In March of 2018, on a coastal highway in Northern California, a car was found upside down at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff. Inside police found the bodies of Jen and Sarah Hart and three of their six children. A 2020 feature documentary about the case exploring the accident, later classified as a crime, and revealing failures in social systems that led to the tragedy recently aired on the Discovery Plus Channel.
Among the experts appearing on camera to provide professional commentary was Dr. Raquel Warley, associate professor of social work at Mercy College. Warley, whose expertise is frequently called upon by legal teams, appears in several segments. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, Warley remarks, “All these reports [end with] the same thing: insufficient evidence. What evidence did you need [to recognize] … that these kids needed protection?”
Warley is an instructor and program director in Mercy’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. At her previous position at California State University in Los Angeles, she designed the nation’s first program in forensic social work. Her experiences while teaching at other colleges with standalone social work schools have given her an appreciation of Mercy’s interdisciplinary approach. “There’s the potential for wonderful partnerships and the opportunity to interact among all the programs in social work and criminal justice,” she said.
Mercy’s undergraduate program in social work is rigorous and selective. “Many people think of social work as a ‘helping profession,’ which it is, but it’s also a science,” said Warley. “In my years working with child welfare I saw how improperly trained social workers contributed to the system that failed the children they were supposed to help — even leading to fatal consequences as they did in the film. It’s crucial that rigorous practices be applied throughout the field, and that we not cling to the idea that anybody with a strong desire to help is suited for social work. This is life and death.”
The documentary, “Broken Harts,” can be viewed online at Discovery Plus.