what to do when you can’t do a thing.

Yeah, this is one of those posts. And I’m writing without editing, so forgive me. It just needs to be what it is today.

I’ve been loathe to write a post like this, because these topics are very emotive. But anyway, here it is. Minus a lot of detail which I can’t give, for obvious reasons. Please forgive me for the ‘vague’ sections.

I work part-time with kids in care. I don’t work for DoCS, so don’t start yelling at me already. I take my hat off to them actually. They work under very difficult circumstances that involves a lot of government red tape. It’s tricky.

I’m a ‘contact supervisor’, which essentially means I supervise contact between a child/children who has already been removed from their home, and whoever they are able to see in their family. Parents, siblings, grandparents etc. And then I write a report on what I observe.

It can be intense. To say the least. These beautiful children have been removed from their families for any number of reasons. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Neglect. Sexual abuse. Drug addictions. Alcohol addictions. And a host of other insidious things most people wouldn’t believe happen in ‘civilized’ cities like Sydney.

So my ‘foster care’ days can look like any of this:

  • transporting a two month old baby addicted to meth, as he shakes and cries on his four hourly morphine doses, to see his completely drug addicted mum.
  • taking six and seven year old little blue eyed blonde girls to see their dad who has ‘allegations of sexual abuse’ against him.
  • collecting nine siblings from up to four different carers (with other worker’s to help) and meeting with all their family in one room at one time, once a week.
  • taking a three year old to see a grandparent who never shows up. Once a fortnight. This the only family she has.
  • supervising a fifteen yr old boy (who is incidently also used by his carer as a drug runner) and his father for their once-a-month contact.

Needless to say, I haven’t given as much detail as I could on any of those situations above. And there are countless more variations of a similar theme…

While I’m establishing some stuff, let it also be said: I’m ALLLLLL for family. If there’s a chance of reconciliation, and healing, FABULOUS. I’m thrilled and honoured to be a part of that process. Many of us have cried many thousands of tears for the heart-breaking situations we see in our work. We will always believe for the best, and do everything in our power for those contact sessions to be a positive experience for all involved. However, the harsh and often darker realities of life mean that sometimes, full reconciliation is just not an option.

Sometimes, the contacts are outside, in a park, at the beach. Or a shopping centre, movies, a library… any number of options. Usually this means the parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles have been deemed ‘low risk’ and can be supervised outside of a DoCS office environment.

Other times, contacts are in local DoCS offices. Sometimes this is because the family is new to the system, and nobody has been able to establish a level of trust or risk factor. Or, they’re not new, but still in a structured office environment. Ergo, they’ve been deemed a higher risk. This kind of contact means access with a swipe card only, and a standard panic button issued to the contact supervisor on arrival.

When I started my job, these were the contacts that scared me a little. Did I really *need* a panic button? WHY did I need a panic button? And what great big burly security guard that I couldn’t see at all when I walked in was possibly going to come out of nowhere to save me if I ever needed to press it? And, how traumatic for the children if something ever went down that required the press of an alarm and an immediate rescue.

I’d heard a few hairy stories, and I was cautious. I always sat close to the door. I kept the button close to me. And I’ve never had to use it.

Until recently.

Without all the details, two of us were on a contact with four children under the age of seven(active!) and two very hostile and aggressive parents. Within ten minutes of the assigned two hour session, it was obvious we may need to suspend the contact. For everyone’s safety. Within another half an hour, buttons were pressed, children were removed, and we were evacuated out through a basement car park.

I dropped off the children that I had responsibility for and drove home. Shaking. Adrenalin to the MAX. Heart still racing hours later.

And I sobbed. ALL THE WAY HOME.

And then I made a cup of tea and sobbed some more.

I sobbed through two phone conversations with two beautiful friends.

I ate dinner with my housemate, and watched a huge fire on our street. I went to bed and didn’t sleep.

Then I got up and worked today. Not in my ‘foster care’ job. Luckily. Because I needed some space. I was ok. Until I started crying again. I’ve cried through most of my day. Luckily I’ve had lots of work to get through, because it’s been a distraction. And I’m so glad the recipients of all my emails couldn’t see me blubbering as I crafted my emails to them! Sorry folks!

WHY THE DRAMATICA???? I figured I was fine. I mean, nothing happened. We all got out. It’s all good isn’t it????

