Friday 1 August 2014

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Everyone makes mistakes, accidents happen and no single person goes through life without making at least one really bad choice.

Is one mistake, one small lapse in good judgement, a reflection on our personality, our parenting style or perhaps even the state of our mental health? That is exactly what this  book is about, someone making the type of mistake you can never quite recover from.

A hard-working stressed out mother, who loves her children and treats them well, becomes the focus of a child neglect/abuse investigation. The moral parameter swings like Poe’s Pendulum,  from guilt to innocence.

Has Ellen become one of the heartbreaking cases she tends to? As a social worker she sees the very bottom of the soulless pit of violence, abuse, pain, hatred and despair. It is her job to rescue children and women from these desperate situations.

Not that rescue is always possible or an option. More often than not the victims of abuse, especially children, are returned straight back to the family home.

Ellen is diligent to a fault. She leaves no stone unturned to help the people allocated to her case-load. Leaves as fast as possible when she gets an emergency call from one of her flock. In fact she is so intent on saving humanity that her family often seems to come second to everyone else.

Then there comes the day when her priorities cause an accident of such epic proportions that her whole life, career, marriage and all her close relationships come close to being destroyed.

I really enjoyed the way the author showed the reality of the flip-side of social work and a social workers life. Being the sounding board for people in need and only having the ability to help them in a marginally small way, can really cause havoc in the minds of the people in that particular career branch. It is also the reason for the high number of burnt out individuals in social work.

The pain and frustration of knowing you just can’t save them all, despite all the good intentions you might have. Some of them are going to die, spend their lives in a continuous vicious cycle of violence and neglect. Knowing all that and acknowledging the lack of power you have over being able to change the outcome and futures of these children is enough to drive any person round the bend. Or at least to drive them to a point of complete overload.

This story takes a look at how quickly a person or parent can end up being just another statistic. Going from one end of the parent scale to the other, from good to so-called bad parent. Going  from being the saviour or helper to being the abuser.

All it takes is one small moment of not paying attention, a few seconds out of sight and out of mind or a few seconds of being preoccupied by something or someone else.

A great read that takes a close look at boundaries between abuse, neglect and accidents. Sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line, and more often than not the benefit of the doubt is given to the wrong person and to the detriment of a child or victim.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley

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