Throughout 2018, we are celebrating 135 years of meeting every child, every family, where their need is greatest. Doing whatever it takes so children and families can thrive. We are proud of our legacy of meeting the changing needs of vulnerable families throughout Illinois and inspired by the children and families we serve and their stories of resilience.
Being a social worker is an often challenging, yet rewarding career. In honor of National Social Work month, we’d like to share a story from 1988 about Katie Shaughnessy, a social worker at the Evanston Children’s Center, now known as the Rice Child + Family Center. Although helping children and parents rebuild relationships can be difficult; for Katie, it’s the most meaningful part of her work. Thirty years later, we are still committed to restoring family bonds and helping children build a network of support.
From Children’s Home & Aid’s 1988 Van Arsdale Journal:
Parent, friend, sister, neighbor, teacher, counselor, consultant, confidante, diplomat, referee, scapegoat. These are roles Katie Shaughnessy knows—and plays—well.
Katie’s a social worker at the Evanston Children’s Center. She and other child care workers are charged with caring for 10 boys, ages 7 to 12 years. They often may be abused, neglected, abandoned children, or some combination thereof. To Katie, however, they’re simply “my kids.”
“My abused kids always blame themselves for their abuse,” she says. “They’ll think, ‘I made them hit me, leave me.’ They have so many aggressive feelings bottled up inside. Rage. Fear.”
As a result, Katie’s unit is an emotional tinderbox, particularly on holidays. These are times when the youngsters are most painfully reminded that their lives are not material for a situation comedy.
“One boy who later came here was found at age two walking the streets in November in his pajama top,” she recounts. Abandoned children frequently develop abnormal fears of being left alone. “During a field trip, a child might clutch your hand the entire time,” she says. “That’s unusual for a 10-year-old.”
What happens to such children, in large measure, depends on Katie and her co-workers, the therapists, social workers, and teachers who administer the treatment plan developed with the family. “The team is tremendously supportive,” says Katie.
Staff support notwithstanding, monitoring the unit is difficult due to the building’s floor plan. “If I’m in the hallway, I can’t see everybody,” says Katie. “There could be a crisis you don’t know about. I’ve walked into the bathroom and found clumps of hair on the floor.”
But Katie believes that no matter how children may have been treated, there is always a bond linking them to their parents. The relationship may be tenuous, even volatile, but it can be repaired, she says.
“We try to help the children and parents see their situations truthfully, to get to the root of their anger, painful as that may be,” she notes. “To see a kid get to go back home makes it all worthwhile.”
Children’s Home & Aid’s story began with the vision of one man who believed that every child deserved a loving home. Your part is unfolding today. What is your story?
See all of the stories as part of our 135th anniversary.