The National Association of Social Workers presented a surprised Carol St. Amant, lecturer of anthropology and sociology, with the Lifetime Achievement Award for the 30 plus years she put into a career of social work and public child welfare. The event occurred on Friday 28 at Bradley University in Peoria, IL.
St. Amant runs a two-term, 20-week, Social Service Internship at Knox College for Psychology majors/minors and Social Service minors that aims to introduce them and better prepare them for the rigors and challenges of social work. This internship is part of the Anthropology and Sociology Department.
St. Amant officially retired from social work in 2002 and started lecturing at Knox in 2003.
Right up to her retirement she administered the staff of the social service agencies in 101 out of 102 counties in Illinois. She was more content with being the district manager of a smaller geographical area, the Peoria District.
A significant portion of St. Amant’s social work, which began in the ‘70s, has taken place within the Peoria District. She worked with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where she came face-to-face with the difficulties of being a direct service, frontline social worker. The job requires St. Amant be on call 24/7, since there are numerous child abuse cases. She describes the job as one that can occupy one’s time constantly, and if allowed, can overwhelm one completely.
“The job of a social worker is consuming and draining,” said St. Amant, “and it is a job that brings more disappointments than rewards.”
“It’s tough to work with children who have been scarred by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as it is difficult for them to open up about the abuse,” said St. Amant. “It is also difficult to work with the adults — the abusers themselves.”
St. Amant said she came across cases of children as young as two or three years old who were victims of sexual abuse and molestation.
“Children often cannot communicate, or speak up for themselves,” she said.
A problem regarding adults and parents is that they are sometimes in denial about the abuse or neglect their children suffered. They deny and refuse to face the abuse they committed, as well as abuse by their spouses. An obstacle often faced in court is the lack of standards and burden of proof, which basically means full-proof evidence, or as defined legally, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that while an examination may prove that a child has indeed been abused, often it cannot be proven that a specific person did it. Therefore, the perpetrator cannot be convicted and punished for his or her crimes.
St. Amant also noted the lack of a national agency that keeps track of those convicted of child abuse.
“A person convicted of abuse in one state can get a job in another state,” she said.
There is a question of whether child abuse is a vicious cycle, and whether that cycle can be broken. Some children, who grew up with abuse as the only way of life they knew, may grow up to be abusers themselves. But it is possible to turn away from that life.
“If a child is removed from the abusive and damaging environment, and is exposed to a different, better way of life and people, they can realize that abuse is not normal or okay,” she said.
St. Amant recalls a case she and her department had once dealt with that involved a father sexually abusing his teenage daughter and her younger siblings. The daughter denied that abuse was taking place, and kept protecting her father. The family fled the authorities. Sometime later, the department received a call from the girl, who blew the whistle on her father. According to St. Amant, the girl said she thought the abuse would stop, but it did not. When the abuse at the hands of her father kept going on and on, she realized it was not natural or normal, and turned her father in. Years later, St. Amant encountered the girl again. She had become a police officer specializing in child abuse cases.
The award was a surprise for St. Amant, who feels the field of public welfare does not receive enough credit. In the media and in American society, the public child welfare field is a controversial one, where the bad cases are the ones that receive attention, and good aspects and successes are often overlooked.
“Negative cases, especially the ones where a child is killed, get the most attention, and bad light is shed on the agency,” she said.
In addition to teaching at Knox College, St. Amant is involved with the local Jail Literacy program, Knox County Child Advocacy, and the Galesburg Community Chorus. Singing in the chorus is her primary method of stress relief. Other personal interests include sports, especially basketball and baseball. In her younger years, St. Amant played softball. Her love of baseball remains to this day, being a fan of the Major League Baseball team Chicago White Sox.
All in all, St. Amant is happy here at Knox.
“I am very satisfied, and it is just enough,” she said.