SWAAFI (Social Workers Against Acronyms, for Irony)

17 06 2011

In high school, my friends and I went through the early motions of starting an official group called, “SAA: Students Against Acronyms.” We thought we were smart and funny. I’d say we were half right, but it seems like a bit too much credit. We were also lazy, so it never got off the ground.

Little did I know that my future would be AF. That’s acronym filled, for those of you not in the know.

Social workers, or SWs, as I refer to them in my progress notes, simply adore acronyms. We use them in the referral process, in writing up intakes, assessments, and service plans. That all makes sense. Condense everything as much as possible, because we’ve got enough to talk about.

Family was referred by ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) following a CPS (Child Protective Services) investigation. BM (Biological Mother, not Bowel Movement, though it always makes me giggle) reports a history of DV (Domestic Violence) with BF (Biological Father.) MGM (Maternal Grandmother) took custody when children were placed in FC (foster care.) BM (tee hee) denies a history of MH (Mental Health) and SA (Substance Abuse.) Contact information for the children’s GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) is included.

Oh dear. So much work to be done. I’ll have to include it all in my FASP (Family Assessment Service Plan.) What if BM (sorry, it’s still funny) wants to pursue a PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) warrant on the oldest teen? Is the family receiving PA (Public Assistance)? BM (OK, I’m done) is attending a BTW (Back To Work) program, but she missed a few days because her ACD (I honestly don’t even know) child care voucher didn’t come through. If they’re sanctioned, she might need an EVR (Eligibility Verification Review) and that’s a huge pain in the ass. Are they asking for a PE (Psychiatric Evaluation) for any family members? Did we talk to the CM (Case Manager)? Or was it the CW (Case Worker)?

Do any of the children identify as LGBT? Is the family going home to DR for the summer? Do the kids know their ABCs? Are they posting on FB? Do I have time to stop for cash at the ATM? What did I get on my SAT?

After a while, you start to go a bit mad. (We all go a little mad sometimes.)

Using these acronyms says something. It says, hey, I’m busy and important! I have things to say, and very limited time in which to say them. It also might say that you’re well-versed in the world of Twitter.

The acronyms say more than that, though. As I’ve said, social workers are insecure and annoying. Speaking in jargon lets people know that we know the system. I am a professional, dammit! I know what I’m talking about. Oh, you have to ask what PINS or CASAC means? I’ll explain it. And you will recognize that I know more than you.

This sends a message, and often not the message we want to send. I’ve seen workers, social workers and protective workers, or psychiatrists and case managers, or any other variation of well-intentioned helpers, talk in circles in front of their clients. Most of the clients we work with know public assistance lingo. They often know some child protection speak, as well. Odds are, they aren’t familiar with all of it, though. Public assistance, child protection, mental health…it’s a lot of language to be up to speed on.

I felt incredibly out of place when I first started in this field. I thought I sounded like an idiot when I had to ask what one of these things meant. I try to keep that in mind, before I drop initials on a client. I can’t stand when doctors prattle on in medical terminology about…whatever it is they do (I don’t often go to doctors, but I did watch ER) and act like a patient who never saw the inside of a medical school should know exactly what they mean.

I think it does us all well to remember what it’s like to feel like the newbie, like the dumbest person in the room. Some of us feel like that more often than others, but that’s not the point. There are reasons we sound like this sometimes. Sometimes it becomes second nature, sometimes we want to sound like we know the drill, sometimes we try to make ourselves look better than an obnoxious worker, or someone talking down to us.

But sometimes, being so comfortable with the jargon shows how comfortable we are on the inside track, which makes others feel that they’re on the outside. Sometimes making ourselves look better makes someone else look worse.

SA, DV, MH and the rest aren’t technical terms, but they are confusing when you’re the new guy, as a worker or a client. And to be honest, since we’re all friends here–they’re kind of obnoxious. Occasionally, they make us sound like a bunch of douches.

So please, join me in fighting back. Talke back entire words along with me. I’ll be emailing out an invite to SWAAFI later today. Let me know if you want me to CC you.

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22 responses

17 06 2011
blackcat

True words i have often been reminded by students about use of jargon and am grateful for it. as i still complain about medics using Latin on notes n scripts 15 years after they were told to stop

23 06 2011
socialjerk

Latin? Seriously? That is crazy talk. I feel like the entire medical profession was created to make me (and I guess others) feel stupid. I can’t say the names of any of these medications, how am I supposed to ask questions about them?

17 06 2011
A

This is a common problem I see as well. The program I work for has a whole bunch of acronyms and it’s so confusing for the professionals—-forget about the brain injured clients and their family members.

23 06 2011
socialjerk

I have seen families go through almost an entire meeting with ACS before whispering to me, “What are they talking about?” in regards to some acronym, abbreviation, or whatever. I guess when you work with these things so much, you forget that it’s not actually common knowledge.

17 06 2011
mjfrombuffalo

I disagree with the plethora of acronyms coming from social work. In my experience, they come from the government agencies, bureaucracies, and funders who coin them, include them in their ADMs and RPFs, and expect the workers to use them as shared language. FASP, for example, came straight from the OCFS bureaucrats in the CONNECTIONS Build 18 directives; I think FASP was even in the list of definitions in the preamble of the directives and the NY reg changes that followed. Some have evolved as a sort of progress note shorthand (DV, MH, BF? anything to make writing progress notes faster!) but it’s only in the past 10-20 years that peoples started TALKING acronyms to clients (“We need to get you a DV referral” – ugh!).

