Honesty is the best policy. Right?

7 04 2011

I’ve written about my love of progress notes before. Truly, nothing gives me greater joy than reliving a session, remembering who was there, why we met, what I planned to discuss, and how everything was derailed what was accomplished. I know I speak for all of us.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m being dishonest. Reading my notes, or the notes of other workers at the agency, you get the picture of a calm, collected social worker, in control of the situation at all times.

I don’t lie. I just don’t use direct quotes. (I don’t have to do process recordings ever again, and you can’t make me.) I don’t include my hesitations, my random stutters, or perhaps the occasional look of fear.

What would an honest progress note look like?

“SocialJerk conducted a scheduled home visit with the family. Visits have been scheduled the past two weeks, but no one was at home for these. This visit was conducted in sheer desperation and with little hope for a positive outcome.

SocialJerk apologized for being late, which the family thought was weird because she was supposed to be there at 4:30, and arrived at 4:33. SocialJerk needs to chill.

The children were appropriately groomed and dressed, for the most part. Teen 1 is doing some kind of experiment with his hair, and let’s just say it’s not working. Braids were his friend. Toddler 2 didn’t have pants on, but SocialJerk supports freedom of expression within the home. Also, no marks or bruises were observed, except for “Bitch” written in (magic, not permanent) marker on Teen 2’s hand. Eh, kids are weird. Mom was in jammies, which is a little odd considering it was so late, but she’s grown and can do what she wants. Also, they were Tweety Bird PJs, which is kind of cool.

The home was neat and clean. Well, by SocialJerk’s standards. You should see that bedroom. SocialJerk needs to keep up on her laundry, but it’s hard to always have enough quarters. SocialJerk digresses…

The TV was on. Mom was kind enough to reduce the blaring volume, but left it on Oprah. SocialJerk was mesmerized by the topic of suburban housewife prescription drug dealers, and had to request that it be turned off. This did not go over well. SocialJerk pretended not to notice.

We discussed the children’s absentee fathers. Mom tends to blame them for the teens acting out. Mom also blamed the teens falling in with the wrong crowd. SocialJerk attempted to introduce the idea that Teen 1 and Teen 2 are the wrong crowd that the other parents are blaming their kids’ bad behavior on. However, SocialJerk was distracted by Teen 2 calling Teen 1 a “fucking retard” and Teen 1 threatening to set Teen 2 on fire. SocialJerk had a moment of panic and considering making a break for it out an open window. Cooler heads prevailed and SocialJerk reminded the teens of our anger management techniques. Teens clearly humored weirdo SocialJerk, which is enough for her.

Toddler 1 tripped over the carpet. Teen 1 and SocialJerk laughed. Toddler 1 insisted that it was” not funny,” while SocialJerk pointed out that it was, in fact, a little funny.

Wacky Neighbor popped in and spoke rapid fire Spanish, clearly not wanting SocialJerk to follow. SocialJerk nearly got a contact high from his jacket. Wacky Neighbor left, and Mom apologized. She then took a phone call. SocialJerk enjoyed her Notorious B.I.G. ringtone. Brooklyn represent.

We got back on track and discussed Teens 1 and 2 and their attendance. They missed two days last week. We celebrated this as a victory, which SocialJerk secretly felt sad about. Teen 2 then said she had something she wanted to share with SocialJerk. SocialJerk was terrified that she was going to be presented with a positive pregnancy test, until Teen 2 produced a science test with an 86 at the top. SocialJerk praised Teen 2 as if she had cured polio. Mom rolled her eyes and SocialJerk encouraged her to be proud of Teen 2, while thinking that Mom was kind of being an asshole. SocialJerk then remembered the time Teen 2 stole Mom’s credit card, and cut her a break.

Next steps- SocialJerk will plan to see the family in the office next week. SocialJerk will call in vain to remind them, but their phones will be disconnected. SocialJerk will be tempted to Facebook Teen 1 or 2, but recognizes that would be inappropriate. SocialJerk will ultimately conduct more home visits than necessary, to ensure that contact is made, and will question the therapeutic value of her work, which will lead to a personal existential crisis.”

I think it could work.

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15 responses

7 04 2011
Misty

You are freakin’ hilarious!! I’m working on my MSW and have a classmate who has never even worked in the field or did home visits. I think she would run out of the house crying if she dealt with some of the home visits I’ve been on (roaches somehow dropping from the ceiling onto my lap mid-sentence, one child chasing the other around the house with a huge horror movie type butcher knife while mom won’t get off the phone to even talk with me, etc.). Love your honesty!

