There are a lot of aspects of being a social worker that are annoying. Home visits. Mandated clients. Language barriers. But there’s one that I am very fortunate to miss out on.
I don’t have to go to court.
I’ll take a minute to let you deal with your jealousy. Everyone OK? OK.
It’s an agency policy. We are only allowed to go to court if subpoenaed. (That is a hard word to spell.) This is pretty rare, because it involves some work. If we are subpoenaed (seriously, is that Latin or something?) the agency lawyer has to accompany us. He’s rarely available, so this is another battle.
I’ve been at the agency for two years. Some of my coworkers have had to appear in court, but so far, I have not. I always feel pretty bad when a client asks me to be there to support them, and I have to explain that I can’t do this. At the same time, nothing gives me greater joy than when an ACS calls me the evening before a court date, telling me that I will be there, and I get to explain that, unfortunately, I’m unable to do so. It’s policy.
Suck on that.
In these situations, I send a letter, on agency letterhead, signed with all those letters after my name, explaining what the family has been working on, if they’ve been participating in services, the progress they’ve made, all that.
But somehow, court still tries to ruin my life.
I’m not a legal expert. I have a couple of lawyers on retainer (one used to babysat me, and one accompanied me to various Hanson concerts) but I don’t know more than the average person about how our legal system works. I do know, though, that judges have a lot of power.
A lot. I think they can do whatever they want. Like, I think they can fly.
They can also tell me what to do. Sometimes parents are referred for services by the court. At first, our services are voluntary. If the parent refuses services, and things in the home don’t improve, a judge can order them to participate in services in order to avoid losing custody of the children.
This makes sense. It’s not how you want to start a working relationship, but it can be necessary, to keep kids safe while preserving families. Sometimes that order from the judge is the “in” you need, and lets you get some actual work done.
But sometimes, these judges don’t know when to back off.
I work with some large families. One in particular consists of a mother, (sometimes) a father, a 20 year old son, a 19 year old son, his 18 year old girlfriend, their five month old son, 16 year old fraternal twins, a 14 year old boy, 11 year old girl, eight year old boy, and six year old girl. To make things more interesting, the six year old has cerebral palsy, is non-verbal, and is confined to a wheelchair.
The 14 year old in this scenario is the target child. But I’ll be the first to say that they entire family has things they need to work on.
However, that’s not where they are. Mom has had over twenty ACS cases in her life. The “these children will be removed!” threat does not hold water when it hasn’t happened in all of her experience. This woman is exhausted. Obviously. She is overwhelmed. All she wants is for these services to be out of her life, and all of these well meaning strangers to get out of her home.
She sends her 14 year old in for counseling every other week. And the kid is great about coming in and participating. She lets me come to the house every other week, and talks with me, tells me what’s going on, and asks for help with getting her disabled child services or making sure that all of the kids are in school.
The kids are safe. And the family is working on what they are ready to work on.
This was not enough for the judge. For the record, this judge was described to me by the ACS worker as, “very frightening. I was almost peeing on myself.”
And they say we’re not professionals.
The judge wanted family counseling. The entire family. At once. Every week.
First of all, I don’t have time to see one family six times a month. Second of all, a counseling session with eleven people, ages six to forty? One of whom has a serious disability? Eight of whom are marginally interested, at best? Your honor, I’m beginning to suspect that you hate me.
This judge doesn’t know what that counseling session would be like. She’s never been a social worker. An actual social worker would never suggest that kind of intervention. Because it is stupid.
Sorry, I’m a little cranky about it.
I also work with a woman who was arrested because a friend had a small amount of marijuana in her apartment. The woman’s drug test was clean, but she was still mandated to receive services. I have to get this woman enrolled in parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, and an anger management group.
Who couldn’t use those things? But it’s a bit much. It’s a little overwhelming to go from minding your own business to suddenly dealing with all of the bad things that have ever happened to you. And I guess an argument could be made that she shouldn’t have been hanging out with someone who had weed on them.
Certainly a parenting class and some DV counseling will help with this.
I don’t want to downplay the important role that the courts play in keeping kids safe. However, they are not, primarily, experts on child welfare or family dynamics. The idea that they some of them think they can tell me how to best do my job kind of pisses me off. If they’d like to try social working, they’re welcome to it.
And I’ll be happy to dole out some harsh sentences.