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My worldview changed on August 7, 2015, the day that Lara Sobel, a VT social worker was murdered.

I have been a social worker since I was 21.  My family might tell you I have been a social worker my entire life.  I am driven to help others, to be a good listener, to help find solutions to problems that can feel overwhelming. Over the years these listening and solution-focused skills have served me well in connecting with youth living in residential settings, parents who struggled to provide protection and safety to their children, individuals coping with mental health challenges, and as a trainer and a coach to other social workers in the field. These days I use these skills with my own children as they grow into healthy, functioning adults.  And I work hard to use these same skills as a manager.  I’m not in the field doing direct practice any longer, but I am a social worker.  As a humanist, it’s in my core.

So when Lara, a colleague and part of my social work family, was violently shot to death on August 7th, the world immobilized, as it did for all of my colleagues around the state, and across the nation.  For those of us who have committed our lives to the work of child safety and strengthening families, this assault goes much deeper than the slaying of an innocent colleague.  It was an assault against our core belief that there is good in every person, and that change is possible.

There will be people who read this and say that not every social worker believes this. I disagree.  Social Work is some of the most complex and challenging work a person can pursue.  It can also be rewarding beyond measure.  When you witness another human being’s recovery from substance abuse, or see a child who has been isolated and neglected, reach her hand out to  a caregiver- who may be the first safe person they have ever known- you feel privileged.  If we didn’t believe in people’s capacity to change there is no way we could get up every day and do this work.

Sadly, there are individuals who have had negative experiences working with social workers.  We don’t get it right every time, AND the reality is that social workers don’t make decisions in isolation.  You can read more about how DCF social workers make decision here. But after twenty plus years in the field I can tell you that the we get it right far more often than we get it wrong, However, the media reports mostly negative stories based on the public’s definition of news. Often simple situations are sensationalized, leading to a warped perception of an agency that, at its core, represents the best intentions of our communities.  These are not strangers hired from the outside world to be state child protection workers, they are your neighbors, your friends, your family, who have made the commitment to put the needs of the communities’ children and families first.  Often before the needs of their own families. They work long hours, with caseloads that are beyond reasonable, often going home at the end of the day worrying that the plans they put into place today may not be enough to keep a child safe tomorrow.  Its not rocket science, its way more complicated than that.

I try not to read the negative comments, as TS says, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate” But I am starting to recognize that there is a difference between avoiding the negativity and staying silent.  It is easier to keep my views to myself.  Like I said before, I’m all about solutions.  I don’t like to cause conflict.  AND without challenging the negativity my silence is speaking volumes.

So I am here today, blogging as a social worker, a mother, a colleague, a human being that believes in a better world.  I believe we need to start talking, writing, posting, blogging, tweeting, etc. about the real work that happens between people, when one person decides to be a social worker, to make this world a better place, one person at a time. A person like Lara Sobel, who believed in family and the right of every child to live in a safe and healthy family. It is time to share the good stories, the depth of gratitude that I and many of my colleagues have experienced from the families that we help. People who are challenged with complex issues such as poverty, addiction, depression, chronic pain, and trauma histories.

My first story will be about a mother of three little girls, who walked up to me and screamed in my face…  stay tuned.

8 thoughts on “Silence seems to be the easiest word

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. I have dealt with DCF Social workers for years as a child care provider. Although not one of them has ever said the words I always know the days that they are forced to take action to remove a child from his/her family…it shows on their faces. There is always a sadness that is easy to see because even though these social workers know that they are taking necessary steps to protect a child they hate the fact that the only way to do so is to separate them form family. Social workers aren’t monsters, they are warriors and the battle front involves saving the lives of Vermont’s most precious of commodities…our children.

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    1. Thank you Meegan. I really appreciate your speaking up. We need to stand up and be vocal about our support for this challenging work. Your words mean a lot to me and my colleagues! Be safe.

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  2. When I moved to VT in the late ’90’s, the only time I’d hear “DCF” is in the context of monster in the closet. If your child misses too much school, parents are told “this has to stop or we’ll need to get DCF involved.” . Like the welfare queen myth, DCF as a child-snatcher is just as entrenched. Good luck and stay safe.

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    1. It is a myth. And the only way to bust that myth is by having real conversations with real people. When you hear someone refer to DCF in a negative way then you have to challenge that perception. Using DCF as a threat only perpetuates the myth. We can change the conversation but it will take a commitment by the community.

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  3. Thanks for the commentary……having worked with Vermont’s social work staff in a couple of leadership roles, I know of no other finer group of people. Their dedication and commitment will always be cherished. I will miss Lara, but will never forget.

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