I always said that working in child protection was like living the news. I somehow managed to maintain a sincere love for my job despite the looming mound of paperwork, unrelenting demands, constant feelings of inadequacy, and the roller coaster of fear, apprehension, and anxiety that I rode on a daily basis.
Anytime I told someone what I did for work I received the same response without fail, “wow, that must be really tough [hard, difficult].” How do you explain loving a job that has all the characteristics of a truly undesirable job (low pay, high stress, long hours)? I sought a job in child protection simply because I wanted to help kids, but that’s not the reason I loved it. Sure, I developed relationships with some pretty great kids that I will never forget, but it was my ability to relate to the parents that led to my unexpected love for child protection. The parents I developed relationships with weren’t uncaring people intending to harm their children. Just the opposite. They were people who loved their children and were doing the best they could with what they knew. They were people with amazing stories of childhood struggles, lives of hardship, and attempts to overcome parenting challenges. Some of them succeeded in overcoming those challenges. Some did not.
There were times when I found myself saying, “this situation could happen to me” or “this could happen to anyone.” The statistics became so ingrained in my mind that they haunted my dreams. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the age of eighteen, usually by a family member or someone the family knows and trusts. I saw parents struggle with feelings of frustration and anger that led to events that would impact their children forever. I saw relationships falter under the stress of having children and crumble, leaving the children lost in the debris of a broken home, a struggling mother, and custody disputes.
I left child protection to be home with my son after five years of service. Though I am removed from the day to day of child protection, I struggle to let go of the fear, to forget the statistics, and believe that my son will be okay despite the dangers that exist in this world. I recently read an article entitled, Our Children Are Safer Than They Have Ever Been, and it really struck a cord with me. I have been trained to anticipate the danger and to evaluate the worst case scenarios. It is so deeply ingrained in me that it feels natural to worry about the dangers that don’t exist in my son’s life rather than focus on the safety that surrounds him.
The mere fact that I know what could happen means that I will spend my energy ensuring it doesn’t. I am my son’s protective factor. I believe it’s the knowledge we have and the individual steps we take to protect our children that has impacted our communities and created safer environments for our children to play and grow. We know the dangers. We know ways to build their protection. We know how to teach them to keep themselves safe. Now, we just need to learn how to let them go. We need to learn to trust them and trust that the lessons we are teaching them will keep them safe. We need to let go of the statics, of the fear, and learn to trust humanity again.