A couple of months ago, a tearful social worker showed me a letter that her eight-year-old client had written. She had helped him to write it as a way for him to talk about his recent loss. His foster parents had made the decision to have him removed from their home. He had experienced years of neglect and abuse and his behaviors were becoming more aggressive. In dark pencil lead he had drawn a sad face with tear drops under each eye. Below it read, “Please let me come home. I’ll be good, I promise.”
I’ve been a social worker for almost 20 years, working at an agency that serves children and families. Most of the children are involved in the child welfare system and many are in foster care. The stories of these children’s lives are heartbreaking. I remember in graduate school being told that I needed to remain objective for the sake of my clients and to protect myself.
When I first started working in the field, I vacillated between feeling completely overwhelmed and numb. I tried to suppress my feelings, fearing that I would become paralyzed. It was my mother who encouraged me to talk about my feelings. At the time I was working in an inner-city school. Many of the school staff disapproved of therapy, believing that we were indulging “bad” kids. I would sit in my car, on my phone, crying to my mother.