Dear Social Worker (a note from the Casey Foundation, KARA and Daniel)

July 16, 2015 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

mn panorama leaves turned 2

You have chosen one of the most challenging jobs on the planet.  Saving children from toxic homes & helping them heal and develop the coping skills necessary to live a functioning life.  How do you manage to deal effectively with so many families (and children) at one time?

We all live with the troubled institution that is Child Protection and the lack of awareness, concern and resources our community makes available to abused and neglected children.

Burnout in your profession is high, salaries low & as the Casey Foundation pointed out when Dee Wilson delivered his report to the Hennepin County Commissioners, not much trust for your co-workers or management.   Dee Wilson painted a pretty negative picture of the working atmosphere for most social workers.

I attended the session,  and some very blunt truths (worth remembering) were delivered to our County Commissioners.  Here are the;Casey Exec Summary and complete Casey Report

To be clear, I am pro social worker.  When there are failures, they stem from the top.  The people making decisions about where to spend money, what works and what does not work.

It is the second note that I made from Dee Wilson’s presentation that I wish to make us all appreciate.  If we can overcome our fear and turn Dee’s words into action, abused and neglected children would finally have a voice in this community and we could all speak more intelligently about the core issues and better solutions.

Paraphrasing Dee – Social Workers fear speaking out about the conditions they work under, the children and families they work with, the lack of resources and wicked problems they face every day.

Child suicides and suicidal behaviors, rapes and even a 7 year old girl’s prostitution go unspoken of in my experience as a volunteer Hennepin County CASA guardian ad-Litem.

Mr Wilson drew attention to the fact that most of this fear comes from an unnecessary over emphasis on privacy rights which he called a red herring and he suggested that this overcompensation is working against the best interests of the children this policy was supposed to protect.

KARA was dis-invited to our second annual Brutal Truths and Best Practices forum by Century College a few years back when a DHS person was asked just that question (by me) “is it true that social workers are trained/required not to speak about their work outside of their work?”

At the time I received a passionate explanation about social worker turnover and children’s privacy, but looking back I see how counterproductive that policy is for the children, the public and policy makers.  It’s not about privacy, it’s about a lack of transparency and accountability and a desire to not rock the boat.

Dee Wilson made the point that names did not need to be mentioned, only conditions, resources and problems associated with Child Protection.

The only way the public and policy makers can know the condition of Child Protection and child safety in this community is if someone does speak about it.  There simply has to be a way this information gets out.  About the only information the public and policy makers get about these issues is when a child dies a horrible death or is found near dead and the reaction to condemn parents, foster parents and social workers runs its course.

If it were not for the Star Tribune and Brandon Stahl reporting on the death of 4 year old Eric Dean, there would have been no “Colossal Failure” remarks from our Governor Mark Dayton, no Task Force on Child Protection, no recommendations from the Task Force or Casey Foundation and it would still be illegal for social workers to use a families past reports of child abuse when evaluation new reports of child abuse.

Eric Dean died after 15 reports of child abuse were made in a state where 4 (MN) counties screened out 90% of all child abuse reports.  30 years ago, Lois Jergens went on to adopt 4 more children after the torture and murder of 4 year old Dennis Jergens.  Not much has changed.

I’ve borrowed the following statement (with a few changes) from another KARA discussion by a practicing social worker who thinks as I do.

Daniel LCSW

Working conditions and child protection results can change IF…

“As a collective, social workers stand up and demand a change. A strike…, protesting, educating, etc. Part of the problem is too many social workers, (usually the young, inexperienced, and single) believe it is against social worker ethics to stand and fight for themselves or their child clients. SW’ers also fear they will lose their job if they speak up and if they strike they would worry about neglecting their clients. Standing up now will help clients in the long run….. change can happen if we start advocating for ourselves Now.

Before you condemn Daniel’s robust thoughts, consider this; When nurses recognize that hospitals have seriously understaffed to the point of harming patients they strike.  Strike threats force administrators to consider better answers.

You deal with the same life and death issues that nurses do, but with children.  Your young clients will either be saved and healed to make it into adulthood & lead normal lives, or they will become the 80% of youth aging out of foster care leading sad and dysfunctional lives.

Until you, the only people close enough to the issues to speak about them truthfully, can articulate where the problems are and start telling people about the institutional failures and child tragedies you watch unfold daily, this great sadness of ruined lives, failing schools and unsafe communities will continue.

Thank you for the work you do.