I wish I had my application to grad school; I only remember the gist of what it said, but I would love to post the first paragraph. Keep in mind, I was applying to get a master is social work. The first line said: “The first person I ever truly hated was a social worker; I was fourteen”. The said thing is, its true. It was not some literally ploy to pull in the admissions committee, get their attention, and get me a place. I remember hating her with the indignant blind rage that only a teenager can possess (I am pretty sure I used that final phrase as well). I wanted to be a social worker, because I wanted to stop people like her; I wanted to be a social worker, because I wanted to advocate for the child’s best interest; I wanted to be a social worker so that one less social work job could be filled by someone like her.
And yet there are so many other hers our there that make me sad for my profession and angry for the children who are their mercy. Children like “Danielle”. Actually, it was reading about what was going on over at Foster Parent Maze that made me recall my experience, my wanting to be a social worker, me wanting to be something different and advocate for something different– and all the personal and ethical things that this means for me.
I suppose it would help if I told a bit of my story. When I was in high school, a friend was placed in a foster care to keep him from a physically abusive father. This was not his first placement. However, because he was older, the foster care system didn’t want him and at the time their were no group home placements. She (the her I hated) decided that it was in his best interest to place him in a juvenile detention center. There he was treated like a criminal, he was forced to drop out of after school activities, he was allowed one supervised phone call per day, he was escorted to and from school. Its true while he was there his father could not beat him. However, his friends could not support him, his activities could not distract him. In essence he was punished for his father’s conduct. I believed then and I believe now (as does he) that he would have been better off at home.
One of the things that I have thought long and hard about is being a mandated reporter. Its an interesting topic here in Chile where mandated reporting is fairly new. The basic idea is that when I am working (in the states) if someone confesses anything to me that includes the abuse of a child, I must report the incident. I tell my clients this before working with them. That said, ethically, I am not sure that reporting is always the best option. In most cases it is– and I think it is important to have mandated reporters. But what happens when the child is a teenager and already has coping systems set up; what happens when you know that reporting will do more harm to the child than good; what happens when you know that the system is not adequately set up to protect that child or put her in a placement that serves her best interests. Clearly, one must think about the extent, type, place of abuse. Clearly I would never advocate for someone to stay in a home where they could be killed or maimed or something awful. But, in my situation, from when I was a child, know with my knowledge and masters degree and work experience behind me, I would have left the child in his house.
The case of “Danielle” is not one of her being currently abused in her foster home. In fact, they are trying to help her and advocate for her. Rather, it is the other end of the foster care system. Children, especially older or “unadoptable” children are shuffled from family to family, never having stability. It is a system where foster parents are underpaid, with little support, and a lack of continuity. It is a system where the caseworkers change too often because they are underpaid and overworked (and much of the time unqualified for what they do). It is a system that talks about putting the child’s best interest first, but often does not. My heart goes out to “Danielle” and her family. I can only hope for a quick and positive resolution.