It has been a very troubling few years at Vermont’s Department of Children and Families. In 2014 there was a string of child deaths in Vermont–children in families involved with DCF. These deaths prompted intense anger and at least four investigations into the department.
Then on August 7, 2015, Lara Sobel, a caseworker at DCF, was shot as she left the DCF offices in Barre, Vermont. She was shot and killed by a woman who was angry after losing custody of her daughter to DCF the month before.
The Department of Children and Families flares up in the news, then the news subsides. We hear from the governor, from the DCF commissioner, from legislators and journalists and commentators. But the people we never hear from are the people who actually do the work. And this is by design. The work that DCF caseworkers do is intensely private, and in order to protect the privacy of parents and children, caseworkers are not allowed to talk publicly about their cases. In a way, their silence shields us from some of the darkest, most complex, most intractable problems in our state.
In this show you’ll hear from three DCF caseworkers from three different areas of Vermont. For their own safety, I’ve chosen not to use their names. They talk about what it’s like to have a job where the lives of children and families are at stake.
TRANSCRIPT below thanks to Jennifer Jorgenson of UVM!
Credits and Thanks
Music for this show by Brian Clark and Peter Cressy
I would like to thank Luciana at DCF, and all the caseworkers who gave me such generous time in the making of this show.
Erica Heilman: Welcome to Rumble Strip Vermont, I’m Erica Heilman. On the afternoon of Friday, August 7th, 2015, Lara Sobel, caseworker at the Department of Children and Families was shot as she left the DCF offices in Barre, Vermont. She was shot and killed by a woman who was angry after losing custody of her daughter to DCF the month before. In the aftermath of this killing, there was a rash of truly disturbing commentary in social media [00:00:30] from people expressing sympathy with Lara’s killer, people who look on DCF case workers as home wreckers, baby snatchers. But there’s a whole different contingent that believes DCF doesn’t intervene in families enough. In 2014, there was a string of child deaths in Vermont. Children in families involved with DCF. These deaths prompted intense anger and at least four investigations into the department.
[00:01:00] DCF flares up in the news, then the news subsides. We hear from the governor, we hear from the DCF commissioner from legislators and journalists and commentators. But the people we never hear from are the people who actually do the work. And this is by design. The work that DCF case workers do is intensely private. And in order to protect the privacy of parents and children, case workers are not allowed to talk [00:01:30] publicly about their cases. And in a way, their silence shields us from some of the darkest, most complex, most intractable problems in our state. These are the problems and the stories that DCF case workers live with every day. In this show, you’ll hear from three DCF case workers from three different areas of Vermont. For their own safety, I’ve chosen not to use their names. They’ll talk about what it’s [00:02:00] like to have a job where the lives of children and families are at stake. Welcome. I figured we would start just by talking about what does DCF do? Because I don’t know that everybody knows that really what it is, and also what it isn’t.
Speaker 2: So family services, our primary role is to ensure the safety [00:02:30] and care of children in the state of Vermont. We are not baby snatchers. We are not police. Our main objective is to work with families that have children and to ensure that their children are safe and working with them, connecting them with different services within the community, and ensuring basically that [00:03:00] the care or the risk that there is for the children in the home is either eliminated or mitigated in some way. When we receive reports of abuse and neglect of children, poverty is pretty much what we see all the time, but that is not to say that child abuse and neglect doesn’t occur in middle class or upper class homes. We just don’t get that many reports from there.
Erica Heilman: Can you [00:03:30] give people a kind of a… If you can just give people a sense for what kinds of worlds you enter into in this work?
