Never at His Desk

His name was Bill Rossnock and he probably kept me from ending up in jail.

He was a formidable man. Solidly built. Intense personality while at work. But had a softness about him that let you know he was looking out for you. He was my Social Worker.

For whatever reason, I came to Mr. Rossnock through the juvenile justice path of the county foster care system. I hadn’t committed a crime, it was just where they put me. Here’s the first time I was impressed by an adult.

I was sure whoever walked through that door was going to treat me like a criminal. It was their job to take care of the kids who were headed to, or fresh from juvenile detention. My Stepdad was a Police Officer, so I understood “Bad Cop” and that’s what I was anticipating. I got “Good Cop”, much to my relief. He had read my file, but moreover, he asked about me. Asked the Judge, the lawyer in charge of my case, heck, he may have called my best friend from elementary school! I’d never been impressed by an adult before that meeting.

He knew a lot about me. The most important thing he knew was that I wasn’t a criminal and he handled me as such. He talked to me with respect, asked my opinion and made me feel like I was a part of what was happening to me.

It’s been a long time so those days, but they are worth remembering. What I remember most about him was that he was never at his desk. Juvenile justice is a kind of specialized form of social work. Part Police, part Therapist, part case worker and part mediator. It’s a tricky job that kept him on the move. Pick ups and drop offs. Home visits and middle of the night crisis management. It was impossible for him to stay in one place. Might have been where I learned to gracefully leave a room. He managed it all so well that I didn’t realize that I was one of over two dozen clients he had to manage.

Here’s the important part of our relationship. I could have gone either way. Though I hadn’t been charged with a crime, that didn’t mean I wasn’t committing them. I loved to steal when I was a kid. Loved it. I was good at it. I could steal anything. Hoagies, sodas, cigarettes, magazines, cassettes, hell, I would even lift those horoscope scrolls they’d keep on the counters of stores. Didn’t need most of it, just like knowing I could get away with it. Mr. Rossnock caught wind of this talent and set me straight before I ever stepped foot in a foster home.

I wish I could relay the speech he gave me that impacted me so much. Sorry. No go there. I don’t remember the words or the message, I only know it worked. Whatever he said, however he said it, it snapped me out of it. Maybe he gave me some insight as to what jail would be like? Maybe he reminded me that I weighed about 100 pounds and would be a pinata had I been caught? Whatever it was, I never stole again. And that change of lifestyle ensured that I would never see the inside of a jail cell.

It’s safe to say, he had a big impact on me and the man I’d grow to be.

And Mr. Rossnock is not alone in his devotion to helping America’s youth find their way. He isn’t alone in time spent, care given or dedication to a cause. No, Mr. Rossnock is not alone. He is a member of an enormous community of unsung heroes in the profession of Social Work.

It's a big world, the world of Social Work. From the frontline case workers to the decisionmakers in D.C., social workers are a part of nearly every organization and group that helps people through tough times. If you’ve ever been in dire straits, a social worker was probably there to help you through.

Think of Social Workers as the Sherpas for the downtrodden. If you found yourself in care, impoverished or had just experienced some kind of trauma, a Social Worker was there to guide you back to a place of normalcy. If you’ve read this magazine for any length of time, you’ve read the some of the dozens of first-hand accounts from the Social Workers themselves.

Not just during the month of March, Social Workers Month, but all year long, we should thank a Social Worker for all they do.

When I want to do something charitable; donate clothes, books, things like that, I call Mr. Rossnock. All these years later and I still want him to know he helped me a good person. You should call your “Mr. Rossnock” and let them know how they impacted you. They are in a thankless job; your words could help recharge their battery.

Thanks Mr. Rossnock. I appreciate what you did for me.