Seeing the Strengths in Families

By Applie@MSF

For the past 6 years, Applie’s job as a Child Protection Officer has taken her through some of the most challenging situations. In this article, she shares about her experiences and rewards of working in the social service sector.

Applie sobbed silently at her desk after the phone call.

Ms Tan (not her real name) was just on the phone. And she hurled personal attacks at Applie because her request to see her son in the children’s home was not acceded to; he was being punished for getting into trouble.

It was almost unimaginable when Ms Tan thanked Applie personally a year later, after all the years of fighting with the system.

It had been four years of fighting by then.

Since Applie took over the case in 2010, the road had not been easy. Having just been released from prison that year, Ms Tan was more than eager to get her seven children back.

After all, it had been 6 years since they were taken out of their home when they were found to have been exposed to physical abuse, neglect and spousal violence.

For years, Applie tried to build up trust and a working relationship with Ms Tan. But it didn’t help that the woman resented her and the organisation she represented, believing they had wrongly taken away her children when her oldest child was just 7 years old.

Still, Applie pushed on.

She took every opportunity that came her way to show that she was on the same page as the mother, and over time, a little bridge of trust was formed.

With the working relationship firmed up, the pair moved on to their next goal – reintegrating the children with their mother.

Since her release from prison, Ms Tan had gotten a job and was showing signs of improvement. She was still asking for her children back, and while Applie wanted to see the family reunited, she remained cautious as the children’s interests came first.

She started with the oldest boy, a teenager by then. She noted that the boy, who had a strong relationship with his mother, was not doing well in the children’s home. Could he be better off at home?

Weighing the protective factors and detriments, she took a “calculated risk”, as she puts it, and reintegrated the teenager with his mother.

“The children were all growing up, and it wasn’t good for them to remain in the system,” she explains.

It worked.

Today, six out of the seven children are back home with their mother. The Family Service Centre (FSC) in their neighbourhood continues to help the family build a community and monitor their progress.

As for Applie, she still encounters difficult parents from time to time.

“It’s a learning process,” she says of each time she deals with a hostile parent. But with a supportive supervisor who checks in on her every now and then, Applie has learnt to de-personalise the attacks.

“Clients do these for a certain purpose, it’s natural for a mother to react the way she did,” she says, referring to Ms Tan.

Looking back, Applie believes it was her conviction that there was a light at the end of every tunnel that carried her through each difficult moment. But on top of that, it was the strength that she saw in the families and the belief that she had in them had pushed her on too.

Because at the end of the day, it is the rewarding moments – like when Ms Tan came around – that counted.