Unexpected Placement of a Toddler

Today I was the backup worker of my unit.  Each month, we all sign up for a few days a month where we are going to be in the office where we can cover each other cases in case there is an emergency.  Best case scenario, it is a day to catch up on paperwork and get some office work done.  Worst case scenario, you get stuck covering something crappy of a co-workers.  Today was much closer to the latter than the former.

And to make it worse, my colleague knew that she was going to have to place a kid today and still called out sick.  Worse yet, she did this within a few months to another coworker.  So I was a little annoyed today when I found out that I needed to move a 20 month old from one foster family to another, about 45 minutes away.  I was also annoyed because I had been banking on the fact that I was going to get some paperwork (service letters to parents) done today.  Alas, I had to move the kid.

And it would not have been so bad if the new foster parents didn’t have scheduling conflicts that prohibited me from dropping off the child at 7:30.  Fortunately, I found a way around it and dropped her off at her new daycare.  So I was driving to pick her up – mind you, I have never met this child, barely know her name, and really know nothing about her case, not even why she is changing placement – and I can tell that I am just super annoyed that I am having to do this at all.  But I am a team player and I get to her house and meet the foster parent, who is super nice and load all of her stuff up in the van.

And then it hits me.  This is a big deal.  This 20 month old little girl is getting packed up by probably the one caregiver that she has known recently and put into a car with a total stranger and going somewhere that she doesn’t know.  She is never going to see this foster parent again.  Suddenly I was struck by what must (or at least, might) be going on in this little kid’s head.  And as I am thinking all of this as the foster mother is putting on her coat after giving me this organized folder of all her pertinent information, I realize that the foster mother, despite her best efforts, is really struggling with this too.  She doesn’t ever break, but she is pretty close to tears.  And I am by no means an outwardly emotional person (I cannot recall the last time I cried), but I could feel myself getting emotional as well.  The foster mother and I both manage to keep ourselves together and we take off on our journey.

After a pretty non-eventful 45 minute journey, we arrive at her new daycare and this little girl is just curious and comfortable.  I continue to be struck by how resilient kids are!  I attempt to get the paperwork in order and find a place for all of her stuff in the front office.  I am surprised by how nonchalant the daycare staff is about a totally random little girl showing up with practically no information.  She continues to be curious and well-behaved and doesn’t really show any emotion until we reach her classroom, which is a little loud, and she begins to cry.  In a way, I am relieved, because this little kid still has some fight in her, but she is soothed by her new teacher and the interesting distractions of the classroom.

I drive back to the office feeling guilty about not being aware of the kid’s feelings from the onset.  About being selfish in my frustration toward my colleague.  And I vow to never do something similar to a colleague and clients, but wonder if my co-worker also once made the same promise.  And when I arrive back at the office and learn of my getting a new case with two school-aged girls and a strong suspicion of sexual abuse, I wish for more time to contemplate and reflect on the experiences of my clients before I have to act.

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4 Responses to Unexpected Placement of a Toddler

  1. Torina says:

    That is awful that she didn’t show for that. My kids were all in foster care for years before we adopted them. No one explained to any of them what was happening or why they were moving so much. Drop em off, pick em up, drop em off. SOO not resilient. Easily distracted by the newness and interesting things maybe but still feeling the world whir by without any explanation or roots. I hope your kid is in a good place now…

  2. Emily says:

    I was employed by a county run children services agency for two years about 1.5 years ago. It was my first job out of college and what a job it was. I learned more about myself than I ever expected.

    I remember when things like this would happen with my families & children or other caseworkers families & children in our unit. I remember the frustration of it never getting easier. Dealing with one crisis and getting a new case with another crisis. I know it gets hard, but these agencies need people like you, to provide insight and empathy. You are doing wonderful work! Keep it up!

  3. oregonamy1972 says:

    I think this is a really good example of how to keep in touch with your feelings and to learn from the mistakes of others. Just be sure to be forgiving of yourself if something happens and you’re not able to provide that continuity for a client. While it sounds like a definite pattern with your colleague, don’t forget that life happens sometimes.

  4. illusivejoy says:

    I can so identify with that revelation. I have been having alot of those moments in my own work. The stresses of this work day in and day out challenge us non stop don’t they? Sending you a fat ass high five for being aware enough to evaluate yourself and your feelings. In my opinion, that is what makes a good social worker.

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