They’re our legacy.
Commercials with popular music artists. Singing sad songs with the faces of abused animals flood the commercial breaks of mainstream television networks every day. Infomercials run, urging us to send money to impoverished countries with starving children. But what we don’t want to see or recognize is that the children in America are suffering.
The evolution of child welfare has been monumental over the years. In the mid-19th century, society changed their view of children and no longer wished to view them as “property” any longer, and a movement arose to determine if a home was “unfit” for children. However, prior to this, there were animal cruelty laws in place. That came before the child welfare laws. In particular the most popular case of child welfare stems from Mary Ellen Wilson, who was a young girl living in New York City. She was removed from her home of abusive caregivers due to the intervention of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Yes. Cruelty to animals was focused on before cruelty to children. Crazy, eh?
Today, I sit at my computer as an adult child of a family who tried to make changes. I sit here as a mother who hopes to change the world that my child will grow up in. Most parents feel this urge; to better the world that our children are raised in. However, America is facing an unprecedented challenge. Opiates.
I blog about the opiate epidemic often. That was not my main intention when I started this blog. My blog initially was meant to be an outlet for me to share my stories of the work I do in a small rural community, working with children and families who struggle with poverty, drug addiction, and mental health issues. But then suddenly it’s hit me; the opiate epidemic is taking over.
I’ve watched it happen slowly over the past few years, but it’s almost like running a marathon steadily and then BAM. Hitting a wall. It’s here. Its a crisis. It’s now a national health crisis. It’s not going away. What are we going to do?
My blog has received amazing responses. People now want to talk to me about what I do for a living. They want to hear the stories of my families and what they’ve gone through. It is hard for me to comprehend, living in a small community in the rural part of Ohio.
Today I did an interview and was asked “Whats the hardest part of your job”.
Immediately my response always has been ‘removing children from their homes’. It’s emotional for everyone involved; the parents, the police, the caseworkers but most importantly the children.
Then I paused and thought for a minute that the a newly but equally hard part is now, telling the children and families whom I work with that their parents or loved ones have died. Because of a drug overdose. That’s becoming the hardest part of my job. How did this happen.
I’ve faced burnout many times in the past nine years in my career. About three years ago, I joined our local leadership program with the intention of moving into a different realm of my life and career. I was determined I was going to leave my position in child welfare, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I needed something “positive and uplifting”. I applied for numerous positions in many facets of our community. For one reason or another, the positions did not come to fruition. I felt like the universe was working against me.
One day, I met with a very dear friend who is an inspiration and role model in my life. I aspired to be like her. I aspired to BE HER.
She asked why I was so desperate to leave my position and career when I was “so good at what I did”. I didn’t really have an honest answer, other than I was just tired and burned out. She reminded me that what I did was life changing and I needed to focus on small successes rather than the large final outcomes which often do not come to fruition.
I was reminded by my partner/colleague at work about the influence I have with people I work with. The calm compassion I have with the children on my cases. I was reminded that I can be tough when needed and understanding/compassionate when necessary. I was reminded that I have inspired others in my agency to stay in this position when they wanted to leave, yet I was attempting to do what I advised them against.
Then I came home one night and looked at my child. I reminded myself that my child is part of the reason I do this job. I tried to fathom my child being my “property” and animals having more rights than my own flesh and blood. It infuriated me. So after putting in my resignation I decided that I was going to take it back and stay. Try again.
Wow it was hard. But I had a renewed sense of what I was doing. And then, like I mentioned earlier, the opiate epidemic continually got worse. And as a parent it made me want to fight.
So I did.
Later, I started telling my stories. Not for anything more than just therapy for myself. I didn’t really even know what blogging was, but I felt like it was a way to write down what I was feeling, seeing, hearing and experiencing and a few other people took notice. I did not do it for recognition. Just for someone to listen. Anonymously. And others did just that; they listened. Others took notice and wanted to talk to me about what is happening in our country. To our children. So I began to tell them.
Now, I realize that there is another reason why I stayed. I want to be a voice for those who cannot have a voice. Our children. They need a voice. They cannot call our local and state politicians and beg them to help send their mommy to rehab. They cannot ask for a safe home when their mommy or daddy is passed out in the bathroom. They cannot scream out loud that they need help. But they DO.
Why do I do this job? I do it for the children. My child, other people’s children.
One of my favorite songs of all time is by Whitney Huston and it says “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”
My aunt used to sing this song and when I’d hear it, it was so moving. I hear it in my head often when I work. I keep this in mind after having to move children out of a dangerous house, or take them away from addicted parents. I try and remind myself that there is beauty in this world. And I try to be the one that can show them the beauty in the world. Sometimes “beauty” is a hot bath, a warm meal and clean clothes.
Our children deserve so much more than many of them receive. It’s why I go to work every day. It’s why I rush home to hug my own child. It’s what we need to keep in our minds every single day.
These children are our future.
We MUST FIGHT to give them the best future they can have.