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Pain and Perspective in Social Work

UPublish story by Lisa McKelvey

March is National Social Work Month, and Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO) is blessed with dedicated, compassionate social workers who are the guiding hand on the path to restoration and healing for many children, families, and individuals. CCHO provides adoption, foster care, children’s residential care, outpatient counseling and home-based services to children and families.

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio’s executive director, Kevin Hewitt, who has been a social worker for 25 years, knows what it’s like to suffer with abused, neglected, and traumatized children. And now from a position of leadership, he is able to make the tough decisions that impact their lives. To capture his insight and provide encouragement to those social workers on the front lines today, Kevin graciously provided an interview about social work, and the unbelievable example that we have to follow.

When I asked Kevin why he chose social work, his response was that he didn’t really. After a couple of false starts in college-from beginning in engineering to attending law school, “God really moved in my heart to want to help others. And at that time, I still had the mindset that I could make a lot of money, and help others as a lawyer.” But God’s plan was different. “I saw a position for a Case Manager at a foster care agency. I love kids, and so I started working in social work. That was 1988.”

That first year was a learning experience, having grown up with a rural, sheltered upbringing. “I remember thinking that after about a year in social work with foster kids that I had heard it all. And then the next day realizing never to say that again; because, the next day there was a referral on a kid who had experienced just horrific abuse and neglect. It amazed me when I saw what we as adults did to kids, what we do to ourselves, and the spiraling woes we get stuck in.”

After 25 years in the social work field, it is hard not to be changed through the experiences. From seeing a young man with Traumatic Brain Injury have to go live in a dump with his parents because of a legality, to the crushing pain of having to carry the body of a young man who has committed suicide out of the home. “To me, the only saving grace in this situation was that he had been baptized that summer. It’s hard to understand, never having been in that kind of pain. But God can handle it. He knows and He understands.”

And from having foster parents abuse children in their home, “Nothing rankles me more than having abused kids abused again where they’re supposed to be safe.” To having a dedicated, wonderful foster family who helped so many children over many years lose their license due to a heart breaking tragedy. “That was a hard situation, because, it was just such a wonderful family. After all they had done and the amazing progress they made with some really difficult kids, and then having to see them go through this tragedy and be in the papers, and endure this pain was tough. I will never forget that phone call and the pain in their voices.”

But the stories that keep you going, the ones that make it worth it, are kids like Zack and Tim. “I really struggled with Zack. I have no problem with the ones who get mad at me, cuss at me, but the kids that say ‘I don’t care, I don’t want to do anything,’ were hard for me. And, that was Zack. Then, wouldn’t you know it, five or so years later I was at a Cavs game, and he was a vendor. He walked up to me and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know I finally got it. I’m finally getting my life straightened around.’ He was going into the armed services the next day, and he wanted to make sure I told his foster family that he finally got it. That was pretty cool.

But the coolest story that God has ever allowed me to be a part of was Tim’s. I was at Acquire the Fire with my wife and our church. We were sitting there before it started, and I got a tap on my shoulder. It was a young man I had worked with in foster care. He had unbelievable ability. He actually sang in the All Ohio Choir at the State Fair. When he turned 18 and aged out of foster care, we had all these things set up for him, and he just walked away…. He taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘I just want you to know I’m a youth pastor.’ At that time, he had personally led 40 kids to Christ. He just gave me this huge hug and said ‘Thanks.’

The other great part is seeing kids get adopted. I love sports, but my true heroes in life are the foster and adoptive parents and our direct care staff. What they do and what they open themselves up to is just amazing.”

Through the difficult cases and the success stories, every day, social workers “are the links that provide the services that our families need. They are aware both from a clinical standpoint and in a pragmatic way. They are wise in therapy techniques, and then just the empathy they have for the kids and their ability to make connections, to find that child the right program that they need and that they can flourish in. And I think, with many of our kids, just knowing that there’s somebody who cares… One of the cool things about social workers, they definitely aren’t paid on the scale of the value of their job. You know, when you work with marginalized kids-- they don’t have a voice in politics, they don’t have a voice in banking--social workers are really taking up the cause of the powerless. Social workers give them a voice.

Social work really is showing somebody else that you value them. And the ability to bear one another’s burdens, to take some of the emotional baggage and pain and say, ‘You’re ok, we’re going to get through this.’ There’s tremendous value in that.... Life is messy, and life hurts, so where do you turn?

While Jesus was so much more, He was also an unbelievable social worker. His challenge to those who would cast the first stone in John 8:1-11 was a pretty powerful social work move, and He also said in verse 11, ‘Go and sin no more.’ Again, another great social work move. I think sometimes Christians have feared social work because of the fact they think it’s just being do-gooders. But, I’m pretty sure that’s a scriptural thing as well. We are repeatedly told to do good unto others, to love others. And, again, in Matthew 5:16, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Or Ephesians 2:10, ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.’

We are so blessed to have God’s word and Jesus example in our practice of social work. And we are doubly blessed to see broken lives restored and children and families come to know Him, to be able to be a small part of His plan for their lives. It’s just amazing.”


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