The challenges of being a child welfare worker

Children's rights officers often find themselves walking a tightrope between child protection and family unity.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
The challenges of being a child welfare worker - NewsMavens
Woman and baby. Pexels

Why this story matters:

After a controversy over a family having their children taken away, a group of politicians decided to push for change in the existing legislation, and only punish parents for serious violence against their children -- in other words, to decriminalize lighter corporal punishments. In the Delfi interview below, a child welfare officer explains the process that takes place when there are suspicions of violence.

One of the most nuanced comment on the challenges of this work comes from artist Vilma Kiurė, known as Fiokla, who has been working with Roma families and children for decades. In a Facebook post in early November, she dispels the myth that children's services focus on ordinary families while the most marginalized ones are off their radar.

"For the children of Kirtimai [an impoverished Roma neighborhood in Vilnius] the words 'police' and 'children's rights' induce the greatest fear, and they remember their time in orphanages like a prison. [...] Although Roma children would gain social skills, start attending school and extracurricular activities regularly, become disciplined and polite, have nice rooms, [...] these children were extremely unhappy [...] I often contemplated what would be better for them -- living in a shack in Kirtimai with a mother who has been convicted five times and will probably end up behind bars a year later -- or remaining in state care, allowing the government to train Roma children into the kind of citizens it finds appropriate, who might later be happy to be included in our society and dissimilar to their parents." 

Regardless of ethnic origins, numerous parents struggle under the burden of childcare while also trying to secure a livelihood and navigate a complex social environment, and self-medicate their mental health issues. With few foster and adoptive families available, many Lithuanian children find themselves at the crossroads between the sterile state care and the environment they are attached to, but which may end up threatening their wellbeing. Children's services have the difficult task of finding the cut-off point in a situation that develops over the years.

Details from the story:

  • Vilius Ščerbickas is a children's rights officer on call, mostly at night, in the Vilnius region. He started his career as a curator of extracurricular activities, working with a group of young delinquents.
  • He gets calls from police officers to take children to a place of safety from households at risk. Sometimes his job also includes following up on cases that police officers were able to tackle by themselves.
  • Ščerbickas has observed that the service receives the most calls after the payment day for wages and social benefits. Situations deemed dangerous to children typically involve alcohol.
  • When violent incidents become frequent, some children are informally fostered by their neighbors or grandparents.
  • When a child is removed from their family, the officers try to find relatives to take them in and sign a formal pledge to ensure the child's safety.
  • Ščerbickas says that doctors who examine the children taken away from their families when abuse is suspected are trained to distinguish between accidental and intentional injuries, so the fears that children will be taken away if they injure themselves as they play are unfounded.
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