Who is my social worker, and what does she do?

6 05 2012

One of the major tenets of social work is starting where the client is. I might recognize that a mother needs counseling for domestic violence. If she’s not ready, though, insisting isn’t going to do much good.  I need to start with what she feels she needs most, like getting the kids into day care, to build a relationship and work up to what the real problem is.

As a result, it can be kind of hard to explain exactly what my job is. I do a lot of things. I do what my families need, with a few notable exceptions.

It’s always interesting to hear other people’s interpretations.

Now, remember-I went to college for four years. I worked for two years in a related field. I put myself into debt to get a Master’s in social work, while interning three days a week and working to support myself. It may seem snobby, but I fancy myself a professional.

ACS workers, who refer a majority of our clients, very often have no clue what it is we do. (Take a moment to wonder how that’s possible.)

At one home visit to meet a new family for the first time, I asked if the mom and the worker had discussed the referral. “Sure,” mom said. “You’re going to be my advocate.”

I hope so. But 1) that’s not really a profession and 2) that’s far from everything.

There are also the times that I ask the referrer what they were hoping to come out of preventive services. “Monitoring” is almost always brought up.

Yes, there’s value in having someone poke their head in once a week to make sure the kids are eating, going to school, and not getting smacked around too much. Routinely assessing for safety is, of course, something that I do with families I work with. But I don’t do a job that could be easily fulfilled by Gladys, the nosy neighbor on Bewitched.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the ACS workers would accept it when I explain what I actually do.

PotentialClient: “So what is counseling with you like?”
ACS: “I’m sorry, SJ wouldn’t be actually doing the counseling.”
SJ: “No, I would.”
ACS: “Well, she’d be referring you for counseling.”
SJ: “No I wouldn’t.”
ACS: “You can do counseling?
SJ: “I’m a licensed social worker. Why are you referring them to me?”
PotentialClient: “Do you two need counseling?”

This even comes up when I’ve been involved for a while. The following exchange took place at a six month planning conference, shortly before I ripped lots of hair out of my head.

ACS: “Mom still isn’t acting like a parent.”
Mom: “I’m working on it with SJ.”
ACS. “Maybe family counseling would help.”
SJ: “Well, we are doing that.”
ACS: “Where?”
SJ: “Um, here? At the office?”
ACS: “Can you refer them somewhere for family counseling?”
SJ: “I can refer you for a foot in your ass.”*

Then there are the interpretations of people I’ve been working with for an extended period of time. You know, the people with whom I’ve developed a relationship and understanding?

Mom: “SJ, I need you to take my daughter back to school shopping to make sure she buys appropriate clothes.”
SJ: “I’m not going to do that. Why aren’t you able to take her?”
Mom: “You know we’ll just fight. Why wouldn’t you take her, you’re her worker!”

Somehow, despite all of the family sessions and advocating for special ed services, the term “worker” was closely linked to “servant” in this mother’s mind.

Mom: “His teacher wants to refer us for family counseling.”
SJ: “Did you tell her you’re already doing that?”
Mom: “…we are?”
SJ: “You know how we meet every week and do all that work together?”
Mom: “Oh! I thought she meant like, with a couch.”

That fucking couch. It’s an image that’s got quite a hold on people.

Mom: “I’m busy tomorrow, so I need you to take him to register for school.”

We need to talk about how we ask for things.

8 y/o: “But SJ is our very good friend!”

Said upon finding out services were being terminated, causing my heart to fall out of my butt.

8 y/o: “This is SJ. She is my therapist. We do play-doh.”

Hmm…go on.

Classmate: “Why does SJ come see you at school?”
6 y/o: “Because my family has problems and she helps us.”
Classmate: “Ooooh, we have one of those!”

Excellent! Are you available for public speaking?

2 y/o: “Hi Auntie SJ!”

All right, we’ll let that one go.

I have a weird job and a complex relationship with my families. It’s something that takes a bit of time to explain, and even then, it’s something that really needs to be experienced. Trying to limit the job to just “advocate,” or “counselor,” or “lady who keeps coming to my house” is never really going to do it justice.

Though “personal shopper” is always going to be wrong.

*This was only thought, not said.



6 responses

7 05 2012

At my former job we had clients who had no clue they were in our program…let me explain.

State Worker: Are you participating in [program]
Client: no, I’ve never heard of that…
Me: Thats the program you do with me and [coworker(s)]. I come and meet with you, you come to workshops…you’ve been doing it for almost two years…sound familiar?
Client: Ooohhhh yeeaahhh…i didn’t know that was [program]

Fairly easy to trouble shoot when state worker, client, and I were all in the same room. A bit more difficult when I just get a call from an irrate state worker asking me why i haven’t been serving his/her youth. Then I had to find a polite way to tell them to look in the damn database isn’t this sort of thing the reason i have access to the state database and am required to enter various service data???

7 05 2012

haha… love it! I definitely know that quandry. I had one family that I would call and no matter which of the teenagers would answer, the only way I could get them to recognize who I was, I’d have to tell them “I’m the lady that comes to your house.” “oh, Yeah! That ladywho comes here ! Cool! Hi! Here’s my mom… see you tomorrow!” … wow.

7 05 2012

Your relationship with ACS workers is interesting. I work in child welfare in another state, so we don’t have the same setup as you. I am a case manager, so I’m guessing I’d be an ACS worker in your state? We refer to an agency for in-home parenting skills, support, etc., but they don’t do actual counseling. Except maybe the one person on their staff who has a master’s degree and any experience with this field, but it’s not technically authorized.

I like that your agency seems to run the gamut with services offered. It’s a shame that the case managers and service providers don’t have better relationships though. I make it a point to communicate often with those workers/counselors on my more difficult cases. I’d like to say with all my cases, but in reality, some counselors are more helpful with feedback and some cases are more time consuming and needy, and I only have so much time.

I love reading your blog and seeing “the system” from another perspective. (I just hope the service providers in my area don’t have such a low opinion of case managers as in your area.)

8 05 2012
❤ Elizabeth (@liz1017)

ok this was so awesome!!! just today I explained what “my social worker” does to a new client and had a hair pulling phone call with an acs worker, in LA it’s dcfs worker. if I could have reached through the phone i would have loved to have given said person a swift foot in the ass.

8 05 2012

This is so true! I can’t believe child protection can cross international boundaries and still be so similiar! (I’m in Australia)

I am a social worker who works in family services. Often I’m called a “support worker” by my clients. Often I have Child Protection referring to us and recommending “family services refer to family counselling”. I also work a generalist counselling position and find it hilarious when child protection refer a family services client to a counsellor and effectively are attempting to refer to the same person!

I blame the ‘social work’ label – it’s so large and covers such vast array of positions, that it is no wonder people get confused (though it’s easier to understand when it comes from clients rather than referring agencies like child protection). We still have a lot of work to do for social work to be seen as a legitimate ‘profession’ or something other than personal shopper….as an aside I had my supervisor say the other day “it’s not like you go shopping with your clients” as I was heading out to an appointment with a client to go grocery shopping (so that she made better choices and to curb the over-spending problem!). That was so ironic, I very nearly choked!

17 05 2012

I teach patients in hospitals how to take care of their new medical condition. I have found I have to announce ” Hi I am Laura I am a nurse who is hear to teach you about diabetes. This is the class the Dr talked about. (teach teach teach) OK, you have done really well. you have shown me you can do x, y, ans z to take care of your diabetes. I will tell the Dr that you did really well in Diabetes class” and about half the time, the patient still tells people they are waiting for their diabetic class before they can go home. The one they just had.

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