Actual crisis plan given to Stephanie by her therapist and social worker.
by Stephanie March
When I found myself in a dangerous relationship, and later fleeing from that relationship, there were many social workers instrumental in saving my life. I sought out a therapist immediately in the beginning and began my often twice weekly sessions. It was during these one-hour assessments that I first learned about crisis planning and how serious my immediate situation had become in such a short amount of time.
My therapist was a licensed social worker, and it was her caring and gentle yet firm demeanor that kept me coming back to see her each week. And I was scared. Very scared. In the past, my tendency had been to avoid anyone who pointed out how abusive my partner was to me - to lock out all logic that tried to seep in and believe that somehow I would be okay, and that love would trump all.
But there was something different about this relationship and the way in which it was being discussed. Never before had a therapist handed me a piece of paper to keep with me at all times. Or discussed the need to keep a bag with essentials packed and hidden somewhere. Or repeatedly said that my life was in imminent danger. She had my attention and, most importantly, my trust.
It was that very piece of paper that I showed to a social worker with the police department in December 2012 as they stood in my living room. That piece of paper changed everything. It immediately let them know how severe the situation was beyond what I was able to tell them in front of my partner. He was taken away, and I was allowed to stay in the home temporarily.
A few days later, I received a phone call from investigators. “Don’t panic, but…” and with those words my world as I knew it changed forever. I packed what would fit in my car, in a complete panic, of course, and was met by investigators who took me to a safe location. I would never spend the night in my home again. I would never sleep in my bed again or even open the Christmas presents there like I had planned to do at the end of that very week. I now had no home and wouldn’t for quite some time.
Police and social workers swarmed around me that day. They interviewed me and assessed the level of danger I was in. One officer even shed a tear. Despite the panic that began as soon as I was told not to panic, I was able to answer questions and even laugh while doing so. I was completely in shock, and everyone there knew it but me.
I entered my first safe house for women and children and was greeted by advocates. I stood there, bags and suitcases at my feet, out of breath and drained of all energy. When asked if I needed any help carrying my bags to my room, I shook my head no and smiled. I still remember the lady on staff that night saying to me, “If you need help and someone offers it, you better learn how to take it.” That single sentence has stuck with me from that night and has helped me tremendously. She knew exactly the kind of personality she was dealing with.
My stay lasted for a little over two months, and there was not a single day that I was not interacting with or being helped by a social worker. My favorite was like a Mom figure and a friend wrapped up in one. Maybe it was the fact that she was a Mom herself that made her so warm, funny, and comforting. We were her second set of kids, and she was truly adored. In fact, the main staff of social workers at the safe house had children of their own. I think this brought out a certain need to extend their maternal natures to people like me. And it also helped them when it came time to be firm and set me straight when I needed it.
As more parents find it easier to advance their careers and education, I hope there will be an influx of these badly needed competent and caring social workers like the ones I met along the way. In safe houses alone, the need is great. Many women who end up there, like myself, have a lack of maternal care in their home lives to guide them. While social workers in general are often attracted to the field because of their empathetic predisposition, parents add experience taking care of others that some don’t have.
This empathetic nature and caring support is paramount in social workers helping survivors such as myself, as we progress and try to navigate the often harsh and uncaring justice system and establish new lives. For me, it was having this support system that kept me from falling apart or backing out when I felt I couldn’t keep going. It was this support system that stepped in when the rest of the world seemed to step out. It was this support system that listened to me cry, cared if I had food to eat, and that stood by my side as I faced my partner in court.
When the time came and he was released from jail, it was again social workers that helped me move to a new and safe location. They gave me advice on everything from cyber security to safety planning and where to find resources that would help me get back on my feet. It was because of their care and guidance that I ended up embarking on my journey toward healing, toward recovery, toward a new life. And while much of the work has been done by myself, there is no doubt in my mind that I couldn’t have done it alone.
Three years later, I still turn to social workers and advocates when I need advice or am struggling with anything from safety concerns to a particularly bad week. Every single time, they are there to remind me of my strength, remind me why I never want to go back to my former life as a victim, and remind me that I have come so much farther than many before me. I am forever grateful for their patience, understanding, and empathy. And I am forever grateful to a profession that emphasizes gentleness when the rest of the world can be so harsh.
If you are considering a career as a social worker, or perhaps already are, I hope you remember people like me. People that have lost it all in the blink of an eye and found the will to recover in the kind words of others. Others just like you.
Stephanie March is a writer, survivor, and advocate. She now lives an abuse-free and happy life. She is on Twitter at @SSparklesDaily.