Nine years ago, as a fresh faced twenty something with a brand new bachelor’s degree in my hand, I set off with the intention of working in child welfare. I wanted this job. I needed this job. I had no idea what this “job” really was.
Over the past decade, the work we do has cycled. I’ve dealt with poverty stricken families, the recession and how it affected incomes and housing, substance abuse problems, mental health afflictions. Sometimes there is an uptick in cocaine addiction. Several years ago, there was a rise in methamphetamine abuse and manufacturing. It became dangerous for caseworkers and children to be in homes, because one wrong move and a “shake and bake” lab could explode. Fumes could affect the children, and make them sick. Myself and fellow caseworkers suffered maladies from meth exposure.
But the past few years there is a new plague we are fighting, and most of the time it feels like this cycle will never go away. It just keeps getting worse.
Heroin. Opiates. Fentanyl. Carfentanil. Grey Death.
“The Epidemic” they call it. And that it is. Not just for addicts, but families, children, law enforcement, firemen, EMT’s, social workers, court administrators, store owners, neighbors. Everyone is afflicted with this epidemic. Overdoses happen everywhere, all the time. In store parking lots, in homes, schools, hospitals, jails, college campuses, you name it.
Nine years ago, I would never have expected to encounter and experience what I have in the past few years. Todays blog is one story, as I have many more to come. This story is about the day I received the call from the coroner, saying that one of my clients, a young mom, was dead. She overdosed the night before. And I was considered the only next of kin as the children were in foster care.
Complete and utter devastation. Tears, anger, every emotion came to me instantly. I cried to my team mates, asking why did she die. What more could I have done. I drove her to rehab so many times. She was funny, outgoing, and should have been able to get and stay clean. Her children loved her and wanted to go home. And now, they would never actually “go home”.
Then I realized that I had to tell her children. They ranged from 9 months old, to 16 years old. And I was the one who had to notify them that their mom was dead. I made arrangements to meet with the teenagers. The first teenager, who was in foster care, just sat and stared at me blankly. No reaction. Pure shock. Later in the day, the second teenager sat on the couch of her group home, with all her workers, her siblings and myself beside her. She knew something was wrong. She said “It’s my mom, isn’t it”. I told her that her mom passed away the night before and she fell into my arms sobbing. Everyone hugged her and her siblings and let them cry. I cried. My heart was ripping out of my chest and there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless. Both teenagers told me later that it was something they always expected, but never truly thought it could happen to them. Or their mom.
So much more has happened since this particular day. The best that I could do for the children, was contact the funeral home and have necklaces with their mom’s ashes made for them to keep. All four children now have these necklaces and covet them. Some parts of the story have ended up happy, and other parts are still very devastating.
The job description of a social worker or caseworker doesn’t include days like this. Trainers don’t teach you this in college, or trainings for your job. No one prepares you for this. But we do it. I did my best for the mom and her children, and that’s all that I could do. This epidemic, this disease, this “problem” as people say affects so many lives. It takes special people to work in this profession. I’m sure if this was in the job description, it would be much more difficult to hire social workers who are very much needed in this time of need for children and families.
Thank you to all social workers and caseworkers out there, who have experienced hardships and trials that were not in your job description. You truly are a superhero every day. Keep doing what you do. And thank you. ♥ ~Social Work Superhero