Getting to know all about you (Whether I like it or not)

3 03 2011

Joyous news! I’ve got a new family on my caseload.

Engagement is always a tricky process. Getting to know people, letting them know you’re there to help and they can trust you, all while getting the information you need and setting appropriate boundaries…there’s a lot going on.

It’s especially tough as a preventive worker. A lot of our families come to us because of a CPS investigation. When CPS comes into your life, they tend to be fairly blunt. I need to see your kids. “OK kids, roll up your sleeves and pant legs so I can check for bruises. Let me talk to you without your mom. Does your mom hit you? How does she hit you? How often? OK mom, open the fridge. No I don’t want a snack, I’m checking for food!”

It needs to be done. But it’s a rough process for people already in a crisis situation.

CPS then sends me in as “the new worker.” So why would those families expect me to be any different?

My latest family has a grand total of ten kids.

Did anyone else’s uterus just try to escape?

Single mom, ten kids. The youngest is severely disabled, with cerebral palsy. There are six kids under 18. Nine of the kids live in the home. Dad pops in and out when he damn well pleases can.

This was an unusual situation, because CPS was still involved. The family’s case was transferred over to me, after the mom was called in for educational neglect. Translation: YOU get this damn teenager to go to school! Before CPS could even close the case, another investigation was called in. This time for the 14 year old boy inappropriately touching his 16 year old sister.

When this happened, I had the case for two weeks. I had been to the house once, for a brief visit, before the family signed on. The 14 year old had come in for an individual session.

Then I got a call from a CPS worker, telling me that my presence was requested at a conference.

JK. What she said was, “We’re having a conference Thursday morning at our office. You have to come to it.”

Technically speaking, I don’t. Of course I will, but I don’t have to. Even ifย it was required, is it so hard to ask? Honestly, people.

Let me explain something–I’m old enough. I have my Master’s degree and a couple of years of experience. However, I appear to be about 15. I get carded on the rare occasion that I head over to the tavern for a night cap. I was recently asked if my mother was giving permission for me to donate blood. (You don’t need that after age 17.)

This often means that people think they can talk to me a certain way.

We went ahead with the meeting. I explained that my knowledge of the case was limited, because I had barely even met the family.

Then the condescension kicked in.

“So you didn’t do a home assessment?” asked a supervisor who clearly realized she was old enough to be my mother. “I’m confused, I thought you had been to the home. Well, I suppose that’s something we’ll have to work on.”

It was as though she was assigning me homework.

This continued for the next hour. By the time I made it back to my office, I was fuming. Fortunately I have an understanding supervisor, who allows me to vent and rant sarcastically every day so often.

This woman didn’t speak to me as though we were colleagues, from different agencies working towards the same goal. She spoke to me as if I were a stupid child. As if she was trying to shift some sort of blame to me.

Oh wait, that’s it.

When different service providers are involved, it so often gets forgotten that we’re working towards the same goal. We’re all trying to help this family to function independently, to keep the kids safe, to help them to achieve their goals. Instead, it’s “You want me to do the referral? But your agency is connected with theirs, it will go through faster if you do it!” “I am not writing theย thirty day service plan, I only got the case ten days ago. Ha!”

A lot of this comes from being overwhelmed. Everyone has too many families and not enough time. If you can put work off onto someone else, especially if that someone else is someone you don’t see too often, you’ll do it. A lot of this also comes from fear. Especially when there are a lot of safety and risk factors for a family, but the kids are still in the home, no one wants to have the ultimate responsibility. We all remember the stories of children who have died from abuse or neglect. The parents are often almost an afterthought. Where was the school, where were the social workers, where was CPS? Who fell down on the job?

No one wants to be that one worker who shoulders the blame in the media, in the case of a tragedy. But the ironic thing is that such tragedies would probably happen a lot less if we worked together a little more. If we did things that didn’t strictly fall under our umbrella of responsibility every so often, and talked to each other before resorting to blame.

But what do I know. I’m just a kid.

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22 responses

3 03 2011
mjfrombuffalo

“Everyone has too many families and not enough time”

Well. CPS workers in NYC have caseloads around 9-10, and for the most part they’re either closing cases quickly or doing the 30-day plan and passing them off to contract agencies. Just sayin’.

3 03 2011
socialjerk

Just trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt ๐Ÿ™‚

From what I hear from a friend who used to do that work, they were under an incredible amount of pressure to get families signed on for other services and to close, even if it wasn’t in the best interest of the family. I think the constant rotation of families can lead to a lot of confusion and stress.

3 03 2011
Heiddi

Hola SocialJerk. lol Great post and I agree with MJ. Too many families, fasps, visits and not enough time (or pay) to get the job done. All we can do is commiserate together. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great day.

3 03 2011
socialjerk

Verdad ๐Ÿ™‚ I think commiserating with people from other agencies is vastly underrated!

