Hope and pain through a social worker’s eyes

By Martha Hopler

As I head to the home of J. I feel a sense of urgency today is the day.  Today is the day I have waited for, for some time.  I have waited for the moment she is ready to head to re-hab.  I am very aware of the choices I have made to allow her to continue to care for her children while she chooses  to use drugs and alcohol to escape the realities of her difficult life.

As the social worker I live in the ever present tension of what is right for her kids and what she wants….  She on her own has finally said, “Yes I will go.”

I am grateful, for I am aware, that soon I would not have had the choice to place the children in protective custody and that would have been a new level of pain for all involved.  In this case, mom is making that very difficult decision,  and I have assisted in placing the two younger children with a family they are very familiar with and a family that mom trusts. She will start with detox and there she can have none of her children with her.  The older son was supposed to be at the grandmother’s home.  I am here to pick up J. and take her to what is hopefully going to be the beginning of new.

As I enter the home, the first thing I am aware of is the older son, R., sitting on the steps. He is 14 years old and cannot stay in the home alone.  In my head I start thinking of my options.  I say, “You will have to come with us.  I am taking your mom to the hospital.”

In reality I am buying time to figure out next steps.  I cannot leave him in the house alone.  He says quite loudly, “NO.”  I pass him on the stairs as I go to find him mom who is calling to me.  And then he states, “You do not  give a shit about me.” I stop and ask, “Why would you say that?”  He says “Because I am a black male.”  My heart breaks and my brain says, “Oh no, you didn’t….. I know this is a truth grounded in him for his whole life ….and it is a challenge to me — Will you be like every white social worker or person in the system and pass him by? Oh what to do?”

The next actions were not planned. They did not fit the “social work hand book,” nor would I brag of such an action in the next staff meeting, for it might be viewedas a very  bad idea.  I went to the pay phone passing several men doing drug business.  If I leave R. at the house he will be in this business soon I think…..he may already be.

I call my office hoping to connect with my supervisor who can give me some “good ideas” of the next thing to do. She is not there.  I cannot take mom to rehab and leave R. in the house. I then remember that due to R. not going to school there is a bench warrant for his arrest. I call the police. Again was not thinking this was the best action but I was just working toward the goal of getting him to leave the house.  The police come. R. comes with me to the van. He has calmed down, he has stopped yelling at me. He is terrified and rightly so.  A woman and a man get out of the van. Two police officers, looking like those  you have seen on TV,  tell him that they have the van, so they can arrest him if it comes to that.

The man grabs R. and starts to throw him up against the van.  I lost it again, not my finest moment, but no one was going to hurt R., that was not why I called the police.  I forgot for a moment that not all who are in power want the best for R., and he does represent men who have been portrayed as scary and dangerous. I grab the police offer by the shirt and say. “Do not hurt him. I called you but I am the one to deal with him.” He lets go of R. and turns to listen to me. I explained what I was needing and he  talked to me and the woman went and checked if the warrant was in the system.  It was not….I said thanks for your time and help they left and R. got in my car so I could take him mom to detox.