-By Samantha Wascow, Supervisor, LCFS In Home Protective Services
Who helps to protect children from sexual abuse and provides therapeutic intervention to support those victims and their caretakers? That’s the job of caseworkers in the In Home Protective Services (IHPS) program. The hardworking and dedicated staff often fly under the radar so to speak, unrecognized for the valuable support they provide to families in need.
One of the main goals of IHPS is to prevent the placement of children into the foster care system. Our case managers/social workers serve some of the city’s most vulnerable and needy families, visiting with families on a weekly basis and connecting them with services from a variety of local, state, federal and community resources. Our case managers/social workers work closely with the caregivers for an average of six months, to maintain the child or children’s safety in the home.
For the past four years, I have been working as the supervisor at the IHPS for Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS). The cases are emotionally taxing, but I have been fortunate to witness many families benefit greatly from our services. Take for example, Jan*, who at 9 years old, had been sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and was grappling with having to testify at his criminal hearing. Jan’s mother was developmentally-delayed and was having trouble grasping just how traumatic the situation was for her daughter, so Jan and her sisters were placed in her grandmother’s care. Jan was a sweet and funny child who was also incredibly resilient and exceptionally strong.
A typical role of an IHPS case manager/social worker is to accompany families to court hearings, in particular, criminal hearings. Since this was such a complex case I decided to go along with my social worker to be a support to her as well as to Jan and her family. Jan was understandably extremely nervous having to face her perpetrator for the first time since the incident. The IHPS social worker worked very closely with Jan and her grandmother to help ease their anxiety during the long days of waiting during the trial. Jan was very nervous and went back and forth as to whether she wanted to testify. One day, to break up the monotony, we decided to make bracelets out of some thread that I found in my bag. We named them the “courage bracelets” and Jan, the IHPS social worker and I wore the bracelets each day to the trial. We told Jan that when she felt nervous or scared on the stand or at anytime, that she could look down or feel her courage bracelet to feel better and safe.
Jan decided to testify in the trial – but only on one condition – she wanted her IHPS social worker to be in court room for support. Of course, that was a condition that we could oblige. Jan was very strong and was able to recount what happened that dreadful evening, in front of her perpetrator, her mother, and a room full of strangers. What a tough girl!
Though the outcome was not as story book as we often wish it could be in child welfare (the perpetrator was found ‘not guilty’), Jan walked away with much more than any of us ever expected. She had a new found confidence in herself that seemed to radiate from her after her testimony. We were so very proud of her and we all admired her courage. Soon after the hearing Jan’s sister asked her what would happen if her courage bracelet disintegrates- would she still be brave? Jan quickly answered her sister with a resounding “YES!” Perhaps this was the best part of all. Jan understood that she had the strength within her all along.
Stories like Jan’s demonstrate the success, dedication and hard work of the staff. But it’s just not a matter of opinion. IHPS is evaluated every six months on a set of rigorous standards by the Department of Human Services. The most recent evaluation in September 2013 yielded phenomenal results. Our staff scored 98% in safety, 93% in non safety, and overall compliance score was 95%. Kudos to the IHPS team for all that you do and will continue to do for children and their families in the weeks, months and years ahead – Alisha Smith, Glorious Muir, Natina McFarlane, Kimberly Keene, Enjulee Thomas-Finnagan, Tirzah Cannad, Deb Drummond, Samantha Wascow and Mary McCann.
*Note: Client’s name was changed for this story to protect her identity.