So often people ask me how I became a Child Protective Services Case Manager and inevitably the next question is why? If I’m being totally honest I kind of just fell into it and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I always knew that I wanted to work with children but wasn’t exactly sure in what capacity. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Family Studies and set off on my way to figure out what I was going to be.
There it was in black and white: Department of Economic Security Hiring Child Protective Services Case Specialist 1. I applied for the job, got an initial interview, passed the 5 person panel interview, passed the background check, and got the job! I was now a CPS Case Specialist and I was really excited about it!
I went through training and was assigned to the adolescent division where I would have some of the most challenging and rewarding days of my life! I’ll admit I was nervous on my first day but I felt prepared and ready to make a difference. After all this is what I had gone to school for, right?
What I didn’t know was…..
1. That some of my client’s wouldn’t take me seriously because I was young –
I was only 23 years old when I started at CPS. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be taken seriously by the parents I was working with since this is why I went to school and completed my CPS training. I was totally wrong! Many parents didn’t take me seriously one because I was young, two I didn’t have kids so what did I know, and three because I didn’t have the same background so how could I relate. I quickly learned the old saying “fake it till you make it” and figured out that they needed me even if they didn’t take me seriously. I wanted to help these parents but the safety of the kids on my caseload was my priority.
2. That my clients would make me cry –
I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday! I went to my 15 year old twin girl’s, Netiece & Sherrice, group home to drop off a bag of Christmas presents. I left with the bag 30 minutes later and sat in my car and cried! I can laugh about it now but at the time I was so hurt by the things they said to me when all I was trying to do was help. That was the first time they called me “that white girl” and the last time I would let them see it get to me. I came to realize that I was the only person that they could take their anger out on. Their mom wasn’t around but I was so it was directed at me and once I understood that it was easier and my skin got a little thicker that day. There would be more tears along the way out of frustration, anger, sadness, and even joy!
3. That I was oblivious to some of the things happening in the world –
The actual number of children in the foster care system was shocking. The fact that some kids would spend more than half their lives in the system living in group homes or foster homes was extremely sad. I didn’t know that there were really young kids out there doing hard drugs, prostituting, or even in jail. I’ll never forget the first time I went to see Sarah in detention. As we sat there talking I kept thinking to myself that there was something wrong with her face but I couldn’t figure it out. Then it hit me, she didn’t have any eyebrows! She explained to me that she had been tweaking and had plucked them all out! That was the first day I had ever heard of meth.
4. That I would take my work home with me every night!
I really had no idea that I wouldn’t be able to just leave my work at the office. I left my job every day thinking about what had happened, what the next day would bring, and how I was going to protect my kids. It was just too personal to not think about when you’re dealing with actual people and kids that have been abused or neglected by the people that were supposed to protect them. It never really left my mind or my heart.
5. That you couldn’t save everyone – Sad but true! You can’t save every kid. I would do everything in my power to get my kids into treatment facilities one day to only have them turn around and run away the next and go right back to using. I couldn’t take it personally though and at some point you have to move on to the ones that you can help!
6. That I would think of my clients as “my” kids –
I fought for those kids on my caseload with everything I had. Whether it was working a plan of reunification or trying to get them adopted I did everything I could to make their lives better no matter where they were. I really was the parent to 30 kids on my case load. I made sure they went to school, the doctor, had clothes, went to counseling, took their medication, provided visitation with family, went to court hearings with them, and everything in between. Fourteen years later I still refer to them as my kids and I don’t think that will ever change.
7. That my co-workers would become my mentors and life-long friends –
I could have never done that job without the support and guidance of my co-workers. There is something about the bond that is created when you are under that kind of pressure and stress every day.
8. That there would be things I would laugh about with my coworkers that most people would find offensive –
It is a function of survival when you live and breathe the worst of the worst things happening to innocent children.
9. That this job would prepare me for everything else I would do in life –
Expect the unexpected! The first day on the job my co-worker said come one were going to pick up one of our kids at the women’s adult prison. I knew right then in there that things were going to get interesting. The sheriff asked us if we had shackles to put her in for transport to a treatment facility. She laughed and said no we have a van with childproof locks!
10. That this would be the most rewarding and underappreciated job I would ever have!
Without a doubt the toughest job I’ve had and most underappreciated! Until you’ve lived it no one can really comprehend what this job is, what it means, and how it affects you. I sure as heck didn’t know until I was doing it every day!
I have an IMMENSE AMOUNT OF RESPECT for my fellow case managers out there still pounding the pavement trying to make a difference!
Knowing now what I didn’t know then…I’d still do it all over again!