Speaker 3: Yes, I can try to answer that. So this work does bring me to all walks of Vermont and even beyond. Our district, the Hartford district is the largest of the 12 district offices. We cover the larger towns of Randolph, Bradford, and White River [00:04:00] Junction. And we also cover all of the rural towns in between that. We do home visits on back dirt roads. Sometimes they’re not even real roads. And we do these visits in the winter in our state cars, and we hope the tires are going to get us to where we need to go. And we’re usually doing these visits alone. We sometimes team if we feel there’s a safety concern, but generally if I’m doing a home visit, I go out and do these home visits alone, [00:04:30] and they can be anywhere from right here in town in White River to sometimes an hour and a half away. I have currently 25 children in custody on my caseload. I also serve, I think, about 10 additional children under conditional custody orders. So I have approximately 35 children that I am assessing safety for on sometimes a daily basis.
Speaker 2: Primarily we’re working with families that are really impoverished [00:05:00] and that there’s mental health issues and/or drug related issues. Some families are living with a known untreated sex offender, so we get calls from anybody from the next door neighbor to a doctor to teachers reporting that they have concerns about the kids or the kids have disclosed that they’ve been physically abused or sexually [00:05:30] abused. So we meet with the families and try to sort it out. So this is a mental health issue, so how can we connect a person to a local agency. If it’s a substance misuse issue, again, having them participate in a drug and alcohol assessment, developing safety plans around, “Okay, so if you lapse, then is there somebody that’s clean and sober [00:06:00] that can care for your child while you’re using? And is that person safe to be around children too?”
Erica Heilman: And how would you characterize most of your relationships with those parents? Are most positive and amicable or how would you describe them?
Speaker 2: I would say most are positive. There’s definitely tension in the relationship, because I’m pushing them to follow through with their substance [00:06:30] misuse program or trying to extract them from a relationship that’s not healthy for the children or for them. So there’s tension in those things. But I feel like I’m kind of like a coach, kind of like a life coach pointing in the direction. So there’s this road and this road and this road, and you can take any of these paths you want. You’re the one that’s in control here. [00:07:00] And it’s up to you to do this.
Speaker 4: I think one of the hardest parts about this job is that we all have our own set of values, our standards of living, and each of us is very different. And when we meet with families, it’s really important that we not put our own value judgment on these families, because we’re all different. I can’t stand dirt on the floor and all those kind of things, and when I walk into someone’s house and there’s dirt on the floor, [00:07:30] that’s my value. That’s not theirs. And that doesn’t constitute a right for DCF to come in and remove children. And I know I hear that all the time. You’re going to take my kids because I have a dirty house. We’re not the dirt police. We are there because there’s a risk to the children, either from an external source or from something that the parent has done, not based on the fact that you have dirt on your floor.
Do we get involved? Yes. If there’s something on the floor or something that the children can have access to that can cause them harm, absolutely. Dried dog feces [00:08:00] on the floor left all over with a baby crawling is not safe. We are there for imminent risk into concerns about the child’s safety and wellbeing. We are not there to criticize you because you don’t have enough money to pay for your heat.
Erica Heilman: You’ve been here long enough to see the way that people respond to the work as they come in. Looking at the social workers around you, what do you notice happen happens?
Speaker 3: I think what’s most difficult for myself and [00:08:30] for coworkers that I have seen leave, having difficult relationships with our clients is expected. Having difficult relationships with other professionals can be incredibly wearing. I do hear DCF is not doing enough. Why can’t you get involved with this child? And people don’t necessarily understand that DCF is a child protection agency, not a quality of life agency. When teachers contact me because a child has not come to school having breakfast or having [00:09:00] a jacket, those are horrible things, but that’s not necessarily a reason for DCF to become involved with them. And I think that a lot of people don’t know that.
Speaker 2: Unless there are objects in the home that are hazardous, then we have no call to pull children out of that. So the condition of the home doesn’t immediately affect the child. [00:09:30] That’s not child abuse. Does it tell you something about how the people in that home are living? Is it a picture of depression? Yeah, absolutely. There is a lot of stuff in people’s houses and it’s filthy, and sometimes a whole family is just living in one room, just mattresses and [00:10:00] beat up couches and just really chaotic and animals, and I didn’t want to sit down and there were just things crowding in, it’s just claustrophobic. It’s almost always dark. There’s always blankets across the windows. And most of the stuff is just broken down, like broken toys and [00:10:30] garbage and debris and clothing.
