By: Alyssa Cline
Foster Care Case Worker
As I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my emails, trying to decipher which one is most important out of the 20, my phone rings for the 15th time in the last two hours. It’s never ending. My day runs on a loop, circling through phone calls with angry clients, frustrated foster parents, disappointed attorneys, answering emails about reports due, and the exhaustion sets in. It’s almost three o’clock, which means I need to leave for the four home visits I have scheduled. If I hurry, I can make it home by 9pm and catch up on that pile of laundry from the last two weeks. Or maybe make dinner.
I don’t love my job, but I want to. I was smart. I went to school, studied hard, had a partial scholarship. I WANT to love this job. When I pictured myself being a social worker, I saw myself rescuing abused children and making everyone happy. Little did I know, the kids would spend a good portion of the time angry at me, along with everyone else. I never knew how much helping could look so similar to hurting.
My friends and family ask me every day why I’m still doing it, why I show up, every day, so physically exhausted, but ready to take on more. My answer is simple…
Three years ago, I went to a home visit to see a 10 year old girl. Her foster mother stated she had locked herself in the closet after getting home from school and she wouldn’t come out. After talking through the door to her for a few minutes, she finally opened it for me and I crawled inside. For the next two hours, I listened to her play out memories of abuse, having been triggered by something at school. She rubbed the scars on her arms and shook in fear. She told me how the teachers at school and everyone in the neighborhood knew what was happening, but were too scared to intervene. She recounted five years of gruesome physical and emotional abuse and then looked up at me and apologized. She asked if I was tired and if I needed to leave. She asked if I had children or a husband to get home to, and all I could think was, “How could someone so small and so scared possibly be worried about me?”
It was that day that I realized that nothing I had going on at home could possibly measure up to these moments. That pile of laundry would still be there for me when I got back. And I’ve found these moments everywhere. I found it in the mother who got herself clean from drug use, got both her children back, and is now enrolled in school to become a social worker. I found it in the mother who courageously surrendered rights to her children, to give them a better life. I found it in the children who bravely moved to new homes, without ever shedding a tear. I found it in the children who still call me on holidays to wish me well.
I don’t love my job. I don’t love the hours I put in or the exhaustion of the paperwork, or the fact that I am constantly missing meals. I don’t love the traveling and all the time spent in the car. I don’t love answering emails or making phone calls, but I do love these kids. I love their bravery and the things they teach me. I love their fierceness and their resilience. I love the fight I see in birth parents and going toe to toe with them to help them make the necessary changes for their family. I love listening to teenagers’ future plans and helping them navigate college and the work force. I love being able to support families and being a part of a bigger change.
I may not love all the logistics of how this job gets done, but these children give me every reason to do it. I will stay late every day, answer 200 emails, drive to Chicago and back in a day, do stacks and stacks of paperwork, spend an entire week making phone calls, and miss 20 meals if I even have a chance at taking away the pain of that 10 year old little girl. I am not in this job because I love filling out forms or driving all over the state. I am here because this job is a service. It is a service to families in need.
During Foster Care Month, it’s important to understand that while this is not an easy job, it is necessary, and everyone needs to appreciate those who have the will and courage to do it. I’d never make it through the day without my coworkers. I rely on my supervisor, fellow caseworkers, support staff, licensing staff, and case assistants regularly. They are the backbone of this job. They are my stronghold on my most exhausting days, and the children are my anchor. The kids are the heart of this job and while I may not love it, they are the reason why I am so proud to be a Foster Care case worker.