The words tore right through me. A little boy had died. What was that to me? It was everything about this job to me.
A few weeks earlier I was out on a routine home visit to an Oklahoma City therapeutic foster home. I had been working in the Specialized Services Division of Oklahoma County’s Child Welfare office for over a year. Now it was late summer, 1995. The Oklahoma City bombing had occurred just a few months earlier.
My job was to visit children placed in Oklahoma County therapeutic foster homes where the parents lived in other counties. The home I was visiting today was licensed for two foster children. One was the responsibility of an Oklahoma County child welfare treatment worker. Mine was the new kid, the one so far from home.
I immediately realized something was wrong. My child’s face said it all. He was scared. I took him to a private part of the home to visit with him. He would not talk.
Then I saw the anvil shaped burn on his arm. I inquired. He finally opened up.
He got in trouble. His foster mother was ironing. She used the iron to discipline him.
I had seen a lot of abuse. But so far nothing this severe dealt by a foster parent. I was not sure what to do.
I asked the foster mother about the burn. She admitted to losing her cool. She admitted to using the iron. She corroborated the boy’s story.
She was not sorry. She blamed the child.
My supervisor was on vacation. I was unsure what to do. So I returned to the office. I knew my colleague, another worker in specialized services, was responsible for investigating abuses in foster homes. I asked her what I needed to do since our supervisor was gone. She asked for a few details. I answered her questions. She said she would take it from there. That was the extent of the conversation.
The children were removed from the foster home, for the time being.
I returned to my remaining caseload. I continued work on finding a new placement for a small McAlester boy who had been through multiples foster homes and was in need of a therapeutic foster care placement. There were no homes in his area so they were looking to Oklahoma County, over two hours away. I finished the day on a good note. I found him a good home. He would meet his new foster parents tomorrow after court.
The next day was Friday. I received a phone call from the director of the therapeutic foster care agency. He wanted to see me right away. He was one of several private therapeutic foster care agencies I worked with. I went to his office.
He opened the conversation with accusations and swearing. He told me I should have reported the abuse to him, not to the investigator. He asked me who I thought I was. He told me he would take care of this. And he would make sure I had a better understanding of how things worked.
The following Monday, I was removed from my position and moved to other duties.
I could not believe it. I was crushed. It made no sense.
It was about to get worse.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6