Friday evening, Vermont Department of Children and Families social worker Lara Sobel walked out of her office building in Barre City, Vermont, and was gunned down by Jody Herring. Lara was a 14-year veteran of the agency. She was married and had two young children.
Herring was also a veteran. According to WCVB5 Boston, Herring was well-known to law enforcement and had been investigated numerous times by DCF. Last month, a judge ordered the removal of Herring’s 9-year-old daughter following an investigation conducted by Sobel.
Lara Sobel has not been shown dignity or respect throughout this ordeal. From the law enforcement officers who left her body lying on the ground for over 3 hours while waiting for a CSI unit to show up to process the scene, to the news articles who identified her as a ‘worker’ or an ’employee,’ and couldn’t pass up the chance to snip at the department over past mistakes. Lara as a person was pushed aside in favor of the more enticing story.
Meanwhile, the media outlets describe Herring as a mom who was upset about losing her daughter in a custody dispute. WTF?!?!?!
Lara Sobel was not a “worker.” Lara Sobel was educated, trained, highly skilled, and well-liked. Herring, meanwhile, deliberately shot a state employee with a hunting rifle at close range after being investigated by child welfare services numerous times. There was no custody dispute. The child was removed by a judge due to either abuse or neglect.
One client of Sobel’s who met with the social worker the day she was murdered said this about her:
“(Sobel) said ‘We’re not here to make your life hard. We’re here to help you,’” the woman recalled. “… She just was so kind and amazingly supportive. It really put a whole different spin on my thoughts towards DCF. …” (from the Rutland Herald)
Sobel said that to the unidentified client after the client confessed to a heroin relapse. Does that sound like an” employee” to you? Because to me, that sounds like one hell of a fantastic social worker.
What else do I know about Sobel?
I know she cared about the welfare of animals. Among her Facebook likes were the local Humane Society, and she’d asked for justice for a dog attacked with a hammer.
I know that in a Facebook post from 2010, she asked why she worked for the state. And yet, she stayed.
I know she had to have been a strong woman. To see the worst of humanity on a daily basis can kill your spirit. Yet Lara found a way to keep her spirit alive and still do this job for 14 years. And she managed to do it without becoming a crispy-fried burnout. That is incredible.
If you think about it, what Lara and others like her do is nothing short of amazing. They go to homes, alone and unarmed, and accuse parents of abusing or neglecting their children. They then convince those same people to tell their most intimate family secrets, to allow access to their homes, and to let them talk to their children alone. Sometimes those children walk out of those homes with that social worker.
Those who do the work Lara did do so without praise. They do it without support. They’re given mixed messages by administration officials. They’re told to do what it takes to keep kids safe while at the same time pushed to meet time deadlines; they’re expected to get in, get out, and move on to the next case. Judges berate them from the bench for doing what state law and agency policy demand they do. Media types call them lazy, uncaring, and clueless when a child dies, and heavy-handed when they investigate an “innocent family.” And the public? Have you ever heard anyone say something nice about those who are charged with keeping children safe?
I’ve heard law enforcement officers say they couldn’t do child protective services work. And they know, because they deal with the same families. They walk into those homes with tasers, pepper spray, and guns. CPS walks in with people skills. They calm people down when they escalate. They treat them with respect and dignity. They listen to what they’re being told. Even if they know what they’re being told is a lie, they listen, because that act of respect helps build rapport. When they confront people, they do so with tact.
This has got to be one of the absolute worst jobs on the planet, and yet Lara and thousands of women and men (but mostly women) go to work every day and do it. They do it for peanuts. But they do it. They do it for children who deserve to be heard and who deserve to be safe.
Lara deserves to be remembered as the extraordinary woman that she was.
And the rest of those left behind to carry on in her memory deserve a little appreciation.