Working with people always has potential to be frustrating. Especially when those people have mental health issues, developmental disabilities, substance abuse problems, histories of abuse and neglect, two tons of general chaos in their lives, or all of the above. As social workers, we understand where people are coming from.
I had a particularly difficult case to work with for a brief period of time. A single mother and her five year old son had voluntarily come to the agency due to the five year old’s severe behavior issues. They were assigned a worker, with whom they worked for about six months.
Well, I say “worked.” Mom missed almost all of her appointments. She only showed up at the office when there was a crisis. Most often, when it was too late for anything to be done.
Like I said, this family volunteered for services, and then didn’t show up for them. Somehow, their case wasn’t closed. Their worker left, and guess which lucky jerk they got transferred to?
Ah, yes. Because if the family didn’t engage with their original worker for months, surely they’ll go along with a new worker, in a new office, who is under strict instructions to refer the five year old for mental health services and close immediately, before they bring our numbers down any further.
Somehow, things got done. I had to ambush the family at school and at their apartment (my camoflauge gear is second to none) but I got what I needed. They were referred out. Mom came in for a closing conference, and signed off in agreement to having her case closed.
Then the calls started.
While I was away on vacation, my supervisor received a call from this woman,
psychotically politely demanding to know why her fucking case had been closed.
Because that is how we get what we want.
My supervisor reminded her that she had attended a closing conference. No, the mom insisted. She wanted the case to stay open until her son received a formal diagnosis.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. There are a lot of people who refuse to meet our requirements or engage meaningfully in services, but hate the idea of their case being closed. Essentially, they want a social worker on retainer. Someone they can run to when they have an emergency, but not have the obligations of weekly meetings and regular home visits. Oh, and this should also be free.
My supervisor explained, to this irate, swearing woman, how to go about reopening her case, if that was what she wanted, or how to file a complaint.
The issue was regarded as resolved. Until the next week. When I came in to a voicemail, explaining that our services suck, she had the wrong date for her son’s mental health evaluation, and I am responsible for every bad thing to ever happen, from the Holocaust to jeggings.
Despite showing up on the wrong day for her child’s appointment, the psychiatrist did see the family. (Not a moment to soon…sorry, now I’m just being snarky.) So I thought we were done.
Until next week. Another voicemail, explaining that she had been trying to get in touch with me for two weeks, and I’ve been giving her the runaround. She also reiterated that our agency, and our services, suck.
I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were expecting a call back. Apparently, “y’all suck, y’all should get shut down” in fact translated to, “Please return this message at your earliest convenience.”
I passed it off to my director, as my supervisor was out on vacation.
Yes, I opted not to return the call myself. I just couldn’t see the point. For all I listen to and get blamed for on a daily basis, my job description does not actually include the term “punching bag.” This woman was being irrational and aggressive. As I told my director, unfortunately, I do not get paid enough to sit and listen to a diatribe on why I suck.
Apparently, he does. He called her back, since, you know, it’s kind of his role. He then checked in with me, explaining that we have to bear in mind “the kind of people we work with” and that she “just wants to be heard.” Which is why he invited her in, to berate him in person.
That’s his call, if he wants to listen to that. But I really wanted to explain to him–I know “the kind of people we work with.” Because I work with them, while he is in his office filling out reviews and signing off on service plans. (Necessary work? Absolutely. But he’s not out in the trenches anymore, and hasn’t been for some time.) I am understanding for a living. But I’m also human. I have limits. In this case, I reached it.
Oh, and she doesn’t “want to be heard.” She wants to make a scene. There is a difference. Venting is not always productive. What would come from this powwow? I don’t think we do people any favors when we give them the idea that if they yell and swear loudly enough, the rules will be bent for them.
As I predicted, she never showed up, and we haven’t heard from her since. I wish things could have gone differently, and better, but they didn’t. We can’t win them all, and we can’t beat ourselves up over that.
And maybe it’s ok to give ourselves permission to run out of patience, once every few years.