I’ve always been a strong believer in volunteerism. The world isn’t going to change unless we get up and go! I also can’t stand awkward silences. When someone asks a question, I will be the one to respond when no one else will. In ninth grade biology, I was the only one who would admit to knowing the words “penis” and “vagina” and how to say them out loud.
Also, I can’t resist an audience.
These factors combined are what led to me offering to present a particularly difficult case during the agency’s monthly director’s meeting. Just me, standing in front of nine
grown-ups people who make more money than me big bosses, explaining what I’m struggling with.
Shouldn’t I keep that to myself? I mean, should I be sharing with all of these people, some of whom could fire me, what parts of my job are really super hard?
But my supervisor asked, and no one said anything. Which led to my, “Oh. Well, I’ll do it. No problem.”
Famous last words? I think so, if Disney Adventures taught me anything.
We’re a fairly small agency, so I know most of the directors. We have also had some recent shake-ups, though, so there were two that I was meeting for the first time. One was a woman in her 40s who had a bedazzled shirt on and bore a striking resemblance to Tina Yothers. I love her. I hope that we can become best friends. The other was a man in his 50s, who I definitely did not catch looking down my shirt. No. That would be gross.
Then there was my direct supervisor, also wonderful. My director was there, redefining adequate as always. My director’s boss was running the meeting, and I’m pretty sure I remind her of her kids. So we’re cool. There’s the intake coordinator, who was my interim supervisor for a little while when the agency was between hires. She’s a Harry Potter nerd. So we’re extremely cool.
There are also the assorted others who are not interesting enough to warrant personal descriptions. They’re social workers, so they certainly have their quirks, but you can all use your imaginations.
Naturally, I broke out the therapeutic toys (that’s right, these guys) to represent the different family members. Like I said, I can’t resist an audience.
My supervisor asked me to present a very complex, closed-system, multi-problem family. Or, if we’re focusing on strengths, a large, close-knit, colorful bunch.
Nine kids, one grandchild, drug abuse, drug sales, truancy, sexual abuse, court involvement, a severely disabled child…a lot to get into. Whenever mom is asked what she wants, she responds with, “I want ACS out of my fuckin’ life.”
Seriously. She would not leave an ACS meeting until the worker included that on the service plan.
They’re very overwhelming, but I also love them. The kids are sweet, and love any individual attention they can get. They dote on the child with cerebral palsy. Mom, for all her anger, is pretty damn funny.
I don’t know if my affection for the family came through my nerves over speaking to all these directors. I always worry about this, with the bosses. Talking to my director makes me think that not doing direct service anymore can really shut a person down to the joys of social work, and being a part of someone’s life like this. There was never an appropriate moment to talk about watching a thugged out 19 year old ex-con carry his disabled sister off her school bus and up the stairs, all the while cooing at her and making her laugh. But that’s also an important part of who this family is.
Overall, yes, we focused on concerns. There was not as much time for strengths, though they were asked about, and discussed meaningfully. But I was impressed with the higher-ups. (Not the boob-looker, but the rest.) It would seem that, some evidence aside, not every here has just failed upwards. They knew what they were talking about, and offered some solid ideas. For concrete services, and approaches to therapy.
So maybe it’s possible to maintain your social work integrity and street cred as a supervisor. Realistically, I’ll be in that position some day. I’ve got the education and license, I guess I’m probably capable, and I need to do that if I ever want to live with fewer than three roommates. It’s nice to see that moving up in the world doesn’t have to mean being disconnected from casework, or forgetting where you came from.
Still–I am never volunteering again.