It is really hard to describe what you go into. I don’t know, it’s… But you don’t want to judge them for that. And we’ve been asked by state’s attorneys, “Well, take pictures.” And I just won’t, because I feel [00:11:00] like that’s such an invasion. I’m already invading and now I’m recording how they are living in their homes. Poverty is just the key issue. I don’t know who said this, but I totally agree with it. They said that poverty is the worst form of violence that there is. And I totally agree with [00:11:30] that.
Erica Heilman: So if someone is concerned about a child and makes a call to family services, DCF may or may not investigate. We don’t know. Because after that phone call, the case becomes a private matter between DCF and the family. This privacy is endlessly frustrating to the accused, to teachers, to defense attorneys and journalists, really anyone who wants to know [00:12:00] what’s going on and isn’t DCF, and it’s impossible to hold the state accountable for its handling of these cases if we can’t see them. On the other hand, this privacy protects children and can protect people who are falsely accused. And because of this privacy, we don’t really know what these case workers do. In this next segment, case workers talk about some of the problems they work with. And this is not easy to listen to, but in order to understand the nature [00:12:30] of their work, we have to hear about some of the challenging situations they face.
Speaker 3: Kids being physically abused because their parents don’t know any other way to parent them. Kids being exposed to substantiated sex offenders. Substance abuse is an epidemic in Vermont right now. That’s not a secret to anybody. How that relates to child safety is [00:13:00] parents not waking up until noon. Three year olds taking care of their six month old baby brother. Children not eating because their parents can’t get out of bed. Children not getting to school because their parents can’t get them there or can’t get them on the bus. Kids are being left outside while the parents are inside doing drugs on a winter day. Situations where children are seeing [00:13:30] their mothers being abused by their mother’s partners. Those are some of the situations that I have come across and what I am experiencing, or what I know about the family is probably the tip of the iceberg that the children are actually being exposed to. The children that I am involved with, this has been their life for years before I have become involved with them.
Speaker 4: [00:14:00] I used to have a majority of my investigations or assessments would involve sexual abuse or physical abuse. Now a majority of them involving risk of harm, because these pregnant moms who are using in utero, using while pregnant, and we’re opening assessments before the child’s birth to determine whether or not they’re safe. I mean, that’s the stuff that we here as the office is seeing right now. I mean this explosion of infants who have parents [00:14:30] who are using. The example I could think about is when I was, technically by the legal terms, assaulted by a mother. She spit in my face during a removal of her children. Got information that she was using, and we went to her house and she was completely out of it. She was slurring her words. She was not able to stand appropriately. She was argumentative, combative to the point that the police had to put her in handcuffs.
The house was an absolute disarray compared to what it used to be. [00:15:00] There was dirty diapers all over the floor. The baby was left in a crib with just a diaper on and the feces had exploded out of the diaper and they were caked onto the baby. I mean, she had runny nose that was crusty and was screaming because she was so hungry. And mom had been passed out on the couch, not able to take care of her. She had a sibling there that was trying to get her a bottle who was like three, four years old. And mom was erratic, [00:15:30] combative, aggressive, just out of control.
Speaker 2: I’ve seen bruises on children, scratches, welt marks, child pornography. Something you want to kind of just scrub your brain of once you see it. I’ve read an autopsy report on a four month old baby. You just see the fear [00:16:00] in kids’ eyes, their confusion and desperation in parents’ faces. It’s really hard work. You try not to think about it too much or to take it in too much because you couldn’t possibly do your job if you did.
Speaker 3: [00:16:30] Some families that I am currently working with I was working with six years ago, and every service under the sun has been into these homes, sometimes on numerous occasions, because more children have been born into these homes that warrant different services coming into place. And there’s not always a positive outcome. There is situations where children are remaining in homes that may not to you or I be a [00:17:00] safe or adequate home, but that’s also how this family is choosing to live, and it’s not unsafe for the child. The ideal would be to have service providers go into the home and work with these families, and they come out and everybody’s happy and everybody’s needs are getting met. But they can not always make the changes that are being recommended because there are incredibly complex issues that we’re working with, especially when children are still placed [00:17:30] at home.
