One of the most memorable moments in my life occurred about 12-14years ago, now. I was telling my story to about 250 child welfare professionals from our state agency, private agencies, and the Courts in the county where I was now working in child welfare, so these people were my colleagues. This was also the exact same county where I'd grown up in foster care, so many of the people in that room had actually been involved with my own case, at one point or another. As I spoke, I had no idea how many people from my case were in that room and I definitely did not know that the Judge who had oversight over my case was in the room! As I told my story, I talked about the decisions that were made that continued to impact me, as an adult, and were also impacting my children. I talked about how the decisions made when I was 12 years old continued to play a huge role in my life. While I've never been super, uber angry with the system and, for the most part, recognize the huge opportunities that came my way to change my family tree, I will admit that some of these things continue to bug me. And, then, the moment happened...
The Judge from my case, who I was now working with regularly, because I was working for our local CASA program, came up to the stage and took the microphone. He looked at me, and in front of all those 250 people, APOLOGIZED to me! He looked me dead in the eye and said "I'm sorry for the decisions we didn't make for you. I'm sorry we didn't do better for you. I'm sorry."
For all those social work students, foster families, and other professionals who may be in this group: I promised myself, at that moment, that I would never take for granted the incredible responsibility of my position, as a social worker. I would never forget the power that was attached to my position, in terms of how much I could truly impact the life of another human being, in terms of how much I could personally impact entire family trees and future generations. The decisions we make TODAY do not stop impacting the children & families we serve when they leave our systems, when the cases close, or when they grow up. We impact EVERY SINGLE DAY of their lives, which means we MUST approach every single thing we do with care & attention to the responsibility we have. I encourage you to remember the levity of your positions, in every moment of your days, as well.
For those alums who are from this system, or those of my brothers & sisters still in care, if you would allow me the chance to put on my social worker hat for a moment (knowing that I am your sister because I've lived this journey with you, in some small ways). I want to apologize to each of you, on behalf of all those people who made decisions over your lives at one point or another. I know not one single worker who will say the system is perfect or who will not admit we've made mistakes. We, typically, do the best we can, in the moment, but I know we don't always get it right. Sometimes, we fail you miserably! For those failings, I am sorry - truly & deeply sorry.
I want you to know that we, as a system, are doing the best we can to improve how we do things. It's slow coming and the changes are requiring a gigantic shift in the way we think about things, but I really believe we are learning. We are seeing more and more of our clients and former clients speak up to tell us the mistakes we've made and it is making a difference!
It will happen slowly, one worker at a time, but change is coming!!! I know because I have 10 students in my child welfare class this semester and I've seen the change in each of them over the course of this semester. Yes, it's only 10, but each of those 10 will share what they've learned with how many different people? These 10 will be better advocates for the children & families they serve. These 10 will inspire change in their co-workers and agencies!!! These 10 will spread the message!!!
**I originally posted this message in a facebook group dedicated to a dialogue between social work students and foster care alumni on April 17, 2014.