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What I Wish I'd Known Before Working in Child Welfare
Yes, No, or Maybe
What if I told you that all of the decisions you make today will affect someone's life forever? A child welfare worker must make decisions daily that affect children's lives. Every decision the worker makes is based on the safety of the child. Can I go home after work believing this little one is safe? Being responsible for such life-altering choices is to know fear. A bad choice could mean the child could be injured or worse. Think about how it feels to make a critical decision when there is no clear-cut answer. We all like our world to be black and white. The truth is we live in the gray area more often than we would like. So often in child protection a decision must be made quickly, and nothing is ever black and white.
This Job Never Ends!
On Monday morning you close out a case successfully. The family has made great strides and the child is safe. By Monday afternoon you have two new cases to add to the 12 you already have. More optimistic child welfare workers make a list of things that need to be done daily. The more pessimistic ones just start at the top of the pile. The problem is there is always something else to do; write a court report, see a child, meet with a counselor or parent-aide. The hard lesson is, you will never be finished. You will be asked to do more than you can possibly do. You must also note that you are working within a bureaucracy and that the procedures/rules/forms will change just when you begin to understand them. Most of the time, the best you can do is all you can do.
Let Me See if I Can Find that File
Let me see if I understand -
- I will be making decisions that will affect a child and their family forever. If I make the wrong decision a child could be hurt.
- I will be working with children who have been physically or sexually abused, and/or have been neglected is some way.
- I will always be thinking about the things I did not get done, and will be expected to do more than I can possibly do.
What would you do if this was your job description? Run? Cry? Dig the classifieds out of the trash? But wait, don't make your decision yet. First let me tell you what it actually says in the fine print.
- You will experience sleepless nights worrying about the children.
- You may experience stress-related illnesses such as ulcers, hives, and/or headaches.
- You will fall in love with the children you work with.
- Every now then you will run into those children when they are grown, and living a healthy and happy life.
- You will make a difference in families' lives.
- Those families will make a difference in your life.