That’s when the agency sits with the highest risk. And that’s when I personally feel like I sit with risk. When children are still in the home of parents that are struggling with substance abuse, unresolved mental health, yet the risk does not warrant the child coming into custody, but does warrant that I remain involved, but changes are not being made, and the family is doing the best that they can. We are going in and saying, “This is [00:18:00] what you need to do. This is what you should do. This is what your child needs you to do.” And sometimes all that mom can do is get up and make sure that her kid has a piece of toast that day.
Speaker 2: The other day I was working, and I want to be careful here that I don’t give away too much information so it can be identified. But I was working with these two other service providers, met with this mom and her infant. And we all had [00:18:30] a conversation with her concerned that I’m going to have to make that next move and write an affidavit. If she’s not following through the safety plan. She leaves the room to take a smoke break and me and these two other people are talking, and they’re a like, “God, I just don’t understand her attitude. Why is she using again? She’s only going to use again. You know that, right?”
[00:19:00] Yeah, I know that. But look at their situation. She’s in this motel room, she doesn’t have a partner. She doesn’t drive. She doesn’t even have a car. She’s thousands of dollars in debt for medical bills. Who wouldn’t use? This person, she was a foster child too. She has family, but [00:19:30] they’re involved with us as well. There is no one in her life that she can lean on. No one. She’s got a couple friends that seem to be okay, but they’re struggling too. Very similar situations. What is she going to do is going to go to CCV and ask for an application to go to school and [00:20:00] go out, get a job.
And that’s part of the problem too, is, “Okay, so where does the child go?” Oh, childcare. Well, everybody knows how expensive that is. It’s about $300 a week, with the reach up grant that they’re getting it’s around $1,000 a month. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps? How? How are you going to manage all of that? [00:20:30] You don’t. And you find yourself in a motel using. I understand it, but the child’s still at risk. So work with what we got.
Speaker 3: I talked a little about the gray areas of this work and doing home visits, usually [00:21:00] weekly, if it’s a high risk case, and leaving with the feeling that something is just not right. I don’t have facts to write an affidavit, but something doesn’t feel right. And then something happens. For example, a child went to school with bruises and had clearly been physically abused as determined by a medical professional. And I write an affidavit outlining all of my experiences with this family, [00:21:30] and I ask the judge for this child to come out of this home and to come into foster care. And that request is denied. I may have one incident where something happened that shouldn’t have, but the majority of what I’m reporting are things that don’t reach a level of removal. So not a only is this child remaining in this home, but I now have to continue to work with the family that I have just asked a judge to remove their child from their care.
What small amount of safety may [00:22:00] have been created between the relationship of social worker and parent is now completely gone. I still have to go in week after week to make sure that the child is not at imminent risk, and those are the cases that keep me up at night. Those are the cases where I feel like something bad is going to happen to this child. And then something does happen. Then the public says that DCF didn’t do enough. What the public doesn’t know [00:22:30] is that I was in that home every single week, week after week, trying to make things better, even requesting custody and having it been denied. And people say that social worker didn’t do her job, that social worker didn’t do enough, this baby got hurt because DCF didn’t do their job.
Speaker 2: You always worry. I’m not alone. We all worry. We all have bad dreams. [00:23:00] There is a tremendous amount of responsibility. And the last two years, it just made it harder. And I’m grateful to be in the current position I am. I’m helping out the Barry district office temporarily, ever since Lara was shot, killed. But honestly, I’ll be glad to be done with this work in mid-November. I’m scared to death [00:23:30] that a child’s going to die on my watch, and I really can’t prevent that. There’s so much outside of our control.
Erica Heilman: What don’t people understand about that?
