I started my first week at the New York City Family Justice Center, in Queens, with anticipation. As someone who has been working directly with children for 3 years now, I couldn’t wait to keep meeting and spending time with bright new faces! Working with children who witnessed or experienced domestic violence is definitely something new, but I felt like I was ready to do it. On my one hour subway ride to work, I wondered what I’d be getting do with the children this week, what activities we might partake in, how our relationships might form! However, since I hadn’t been cleared by New York State to work directly with children just yet, my first week was just a bit of office work.
After one week, I was finally cleared! Now, I could start being with the children who came in, and provide all that I thought I could. I was ready, I was determined, I was….excited! Nothing makes me happier than working with children. I eagerly waited to hear the news that a child was coming into the center and needed to go into the Children’s Room. As I was waiting, my excitement suddenly felt …wrong. How could I be excited to see children who have or still are suffering from domestic violence (DV)? What am I doing? How could I want them to come into this center, when coming in means that they and/or their families need assistance, safety, counseling? Suddenly, I didn’t know what to feel.
Of course, as someone who will interact with the children and partake in therapeutic play, I may be the first or only person these children open up to or feel comfortable being around, and that’s something to be happy about, right? I will provide something to these children that may be a great step in recovery or a great technique for them to adopt into their lives. Yet, the biggest paradox of all is the fact that without these children suffering trauma, no one at the center would have a job. I don’t know how to sit with myself. Sure, without sick patients, doctors wouldn’t have a job. But what does it mean to be excited to work with children, to make a living or participate in and benefit from a DukeEngage project based off of the trauma of others? Not only this, but, what does it mean for someone who has never experienced or witnessed DV, someone who hasn’t even finished their Psychology degree, to be considered qualified enough to provide trauma informed play for children of DV? These are the ethical questions that I don’t know how to answer, and I don’t know that I will ever get one.
In speaking with my supervisors, co-workers, and Moxies, perhaps I’m overthinking it. While these are the paradoxes of service-work, what truly matters most is the fact that I am here, willing and ready to learn and serve in any way that I can. Hopefully, what I learn and how I serve provides a positive impact, a ripple of positive change, in the life of at least one child suffering from the trauma of domestic violence. What genuinely matters is that I am here to serve in solidarity with these families and work alongside them to provide them with what they want and need, not what I think they’d want or need. Most importantly, advocacy and constant attention is what I need to do to work in solidarity with these families and their experiences, and ease these questions. Perhaps my job and my project survive because of these issues now, but with constant advocacy and attention, I can hope that this job will no longer be needed in the future.