Working in FCNI’s administrative services, I don’t get to experience much direct interaction with our kids or families, at least not as much as I’d like. So I depend on our direct service staff to share their stories and experiences with me--their ups, downs, good days and even their hard days, and the countless examples they get to see of our staff’s and families’ resiliency and unwavering hope. These stories that I get to hear not only help to inform how I talk and describe our agency’s work to the general public, but they also increase my own hope, help me stay mission focused and prove to me time and time again that people are mostly loving. Regardless of what we may see on today’s “reality” tv, these real life stories show me that people do really want what’s best for others and are willing to help however they can. I don’t know about you, but being reminded of this kinder side of humanity is crucial to my mental wellbeing these days!
I say all this to explain why I love having a direct service staff walk into my office, plop down in my chair, and start sharing; their words and emotions inevitably bubbling to the surface in their excitement to tell me about their family. Not their biological or chosen family, mind you, but the family that they have been working with who’ve become so much more than just a “client” to them.
Take Shannon for example. Shannon’s a Rehabilitation Specialist (RS) who recently sat down with me to tell me about her experience with a 10 year old boy, Morgan*. I knew right away that I was going to get a rapid fire of words from her. And I tried my best to capture it all, but I think for my purpose here today, I’d rather tell you about how Shannon told her story; how she gushed and exclaimed the trials of her assigned family with words of honesty and awe. And how her eyes brimmed with tears when she reached the climax of her story, sharing Morgan’s “pivotal” moment with me that someone else might have disregarded as “small,” but for Shannon--after hours, days and weeks of consistent care--this “small” success demonstrated how Morgan had reached a place in his healing that she knew--she just knew--was going to be life changing for him.
Let me give you a little background. Morgan had only recently been reunified with his family after a short stay in foster care for his safety. Morgan’s life before care had been anything but stable--he experienced his parent’s drug use, arrests and intermittent homelessness. While Morgan was cared for by his foster parents, his legal guardian and only local family member, his grandfather, his Papa, was supported in securing safe housing and steady employment so that Morgan could be placed in his care. But after Morgan moved in with his Papa, he started reflecting his trauma in aggressive ways that only delayed and disrupted his healing and his ability to connect with his grandfather. So it was Shannon’s goal to be Morgan’s consistent lifeline; the one person who would engage with him with unlimited kindness, patience, and unconditional compassion.
Now, this might seem like a fairly easy task, but let me assure you, it is not. I could write a short novella about all the ways our RS staff provide therapeutic care to our kids and youth. I’ll just say that this role is difficult; it is mentally, emotionally and physically tasking as much as it is vital. Providing in-home support to a hurting family is essential in their healing process, and is the best way to help them learn stronger skills and ultimately, become self-sufficient.
So when I say that Shannon functioned like Morgan’s lifeline, I mean she had to endure his pain, experience his anguish and care for him regardless of what defenses he threw at her. And she did. Day in and day out, every afternoon after school for weeks. While Morgan’s Papa tried to enforce new routines and consequences--things that kids need to feel safe but were completely forgeign to Morgan--Shannon helped Morgan handle it all. When Morgan’s defenses caused him to push hard when he really wanted to pull close, Shannon stayed. She listened when he didn’t want to talk, she sat with him when he wanted to chase everyone away, and she believed in him when he couldn’t believe in anything.
As Shannon shared the ups and downs she experienced with Morgan, I watch an array of emotions play across her face. When she shares how Morgan recently was able to tell her, without anger and in full honesty, that he’s scared of losing his Papa and he doesn’t want to be anymore, her pride in Morgan’s monumental display of progress is literally bursting out of her. But it isn’t pride in what she, as his worker, did or does, but rather it is pride in how Morgan opened the door to his own healing, just crack, but enough to show her that he’s ready to start his journey. He no longer wants to be held captive by his pain. He ready to be free. Shannon was so happy for Morgan, I thought she might climb to the rooftop of FCNI and shout her joy to the world!
Obviously, this isn’t the end of Morgan’s story, or of Shannon’s work with him. I know, just as she does, that there are still going to be hard days to come, that Morgan and his Papa are only just starting the long and difficult road towards being a stronger and healthier unit. But I also know that Shannon will think of this one day often as she takes this journey with them. She’ll pull it out when she needs reminded that what she’s doing--the time, energy and persistence she’s expending--is worth it, because Morgan is worth it.
I am so thankful for Shannon’s willingness to share a piece of Morgan’s story with me, and in turn, with all of you. Obviously, not every “Morgan” in our care arrives at a happy ending; this is a tragic consequence of the human condition. But regardless, it is vital for those of us in the human services industry to be reminded that while we’re not in the “happy endings” line of work, we are directly involved in the process of enhancing lives; real, messy, confusing, ever evolving lives of the most vulnerable of us. And every “Morgan” we see heal encourages us to show up again tomorrow, ready and willing to help however we can.
*names and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality