As a blind girl growing up I was told by my family I would never be able to look after children. It was just too dangerous. I had to certainly forget about having a family of my own. This thinking hurt me a great deal.
Imagine my delight when I started working with young children and teenagers in a social worker role. I found work in the area of foster care and child protection. My first challenge was to overcome the prejudice of my family and other workers in my field. I succeeded in doing this. It took determination and courage.
Most of the children I worked with had been physically and sexually abused. I often had to find temporary and long-term accommodation, or foster care, for these children. The foster care duties of my role took me out of the office and on to the road. I took taxis to home visits. I transported children and babies to foster care
On one occasion a mother relinquished her baby, that is, she gave the care of her child to the state. I'll never forget how the workers helped me put the baby in the capsule. The foster parents were waiting at the other end to welcome the baby home. I provided emotional support to these caregivers.
I visited families in their homes. Many of the parents were angry at the welfare system. With gentle perseverance however, I built trusting relationships. Assessment of child maltreatment was ongoing in the role.
With no visual cues to help me, I used other methods to learn how to watch children closely during supervised access or home visits with their parents. I learned to bring an access visit to an end if the children felt unsafe with fathers who were paedophiles. Communicating with a child was key. Empowering children to talk to me if they felt unsafe saved many a little one from being hurt at home.
Taxi drivers were always on standby. I created an internal map in my head when I visited families in their homes. This was in case of a quick exit but it was rarely necessary. For the most part I was treated with gentleness and respect. Upon arrival at a home visit, all the children were there to say hello and to guide me into the house. It was like a big event to them.
Two memorable occasions
I was called to the home of a parent who said she would harm her three children if I did not immediately take them to foster care. I knew she meant it. The mother was high on methamphetamine, or speed, when I arrived at the house in a taxi. The oldest daughter had packed the suitcases. We all walked hand in hand to the taxi. My evening was very long. I had to take the children to three different foster care placements and settle them all in. There were mountains of paperwork to get through. My colleagues and I all worked as a team to get that done.
The second occasion stands out quite vividly for me. A single mother was experiencing profound mental health problems. I was responsible for taking her two little children to school. They always fought in the taxi. I would calm them down and take them to the milk bar on the way to school for a packet of chips. The reward system worked very well here. We would walk together to the milk bar from the cab, holding hands.
Reading, writing files
Being organised is extremely important for a blind professional. As a social worker there is a substantial amount of report writing. You must also prepare reports for court cases. After many tears and heartache I managed to find the right technology for me to use. I also had volunteer readers who read the family case files to me, in confidence of course.
Before I became a social worker I had too much of a soft heart but the work toughened me up. It was not an easy job but I learned a lot about myself. I loved working with young children. Best of all I feel I contributed to the well-being of the children in my care.
In the end though, I decided I didn't wish to continue my social work career. This had nothing to do with my blindness. I just wanted to branch out and start fresh new projects. I wanted to get into alternative medicine.
People who are blind need to try just a little bit harder to get there. For anyone who is vision impaired and wishing to pursue social work as a career I offer some friendly advice. Don't allow anyone to tell you that you have to work in a blindness agency just because you are blind. If you want challenge, go after it. Don't take a desk job just because people say you're incapable. Follow your heart and make your own informed choices. All of you have special gifts to offer.