Well, yes, and no. We got out. Nothing happened. If by ‘nothing’ we mean I didn’t *actually* get physically attacked. If by ‘nothing’ we mean I wasn’t beside myself as a DoCS worker hauled me through a ‘swipe-access only’ door seconds before a volatile parent would have punched me in the face.  If by ‘nothing’ we mean we didn’t have to try to settle four traumatised children, who screamed and cried during and after the incident. If by ‘nothing’ we mean it’s normal to be evacuated through a basement garage concerned for your immediate safety. If by ‘nothing’ we mean my heart wasn’t absolutely shattered for the children, who will be so confused by what they saw, and who won’t see their parents for a few more weeks now as contact will be ‘suspended’ because of this incident.

I cried A LOT. I cried for me(call me selfish if you must) because I was shit scared, and I hated every second of it. I cried for the babies. I cried for the magnitude of some of the hopelessness I see. I cried for the parents. I don’t hate them. I weep for them. It’s sheer desperation that leads them to act in some outrageous ways. I don’t condone the action, but I certainly recognise AND appreciate the desperation.

So I’m spent. I’m trashed. Emotionally, and physically.

We were offered counselling. I declined for now, because I don’t have the energy to rehash it all.

I have done other things.

The ‘tradition’ of making and sipping cups of tea helps.

Writing helps. Writing it all down and ‘debriefing’ myself helps.

Space helps. I worked alone today. And I needed that.

Walking helps. I’ve had latent pent-up energy from all the ridiculous adrenalin, and I’ve walked it out today.

Music helps. I’ve had one song on repeat, for HOURS. And I hang on to one line in the song:

“if such a thing as grace exists, then grace was made for lives like this”

MUCH grace exists. I HAVE to believe this to be true.

I have no answers – only hope, and much grace.



45 thoughts on “what to do when you can’t do a thing.

  1. Oh I so wish I was closer. Jo, that is frightfully scary and it shouldn’t happen. Please take the time to reconcile this whichever way you see is best, but please do it. Contact me if you would like to although I know you have wonderful friends around you.

    Hon, Love you lots and please be as careful as you can. It’s alright to be scared and upset. x Bern

    • you are a gem. i may totally call you later. even just for you to tell me you can’t talk #tmi 🙂
      love you xxx

  2. I`m told many a time I look at people like I will tear off their face and I suppose my muscles can put people offside with me too (I don`t see I`m THAT defined). But I have a BIG heart and as much as I don`t like people generally as I see a lot of selfishness, spitefulness, patheticness (is that a word?) which drives me to fury, I hurt so bad for kids, teens that suffer, that are lost, so innocent and corrupted by greed and nastiness that exists in the world.

    As I just told you, I`m sitting here now blubbering, I can FEEL, I wasn`t as badly treated as a lot of these kids, never went this far, but the heart is a tender one. Don`t ya just wish you could make it all better just by kind eyes and a brush of their cheek.

    • Hey Chris,
      thanks for the comment. you sound like you have a HUGE heart. I totally wish it could all be swept away with kind eyes and a cuddle. wouldn’t that be the best!
      love to YOU xx

  3. I try to remind my kids how lucky they are, in oh so many ways.

    This illustrates another way in which they’re lucky.

    Your story makes me feel so powerless.

    I’m glad that YOU are there for the children in some way. Your example will be one that they remember, too.


    • I felt so powerless too. I think that’s why I’m still so upset. Because there’s no resolution. I hope they only remember the good bits. xxxx

  4. Oh Jo….I have no words! Keep making tea, keep writing, keep walking…..know that you are making a difference in the lives of those families…..

  5. Jo, I was a bit teary earlier from ‘stuff’ in my own life…but your story..unfortunately real as the most real events can be…started the flow again.

    Firstly Jo, thank you. From one citizen to another. You are an awesome, decent and caring human who is doing her all to ensure children have safe family contact.

    Secondly Jo, you know I too have been party to some of what you have written about in a former life…my safety has been threatened. My worst moment was in my office, a small one, having a formal ‘resolution interview with a student upon return from suspension. In asking him the questions I was obliged to, he took umbrage, and a chair – picking it up ready to throw at me. He took off, with him mum in pursuit…

    Thirdly Jo, caring for children in your role is a ‘no real win/return’ situation. It’s not like anything else..supervised contact is it? To watch sadness, dysfunction and anger is to also to ‘absorb’ it yourself whether you want to or not.

    You didn’t ask for advice.
    I’m not giving it.

    Thank you, for the way in which you care for children – the most vulnerable in our society…and bless you Jo for doing so.

    Much admiration and moral support…always
    Denyse XX

  6. good post jo. thanks for your honesty. i hope things get better soon.

    i take my hat off to you for being willing to do that job.


