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 if 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 the 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.