Caseworker Mistreatment

A DV CASEWORKER MISTREATS A CLIENT | Mama M from Kentucky says, “My question is in regard to staying in a domestic violence shelter. What do you do when you’re mistreated by one of the caseworkers? They mocked me and played psychological warfare to just get rid of me. Management was on their employee’s side, so I tried reporting it to my state’s DV coalition but they didn’t seem to care either. Some of us are completely without help, so when the shelter does not work out, we’re completely screwed…” [Question edited some for clarity.]

Mama M was right to report the caseworker to their supervisor, then the coalition at state-level. One of the important initial lessons of survival after abuse is becoming our own advocate. We do this by first identifying any scenario in which we’re not getting what we need and deserve, then by approaching someone who should be able to help.

But yet this didn’t benefit Mama M. Why? Unfortunately, the simple answer is that even at institutions and organizations which are in place for those facing vulnerable life situations, bad people exist. (It’s also true that many organizations of this nature are overwhelmed and, while their hearts are in the right place, they are limited in their ability to help.)

It’s crucial to note here that even as we begin to take back control of our own lives, survivors cannot control who others will be, and what kind of role they’ll play in our journey.

Mama M has a few other options, though, and it’s up to her to determine what — if any — is the best course of action.

She could reach out to a national coalition. (Compare this to how you work upward through the chain for customer service when your billing is wrong, etc.) While it’s true that most national organizations don’t provide direct service at the individual level, they are part of a massive network of resources. They know who helps where, and how to contact the proper people. (Plus, sometimes just being heard alleviates the stress of a negative experience, and it is never wrong to speak up for ourselves.)

She could ask for legal advice. Each of our states here in America has law offices — usually called, simply, “Legal Aid” — and on staff are attorneys who specialize in DV cases. Mama M could call the office in her area for a consultation, wherein she could learn the proper (and locally legal) way to report and/or hold accountable the shelter who treated her wrong.

A different direction for taking action is filing a complaint with the government entity who oversees the shelter, which is a nonprofit whose funding is directly affected by state dollars. Visit your state’s website. Each one navigates differently, but there will be a list of agencies. Find the one most appropriate — my guess is to start with the Department of Health and Human Services — and contact accordingly. If they’re not the right office, they’ll tell you who is.

Will a single voice, a single compliant, make a difference? There is no way to be sure. But not only are we creating (or adding to an existing) record, we’re taking steps to advocate for ourselves. Remember how important that is.

Or go to your county’s website. Check out the officials (both elected and appointed) who are seated for civil service to the county, and what departments exist. Make contact. Share your cause. Tell them what you know. Maybe they will take the reins on your behalf. (This applies to your city’s officials, too.)

Call the local news source. (Remember, it may be important to withhold your identity/ask for anonymity for your own safety and security.) Share your story. Ask them to write or go on air about it so the community is made aware of how the shelter treats those its meant to serve. An alternate to this is to write an editorial for submission to the local newspaper.

Mama M — and any other survivor in this predicament — could also conclude that assistance from the DV shelter, for whatever reason, isn’t meant to be part of her healing journey in the way she expected. Instead she can check into therapy (note: not every therapist is a good fit, and sometimes it takes trying a few different professionals before finding a match), join local or virtual support groups, study the kinds of abuses she endured, journal, ask a local school or church or family division office about what help exists, rely on trusted friends, work on self, etc. The avenues to a better life are many.

The path to healing, not easy to begin with, can be made all the more difficult by people who don’t help like they’re supposed to. Sister survivors, this too offers a takeaway in our journey. That is, sometimes our growth is forced through situations that go the opposite direction of our expectation, because in this we cultivate a new, better system of tools that will empower us in ways of greater impact.

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email

Image Credit to Polina Zimmerman from Pexels.

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