  7. Jo, thanks for posting. I’ve had a little cry while reading this, you’re amazing, amazing for doing the job, amazing for owning up to how it makes you feel and amazing because you shared it so eloquently with all of us. When you spoke about the children, well,….no words to describe. I was listening to Dr Sandy McFarlane on conversations with Richard Fidler this morning, it was a fascinating interview on how we react to traumatic situations, you may be interested (free podcast on itunes).

    Thanks again Jo,


  8. Such a hard day for you lovely girl. We just talked about the use of your safety alarms on Friday night. I’m sorry that you have to go through this, but I’m also glad that people like you (especially you) are there for those poor little mites. Like Bern said, if you ever want to talk you know where I am. In fact, I have your mobile number & you don’t have mine. I will text it to you now.

    Look after yourself and your heart. xxxx

    • I hope they do. That’s what drives us all – the hope that in the future, they remember that someone was kind to them at some point. God, I wish for sooo much more than that, but AT LEAST JUST THAT. xxx

  9. aah its life isn’t it. Shit happens and you deal with it and you make cups of tea and you shake and then in a couple of days you go back and do it all over again.

    This was beautifully written. I was going to start mentoring some at risk teens next month but the program was canned because the pollies want specific, listed outcomes. Sometimes just having a teen look you in the eye is a spectacular win and cant be ticked off on a sheet. My friend who coordinates the mentoring programme is trying to re-jig the programme so that we don’t leave the kids stranded.

    She drinks a lot of tea.

    • So true. Just keep swimming right!?
      I’ll bet your friend drinks lots of tea!! Good luck with the programme, I hope there is a way to get it off the ground…
      damn the red tape hey.

  10. While I appreciate what you do, this is going to sound callous and uncaring. It isn’t meant that way.

    You should consider another job.

    For your own mental health.

    • I hear ya. And I don’t think it’s callous. It’s very caring.
      And I think that’s also why there’s such a high turnover in jobs like this, because I don’t think everyone can do a job like this for ever. I know some do, but it won’t be me. To stay sane, I won’t be there forever. And that’s also why I made the move to part time, because I couldn’t do this six days a week and have no outlet to be creative and have other interests. I changed to part time about five months ago, and I reckon in a few more months I might cut it down again.
      Thanks for your concern, and for caring enough to write that. I appreciate it. xx

  11. Wow, so true Jo, you don’t think things like that happen in Sydney. My heart breaks for the children in these situations, and I’ve got no other advice but to concur that tears and tea are the only things I know that help! Nic xx

  12. You’ve been on my mind all day… Like some of the others have said, what you do is such an incredible gift to those children. We’ve seen so much lately about things that have such a harmful impact on kids and the people they become.

    Thank you for what you do and who you are. You make such a difference to so many…some you would have no idea about. Take care of you first, though cos none of us can do without you xx

  13. Hi. Amazing post, hard to read. I’m just glad you could debrief it here. We had panic buttons at my last work place, I never had to use one. Your pain is so palpable here Jo, make sure you get whatever support you need. I didn’t get to meet you on the weekend but I wish I did. Peace to you for the week ahead xx

  14. I read your post today and would like to send you courage so you continue on helping these families. I know a few people who work helping children. All are exhausted at the end of the week, some have done what you have already done reducing their hours spent trying to help. Many tell their friends and families to help ease the load just as we all do at the end of our working day. Very few of these people speak to a counsellor. After reading what you said about not having the energy to rehash I just wanted to say reconsider. Sometimes these people can offer you more then an ear and confirmation sometimes they have wisdom to share. What happened to you is probably beyond most peoples comprehension and they will offer you all the advice and give you all the love they can but sometimes there are others out there trained and experienced they may have tools that may help as well.
    Your friends will not push you to seek this help for they will feel your resistance and want wont to upset you any further so as a complete stranger I just wanted to speak up, what my intuition tells me. Maybe what you hear will be passed on to us or others done the track and we may all learn from your wisdom. So many children need someone like you in their life I can feel it.
    And as we saw on a poster the other day “Keep calm and put the kettle on!”

  15. Jo, I just cried my eyes out. For you, for them, for the whole big mixed up world that pains us in way that can never be explained.

    Love you my little chicken. In a big big big way. The world is a better place for having someone like you in it. From the coffee times you share to the strength with which you carry on after times like these. To quote words I’ve heard Lana use…”be kind to yourself” and for when you can’t, we’ll be here to be kind to you xxxxxxx

  16. Well this may be the saddest blog post I have ever read. Those poor children. No matter if you quit tomorrow, you will have done so much more than others to make a difference to their little lives.