Speaker 2: I think there’s a misconception that DCF family services is just… They get a report and we’re just going to waltz in and pull that child or the children right out of [00:24:00] the home. And that people think that’s what we should be doing. And that’s the last thing we need to do. We cannot possibly do that. Our resources are tapped out. We cannot do that, and it’s not the right thing to do either. It doesn’t solve the problem. Just a quick illustration. We go in and remove children because they’re unsafe, and then that family has more children. [00:24:30] We’re there in the hospital when they’re giving deliveries sometimes. We’re there a few months after they’re born. And those children come into custody and then another child’s born.
We’re not addressing the problem with the issues. We’re not working with the family as much as we need to, to really address the real causes that’s creating the instability, the safety issues in the home, in the social work, [00:25:00] school, we talked about upstream practice versus downstream. And most of our work is downstream. We’re not looking into the real causes of poverty and how that leads to mental illness or how that leads to substance misuse. And that’s what we need to do more of. And it’s not just up to DCF family services. It’s the community, everybody [00:25:30] to step up to the plate.
Erica Heilman: I spoke with eight family services case workers while I was making the show, and they all said, not surprisingly, that morale isn’t great. But what they said that did surprise me and even, admittedly, confounds me, is that they really like this job. They like working with families and they believe in what they do, but they said that they don’t have time to do good work. Their caseloads are too big, the opiate epidemic [00:26:00] in Vermont is out of control, and there’s a near Soviet amount of paperwork involved in this job. They said they don’t have to time to do social work anymore.
Speaker 4: I have workers right now, ongoing workers who have a caseload of 35 kids. How do effective case work with 35 children? You can’t. And I watch my staff fry. I watch them… And these families deserve better than that. They deserve to have a [00:26:30] social worker who has her wits about her, who has the ability and the time to spend to work with them and to engage rather than a social worker who they can’t get ahold of because she’s jumping from one fire to another. I still have kids from when I started 20 years ago coming to see me and checking in. I have those relationships because I had the time back then to create those relationships. And I just feel sad for the new workers now because they’re not having a… They’re not being able to make those connections with clients.
Speaker 2: [00:27:00] The best part of the job is meeting with families and meeting with kids. That’s the enjoyable part, at least it is for me. But it’s amazing how much of the other stuff gets in the way of really doing that face to face work. Spend a lot of time in court and just waiting. Just waiting for the hearing to start and [00:27:30] just trying to track down other service providers who can vouch that the families followed through on X, Y, or Z. Yeah, they’re going to their therapy sessions. Yeah, they got their daily dose every day this week. So children do slip through the cracks and children have died while we were intervening.
Speaker 3: Families deserve to have a social [00:28:00] worker that has face time with them on a regular basis, that they’re able to access on the phone, that they need to know what is expected of them, why we’re involved. I’ve had families come to me and say, “I don’t even know why you’re work working with me. I don’t even know why you’re involved with me.” So the families that we work with deserve to know why a state child protection agency is involved with them. And in order for them to feel respected and in order for them to feel like their cases are moving forward, they need to have contact with their social worker. And unfortunately [00:28:30] with the numbers that we have right now, that doesn’t always happen to the degree that I want it to. That’s probably the hardest thing that I sit with personally. When I leave at the end of the day, I think, “Should I have made this extra phone call? Could I have done this extra report? Could I have done this extra check-in.”
And I can speak to the difference from six years ago to now. I was able to do what I would call kitchen table social work six years ago. Sitting with families [00:29:00] at their kitchen table, really laying out, “These are the issues. This is what we got to work on. This is how we’re going to do it. Let’s pull up our sleeves. Let’s get to work. Let’s make things better. Now it’s crisis response to a situation that’s already happened because I haven’t had the time to sit with that family at their kitchen table and to talk about what the issues are. I am then responding after something has happened. So it does feel like triage work at times.
