Last evening, I talked with some pretty awesome people. They are individuals that I once had the privledge of calling colleagues. We were gathered to honor foster parents, who are, in their own right, Angels-made-flesh. Miraculously, they all managed to put aside the misery they witness every day, along with the rampant frustration that comes from trying to be humane within the confines of a relentlessly merciless system.
Everyone knows the story – impossibly high caseloads, insurmountable demands, unrealistic reputations – But few actually care. It’s a secret world where the public at large would rather not go. It’s messy and it’s ugly. When it spills over into society because something so horrendous occurs that it makes the newspaper, people react by blaming the social workers. They’re not, deep down, angry at them, just annoyed that their day was darkened by such a painful, unthinkable story. Child abuse is not for the faint of heart. And yet, these amazing people – social workers and foster parents – show up every single day. Believe me when I tell you that there are days when it feels like rushing into a burning building or leaping onto a sinking ship.
Nobody in your family or circle of friends has a clue why you do it. Hell, most of them don’t really know what it is that you do. You have very few allies among the media, the state legislature, the public or even your own administration. It’s a very lonely profession, despite the fact that you are surrounded by people almost all of the time. Usually, it’s you against the world. People think that it’s stressful because of the clients you serve. Not true. We expect them to be difficult. And we’re really good at breaking through those barriers. It’s the resistance from just about everyone else that wears us down.
Yet, these amazing individuals not only show up every day – They somehow manage to smile and laugh and even sing, right in the face of all that ugliness – No matter how dark, how hopeless, how frustrated or how gut-wrenchingly sad they feel.
I am often asked if I miss my job and I answer honestly with a resounding NO. But there are things I miss about it. The incredible perspective one gets from being immersed in the real world, is one. Mostly I miss being a part of this secret society of angels among us. They share the kind of bond that I imagine also comes from serving in the military together or on a police force. Facing daily danger and indomitable responsibilities unites people. We have each other’s backs because no one else will.
So, if you know a social worker or a foster parent, show them some love this weekend. Do something kind for them. It’s not easy to be the light that still shines through all that darkness. If that light ever burns out, it will be a very sad day, indeed, for the rest of us. And, if you are a social worker or a foster parent, God bless you.