    I going to stick my oar in & say I hope you consider counselling down the track. This sort of event could put you at risk of post traumatic stress disorder, although I concur on the healing power of a hot cup of tea. xx

  17. Thank you Jo for providing at least one positive caring stable relationship they can experience. You are doing as much as you can and I understand sometimes we still feel helpless. Namaste xxxx

  18. Jo, I was really moved by your blog post. I’m glad you wrote about your experience so that you could at least have the support of your online friends. And like the others, I applaud you for the work you do. It’s such a gift to the children who are in turmoil.

    I understand what it is to experience violence and how long it can take for that trauma to leave your soul. I was assaulted by my husband last year, in front of our kids, and the trauma runs deep. I hope you consider counseling at some point, if you continue to feel disturbed by this incident. Violence is a very shocking energy and can settle deep in the soul. Give your body time to relax and heal.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this. Best of luck to you.

  19. I agree with Benison, Jo – whatever you decide to do in future, you have already done so much. What I want to say next may sound mushy, or maybe even over the top, but it’s how I really see you, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. On twitter, your smart, funny, sassy side comes out – you are very entertaining and also thoughtful, always noticing what’s going on around you.
    On your blog we see a bit more of who you are – your likes and dislikes, how you see the world. But Jo, it’s only meeting you in person that one can truly appreciate your calm, warm, graceful presence. Your lovely lilting voice, the way you give your full attention to whoever you are talking to, you radiate a strong yet tender energy. Your kindness – it’s right there in your gaze. I have only met you IRL twice but this is how I see you. (The second time I met you I was totally impaired and it was then, as much if not more than the first time, that I noticed this about you).
    Now I can’t presume to say how the children you spend time with see you, or how it will affect them as they go through life. There is no way I can know that. But we so rarely hear, frankly, fully, how other people see us, or what impression we have made on them after just a couple of meetings. That’s all I have to give you right now. Plus the hope that maybe, just maybe, all, some or even just one of the kids you have helped will carry some of that same impression with them on their journey.
    It’s so common for the wonderful people in your profession to develop compassion fatigue – that same level of empathy that drives you to do a job most of us would not contemplate is what can cause you so much pain. You handled this situation the best you could, those children could not have been in more protective hands. But there is only one of you, and you have only one life. Other people’s pain will always be out there – other children’s pain. We each have to decide what we are capable of, how much we can give and how much we have to keep for ourselves before we lose ourselves. None of those beautiful kids would want for you to lose yourself. You will get through this, and you can be proud of yourself. We are proud of you. Whatever you do, tomorrow, next week, next year, just know that your light will keep shining on whoever is lucky enough to be near you.


    • Sarah has said it so much better than I could, Jo. We have such an awesome laugh on Twitter but when I met you I was blown away. Your beautiful, beautiful heart. That’s all. For now. Till I get my words back xxx

  20. Jo, yesterday was so very difficult for you and for that I’m sorry. I wish I could have been there right after to drive you home, give you a hug and make you tea.

    What you do is something incredible. We have spoken about the panic button, the last time only on Fri night. I know you had though/hoped you’d never have to use it. The good thing was that you *could* and you weren’t physically harmed.
    Emotionally, is something else again.

    I am here if you need to talk/have coffee/walk…nothing sugary though, no matter how much you beg!

    N x

  21. Jo, you sound like a wonderfully caring and compassionate human being. I’m so glad you were not physically hurt. Then to go home and witness a fire in your street! That’s enough for anyone. Take time, take tea, take care. Whatever happens, and however long you last in this job, just know that you have made a difference to those who most appreciate and deserve it. xx

  22. Thank you for doing this job. This vital, hard, scary job.

    I know the kind of parents you talk of … I’ve been to many rehabs, seen a lot of parents drag their children through them too, holding them hostage to their addictions.

    Thank you. I could not do what you do. But my GOD I wish I could take the three-year old home with me, the one whose grandparent never shows up.

  23. After 18 months as a fulltime carer for high needs young people / contact supervisor and youth worker I couldn’t take it any more. It’s a draining job. You push away the trauma you’re experiencing because it doesn’t compare to the trauma within the young people you work with. I now focus on positivity, niceness and happiness on my blog, like what you are doing here. Injecting goodness back into the world where you can.
    I don’t know if it will help you but I used to visualise a container, and I’d put my experience of the day in the container and I’d ‘leave’ it somewhere after dropping the last young person off, or imagine throwing it out the window. It was a way to try and not take the day home. Good luck.

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