What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Angela.

What I want you to know is that my first exposure to social work was through the television show Judging Amy. I didn’t know the first thing about social work, but at 13 years old I was intrigued by Maxine Gray’s job in the child welfare system and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I chose to pursue a social work degree with little to no knowledge of the scope of social work practice – I was just a young girl who wanted to change the world.

On 08/15/2009 I graduated with my Bachelor’s in social work. I had secured a job as a foster care caseworker with Child Protective Services and was ready to leave my mark on this world. What I want you to know is that just 3 short months later, I had seen enough that made me want to leave the world of social work forever. I was immersed in a world of child abuse and neglect that I didn’t realize existed. Of course we have all heard the horror stories, the cases that make the news, but my eyes were opened to the abuse and neglect that takes place in my own community, in my little corner of the world. Pictures of children who had been stabbed with utensils for spilling their drink at the dinner table jarred me. Iron burns, bruises from extension cords, and the details of neglect caused by substance abuse are permanently etched into my mind. I will never forget the sound of an infant in the NICU crying through the pain of going through cocaine withdrawals. I burnt out quicker than anyone ever told me was possible.

Since that time I have held 4 different jobs. I have worked with children with developmental disabilities, people with mental illness, the elderly, Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients, and have provided education for other social workers in nursing home settings. In the 5 years since I have graduated from college I have been caught in cross-fire at an apartment complex while investigating a report of abuse, have watched children weep after being removed from their parents, have celebrated with families after they were able to adopt their child after years of ups and downs in the foster care system, have cried with and rejoiced with parents after their 2 year old said their first word, have cried with and consoled parents after their child received a heart-breaking diagnosis, have listened to the elderly tell stories of better days, have been talking to patients the moment they had a psychotic break, have counseled adult children when their parents don’t recognize them anymore, and have comforted the elderly after their nursing home roommate and best friend has passed away.

I am now employed as a contractor for Child Protective Services completing home studies for families who want to foster and adopt. What I want you to know is that I was hesitant about going back to the abuse and neglect world, but it’s nice to be on the other side of the case this time. It feels good to work with individuals who desire to bring hope to the hurting and help change a child’s life. I would be lying if I said that I never have days where I’m ready to move on again. Sometimes I feel like I can’t read one more court report detailing a child’s abuse and neglect without smashing my computer on the ground and just walking away from it all. Those days I get online and look at jobs in my area that have nothing to do with social work. On a particularly hard day a few weeks ago I almost applied to be a flight attendant. What I want you to know is that a few weeks ago I saw a family in the grocery store that I had done a home study for. I watched as they held hands with, laughed with, and showed affection towards a child who had recently been placed in their home. The mom made eye contact with me for a brief second. We never spoke, but the look in her eyes said it all. And that moment makes it all worth it.

What I want you to know is that the scope of social work practice is so much more extensive than the 13 year old me ever realized it could be. And no one becomes a social worker for the fame or fortune. Across the board, your social workers are generally overworked, underpaid, and never appreciated. News outlets and media like to portray social workers as uncaring and unmotivated, lazy professionals who could have prevented harm to children or elderly, who didn’t do their follow-up visits or whatever they needed to in order to protect the vulnerable. Please please please don’t be fooled by what you see on television. Maybe there are a few social workers out there who are like that, but not the ones I know. The girls (and few guys) I have had the privilege of working with are passionate, educated, and determined people. They get in the trenches with their clients. They stand up to bosses and administrations and lose their jobs because they are unwilling to do anything less than fight for the best interest of the people who trust them. So the next time the national news and media outlets try to boost their ratings with child abuse cases, please don’t ask the question “where was the social worker?” Chances are she was right there, fighting against policies that are in place to protect parents’ rights, advocating for the rights and best interest of the child, and going home at the end of the night and crying over everything she sees and everything she can’t change.