Joe Social Worker Explains Why It’s So Hard For DCF To Take Kids From Parents

After yet another tragedy involving a child who was at one point a DCF client (Bella Bond), Joe Social Worker joins Turtleboy Sports to provide some insight/hot takes on the matter…..

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After yet another tragedy involving a child who was at one point a DCF client (Bella Bond), Joe Social Worker joins Turtleboy Sports to provide some insight/hot takes on the matter…..

There is an extremely delicate (and, as recent events have demonstrated, deadly) dilemma faced by child welfare social workers each day. We are taught that our job is twofold; the first priority exists in our agency’s mission to keep children free from harm from neglect and abuse, which is perplexed by the secondary priority to strengthen families.

These two priorities often get confused in everyday DCF social work.

If we operated solely on the notion of keeping children safe from harm, we would likely remove almost every child from every family we become involved in. We would never return children home from foster care, have them all adopted by loving families, and create a new society standard: you better not screw up, even once, because if you do, lose your kids forever.

This sounds like a quick fix to the problem. Neuter everyone, take kids away at the first sight of harm, never give them back, people will learn their lesson. Operate DCF like the police, and kids will be safe and happy forever. DCF will go out of business because there are no more customers. Close the foster homes down.

If we operated solely on the notion of strengthening families after children were at risk for harm or abuse, we leave the world’s most vulnerable children in homes where they are inevitably going to be hurt. Some parents are able to improve their wellbeing, decision making, parenting skills, after services are implemented by DCF social workers operating under this notion, because people CAN and WILL change for their children.

But other parents may never change, and it is an injustice to the most innocent, vulnerable, and voiceless little people of our world, to operate a child protection agency under the notion that all people are capable of being good parents. Some people are not capable. We have high-profile DCF cases that are evidence of this: Oliver, Murray, Loiselle, Coxon-Conway, and now Bond.


Joe Social Worker is here to inform you all that the above is NOT as quick of a fix to the problem as many would like, because if we truly took every child away after every seemingly risky 51A, we would never have the opportunity to help our struggling parents and children learn how to stop struggling.

Any social worker can give you examples of cases where families had 51A’s filed on them and children were taken away for reports of “abuse” and “neglect” that were untrue, filed by an individual for alternative motives of vengeance. Others were filed due to kids missing doctors appointments, parents who were poor and living out of motels and cars, kids who recently moved to the area and weren’t enrolled in school on time, kids who were 10 years old and left home alone while their single mother walked to the convenience store down the street to buy milk.

While none of those things are at all GOOD for kids, do they warrant kids being taken away? How about kids who were born exposed to methadone? Or kids in homes where parents smoke marijuana? Or kids in homes who have parents with cognitive delays? Kids who don’t get Christmas presents? Kids whose parent’s religion forces the family to fast for 13 hour days?

What about kids in homes where dad beats mom, but has never harmed the kids? How about kids in homes where mom drinks way too much wine after they go to bed? How about homes where moms relapse on drugs, but get help the next day? How about kids who go to school with marks and bruises every day because they play rough with their siblings on the play ground?

What about the kids who spanked, slapped, isolated by their parents because that’s how their parents were disciplined as kids and they don’t know anything different?

All of these things warrant a 51A. Do all of them warrant children being taken? Do any of them warrant parent’s being labeled as incapable?

It’s like the saying “Catch a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” While taking children away forever from dangerous parents is hardly equivalent to catching fish, hear us out:

If you take the kids away, the parents never get the opportunity to better themselves. Drug addict parents may never get sober, mentally ill parents may never get treatment, cognitively limited parents may never learn parenting skills. Our foster homes would be even more full than we already are, leading to an Auburn Foster Home situation. Our children may be more broken than ever, because adoption isn’t always easy.

