Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.
Who helps the helper?
I’ve posted this anonymously, to protect anyone I may come in contact with in my line of work. For that reason, some details of my work and family life are vastly reduced in this post.
Most of my friends and neighbors know I work in disabilities and that lately (for about two years) I’ve also been doing work with families who “need some extra support”.
But that is the nice version.
The less nice version is: I work for social services. I support parents who are on the verge of losing their children. There are many different reasons, and I have entered the process early (when social services are a “Let’s see if the care improves dramatically with a little support” thing), and late (“We should have done something ages ago, but at least we can send you in now while we rush this case to court”).
I work with my clients in their homes. I can come early in the morning to start their day, or in the evening to help them with a good rhythm for winding down. Sometimes I’m needed on a weekend to help fill it with something fun to do. My work is to guarantee the children’s basic rights are met according to the The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to provide an emotionally secure adult while overseeing that their situation doesn’t get worse (and preferably gets a lot better).
But I feel I am always sent in too late. I communicate with the case workers and I suggest all kinds of additional support available to the families; but usually, they still end up with their children being placed with a foster family to guarantee their basic needs.
Maybe, I think, maybe an earlier intervention could have prevented this?
But often the social services didn’t even know there was a problem before it got really bad. It takes a lot for grown ups in the children’s lives to file a complaint, and a lot for parents to ask for the help of the social services. So the problem has often been brewing, festering, barely managed, barley contained. The two main reasons are the fear of humiliation and the fear of losing one’s children.
At least I don’t have to make that call. I don’t take the case to court. I don’t decide. The case worker talks to me and I tell them what I have seen, what we have accomplished along the way, how far the families have come with my help, and they then decide what the next step will be. And often, it is decided the children will be removed from their family home.
My work then changes, to supporting the parents in their quest to regain the skills and accountability they need to be seen fit to parent. In most cases they at least get to keep me, who have met them when they were a family and can see them as the parents they are. Someone they know, at least partially.
I have never met a parent who did not love their child. But parenting is a multifaceted task, especially in a complicated world. My wish is that every family would get the support they need to keep the family together, and their children safe from harm, neglect and/or emotional trauma.
Because sometimes both options open to the social services suck; leaving children with someone who has a history of basically not parenting them or separating them from the people they love and trust? The only parents they have ever known?
Both options will scar them for life. Both options are traumatic.
Now for the twist.
I am bipolar. I have a serious mood disorder.
I am a mother to a small child.
In my personal life, I am partnered with my child’s father, a stable man. I am currently stable myself, and even medication-free. I might not be for the rest of my life, and while I was on medication they worked fine for me. I would happily take my pills again if I needed to.
But what if disaster strikes? Life holds no guarantees. I could lose my partner or suffer some other destabilizing event. The meds might not work as well the next time. I have no family living close by. Since I work part-time for social services I don’t have a large salary or a large saving account. I could be on welfare very quickly. And those things combined — low economic resources, lack of support from family and documented mental illness, underachievement — are warning signs that social services look for. I know I sometimes modify my behavior to not fit my own subjective view on how people with bipolar type disorder behave: I take extra care of personal hygiene, I keep my workspace tidy, I show up for meetings with time to spare, I modulate my voice to be calm and the reasons for my opinions to be well formulated. I pride myself on handling stress, on average, very well. It is in my nature, but I often chose what I focus on: being a reasonable, competent and together person.
While I am in a position of power that supersedes the power of my clients, it is important to me to treat my clients as equals. I don’t see the parents I work with who have mental illnesses, neural development disorders, or traumatic childhood experiences (that make it difficult to parent their own children) as different. I don’t see them as being of “the others”. It’s not by any action of my own that I came to be bipolar; it is by no action of my own that I am not different in a way more stigmatized by society. I can, at times, congratulate myself on my great outcome so far — but only so far.
As I do my labor of love this thought often flutters through my mind: I could slip from helper into needing help. In this part of town I am the only one who does exactly this kind of work; my colleagues have slightly different jobs, or a more theoretical angle than I do. Who will then come for me? Who will look out for my child’s best interests?
Who helps the helper?
And also even if I never fall ill again: what if my clients found out? Would they trust me as much as they often do, if they knew of my mood disorder? Would they see it as “No big deal, we know you”? Or would they criticize the social services because “they sent someone crazy to help”? Would most of them see it a relief that I am not perfect either? Or would they be unsettled by the images of bipolar mood disorder in popular media and being required to put their faith into the hands of “someone like that”?
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