialWrkr24/7 but through reading her blog and responses to my questions, I can certainly see where she’s coming from.
So without further editorialising from me, here’s my questions and SocialWrkr24/7′s answers!
How does your faith inform your career and the choices you make on a day-to-day basis in your job?
I don’t think my faith informed my decision to go into social work consciously – but it definitely did unconsciously. I was raised to believe that hospitality and service were important values to uphold. But I think my faith didn’t really come into the forefront of my mind until I was actually doing the job. Which brings me to the second part of your question!
Day to day, I am not sure if I can say faith influences my choices but it certainly influences how I do my job in general. I absolutely could not do my job if I didn’t believe there was an all-powerful God who was in more control of these situations than myself. I also couldn’t deal with the daily frustrations of people with chronic mental health, substance abuse, and a myriad of other issues if I didn’t believe that every single person was a child of God, beloved and deserving of forgiveness and help. My faith definitely gives me strength to carry on and I rely on a lot of prayer to help me sleep at night after a difficult day.
Are you able to put aside the hurts that you witness when you are “off-duty” or are they always with you?
I am generally able to go home and not think about my day – unless it was a really terrible one! I can honestly say that I am pretty good at separating myself from some of the awful things I deal with once I leave the office. But I also carry those realities with me wherever I go. They hit me when I am least expecting it sometimes – something reminds me of a family, or a specific child, or the frustrating aspects of the system in general. But I’m usually able to recognize those flashes, accept them and move on with my life. It really important that I not let this job become my life, I need a break from it in order to keep doing it well.
You’ve done a good job of explaining “birth parent bias” in your blog. Could you talk a bit about how you reconcile the needs and hopes of foster carers with this?
This is such a hard thing in my line of work. I do love many of my foster parents dearly and admire the work they are doing with the children in their care. Especially when I was a caseworker, keeping my feelings about the foster parents separate from the goal of the system was one of my biggest struggles. At my first agency we had a “Foster Parent Advocate” who could help out when foster parents needed some extra TLC or understanding. But I think it is important that foster parents are educated that they are not the “clients” in this system – their needs have to come second to the child and biological family. This is also why I think that the system needs to change the way it recruits and trains foster parents – dramatically. They aren’t really trained to be “part of the team” and this causes great strain to the entire situation. Especially when many become attached to the child (as they should!). But as things are right now, it often becomes a tug of war between meeting the needs of birth families and foster families. I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be easier to have more than one worker (in my state, there is a one worker policy) to help mitigate that conflict of interest. But I also think that would just make cases more complicated – with each worker advocating for their own “side”. Now that I work with a team that is exclusively geared towards reunification (we transfer cases as soon as the goal changes away from return home) it is actually a little bit easier.
From the outside, child protection often looks like a broken system. How does it look from the inside?
It looks even more broken. So broken I don’t even know where to start in trying to fix it. I’m not even sure that “Child Protection” is the right term for it anymore. We aren’t actually protecting children, we are just reacting once the abuse or neglect happens. And we aren’t even doing that very well. Sorry if that is a truly pessimistic and depressing answer. But its the way I see it!
What gives you hope when you’re often navigating through despair?
Luckily for me, hope is everywhere. While I see some of the absolute worst of humankind, I also see some of the best. People going way out of their way to help when needed. People working through some of the worst kind of trauma to turn their lives around. Kids getting a second chance at a healthy and happy future. Those cases with positive outcomes give me a lot of hope that the next one through the door will be able to do the same.
I also rely on co-workers, friends (both IRL and the ones that live in my computer), and family to keep my perspective. I love spending time with the healthy families all around me so that I remember that many children grow up loved and cherished. I spend time with friends – out relaxing and laughing A LOT.
I would like to thank Heather for organising this project and SocialWrkr24/7 for giving me such thoughtful and comprehensive answers to my questions. I really enjoyed this exchange and I’ll be signing up again next year if possible.
When my interview is up on Eyes Opened Wider I’ll link here and I’ll link to the rest of the interviews here.
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