23 06 2011
socialjerk

I was with an ACS worker doing a joint home visit who asked the family about “Any history of DV?” The family said no. Once she left, they asked me what DV was.

17 06 2011
Carolyn

And then throw in the jargon and acronyms (a word I can NEVER remember) of the medical world wherein I work and is it any wonder that I purposely type everything out in full. Good thing I was a secretary in a past life and can, therefore, type very quickly! I think I have just realized that my need to call everybody by their full first name (no abbreviations) and often adding a “ms” or “mr.” in front of it may be in direct retaliation against this practice of shortening everything.

23 06 2011
socialjerk

The only time that I feel like the abbreviations help is when I’m tweeting 🙂
In terms of notes, I don’t feel like they save much time or space.

17 06 2011
L.

I totally agree and will join your club! Yesterday I had to explain why a child, turning 3, no long would have an IFSP through EI but instead would need an IEP through the CPSE which would no longer help them once the kid was 5- then he would go through the CPE and maybe need to work with a TFC during their transition from pre-K to K. And no, that will not impact their B2H services. Ugh.

23 06 2011
socialjerk

Oh, the school ones are the worst! I hate watching families go through the evaluation and special ed process, and just become more and more accustomed to the bureaucracy and nonsense. Speaking in acronyms is the number on indicator.

17 06 2011
KatjaMichelle

We have the following written on our white board in our office: American Society for the Reduction, Shortening, De-confusifying, and Ultimate Elimination of Acronyms, Olympia Chapter Aka (ASftRSD-caUEoA,OC)

23 06 2011
socialjerk

I am intrigued by your views, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

18 06 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 21 « Fighting Monsters

[…] And SocialJerk is frustrated (rightly) by acronyms and jargon. […]

19 06 2011
sarahk

I try to avoid acronyms as much as possible. I think they stem from the days of hand-writing notes. At my first internship we had to write our group notes by hand and I’d use any acronym or symbol I could find (up arrow instead of increase, etc). I hate writing things by hand.

Now I’m on an ACT team and we have to read all of our notes out loud at the morning meeting to keep the team informed. It drives me crazy how people use acronyms for everything but then the rest of the note will be overly wordy and include totally non-relevant information. Le sigh.

23 06 2011
socialjerk

I had to write my notes by hand at my first internship as well. That was a nightmare. I feel so bad for whoever took over my cases, I’m sure they have no idea what I was saying.

22 06 2011
Nectarine

We’re ABA (anything but acronyms) in notes and reports now, something people grumbled about at first, but have largely gotten used to. We still TALK acronyms though, which can be equally annoying and confusing.

We’re in the process of renaming our service team. The basic guidelines for submitting a name were “something that reflects our team values” and “no acronyms”. We are fighting the good fight here in Canada. I’m thinking SWAAFI-CAN

23 06 2011
socialjerk

Our program just recently got a new name, thanks to some new funding and people being moved around. They asked for input in naming, and I kept trying to come up with something that would create an obscene acronyn. “Families Uniting for Counseling/Kindness,” anyone?
And I support a Canadian version of everything. Keep up the good work!

27 06 2011
Fareez

I can really relate to this idea of having so many acronyms to work with, just the other day we were all happily talking about programmes and issues of DV and LGBT, whilst oblivious to the bewildered look of the interns who had just joined our agency. Indeed we should just practice saying what we things the way they are, instead of trying to “professionalise” ourselves through such esoteric terminologies and acronyms

30 06 2011
Amber Jo

Very well put. I have a private practice and was just invited into the world of county/state funding for a client. During phone conferences they throw around all sorts of new acronyms about funding and resources. I rock awkward like no other so I just ask over and over…every time they throw something out. I finally came to discover they are so full of jargon they don’t really know what they are talking about at all. They are literally just having meetings. Meanwhile, I picked the client up from jail, moved her into my group home and cannot be paid b/c they can’t figure out the correct acronym to pay me. Then they suggested I evict the client. I said I would opt to sue instead and not traumatize my client. Now they are shuffling fast to find the acronym to pay me.
I am committed to always spelling out THRIVE Private Case Management and keeping shit simple….yes even cursing.
Plus, I discovered Mac Scribe which types out my dictation in minutes….whole words. So, the revolution is coming.
Radical Social Worker against institutional dumbing down.

30 06 2011
socialjerk

Acronyms holding clients back from getting help. My mind is blown. I’m glad that client has you fighting back for them!

Thanks for commenting, and supporting SWAAFI!

30 06 2011
ShilohAnne

What I’ve also noticed is if a client or person being served by a program is able to speak the lingo too well they are discredited and thought to be scamming the system.
I have worked for programs with such horrid acronyms that it’s impossible to say where I work without rolling my eyes!

30 06 2011
socialjerk

That is an excellent point. Clients need to understand the system, but if they’re too savvy, they’re seen as having been around the block too many times to really need the help.

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