7 04 2011
socialjerk

Thanks! Home visits are such a good learning experience. I’m glad both of my internships involved home visits. We had a worker here who never had to do them before, and couldn’t stand them…she didn’t last too long.

Pest issues are another huge home visit issue, especially with bed bugs being everywhere now. I recently asked a woman what the noise in the kitchen was. “Oh, that’s Mickey.” OK, lady, calling that rat “Mickey” does not make it any less terrifying.

7 04 2011
Carolyn

Yes, I remember my days of supervised visits (as the supervisor, thank you very much) very well. Phoning the supervisor for the clinical term for killer attack dust bunnies. Being beaten up by a six year old who did not want to return home to the foster parents. Sitting terrified in a basement apartment beside an aquarium with two black cobras in it. Driving home singing “I’m going back to the land of the nice people” (and no, was not driving children back to the foster home at that point).

7 04 2011
socialjerk

Two black cobras? Oh my goodness, that’s terrifying. Animals are a huge part of the home visit experience. My supervisor is terrified of dogs, I feel so bad for her when she has to come with me on a home visit. For some reason, my clients just LOVE large, poorly trained, barking dogs.

7 04 2011
Erin

hahaha… I love this. I sometimes look at my case notes and think, “wow, that makes it sound like the visit was at least 90% productive, when in fact it was more like 10%….” I can definitely understand your position!

7 04 2011
socialjerk

Making oneself sound extra-competent is an important social work skill 🙂 Isn’t it nice to find out you aren’t the only one? Thanks for reading!

7 04 2011
social overworker

Haha! I’m fairly honest in my recordings, because I know nobody will read them. 🙂

10 04 2011
socialjerk

My supervisor definitely reads them, but when she’s really busy I know she’s just skimming. Those times I’m tempted to throw random dirty words throughout my notes.

7 04 2011
Esther

Hilarious! I especially liked the bits about being distracted by the television and calling and having their phones disconnected when they miss an appointment. So frustrating! That colbra story was scary. And I enjoyed social overworker’s comment about no one reading their notes. Right now I work with housing clients and no one ever reads the notes. ever.
I love reading your blog. It’s like all the things I think when I’m at work.

10 04 2011
socialjerk

Thanks! I’m so glad you’re relating and enjoying. I think it would probably annoy me if no one was reading the notes I spent all that time writing…but it might give me more opportunity to work on my comedy writing 🙂

8 04 2011
Nectarine

Two things:

1) Seriously, why does no one turn the TV off when they have an appointment? Like I’m supposed to be able to magically ignore those scrolling news bulletins at the bottom of the screen?

2) Do you actually write your progress notes in the third person? Cause I am so glad I don’t have to do that anymore. This writer thought it was weird and kinda stupid.

10 04 2011
socialjerk

1) Seriously. I often wonder how people around my age who grew up in the same city share no social norms with me. I have two fabulous TV related stories I was about to share…but I think I’ll have to sit on those for a future post.

2) SocialJerk does have to write in the third person. SocialJerk makes this less uncomfortable by imagining her notes being read aloud by William Shatner.

9 04 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 13 | Fighting Monsters

[…] SocialJerk is back from her break and helps us with some insights into case recording – that part of the job we all love most. […]

9 04 2011
nechakogal

Love how you use humour to talk about these issues. I agree with Nectarine, these entries can be weird – but I recall early in my career, when I still worked in child protection, receiving case files that were creepy. In many of these files it was clear the writers didn’t use any filters at all, but one in particular comes to mind where the writer had some very traditional ideas about a woman”s place in the world, and about what it meant to be a “good mother” and, to say the least, the client didn’t fit the profile.

When I met the client it was clear she was someone who had been given limited opportunities and lots of advice, if you know what I mean. After we crested the up hill battle to build a rapport she began to connect with important supports and resources I encouraged. She later upgraded her education. She completely transformed on her own terms – as she became empowered. I hope the file is still closed, but … those notes are still there.

Anyway, I always think about the people who will be reading the notes I write, and try to stick to the bare bones. Dry reading I know, but fact based. Thanks for another great post. You remind me of the reasons I got into social work in the first place – I want to be cool like you :).

10 04 2011
socialjerk

Thanks so much. It’s actually easy to be cool like me, because I’m really lame, just ask my cat, but I appreciate the compliment 🙂 I’d love to be able to write intelligent analysis like you.

I love the point you raise about the notes reflecting the view of the writer, rather than the real situation. I’ve had so many instances where the case file I get paints a terrifying picture. Then I meet the family and don’t know where those notes came from. It’s why I hate having to answer the “is the home neat and clean?” question. Um, according to me? Check out my shower curtain, and then tell me if I’m qualified to make that assessment.

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