Yes, I am trying to lead the office in quacking

8 07 2011

I’ve always said that this agency is a pretty good place to work. We don’t get paid a ton, but the benefits are good. My supervisor is great. She appreciates my humor and impromptu dances. People get along fairly well. As far as social service agencies go, it’s pretty much the best you can ask for.

But the times, they are a-changing here at Anonymous Agency.

The city has bestowed vast riches upon us. (By that, I mean we got a new contract that requires us to do impossible things with very little money.) We’re going to be expanding to serve a lot more families, so we’re hiring new workers, taking over another office on our floor, and coming up with fun, creative ways to fit too many people into a small space. In the new office space, rolly desk chairs had to have back-up signals installed, so no one was injured. But social workers have always been creative.

All these new workers means a new director.

Change is hard on everyone. It’s uncomfortable, and when someone suggests you change, you can’t help but think, “What the hell was wrong with me before?” It can also be good, and productive, and help us to serve our clients better.

This new director comes with a lot of new ideas. I’m trying to be open to them, because I know that there’s room for improvement. I think a lot of the changes need to be made much higher up, in the child welfare system. The focus on making our numbers, social workers having so little control over which cases to accept and when to close them…these are the kinds of changes I would like to make. But of course, we need to do what we can.

The new director has a strong clinical focus. She’s very into intense family therapy. I think she kind of wants to be Minuchin. Which is fine, because he did important work and developed theories and models that we case our work on all the time.

But he was a little cooky.

So New Director is introducing some changes. Some of these are great. She wants the playroom to be more therapeutic, rather than just a distraction. I love this idea. (Not just because it was my suggestion and I need validation.) Our playroom sucks, to put it clinically. It was clearly thrown together with whatever toys some donor’s kid had outgrown. Many of the toys are musical, or just plain noisy. There’s a talking ATM and fire truck that haunt me in my dreams. “Welcome, to the interactive, ATM.” The kids just push that button, over and over again.

Did I mention that the playroom is adjacent to my cubicle? Kill me.

Play therapy doesn’t get done with these kinds of toys. New Director has agreed to go after some new stuff–a doll house, puppets, play-doh and other art supplies…the kinds of things that kids actually express themselves with.

She also wants to get anatomically correct dolls. Because some of our kids have been sexually abused. Oh dear.

When there are allegations of sexual abuse, we refer the children to a program specifically for this problem. No one here is an expert in working with kids who’ve been through this. Of course it comes up, but it’s not specifically what we do.

Not to mention, plenty of our kids haven’t been sexually abused. I’m thinking of the shenanigans they get up to when they realize Barbies clothes come off, and the hours of giggling this causes. That’s with a naked, notoriously anatomically incorrect doll.

We disagree.

New Director also wants to introduce a lot more trainings for the short-term therapy we’re meant to be doing, in topics like CBT and group work. This is great. It’s something we can all benefit from.

She also wants to film some of our sessions, and then watch them together in staff meetings.

It’s every nightmare I’ve ever had. First of all, if I have to watch myself therapizing, I will only be able to focus on whether or not I look fat. I realize that it’s shallow and immature, but I know myself.

Second of all, I will know I’m being filmed. I’ll use big words that don’t belong in an effort to impress those who will be watching. I will go out of my way to be mini-Minuchin, and not myself. When this doesn’t work, I will become awkward and crack sarcastic jokes.

Then there’s the “dress code.” Of course, it’s not really a code, it never is. Just a suggestion, to dress more professionally, because then our clients will want to “lift themselves up.” The things that’s stopping them from doing this already is apparently my Friday jeans. I like my clients to be comfortable with me. I wouldn’t show up to their homes looking like I’m there to mow the lawn, but I don’t want to show up looking like a lawyer, either. This, to me, does not say, “Talk with me. I won’t judge.” It says, “I’ll be taking notes on what you say.”

The problem is, my supervisor seems to be a bit impressed. Slightly puppy-like. She really sees this new director as the future of the agency. I don’t totally disagree, but it’s a little much to rush in an make all of the changes in one fell swoop. People don’t like that kind of thing.

I know. I’m people.

I just don’t want us to lose the things that are good about this place, and the way we work. The fact that we can all joke around with each other. That my random dance moves earn a laugh. The way YouTube videos of funny cats somehow make their way into supervision every so often. When New Director talks about making our work more clinical, and us being increasingly professional, it worries me. We wouldn’t have been granted all of those new cases and workers if we hadn’t been getting results.

I get the creeping feeling that the agency is changing. It reminds me of social workers in the 1950s, striving to be taken seriously by becoming more and more psychoanalytical. We don’t need to be something we’re not. We aren’t underpaid, undertrained psychologists wearing funny clothes and sharing an office. That’s not what people come to us for. Social work is its own profession with its own standards.

