Social Workers in Space

17 11 2011

The space in which we get our social workin’ on practice our profession plays an extremely important role in how the work gets done. We don’t want to look too much like a doctor’s office, with white walls and uncomfortable chairs. A stereotypical guidance counselor office isn’t really right either, what with all the posters of kittens imploring us to “hang in there” or reminding us that, really, teamwork makes the dream work.

We want a space that is comfortable, yet professional. We want to seem organized, but not sterile. It should be fun, but also get the point across that we’re going to accomplish some work.

Essentially, I need an unlimited Target gift card.

As always, it comes down to funding. More directly, it comes down to the fact that we don’t have money. When you’re struggling to pay salaries, or to provide cookies and juice for group (just once, I want Chips Ahoy, not Krasdale) making the office and counseling spaces look more appealing falls to the bottom of the list.

There are some things that help. Landlords need to paint eventually, and ours got around to it last year. Those boring hospital-white walls were brightened up nicely. To be fair, it was with the cheapest leftovers the paint store had, but still. I like purple.

The walls, though colorful, were still blank. OK, some creative minds though. We have all these kids around here, let’s put them to work! (A mistake, ultimately, as the stitching on my jeans is really subpar. Oh, I’m being told it’s not time for sweatshop humor.)

The thing about children’s artwork–most of it sucks. I know, anything that comes from the creative mind of a child is beautiful, and it’s so sweet and endearing when they make something just for you. But still. You want to decorate your house with it? I have drawings that kids I work with have done all over my cubicle, and they’re fabulous. My co-workers’ kids just aren’t as talented. It’s one thing when it’s from a kid I know and love. Otherwise it’s, wait, is that an elephant or a vacuum?

Then there’s the furniture. In a workshop I attended to help me become a better group facilitator (they didn’t know that I already know everything) we were instructed to have all group members sit in the same type of chair. This way, no one feels different or excluded.

Um, OK. A matching set of chairs. Where do you propose we get those? Was this person social working the queen on England? If we don’t all have to sit on the floor, I mark it as a win.

One of our counseling spaces doubles as a meeting room. And boy, can you tell. From the phone on the wall, to the long, narrow table, this was not a space meant for counseling.

That table is the bane of my existence. I hate it. I dream of setting it on fire. (Note: SocialJerk does not condone arson outside of idle fantasy.) You wouldn’t think that it would make such a big difference, but it does. I work with what I have, but my goodness that table gets in the way. People are spread out, debating for way too long on where to sit and whether or not they can sit next to each other. Sometimes it winds up with many more people stacked on one side than on the other. I feel like I’m auditioning for American Idol when that happens to me. I keep waiting for the family members to judge my singing harshly, while one spaced out kid tells me to keep following my dreams.

Or something.

At least we have some space. During my internship, it was decided that a large basement room filled with toys and sports equipment most often used to host groups would have to do for my counseling sessions. I just want you to imagine what eight and ten year old hyperactive brothers got up to in there.

Yeah. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive.

That’s not to say counseling space isn’t limited at my current office. We recently expanded to hire many new workers, but didn’t get much more in the way of space. For some reason, it was determined that supervisors having private offices was much more important than us maintaining a functional number of counseling rooms. I think they offered a reason, but I was too busy grumbling.

There are evenings we refer to as perfect social work storms. There are two groups running, a parenting class being held, in addition to the normal day-to-day sessions. Workers are dodging screaming children in the waiting room (hey, it’s free child care. You get what you pay for, and she isn’t even bleeding that much) while fighting over a broom closet in which to hold a session.

I’m just kidding. We don’t have space for a broom closet.

You learn to be creative. You learn what to expect. We’ve gotten some pretty decent office decorations out of some kids’ groups and our art therapist. We try to be as organized as possible when it comes to scheduling appointments and reserving counseling rooms (that always works, because our clients are predictable and punctual, right?) Overall, I think our participants understand. For the most part. They can easily see that we’re trying our best, to do as much as possible with not a whole lot.

At least they believe me when I tell them that something isn’t in the budget.

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7 responses

17 11 2011
Full Care Order

Here in Dublin where I work it is either a feast or a famine. One area is in brand new hi-tech offices with all the whistles and bells of the recently built local government office it is in, while friends in a different part of the city are in a leaky portakabin. At least the Portakabin has a nice room for family accces, one city centre office is in a health centre built by Edward Carneigie and the family room is the size of a toilet cubicle.

I wouldn’t mind bad spaces if the money was going into community services, but its not. Now, with a harsh budget on the way I have been keeping an eye out for a good quality cardboard box.

22 11 2011
socialjerk

The other office here in the Bronx, which houses the higher ups, has much more impressive amenities. It’s pretty infuriating.

Um, let me know if you find that box…

17 11 2011
Heidi

I love your writing style. It makes me laugh and that’s the only medicine I try to be addicted to!! My sister, the therapist who turned me on to your site, just yesterday told me she might have an office for when she starts her practice. So, how timely this piece is! This is my little sister and only sister so I’m very proud of her and honored that she has asked me to help with some basic editing on some things for her website. So I get to see the work she is putting in from the ground up and I get to talk to her about things like….office space! Keep up the good work and sarcastic take on this sometimes dry subject!

22 11 2011
socialjerk

Thanks so much! Good luck to your sister, I bet her office will be looking fabulous in no time 🙂

18 11 2011
nadia

In addition to the space issue.. how about the quality of tissues in our offices? Luckily, I am at a large enough agency where they’re provided.. but I swear to god they have the potential to give you paper cuts when you use them. I’m always anxious when clients start wiping their eyes and I worry that there is going to be some serious damage. I’ve gotten my own Costco brand tissues before that are far superior..

I love your writing – you’re the kind of social worker I’d love to be friends with IRL (hope that’s not too creepy!)

22 11 2011
socialjerk

I’m pretty sure I could use our terrible tissues to scrape the ugly paint off the walls.

Thanks! Not creepy at all, I love it 🙂

28 11 2011
Nectarine

I admit I’m a little jealous. We have 2 client rooms for a whole agency (22 workers in my program + several other programs x all their clients) and since we’re ‘community based’ are actively discouraged from meeting clients in the office. Now home visits can be revealing, but when not visiting in home I end up doing most of my visits in coffee shops and other public places (but mostly coffee shops). Just try to have a meaniningful conversation about leaving an abusive partner or reducing your psychotropic meds in the middle of Tim Hortons! At minimum it’s awkward, at most it totally sabatoges the work being done. *grumble*

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