Not every DCF kid is as beautiful and perfect, and, frankly, adoptable, as the ones who have graced our TV screens in recent months, like the beautiful Bella Bond and Ava Coxon-Conway, adorable Jeremiah Oliver or precious Jack Loiselle. Contrary to how wonderful it sounds to put every at-risk child up for adoption, it is not easy to adopt a sibling group of 4 school age to teenage boys who all have a form of autism, or a 17 year old girl who has never been loved and only knows how to feel peace by physically harming herself. It is not easy to have a 11 year old boy with severe autism and violent tendencies be adopted by a loving family. It is not easy to adopt a 5 year old beautiful set of twins who ask their adoptive parents where their real mom and dad are every day at the breakfast table.


So we take them all away, and then we break apart families. Kids who resent DCF and their adoptive parents for the rest of their lives. Kids who will be angry, and lash out out the system and those who love them because they cannot dessert their own sense of bitterness towards everyone responsible for taking them away from their mom and dad, no matter how screwed up their mom and dad may have been. Kids develop anger towards systems and grow up to be criminals, kids who will develop a sense of abandonment, or reactive attachment disorder, other genetic or situationally-based mental illnesses.

Kids who will hit the age of 13 and make a Facebook profile and befriend their biological mom and dad and love them more because they accepted the friend request than they ever loved their adoptive or foster parents, because our genetics hardwire us in this way. And the ones who are abandoned a second time by these parents when they seek them out later in life will become so pissed off at the system, at the world, at God, that they cannot cope.

Then these kids will grow up. They will look for love, ways to cope with their feelings, or a sense of belonging wherever they can find it. The will find it, temporarily. In drugs, in unhealthy relationships, in having children of their own.

This happens all of the time. This is not every adopted child’s story, but it is many adopted children’s stories.

We are first and foremost a child protection agency. We get that confused with our dually competing notions of protecting children vs. strengthening families. But the children whose cases have bombarded Massachusetts TV new outlets in the recent months who were harmed by their parents, who DCF gave a second chance, tell us that we have failed. Because we have.

But as much as we are responsible, the true blame does not start, nor stop, with us. Unfortunately Joe Social Worker would not have a job if there weren’t shitty parents out there.

We don’t know how to fix this. We don’t know whether to teach our parents to fish, or catch the fish for them and put the fish in foster homes. We don’t know how to analyze which families can learn to catch fish and which families can never learn on their own.

It might seem easy. We understand that most of you will read this and say, “If the parents are shitty parents, TAKE THE KIDS AWAY!” But it’s the hardest thing in the world to walk into the office every morning and what awaits you is the overwhelming responsibility of determining an entire family’s life that day.

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22 Comment(s)
  • July 18, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Hello i have been invold with dcf for 6 years and all my allagations where not true i was just put on medcinin for deoression and anxity and sleep meds rasapan well i had an appointment today and my 18 year old and boyfriend and other daughter 16 where home while i took a nap and this women who works with my 2 year old had to call my case worker to let her know i was disorented but i just got up anyone would be but i was fine after so my question is can dcf take kids away for that i had other people in the home with me who where adults so i want to know if dcf can do anything cause i took a nap please reply back thank u

  • typical white person
    September 28, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Nobody wants to read or think about this, but if you can’t afford kids, or if you’re in a relationship with a douchebag, or sex is your form of recreation, or any other reason you’re having sex and a kid would not be a great idea, you HAVE to make sure you don’t get knocked up. I know, because I did it. I was DILIGENT about not getting knocked up, ever, until I was in a position to provide a decent life for a kid. And that was not until I was 40. Yeah, it was hard, and boy, there were moments when I sooo wanted to through caution to the winds, but the consequences would be too great: a kid I couldn’t take care of.

  • E Freebird
    September 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    What kind of crap is this? A bunch of LIES. Social Workers, their supervisors and moneychangers in the back steal children every day without warrant!! This is why there are so many multi million dollar judgments across the country, especially in the 9th district courts. I think in the last year I’ve counted over 30 million dollars in settlements against CPS, because of their abusive negligent decisions. Social workers are also NOT IMMUNE to lawsuits or jail! Keep lying Wanda Sue Larson!! And keep of the good work lawyers!!

