Sunday, April 5, 2009

Corazon's social workers

Corazon's adoption story continued. *all names are pseudonyms

Since Corazon had been in and out of foster care since she was born, there were at least 6 social workers that had been in charge of her case since the beginning. I don't know a great deal about what happens when a case changes hands and beyond reading the file and maybe speaking with the former SW, how a new social worker "gets up to speed." I say that not to excuse anyone but to say that I think the changes in social workers caused some of the problems in their being able to identify how deep Corazon's problems were.

At the time Corazon moved in she was on her 5th social worker. This woman, who I will call "Cindy," was young and inexperienced in some ways but not others (experienced social worker, new to adoption). I believe she truly cared about Corazon and was completely charmed (fooled) by this child and could not see the issues that Corazon had. Corazon is beautiful, intelligent, articulate, energetic, polite, and very well-mannered. She was always so fully engaged in any conversation or activity with an adult who is giving her one-on-one attention that it was difficult to believe there could be anything wrong with this child. I believe Cindy thought Corazon had gotten a raw deal for most of her young life (I agree) and she wanted the world for Corazon. I believe that in Cindy's mind she truly believed that Corazon belonged in a "good" (e.g. middle class) home where she could be the center of someones universe. I also believe that social worker was heavily biased against Corazon's birth family and previous foster home(s) based on class, educational background and cultural factors. I also believe she knew how neglectful, at best, most of the people related to Corazon had been when Corazon was in their care and she wanted to take her out of that environment. I am not sure that she was interested in giving any of the people Corazon was related to "a chance" because she felt they had blown it so badly already. It is complicated and I cannot completely fault her for the passion with which she advocated for Corazon and her firm belief that I would be the better parent for this child. I wish all social workers could have that kind of passion for all their charges. As a educator and a parent I wish all teachers, for that matter, could have that kind of investment in all their students.

I don't know if Corazon's worker lied or if she just didn't let herself see what was going on with this child. She knew I was committed to this child/any child and she knew I wouldn't turn my back on her. Corazon's worker was afraid that Corazon would once again be turned over to a family member who would not be able to do "right" by her. That was clear to anyone who read the file. I think she also wanted to protect Corazon and me from the uncertainty that the delay of the TPR raised so she withheld some important information from me hoping that once I had Corazon I would be "hooked." After all she had assured me that everything was set and the TPR hearing was a formality. When it didn't turn out that way, I think Cindy just saw one more obstacle in Corazon's path toward having a stable family to grow up in. She didn't seem very interested Corazon's birth family nor was she particularly sympathetic toward them.

Corazon's birth mother's social worker (I will call her Daphne) had a very long history of trying to support the birth mother. She had worked with the mother for 6 years and had created opportunities for her a dozen times. Daphne seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty a number of times that I knew of. She would often drive 45 minutes one way to pick up the mother to bring her to a visit with Corazon (or her brother) and she would wait all day "just in case" the mother lost track of time or was running late on her way to a visit or a counseling session or any other appointment. Daphne told me she was conflicted by what she saw of Corazon's "progress" in my home and by her genuine caring for the birth mother. At the time that Corazon moved in she had stopped by my house that day so that she could call the mother and assure her that Corazon was in a good place. I believed Daphne genuinely cared about the mother. Daphne told me up front that she really wanted it to work for the mother and Corazon BUT she didn't think it had been fair to Corazon and had left Corazon in limbo for a long time. She also believed the mother just wasn't able or willing to do what she needed to do to get her child(ren) back. When the aunt backed out of her intention to adopt Corazon, Daphne spent hours trying to talk the aunt into changing her mind. She even went so far as to bring the agency's attorney to a meeting with the aunt to reassure her that they could make it work. By the time I got Corazon, that social worker was still trying to help the mother, but she seemed relieved that Corazon was with me.

My social workers who did my home study and provided "support" during the transition process were wonderful. Fannie and Gilda were very experienced in adoption and would step in anytime there was a problem and I didn't get immediate response. When subsidies were late or I was inconvenienced in any way they stepped in. When I had to go to court and testify during the TPR hearing they both offered to come with me.

About 4 months into the placement, Corazon's social worker, Cindy, transferred to another position and Corazon was assigned a new social worker, Selma. Selma was older and very experienced. She struck me as a no-nonsense person who did her job well. She didn't "oooh and ahhh" over Corazon's cuteness and wittiness and I must admit that was enough for her to win me over at this point. By this point the battles with Corazon were exhausting and I felt like I was the only one seeing them. Even my friend/housemate who lived with us didn't see it. C. had witnessed some of the more serious incidents so she believed me but still didn't live it. Selma was new to Corazon's case but she knew Corazon's grandmother from another case. She seemed surprised that the grandmother was showing interest in raising Corazon. She didn't share any details at the time but I later discovered that she had a great deal of information about all the reasons the grandmother couldn't and shouldn't parent anyone. These included greater details about her criminal record, current serious health issues and the relationship with the child sex offender in her home (who they had told the court had moved out but was actually still living in the home!)

I talk about these social workers because they were a big part of our live and provided important supports during the adoption process (although not so helpful in getting Corazon's issues identified and addressed.) I also want to acknowledge that while these workers withheld vital information from me at different points in time, I still believe they did the best they could in some very difficult circumstances. I can fault Corazon's social workers with being blind to her troubles in the same way that so many others are blind to the realities of RAD kids' behaviors when they don't live with them 24/7. None of us want to believe some of the stuff our kids do!


SocialWkr24/7 said...

You are absolutely right that changes in workers probably had a lot to do with Corazon's issues not being identified earlier. Another problem is that most child welfare casemangagers are (in my experience) entry level positions. They are filled by people right out of school with little experience and once the person gets experience (or more education) they move 'up and on' to new postitions. Its completely backwards!! I was a caseworker straight out of my Masters with only a year of experience. I often wonder who thought I should be given such huge responsibility! Just one more problem with the child welfare system in general... But I do appreciate you giving some acknowledgement to the positive experiences you had! I do believe most of us really WANT to do the best by the children and families we work with! :)

rimps said...

"these workers withheld vital information from me at different points in time"
But that is LYING. That information had the potential to impact your parenting, didn't it? So how could it not be in the best interest of Corazon, never mind YOU, to give full disclosure?

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