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Patten: Social Workers

DCF social worker Lara Sobel was gunned down in a cowardly act, allegedly by a mother who lost custody of her child.

I am a social worker. I was a child protection social worker and I’ve taught them at all stages of professional growth for the last ten years.

As the state emerges from the shock of recent events we ask the inevitable questions. Why did this happen? How could this have happened? And the most critical question to our collective grief and growth: how can we make sure this never, ever happens again?

We need to stop suggesting that more training is the solution. Social workers are heavily trained. To be part of the profession, you have at least a bachelor’s degree that includes a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience. Many social workers have a masters, which requires at least 900 hours of field experience.

Add to that on-the-job training and continuing education, optional certifications and licensure requirements, training is not the issue.

If not training, then what is the issue? It’s a wicked problem. The term wicked is used to describe problems that are resistant to definition and resolution because of interdependencies across multiple domains.

Such is the case with recent events. Our response to this tragedy needs to include much more than just security protocols.

The shooting of a social worker is an extreme outcome of the degrading wellbeing of an entire population. The demand on our mental health and child welfare systems in Vermont are increasing. The opiate epidemic, more complex family systems, worsening income inequality, and resource strains on community mental health care to name just a few.

Meanwhile, the resources available to the front lines of this war remain limited. Ask any social worker what tools they have at their disposal. You might be shocked at the brevity of their answer.

In honoring the legacy of Lara Sobel, we might muster the will to act as a village again, by pushing resources toward those in our community that suffer, so that our entire community might be healthier. Look back into the alleged shooter’s own childhood, and you’re likely to find the same torment and instability that caused her to lose custody of her own child. This is the generational cycle that must be broken, the solution to which has, so far, eluded us.

I am a social worker. A profession I am proud to be a part of. A profession that lost a hero.

I am a social worker. And I stand with social workers today.

Cyrus Patten is Executive Director of a political action committee that seeks to reform our campaign finance laws. He lives and writes in Williston with his wife and two children.
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