    • kathy murphy
      September 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

      I would love to find an attorney that will take on the DCF Whitinsville, MA office for wrongfully taking my grandson away from our home. We were asked to be foster kin for our 3 year old grandson in March 2015 . Mother was in homeless shelter fulfilling service plan, father in prison for his third time with a 2 1/2 sentence. In April 2015 he (father) was released from prison.
      My grandson at first had supervised visits with parents, separately and three weeks later, unsupervised visits and then three weeks later estranged father given over night visits.
      After the third overnight father, who wanted custody claims my grandson was molested by my husband, my grandson’s grandfather. He was removed from his daycare provider the next morning, never to return to our home again.
      The investigator verbally told us that this case she believes is unfounded, yet they will not return him to our home. They have not officially closed this case. My daughter, his mom is now living at our home, they were to be reunited here. They are now stating that the reunification will not be here as originally planned and that she needs to find her own apartment or they will award custody to father!

  • Jen W.
    September 26, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    as a former foster parent and the the adoptive parent of a high needs child, thank you. This was right on. We need to work hard to strengthen families. I’ve had a foster child who eventually returned to her mom and it was the best resolution, provided she still has a social worker monitoring her. We also need more foster parents! Look hard at your You may be about to overcome them. Living, safe, well trained foster homes are needed.

  • Ruth
    September 25, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Wow, an awesome read! very well said! Thank you!

  • Nope, no thanks
    September 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    This is such a complex issue with no easy answers. About 25 years ago, I had neighbors who were married with two young girls. They were receiving pubic assistance. After the wife gave birth to the second child, she was strongly encouraged to undergo a birth control procedure where a device was implanted into her upper arm. It was some kind of slow-release birth control that was supposed to last for a year or so and she would need to go and have another one implanted. They never had any other children.

    This seemed like a reasonable solution to a societal problem. There are simply too many women having children that they cannot afford to raise or are unable to raise because of drug problems, mental health issues, abusive partners, etc. Is this something that is being utilized to deal with these women to prevent future pregnancies? It might be worth investigating, Turtleboy.

    • Beaker13
      September 26, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Sorry, but no, this isn’t worth investigating. Why ? First, let me just say that I agree with you 100 %. Responsible long term birth control is one of the answers. Yes. HOWEVER, you can’t just say “Here’s free birth control because you’re a drug addict, or disabled, or have an abusive boy friend.” That’s suggesting to these women that they aren’t capable, or deserving, of having a child (which may or not be true), but that’s also discrimination at its best. You’re asking for all sorts of lawsuits. Racism, Eugenics, Classism, etc…
      Another reason is that long term birth control isnt really promoted that well here in the US. Ask any women what method they use, and most will say condom or Pill. They’re just not well known or promoted. Also, they can be really expensive if paying out of pocket. Well, there’s the IUD, which can cost $500, but last TEN years, and Norplant, Depo and the Ring. And you cont get these things at CVS. You’re talking mulutple visits to an office or clinic.
      And speaking of birth control, why does it always have to fall to the woman ? How many of these “baby-daddies” have multiple children by multiple partners ? Why not convince the males to have Vasectomies ?

      • Sinead
        September 27, 2015 at 7:16 am

        Birth control, including IUDs and the nexplanon implant should be covered under the affordable care act, and actually having one of these long term options can be a lot cheaper and easier than taking the pill monthly. Not that it should be mandated or solely encouraged for oppressed groups of women, but why not spread awareness and increase access to contraception and women’s health care for all women?

      • April Berry-Fletcher
        September 27, 2015 at 6:52 pm

        Love this point about the social worship of baby daddies, and more importantly, the emphasis on unreliable and costly birth control methods! It really is a form of eugenics to suggest that ‘those people’ should not bear children. Those people are us. As more and more people, across race, class and other social categories experience the horrors of addicted family members, the us/them idea starts to crumble. What is left are people, many of whom are encouraged to take huge amounts of painkillers as though pain just might actually kill them. Think about the first question you are asked at an emergency medical appointment – rate your pain! Medicine is a business. A pain free customer is a happy, but inclined to be addicted, customer.