3 03 2011
socialoverworker

This is SO TRUE. I am also petite and look about 12. The panel chair speaks to me like I’m my Carers children (and once mistook me for one!!!!!) which starts to grate.

I had a child social worker the other day try and tell me how to do my job. Obviously they heard my voice sounds young and assume.

I took her ass to the cleaners because she hadn’t done an essential piece of work & was trying to minimise it.

I tend to fight fire with fire…

3 03 2011
socialjerk

I’m always nervous doing visits in high schools. I’m afraid I’m going to get caught in a hall sweep and be given detention. Knowing me, I would probably show up.

3 03 2011
Simply Social Work

socialjerk I wish I could say that I get my age mistaken and often have to beg people to check my ID. Anyway, I know this feeling as soon as your name hits anywhere near a family’s case file you are in for every thing. I once signed off a Child Protection report on the electronic file and ended up completing several assessments and taking the case to court.

Loved this blog!

3 03 2011
socialjerk

Everyone tells me I’ll be very happy one day to be thought to be ten years less than I am. I’m still waiting ๐Ÿ™‚

I once had closed a case (I thought, my supervisor thought) for three months. I was then told that they were still concerned about the family and I had to start working with them again. That was rough…still waiting to close that one!

Thanks so much for the kind words, I’m glad you’re enjoying.

3 03 2011
Doris

LOL young-looking social worker… who knows–you may hear a “Happy Social Work Month!” from that lady supervisor! ๐Ÿ˜€

Doris

3 03 2011
socialjerk

Perhaps she’s an avid reader of SocialJerk, haha!

4 03 2011
cb

I used to look like a kid when I qualified. But I grew up ๐Ÿ™‚ (I was one of the youngest to qualify and I always looked younger!). I don’t get asked for ID anymore but I was well into my 20s when I would still be asked about buying lottery tickets (you have to be.. um.. 16!).
It was irritating sometimes at work although I think it was a bit different as I worked with adults. I did get the ‘what on earth could you know’ look many many times. It just got boring. I don’t miss that part to be honest. I still look younger than I am (cough cough) but now am comfortably post school age ๐Ÿ˜‰

4 03 2011
socialjerk

When I was an intern I worked with senior citizens. I was waiting for the day that one of them would pat me on the head. As it was they already gave me cookies. Come to think of it, I miss that internship…

4 03 2011
AnnMarie

When I started my first professional job, I was mistaken for being a student worker. So I started introducing myself as Dr. AMJ. It helped a lot, but people were amazed I’d gotten it “so young” (I was 5 years out of college so not *that* young to get an advanced degree). As I now approach my 40s, I’m wishing I still looked young enough to be mistaken for a student….

4 03 2011
socialjerk

That’s a good way to handle it. I think because people tend to think I’m younger, when I introduce myself as a social worker, they think I mean “caseworker” and that I don’t have my Master’s. So they usually start referring to me as “the caseworker.” Which just annoys me further…

Thanks for reading!

4 03 2011
Carolyn

One of my most embarassing moments was, when going out on a date with an “older” gentleman (12 years my senior) I was I.D. to attend an adult movie (you had to be 16, I was 21).

Alas, that was 30 years ago! Nobody asks me anymore ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚

4 03 2011
socialjerk

I was out with a friend who is about 15 years older than me. I was asked for ID at the bar, and she went to pull her’s out as well. Then the bouncer said, “Oh no, I don’t need yours” to her. Ouch.

4 03 2011
wiggyhug

really enjoyed your blog – I often try to encourage other agencies to think ‘outside the box’. Still hopeful of a success story.
I also enjoyed all the comments. Gone are the days I get asked for ID, last time was 10 years ago. Although Before then I would be asked every other week. I think the frown lines, the bags under the eyes, and the inability to hide this all behind make up gives away my age.

6 03 2011
socialjerk

Thanks so much! And getting asked for ID is overrated, I can never find anything in my giant purse ๐Ÿ™‚

7 03 2011
Casdok

I remember the days when my sw just came round for a chat!

8 03 2011
socialjerk

See, that sounds lovely. (I hope it was!) ๐Ÿ™‚

7 03 2011
sarahk

I don’t even look all that young, but my second internship was counseling older people. Most of my clients were in their 90s… this one 94-year-old lady who I had met with for probably three months asked me, “How old are you?” I asked her how old she thought I was (not clinically appropriate I guess, but I was curious). She guessed, “14?”

I was 27. And couldn’t help but wonder, You would let a 14 year old counsel you about your anxiety and dementia?! I guess to her though, there wasn’t much difference. Later she said she wanted me to have a baby so she could raise it for me.

8 03 2011
socialjerk

I’ve asked people how old they think I am. It’s especially funny with little kids. It’s usually either somewhere around 12, or 56. Nothing in between.

And I love that a 94 year old wanted to raise a baby. That is just something special!

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