I tend to be drawn by those who turn, often running, toward those who are suffering.
There is something that touches us deeply when we see it, and we feel their strength when we witness their courage.
I think of groups like Team Rubicon, military veterans mobilizing to help communities throughout Colorado and worldwide recover from disasters.
Of World Central Kitchens, whose food and compassion heal those impacted by disasters. And of the perhaps lesser known warriors who walk toward difficulty with open hearts: the doctors and nurses and shelter workers who stand on frontlines well before COVID-19 reared.
So let me celebrate, amidst the justifiable uncertainty that we all face now with COVID-19, the unheralded child welfare social workers, clinicians, leadership and support staff who are rushing, right now as always, toward the children and families who experience trauma from neglect, abuse and maltreatment and whose anxiety may be escalating during this time.
I marvel at the grandparents who are on the frontline with child welfare-involved children. This is the not the retirement they imagined, although they accept the challenge of raising young children with courage and love. Truthfully, we ask a lot of this community — 48,000 Colorado grandparents are now primary caregivers for their grandchildren.
I am drawn to the clinicians and social workers who rush toward these families, knowing how at risk they are and how much the children they are supporting need them.
One clinician helped a grandmother who is over 80-years-old raising her 7-year-old granddaughter in an assisted living facility reset a phone and access a computer and Wi-Fi connection. They are now connected to the clinician, to their broader family, and to their doctor in ways that were not needed in quite the same way two weeks ago but are essential now.
Many agencies are headed in this direction as well, and I celebrate, among others, CASAs around Colorado and the country who are reaching out and finding creative ways to support children and families with resource connections and emotional support.
CASA in Larimer County is being particularly creative and proactive in their approach, and we can all learn from these adults who run, like our CASA community, toward families in need.
I gain strength from the foster and kin (relative) families who are providing critical comfort to the over 5,000 Colorado children in foster care right now. These children are on important healing journeys.
Foster/kin parents are a key part of that journey and are being called upon to do even more now as schools, sports teams and clubs, and childcare facilities close down and networks shrink.
Agencies like Foster Together and Foster Source are providing significant support including meals, access to food and friendship, and even transport if needed to these foster families so that they can succeed in our COVID-19 world of social distancing and isolation.
I see older children who live at the Tennyson Center for Children’s residential program rush toward the younger kids and let them know that, even though they, too, are scared and uncertain, that they will stand with them and be their buddy in these trying times.
I see a comfort bubble in these engagements and know that these kids will do amazing things as adults because they can engage in such compassionate ways now, despite having histories where similar compassion was perhaps not as evident for them.
And finally, I am drawn to the state and county case workers who are fanning out to support shelters and other agencies who are being stretched because of the demand being placed on them now and will be needed even more as this pandemic continues to unfold seemingly indefinitely.
As one social worker said to me when I expressed gratitude for his willingness to rush toward those child welfare travelers whose anxiety and trauma are spiking, “Easy decision to be here. Kids and families are looking to us and they will see me.”
COVID-19 will challenge us all and will last longer than we wish. We need representatives and senators to ensure that agencies running toward children and families in need can work effectively at this time, and that includes ensuring that Medicaid, as well as county and state payments for services are rapid, flexible as needs change and efficient so that families can continue to heal and can adapt to these changing circumstances.
Early signs are promising as Colorado’s Department of Human Services, our county departments of human services and other governmental agencies are responding in real time to empower those running toward families to succeed.
I take comfort because social workers, clinicians and others are running toward children and families experiencing trauma in ways that not only creatively support these families to navigate their trauma, but ensure that these children and families will be seen.
Edward D. Breslin (Ned) is the president and CEO of the Tennyson Center for Children.