  • Dee
    September 25, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    But where are the drug tests for the parents? In this case she had 2 prior children taken away and was a known junkie.

    • April Berry-Fletcher
      September 27, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      I often wonder what those who ask about drug testing and other ways to evaluate parent’s competence think should be done with the results of these tests. Let’s just say that the parents are hopeless addicts. Where do we put All 8,190 children who were in out-of-home care in March of 2014? There are even more now. Foster parents are paid about $25.00 per day. About 12% of of the over eight thousand kids are in residential treatment facilities. These cost tens of thousands of dollars PER WEEK! That’s right folks, per fricken week.
      So, DCF tries to put lipstick on ugliness, to not tear apart families, and frankly, to not charge the highly judgmental, thankless taxpayer who wants it both ways. We want safe kids, no addicted or abusive parents, kids not wrenched from loving homes, kids taken away from addicted and terrible parents, and by no means do we want our hard-earned tax dollars going to these losers.
      The conflicting goals of DCF reflect the conflicting values and priorities of the society it serves.

  • L Carp
    September 25, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    As a former DSS worker from 2 states other than MA, I can tell you that Joe’s plight and that of the children he serves is universal. Has nothing to do with MA, MA is just the most recent state with a lot of high profile (although certainly heartbreaking) cases that provoke a knee-jerk response from the public and the government alike. The gov’t and the public lynch mobs have no understanding of the day to day workings of dealing with at-risk children – they typically and simply are looking to blame someone: The gov’t so that they can point out to constituents that they care and are are “doing something,” and the general public because they need to sleep at night and can only do so if they believe that it can never happen in their world. Without these cases, the gov’t and public folk who are so vocal right now likely would never give a thought to the many at-risk children who have been out there for a long time and who are still out there.

  • JosieFosterParent
    September 25, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    This is crazy, dead on accurate and thank you, Joe, for what you do every single day.

    September 25, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Might be the best article written on TBS.

  • SusiePumpkinPicker
    September 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    This article is so accurate, on so many levels. Fantastic job Joe Social Worker, on putting into words what I- and probably many other- foster parents (and non fosters) have been thinking. While it may seem like such an easy fix to simply take children and never look back or consider reunification, it would be so unfair to offer a one size fits all solution. No two cases are exactly the same.
    I’d just like to add one thing. To anyone who thinks all foster parents are in it for the copious amounts of dough, or thinks all foster parents are the same, and don’t do what they do for the right reasons, i challenge those individuals to stop simply talking. Take some action. Become a foster parent . Be the best foster parent you can be. Be a light to a child who needs it so desperately, instead of criticizing all those who do DO the work. Then, and only then, will you understand what it means and what it entails. It doesn’t matter if your sister’s cousin’s neighbor’s friend was a shitty foster mom. Not everyone has good intentions, but you’re a grown up and should know this by now. Suck it up. I guarantee you the good far out weigh the bad and the only way you’re helping is by ACTING. NOT TALKING.

    • JosieFosterParent
      September 25, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      Amen, Sistah!

    • FosterParent
      September 25, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Amen, great article.

    • laurie
      September 25, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Whenever I hear someone that is complaining about DCF I challenge them to become foster parents..I always say “stop complaining and make a difference.”

      • Matthew Andrasy
        August 28, 2017 at 10:51 pm

        How about my daughter has been hurt by her mother and dcf is doing nothing. 4 dcf cases and not doing a god damn thing. My daughter is 8 now and I am a 29year old male who was told to work with a drug addict 7 years ago. Last year they found heroin after my ex passed out with my daughter there for a visit. I did not know until this year after my ex dragged my daughter down the hallway and broke her wrist. Keep praising dcf and the broken system. Stupid asses. They do nothing. We went to the hospital and she told the doctors what happened and they filed the 51a. Case closed did nothing. Useless

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