Lately, this place is reminding of the rag tag sports team in every 80s movie ever. We’re unconventional, but scrappy. Then someone new comes along from the outside, gets everyone organized and to play by the rules. But what happens? They lose their heart. We need to cling to what makes our profession unique. I think we can start by rewatching the Mighty Ducks.

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13 responses

8 07 2011
A

Interesting read and very thought provoking.

I think a lot of positive changes can be brought about, without having to necessarily change the environment completely.

8 07 2011
socialjerk

Thanks. I’m hoping that can happen, and that the awkwardness we’re experiencing right now is the transition period, but we’ll see!

8 07 2011
mjfrombuffalo

I hate to tell you this, but the city contracts are awarded based more on what the program says it will and can do (the written response to the RFP) than the results it’s gotten so far. It’s about 80/20 written response vs. past performance.

8 07 2011
socialjerk

I’m aware of that. I’ve mentioned in a few places that we got it because we promised to do a lot with very little. Fact remains that we have done good work and are a very well run agency, particularly when you compare us to agencies that have been shut down. Obviously past performance counts for something, though I didn’t say it was everything.

8 07 2011
Vetnita in MN

All noisy toys should be abolished!!!

I used to be the only staff at a social service agency working with kids that had to wear a suit – I worked with outside organizations and companies that expected it. What I found was not that I looked like “the man” (I was plainly too weird), but that my kids started naming my outfits and critiquing them. Yes, 13 year old girls in Juicy pants were telling me that my skirt was too short or out of style. It can be a teaching moment on how people have to look different ways to play different roles but it doesn’t change who you are on the inside. Too many times, kids are pushed not to “sell out” or look too main stream when knowing when and where to wear that cannabis t-shirt could have saved them a probation violation. Let your freak flag fly, but not in court.

About the new director, remember that this is a new job for them and they are trying to impress someone important. What you are hearing is their best game plan, not the one that will actually come true. Think of it as the first couple of dates when people use mouthwash, talk about how they are going to make a killing on their investment, or insist on treating you everywhere. Don’t worry, any director worth anything will recognize what works and what needs to be tweaked soon enough. Well, unless you have a Horrible Boss, in which case you will have to come up with a silly murder plot that won’t work.

8 07 2011
socialjerk

The toys in our playroom are clearly ones that parents were ready to throw out a window, but instead lied to their kids and said they were broken before generously donating them. I can’t wait for them to be gone.

I realize that the new director is just coming in, and what’s going on now is not a great indicator for what’s to come. (She also definitely cannot be worse than our old director!) What concerns me more is the attitude that’s crept into the agency. It’s not just this woman, who I honestly don’t have strong feelings about one way or the other. It’s a lot of things that the new contract and regulations are requiring from us that make me wonder whether or not this is the kind of work I want to do anymore.

Also, I feel like there’s a lot of, “Yeah, we should change that, the way we’re doing this is stupid!” When we also need to recognize what works about us. Which is so often my feeling on social work in general.

8 07 2011
Rebecca

Wait, you have sessions? All my foster kid’s mom every got in 16 months was art therapy. And they didn’t even do any art. 😦

The difference between agencies is astonishing to me…

11 07 2011
socialjerk

Nothing, in 16 months? That’s horrible…and makes no sense.

Most of the families I work with are at risk of their kids entering foster care, or their kids have just returned from foster care. But other parts of the agency provide services to foster kids and biological families, and I feel like they do a prety good job. It’s frightening what angencies can get away with. Things have gotten better but sometimes it still feels like there’s no oversight.

8 07 2011
The Blogger

“First of all, if I have to watch myself therapizing, I will only be able to focus on whether or not I look fat. I realize that it’s shallow and immature, but I know myself.”

This is SO me!!

Change is hard, that is for sure. We’ve had a lot of it around our agency in the past year…most of it good in theory, difficult and not always realistic and practice, and always an adjustment.

11 07 2011
socialjerk

There are so many new people here right now, I’m mostly distracted by trying to remember names! But the director just wandered by me, saying she locked herself out of her office because she didn’t know it had a lock, so I guess it really is hard on everyone 🙂

9 07 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 24 « Fighting Monsters

[…] SocialJerk has a new director who wants to make changes. […]

9 07 2011
jason @ cinnamon agency

New brooms need to sweep clean, and we all live by the decisions made when sweeping. But have staff been consulted about these changes, or is it just out with the old,and in with the new?

But as long as the clients get help, that’s what matters

11 07 2011
socialjerk

“Consulting the staff about changes” is always a strange thing. There’s the feeling that it’s nice that we’re being asked, but it doesn’t seem to matter what we say, one way or the other. And of course, as long as the clients continue to get the help they need, and we continue to hold ourselves to a high standard, things should be all right.

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