It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Letter to Child Welfare

karolien-brughmans-232050-unsplashDear Child Welfare,

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in Chicago and I can see our glorious Lake as I sit to write this letter to let you know just how much our time together has meant to me.

Child Welfare, you showed me the ways of the world.

When I didn’t yet understand what the human struggle really meant, you showed me.  Through you I saw what desperate people are capable of, how humans can reconstruct their morals so deeply that they hurt those closest to them to deflect their own pain.

The pain looked like bruises and down-turned gazes.  It sounded like a mother yelling at her child in the grocery store, so loudly I could hear her from aisles away.  Pain was the smell of cigarettes in a tiny apartment, and the week-old trash waiting for the snow to melt so it could be taken to the dumpster outside.  Oh dear Child Welfare I saw the pain as a child shied away from the loving touch of her FosterGranny, not familiar with comfort and warmth from a loving caregiver.  Pain tasted like sour milk.

The pain and the struggle and the lack of time and money and the grit and the dust and the sadness, you showed me the ways of the world, yes you did Child Welfare.  Yet through you I felt connected to humanity in a way I never imagined, for the struggle to be human on this earth is a shared experience, and by connecting with our fellow mankind, we can heal others and ourselves through our mere presence.

True connection looked like a pony-tailed kindergartner’s missing-teeth smile when I took her for a vanilla cone at McDonald’s, her first one.  It sounds like the tears that accompany a breakthrough when a parent finally realizes how badly her life has spun out of control, and is ready to commit to change.  Human connection smells like the freshness of Spring in the air, of lilacs and cherry blossoms.  Oh long-gone Child Welfare I saw the power of connection when my client re-gained custody of her school-aged son after years of progress in therapy, the hugs and kisses and tears that broadcasted “I’ll never let anything happen to you ever again and this I know for sure”.   Delicious human connection tastes like the freshest water on the hottest day.  We need it to survive.

Child Welfare, our time together was well-spent, me learning from you and all the people you introduced me to, both clients and colleagues.  Each of these people bestowed a gift to me, the gift of learning and experience and sharing and openness.  The gift of clinical collaboration and resistance, which allowed me to re-examine my therapeutic approaches and learn to become more client focused.  I learned to assert myself when needed.  I learned to back down and ask for help when I couldn’t do it on my own.

You gave me a deep respect for those who dedicate their lives to social services.  There are so many unsung heroes who fight the good fight day in and day out who go unrecognized on the street for their bravery and persistence.  I will forever honor our time together, Child Welfare.  It was invaluable.

Now our time has ended and it is time to venture out on my own.  I promise to share what I have learned from you with new clients who deserve my attention, who want my help in re-framing their lives to balance their strengths against their struggles.  The work is, at its core, the same.  I’m committed to the health and healing of my clients just like I was when you knew me.  I’m the same therapist, only this time I’m armed with all the knowledge of the School of Hard Knocks.  Not quite the same as an accredited University, but just as valuable.  Have faith in me, dear Child Welfare.  I have come through you, and I will make you proud.


Rebecca Wise, MSW, LCSW

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