Remembering Lara Sobel

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.

Lara14 Sobel, a 14-year-veteran with the Vermont Department of Children and Families
Lara Sobel, a 14-year-veteran with the Vermont Department of Children and Families (photo from Facebook)
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.

Jody Herring in a photo taken after her arrest.
Jody Herring in a photo taken after her arrest. Herring murdered two cousins and an aunt before going to the state office building and murdering 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.


21 thoughts on “Remembering Lara Sobel

  1. Thanks for sharing Lara’s story. The job she did, and you and so many others do everyday, should get more recognition than it does. Thank you for taking the risks you do every day to help the children that can’t help themselves.

  2. Protectors of the innocent are fair game…tragic..and to be treated with so little respect alive or dead is a damn disgrace…walk a mile in their shoes…a sad indictment of the values many people have.
    To live with the most base of human behaviour must be the hardest and most life defyning job…to be treated as contemptable…well the final spit on the soul i think.May Lara be at peace now from a world that should hold it’s head in shame.

  3. Your story made Lara real and not just someone in an article. For a person to work in social services and deal with the violence and abuse seen every day, there has to be a dedication to people. Lara sounds like that kind of person. She deserves respect

    Jen, you do the same work and you too deserve the respect of the officers and the people in

  4. Thank you for remembering her, and for sharing her story with us. Most people couldn’t do what you do, and yet those in your position get the least respect because somehow you haven’t fixed all the problems yet. I know Lara isn’t the first CYS social worker who’s been killed in the same circumstances.

  5. I worked for CPS for over 10 years, in addition to the two other jobs I worked to stay financially afloat. Burnout is real. The threat to your personal safety is real. PTSD is real. Disrespect from the community is real. I’ve had my home and vehicle vandalized. My family has been threatened. I was attacked in a bar by a client while out with my girlfriends. I’ve been stalked. When I brought these incidents to the attention of management I was completely blown off. “It comes with territory,” they told me. “Toughen up.” I had a child on my caseload, whom I’d worked with since birth, die. I wanted to place that child in foster care and was told numerous times by my boss, who had never set foot in the family’s home, that the circumstances didn’t rise to the level of foster placement. My fellow caseworkers asked how I was doing while the administration ruthlessly combed through my files, questioned my every move, double checked with the family to ensure I wasn’t lying about my documentation (because their word was considered before mine), and made me sit through numerous meetings with pictures of the child laying lifeless on a steel table being circulated throughout the room. Everyone talked about the injuries and manner of death very matter-of-factly. None of them had ever met this child. In the end, it was determined that I had done everything I could do, but my name was published in the paper in connection with the story, and the court of public opinion deemed me to be “lazy,” “worthless,” a “do-nothing sitting on my ass collecting a fat paycheck completely oblivious to the suffering of innocent children dying at the hands of monsters.” Someone said that I was nothing more than an untrained child trying to use CPS to make political connections fresh out of college and move on to an even lazier position in the local courthouse. Maybe after another 10 years I may have mercifully landed that job. For the record, I’m 42, a mother of three, and I have a master’s degree and professional license. I made $32,450 a year working for CPS, used my own vehicle to travel, and worked an average of 57 hours a week. I did have decent health insurance for my family, which I really needed when I started having a multitude of stress-related health problems, along with crippling anxiety and depression complete with very embarrassing and public panic attacks. My marriage has suffered. My family has suffered. I was routinely told by police officers, probation and parole officers, prison guards and detention center employees, all of whom made far more than me, that you couldn’t pay them enough to do that job. It is completely beyond my realm of understanding why CPS workers are not considered worthy of respect, fair compensation, protection from liability, or even the right to protect themselves when they go unescorted into people’s homes to tell them behind closed doors that they are failing as parents and will be losing custody of their children. We send these people into these dangerous and disfunctional environments to uncover the problems, fail to provide them with the necessary tools or authority to intervene when they do, and then look to them for an explanation when something goes wrong. We are setting our social workers up to fail with pitiful funding and even more pitiful salaries, understaffing, ridiculous caseloads, unaccountable (and sometimes downright spineless) administrations and knee-jerk policy changes. This story saddens me beyond belief. How many Lara Sobels do there need to be before people wake up to the fact that this profession is the real deal?

  6. Awful, just awful. I am in awe of people like you Jen, and of Lara. Having been way too close to an awful situation in the past couple of years, I absolutely can not imagine getting through it without the care and support of social workers, therapists and law enforcement.

  7. So very tragic and should never have happened. Too often government agencies dedicated to protecting children bear the brunt of people’s anger without a true understanding or empathy for what the employees of those agencies see and hear on a daily basis.

  8. Takes guts to show up in the middle of the night in a marginal neighborhood, walking beside a police escort as you pick up a confused frightened child while parents scream and struggle as you leave. Guts rewarded with little recognition by society and certainly very little pay. Burn out is very high. Emotional stress is very high. And it is very dangerous. One of my nieces did this for years in a large city. Trying to save the world one child at a time. She’s ended up as a OR nurse. Still stressful, but she isn’t worried about some nut case tracking her down.
    The police hardly protect domestic violence women. Somehow authorities don’t want to see the danger to those who intervene to help.
    Lara will be missed by so many.

What would you like to add to the conversation? Bark at me in a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s