I’ve taken some time off writing for a while, because, well my first job obviously comes first. But tonight I take the time to share another story of an unexpected day in the life of a child welfare caseworker.
I let some time pass to digest this story because it was difficult for me to really even write about. The United States is in the middle of a war, a battle, an epidemic. Heroin and fentynal are the enemy. Ohio is suffering with this, and in my particular part of Ohio not only do we struggle with the epidemic, we struggle with resources. And people are dying. LOTS of people are dying. And even more overdose on a daily basis. This is one of my stories of coming face to face with tragedy.
I arrive at work, and complete my regular tasks. Log in, check e-mails, listen to voice messages, make coffee. My team mates are bustling about and going in and out of the door. I receive a call early in the morning from a screener saying the police are requesting assistance and the worker they needed is busy on another case. I of course offer to go. She goes on to say all the information we have is a call from the police of an overdose, and there is an infant about six months old at the home. No names, no other info, just an address.
I grab one of my team mates. We grab a car seat and the agency van. Off we go. The sun is shining, the weather is warm. We pull in and of course there are the regular police cars, detective cars and an ambulance. I enter the apartment and there are first responders everywhere. Social Work mode kicks in. I find the baby in the crib, smiling and cooing. An EMT stands near him. My teammate changes his diaper and gets him dressed. We gather formula, diapers, clothing, etc. The apartment is unusually clean and tidy for the clients we typically see. All of a sudden a smell fills my nose that I’ve never smelled before. I could not pin point what it was. It was warm, sour, and very off. I weave in and out of the police, as they tell me the mother’s name and what they think the baby’s name is based on a crib card they found. No relatives were known at that time. I walk back through and glance to my side.
There she lies. Mom. Pale, not breathing. She was still there. I had no idea. Usually they have taken the parent out of the home before I arrive. But there she was. And she was not coming back. Everything went into a spin. The police say a man was there who may be charged for giving her the drugs. I grab the baby and request custody, and off we go. My team mate and I start re-living what we just saw and we can’t believe it. A combined 20 years of this job between us and it was a first. A first we will never forget. We analyze, we break it down, we try and laugh and not cry.
Back at the office, I research and soon learn that mom had been sober for 9 months after completing treatment. She had the baby and was doing wonderful. The man at the home, had just been released from jail. And he came straight for her.
I found leads to relatives, and the father. I called the family members, and they did not know yet. Oh my God, I am the one telling them this happened because the coroner hadn’t contacted them yet, but I needed a place to take this baby. I learn she had another son, 6 years old, who was with his father. They come to meet with me and the 6 year old cries because his dog died the day before, and today he lost his mommy. The grandparents cried. I met with the extended family and brought the baby to them. They mourn, cry, and scream “why”? I have paperwork that I must complete and I HATE this. I HATE that I have to be a social worker, when I just want to hug them and cry and say I’m so sorry. I do what I have to do, and I leave.
The grandfather tells me later that the coroner determined she had passed away six hours before they found her. The man tried to put her in the bathtub to revive her. He was high. He did not call 911 because he was “afraid to get in trouble”. So he waited. No narcan, no revival, and her soul left, her baby in the crib. One relapse in 9 months and she lost.
My co-workers and supervisors asked my team mate and I if we were ok. Did we need to see a counselor, could they do anything. “No, I’m ok!” Is my response. At the time I was. It was just another day in my crazy job that I love, right?
The day is almost over. I’ve completed everything for now and it’s settled down. I feel an odd feeling come over me and I need to leave. I ask my supervisor to leave a bit early and I run outside. I get in my car. I turn the key and pull out. I drive home and I start to cry. I can’t stop. I get home and cannot console myself, but I did not want to be with anyone. This was not my sister, my mom, my friend. She was a stranger.
But, she was someone’s sister, mother and friend. And this demonic drug has taken her from all of them. I hate my job. I swear I will quit this time. But then I realize I was able to bring that baby to his daddy, his grandparents, and ensure he was safe. I held him and he smiled at me. He is safe, and has family to raise him.
This job is hard. Things happen that they can never prepare you for in school or training. I feel sometimes like its failure after failure, but I always tell myself there is always tomorrow.