Social worker serves as hero to the broken

February 25, 2007 

There are everyday heroes among us. We've already talked about a police officer who saved a young life and a mother-and-son team who feed and minister to the homeless.

Yvette Brown is a social worker for the Horry County Department of Social Services. Some months Brown, who focuses on in-home treatment services, must keep up with 70-plus kids and their families.

There aren't enough hours in the day. There aren't enough days in the month. But she does it anyway, even when she has to have visits as short as 15 minutes at a child's school, knowing it's the only way to eyeball them enough to determine they are clean and not hungry and not bruised, that no deep-seated fear is hidden in their eyes.

"You need to build a rapport with broken, battered kids in order to move a case forward," she said. "We see child abuse every day, the kind that doesn't hit the newspaper. It's happening, and it's deep. It's real deep. You look at the kid and they are crying out for help and you don't know where to begin."

Brown, who once worked for the Horry County Sheriff's Office, saw the prison population getting younger by the year and wondered if there was a better way to help.

A fellow officer, Randy Gerald, who was shot to death trying to intervene in a domestic dispute, told her she had more to give.

"We feel like we are making a difference," Brown said. "You have touched a life. You have made a difference. But at what cost?"

She's had to witness babies born with illegal drugs in their systems being given back to their mothers - because their grandmothers also tested positive.

She's had to go into homes where maggots reside in refrigerators, where little girls have suffered unimaginable sexual abuse.

She's had to watch co-workers leave: one, a 17-year veteran who earned only $31,000; and another who took a lower-paying job to escape the stress of dealing with the maladies of an exploding and more needy Horry County population.

She's commiserated with fellow workers who are now on high blood pressure medicine and take pills to go to sleep. They fight fears that a child might be hurt or killed because they can't do the kind of detail-oriented case management they know they should do.

This past week Gov. Mark Sanford appointed a new DSS director, charged with revamping a broken system. It must be fixed, so that Brown and others like her won't have to be so heroic.

ONLINE | For past columns and to read Bailey's blog, go to MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

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