On Our Watch: A Veteran Social Worker Reflects on a Vermont Tragedy
Editor's note: This column was originally a personal social media post, written just after the shooting death of Vermont Department for Children and Families caseworker Lara Sobel was shot to death, allegedly by a woman involved in a custody case Sobel had worked. DCS asked the writer to share it publicly to offer insight on our staff's work and concerns and dedication.
A DCS Child Protective Services worker leaves a home in Middle Tennessee. CPS workers often are the first respondents to reports of alleged abuse and neglect.
By Christina Fly, LMSW
Director of Policy and Continuous Quality Improvement
Being a child welfare worker is in many ways like being a police officer. Although the charge and approach is very different, workers are often the bad guys, baby snatchers. For the thousands of children helped or saved, the only story that makes it to the media is the one time a worker, in hindsight, made a mistake.
Well, who do you know who is perfect at their job 100 percent of the time when working very long hours in high-stress, high-pressure situations where decisions don’t come easy? Workers worry all day long that they made the right decisions and pray all night that nothing bad happens to a child on their watch. There’s no worse feeling then going to bed and closing your eyes and thinking “Oh no. I just realized I should have…” And then laying there awake until morning so you can hurry to work to find that things are fine, but what if? And then every day you walk out the door and wonder 'Is today the day someone will attack me or shoot me from behind a parked car or the tree line at the back of the parking lot?'
You start making sure you never leave at the same time each day, but it’s not hard because you never leave on time anyway and never really know when the day will end. You change up the door through which you exit so people never know which way you come or go. You arrive to work at varying times and sit and watch for a few minutes and do your best to make sure people don’t know which car you drive. And you do all of this despite the fact that most of the families you work with like you and are glad you’re helping. But a few don’t and that is scary. Those few aren’t doing what they are supposed to or suffer from addiction or mental illness, and for them it’s easier to blame you.
So you watch, worry, think and pray. You pray for yourself. You pray for families to find their way. And you pray for your co-workers… your friends. Today, I will pray for this worker and her family who lost her. I will pray for the children who will now never have a shot a reunification because their mother’s mental illness and desperation drove her to murder. I will continue to pray for my social work friends … every day.
Christina Fly, LMSW, Director of Policy and Continuous Quality Improvement began working for DCS in 1999 as a Juvenile Justice Case Manager. She served in the MC Regional as Placement Specialist and then OJT Coach from 2003 -2004. In 2005, she briefly worked in the Office of Child Safety as a Program Coordinator. Beginning in 2006 through 2012 she worked as Social Services Team Leader in Rutherford County. After receiving her MSSW in 2012, she became a Program Manager conducting Safety Analysis before entering her current role in 2013.