Cheri Williams, Senior Vice President of Domestic Services
An early career in child welfare
I was 24-years-old when I landed my first social services job out of college. As a Child Protective Investigator employed by the State of Florida, I felt ready to live out my childhood dream of truly helping vulnerable kids and families. I had no idea that I had just taken the first step into a career that would become my life’s calling, but not without making mistakes along the way.
Investigating child abuse and neglect was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
More than once, I questioned why anyone would sign up for this job. More than once, I showed up to people’s homes in the middle of the night to investigate abuse claims. And more than once, I forcibly removed children from their families. After 15 months, I had hit the limit of what I was able to bear, but in that time, I removed approximately 100 kids from their families.
Don’t get me wrong, removal was the best possible option for some of these children who had been tragically abused and neglected. Some suffered broken bones and had borne years of sexual abuse. Still, many children were not being actively abused.
In humble reflection, I fear that “the system” trained me that the better, less risky option was to remove kids quickly, rather than to end up on the front page of the newspaper.
But my question now is for whom was this option less risky?
A conversation about the impact of racism on the child welfare system
Chris Palusky, Bethany’s President and CEO, recently interviewed Corey Best, an award-winning child welfare reform advocate and a father. In this conversation, we are invited to learn about—with Corey’s expertise and guidance—some of the reasons why far too many children are removed from their homes, why children of color are overrepresented in the child welfare system, and how the child welfare system can be improved.
You can watch the short, 20-minute interview at the end of this blog.
Ultimately, what you’ll witness is Corey and Chris engaging in a timely conversation about the impact of racism on the child welfare system and those who have encountered it. At Bethany we’ve been having conversations about the intersection of race, child welfare, and negative child outcomes for years.
For a faith-based organization founded over 75 years ago, it takes time and a lot of thoughtful work to shift long-held philosophies about the best ways to serve vulnerable children and families. We have intentionally been engaging experts like Corey Best, recipient of the 2016 Casey Family Programs Excellence for Children Award; Dr. Amelia Franck-Meyer, founder of Alia Innovations; and the innovators at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to radically reform the child welfare system in America together.
When we know better, we do better
22 years have passed since I entered the field of child welfare, and I have learned a lot. Most notably, I have learned that many of the children I thought I was helping by removing them from their homes would not end up better off.
As I drove away from homes with crying children in the back of my car, I always knew there had to be another way. And now, as the Senior Vice President of Domestic Services at Bethany, I know there is, and I am deeply committed to leading the way, along with some amazing partners like Corey.
As the late great Maya Angelou explained, when we know better, we just do better. Watch the video below to learn how.