Erica Heilman: [00:29:30] In cases where a judge believes a child is at imminent risk of harm, she will order that the children be removed from the home and placed in a foster home or kinship home. For most kids in foster care, the initial goal is reunification with their parents. The social workers keep working on their case plans with the parents, and they oversee the kids who are now in foster care. But as soon as kids are removed from the home, a clock starts ticking. The parents have to prove [00:30:00] to the state that they can safely parent the children. And if they can’t do that quickly enough, the state will seek to terminate their parental rights.
Speaker 3: So the hardest decision that I have made and that I feel really any social worker can make is that decision that you are going to file, in court, a petition to terminate parental rights. I, as the social worker have made that decision with, with my management team, with our legal team, and I don’t make it alone, [00:30:30] but I am the one that sits at the round table with mom and dad and says, “This is the direction we’re going in.” And that is incredibly difficult. Sometimes it is met with an understanding that the parent says, “You’re right. I haven’t done what I need to do. I’m not surprised you’re doing this. Okay.” That is one example. Another is screaming and yelling and storming out, attacking me personally. [00:31:00] I usually have my supervisor sitting in with me to have these conversations, but working with a family for so long and then having to sit with them and sometimes saying, “You have made some amazing changes for yourself, but that does not equate to your child being able to come back into your home safely.”
And that’s probably the most difficult conversation. Parents who are making changes, parents who have gained sobriety for three months. [00:31:30] That’s incredible. Congratulations to you. But in the permanency timeline for a child, we need to be making those decisions sooner rather than later. So parents that I see starting to make changes, but just not soon enough or just not great enough, those are the difficult conversations. A parent who has completely blown off everything I’ve asked them to do, that conversation is less difficult. A parent who is showing some progress [00:32:00] but still having to make that decision in the best interest of the child. That’s a difficult conversation to have.
And I have had plenty of cases where I have had to go through a termination of parental rights trial, termination was granted, that family has had another child. For continuity of care they come back onto my case and I have to work with that family again. And [00:32:30] I’m the woman that took their first kid away. So I’m going to take their second kid away. Because we want reunification to be our primary goal, that can be very difficult, because in order for reunification to happen, there needs to be a trusting relationship between social worker and parent. They have to trust me this time around, even though I took their first kid away from them.
Speaker 2: Even in the worst cases, [00:33:00] cases where there’s just overt abuse physical, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, even in the worst cases you just don’t come away like, “Woohoo, I did my job and we won.” Lawyers feel that way. We don’t. [00:33:30] And sometimes you’re glad. “Oh, good, these children are going to be safe. They’re in a good foster home. And foster parents are going to adopt them.” And you’ve been watching them for the last year or two, just thriving and overcoming all kinds of deficits, from a child that’s three years old, it’s not speaking, or a child that’s not potty trained, [00:34:00] or a child that’s so insular, all of a sudden they’re doing so well and schools are reporting how their behavior has changed and how they’re blossoming and they’re coming into themselves. And all that, of course, feels good, and to see that and to witness that. But there’s real trauma for those kids. They’re separated from their family. I can’t even begin to think of what that might feel [00:34:30] like. That’s real trauma. That’s like death. In some ways worse than death, I think.
One case in particular there were two children involved, pretty dysfunctional family, was a case where mental instability was a major [00:35:00] issue. Really impoverished family. The children are in foster care, sibling group. And the dad was pretty much a sober person. The mom is abusing all kinds of substances, so that’s what brought them into our custody. I became their case worker. We developed a case plan and both the parents needed to do A through Z [00:35:30] of things to ensure the safety and care of their children. And they needed to demonstrate that over a period of time and show us that they could sustain that level of safety. So months go by, and in that time you’re meeting with them, you have a six month case plan review, you’re having treatment team meetings, but by the time their anniversary, in which the children come into custody.
The question comes up for the social worker, [00:36:00] what is the permanent plan for these children? Are they going to be returning home or are they going to be adopted? So with this family, nothing has changed. Things actually got worse. So the parents weren’t pulling it together. So I, through our attorneys, petitioned the court to terminate the parents’ rights to both of their children. [00:36:30] And there’s no doubt in my mind these parents don’t love their children. They absolutely love their children, but they just don’t know how to care for their children. And the parents had split up and the dad, who was sober, but had significant delays, cognitive delays, so neither one of them were addressing issues that were outlined in the case [00:37:00] plan. So I thought we had enough where both of the parental rights should have been terminated so that both of those children could be adopted.
