We lost two children in the past two months. Trust me when I tell you no one takes that more seriously than the staff at JFS and me.
The media frenzy surrounding these deaths has included assigning blame, calling for accountability and transparency, highlighting the personnel records of our staff and examining our budget.
I will not address any of that here, other than to say investigations are underway, we will hold ourselves accountable, we will be transparent and we will continue to make changes necessary to ensure children are safe. That is, and has always been, my number one priority.
What I really want to talk about is the human side of our work. Sometimes we are seen as this faceless, bureaucratic, uncaring agency untouched by the tragedies that unfold before us.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Behind every death is a worker or team of workers who not only know that child but, in many cases, have come to love that child. Can you imagine getting to know a baby or 2 year old or 8 year old over a course of months or years and not being devastated by their death?
Social workers choose their profession out of love. They aren't balancing numbers on a spreadsheet, developing the newest computer software or studying the latest marketing trends. They are dealing with real people who have real problems and they are working to make their lives better.
Social workers are people with hearts that break for reasons far less serious than a child dying.
Accuse them of bad judgment. Or even incompetence, if you are that infuriated. Please do not say they don't care.
I started in this profession as a frontline children's services worker. I lost sleep nearly every night over the children on my caseload. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when the phone rang late at night, worried something terrible had happened to one of the children who was my responsibility. I cried when I couldn't find the right answers and a child had to be ripped away from the only person they knew and loved to be placed with a stranger in foster care.
And let me tell you, those feelings are still there even now. Because every child we are involved with is my responsibility. I will not ever take that lightly.
I am not the only one in this building who feels that way. I have had countless conversations over the years with employees of this agency who have expressed heartfelt concern over the children in our care, their sad realities and their sometimes tragic endings. Some of those conversations have included tears and nearly all have included the sentiment that we must do everything we can to ensure the children in our care are safe.
Social workers see things on a daily basis that most people only see in their nightmares. They put their lives on the line by regularly dealing with parents, and those around them, who are drug addicted, suffering from untreated mental illness and quick to violence. They go into the worst homes in the worst neighborhoods, day and night.
It is a difficult job that pays less than those that involve crunching numbers, designing software and analyzing market research data. But they do it because it is in their nature to care deeply about their fellow human being.
So when a child dies, it reverberates throughout this whole building. You may not see it on the nightly newscast or in the next day's headlines, but the pain is real and it stays with us far beyond the short life of those headlines.