But going through that process is excruciating because you have to testify for a lengthy period of time and justify your opinion, your recommendation for the TPR to go through. [00:37:30] Up until you file that petition for the TPR, you’re coaching that family, you’re supporting them, you want to see them succeed, you’re rooting them on. But then the federal mandate comes in that there has to be a permanency option for this child. And then all of a sudden, you flip everything on the family. And then your relationship is just distraught. [00:38:00] So you have to recount all the agencies and supports you had put in place so that they could be successful, and all of a sudden, they’re your adversaries. And I liked the father. I thought he was a good man, and he really loved his children, but I didn’t think he was competent to raise his children.
And that really hurts. That’s devastating. [00:38:30] And I remember being in that court and seeing him afterwards, and I just felt compelled, I had to say something, because I felt I really betrayed him, just like, “I’m sorry. I had to do my job.” And [00:39:00] he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He stood there for a moment and he brushed past me and I fell apart. I got back from courts and I shared my experience with my coworkers and I just started wailing. It just was [00:39:30] horrible.
Erica Heilman: Does it feel sometimes like playing God?
Speaker 2: Yes. Yes. It feels like… I don’t know the Bible well, but that parable, I think it was king David, with the two women in saying, “This is my child.” “No, it’s my child.” And he’s about to split the baby [00:40:00] in half with a sword. You feel like king David.
Speaker 3: I do this work because I see that it’s possible for people to change. And I know if I had a smaller caseload and had more [00:40:30] time to sit with my families, we could be doing better work together. I do still have the cases where real change is being made, despite not having a social worker that can be at their house every week, despite having months of wait lists for a therapist or a substance abuse counselor, they’re making changes. But the job has become in your face more dangerous. So workers have left. Social workers have left our office. [00:41:00] Social workers have left many of the offices because there’s a real fear that something dangerous could happen. I have myself received threats, and what happened to Lara is a tangible thing, and some of the people that I work with defend what happened.
Speaker 4: I had a recent incident where I had an old client who happened to be at my child’s daycare. She had been at the daycare previously, bad mouthing me, saying negative things about me. [00:41:30] And then she showed up at my child’s daycare and asked which child was mine. And there was nothing I could do. It didn’t meet stalking requirements, nothing. My kid stood up and said, “This is my mom. That’s my mom.” And there was nothing I could do. I came into this job knowing that I wanted to be a social worker, I wanted to do this work. I knew the risk that it came with this job. My child does not. So how do I keep her safe when I have clients telling me they know where I live? [00:42:00] I mean, how do we keep our family safe?
Speaker 2: When Lara was murdered, none of us expected this would ever happen to any one of us in the state of Vermont. And for me, it was like, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened, and I can’t believe that happened to Lara. That doesn’t make any sense. None of this makes any [00:42:30] sense.” That seal has been broken and now it’s open for anybody. There’s different points where I thought the Berry district office is just going to just totally break down. It’s strange to work in that office and see those other social workers and just [00:43:00] look into their faces and their expressions are so unique. I don’t know how to describe them. I guess that’s what faces look like after something like that happens.
Erica Heilman: There have been [00:43:30] 125 death threats at DCF since Lara Sobel’s murder. This show is dedicated to Lara Sobel and to her colleagues at DCF. I’d like to say one last thing. There’s a silence at the heart of this show, and it’s the voices of parents involved with DCF. Over the next few months, I’ll be looking for parents who want to share their perspectives about working with [00:44:00] family services. If you have thoughts about this, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you have thoughts about the show in general, I encourage you to make a comment on the website. The music you heard in the show is by my friends Peter Cressie and Brian Clark. I’m Erica Heilman. Thanks for listening.