Train(ing) wreck ahead

18 01 2013

When I started as an intern with Anonymous Agency, my mother was shocked to hear that I immediately started counseling families. “Do you really know how to do that?” It was kind of like seeing a chicken who can play tic-tac-toe.

The truth is, no, I didn’t. I had some basic knowledge from a year of social work school, I got something that might pass as support in supervision, and I was still learning. But I didn’t get a ton of guidance. A whole lot of it was learn as you go. We didn’t have one way of practicing. You just did what worked, within the context of our guidelines and values.

Sometimes, things change. Agencies decide to focus on new methods, or take on a new model. This particularly happens when auditors run through the office two to three times per year, aflame, throwing files at all of us while screaming “EVIDENCE BASED!!!” That, combined with the need to see more families in less time to ensure we keep getting contracts, meant that it was time to “tighten up our process.” With a new structure for engagement and practice.

There are some growing pains with doing things differently. For one thing, we need to be trained. And trainings are kind of hit or miss.

In these situations, where you’re not going to learn a new skill, or information about a specific population, but to revamp your entire way of practicing, it’s especially difficult. No one likes being told that they’ve been doing a bad job. For some reason, in order to embrace something new, we have to talk about what an awful job we were doing before. “You’re not going to go in there and tell the family what to do. You’re going to engage them in creating their own plan. Join with them!”

Wait, what? I’ve been wearing a tiara, sitting on a high stool so that I can look down on my participants, and telling them that they are stupid and I am smart. Was this incorrect? No wonder everyone has gotten worse while working with me!

The worst part, though, is having someone tell you how to change when they don’t know how you do things. The people training us are whatever the social work version of ivory tower is. (Tin foil? Papier mache?) They’re not currently practicing. They’ve never practiced in an urban area, or in a community based organization. When we say we have families in shelters, they think that we have mothers with toddlers sleeping on cots a la the Louisiana Superdome in 2005. They know nothing of undocumented people. They forget that a lot of our families are incredibly isolated. They tell us to ignore the fact that their housing may be insecure, or their food stamps being shut off, and focus on the reasons they were referred.

People in power making assumptions about you, ignoring your reality, being patronizing…what does this remind me of?

As workers, we resist, because it’s natural to resist change. But sometimes it sounds good. The examples they give always work, flawlessly! The little role play exercises, too. They tell you about all of their successes. But there’s something missing when they tell us we just need to stick to the model.

 Recently, I had a day that went like this:

  • Called a school to schedule a visit with a teen, because mom and the target child are unavailable due to a medical emergency. They told me to come on over.
  • Get to the school. Kid is at lunch. They tell me to come back in 45 minutes.
  • Go do an unannounced home visit to a family whose phone is cut off. Mom tells me they’re out of food.
  • Go back to do the school visit.
  • Stop in at my office to explain the food situation to my supervisor and get approval to buy emergency groceries.
  • Grocery shopping trip in which I debate baloney brands, and if Oscar Meyer is worth the money.
  • Drop off groceries.
  • Head back to the office where I document all of this while shoveling butternut squash bisque (way to go, Campbell’s) into my face.
  • Call two families repeatedly to find out they aren’t coming in.
  • Leave to stalk.

None of these things happen in their examples. No one is hospitalized or arrested, they’re never tracking down clients wherever they can be found, neighbors never stop by half way through a home visit, the worker isn’t distractedly trying to get out of a dangerous building before dark, things never have to stop because a two year old pissed on the floor. Everything works out. The worker always finds the right words to get the participant to do things according to plan.

So if things are going poorly for you, it’s not the model.  You’re not buying into it enough. Or maybe you’re just not very good. If you really wanted to do this, and commited yourself to it, you’d be doing it. And you would regard the extra paperwork as the gift that it is.

Again, what is this reminding me of? Oh right, people trying to get out of the shelter system, single mothers trying to get off public assistance, parents struggling to get their teenagers to school, young people doing poorly in school. We recognize that it’s difficult, but really, if they wanted it, they would make it happen.

If I get nothing else out of this, I at least have a much better understanding of why some of my clients are so pissed all the time. It should make joining with them a little easier.

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15 responses

18 01 2013
KatjaMichelle

I was never prouder of a former boss than we were in a bullshit training on “entitlement” and the trainer could not get passed how to respond when talking about kids with NO trauma history who were more than likely from stable secure upper class homes.

My boss kept pushing. “So how does this apply to street youth who may have an attitude of entitlement but obviously x y z approach wouldn’t be possible” or “We work with a lot of foster youth and former foster youth with a history of trauma these approaches would quite possibly retraumatize them any suggestions for work with them”

It was Awesome in that she refused to be convinced x y z would work (or i guess refused to be compelled to say it would work i’m not sure the trainers even believed it would work by the end despite their insistance it would) but not awesome in that we were very clearly wasting valuable time in which we could have been actually helping our clients.

20 01 2013
socialjerk

For some reason, a majority of our trainers are people who went into private practice a long time ago and have forgotten what it’s like or are not up on the current realities. One woman advised us to tell the kids that their parents had to pay for the session if they missed it and didn’t cancel, to get the kids to take some responsibility. We explained that we don’t charge and our kids already have way too much responsibility. She said that she knew community based programs from her days doing outreach in the East Village. (Definitely 30 years ago, as that is a neighborhood I can now hardly afford to eat in.)

Good for your boss. People need to hear it and be able to deal with those criticisms. If workers’ concerns are heard, those types of trainings would be less likely to be dreaded as a waste of time.

18 01 2013
M

There must be hidden cameras in my agency because this is exactly what we’re dealing with as well. Nothing seems to be working and the morale is tanked. At this point I’m just happy it’s Friday.

20 01 2013
socialjerk

It’s very sad to see what it’s doing to the agency. It’s frightening to see how many people are leaving or trying to leave. Hope the weekend does you good.

18 01 2013
L

Even in other states we’re going through the same things. It’s nice to hear we’re not all alone in the world of social work annoyances. Also, my agency is due for a COA re-accreditation in 2014, better start a full year in advance (sigh).

20 01 2013
socialjerk

Oh boy. Good luck! I’m sorry we can commiserate.

18 01 2013
Heiddi

Perfectly snarkarific my friend. It seemed every time there was a change in administration, there were changes in treatment models and how we were SUPPOSED to do things instead of how to get things done with the clients. I enjoyed working with my clients, but hated the politics of it. Glad I’m in a really great place now. 🙂 Great post! xoxo

20 01 2013
socialjerk

Implementing a new treatment model while learning it, at the exact same time that the supervisors are learning it is pretty impossible and unfair to the clients. How does your current agency avoid all this stupidity?

20 01 2013
mjfrombuffalo

It’s a big part of the theory of change management – a person/group will resist change naturally, but they will be interested in change and motivated to change if they are discontented with the status quo… so fomenting discontent with current practice is a natural strategy of implementing a new model. Still sucks tho.

20 01 2013
socialjerk

I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert in the theory of change management, but I would imagine that the people implementing the change are supposed to know what the current practice is. No matter how many times we tell them different, they insist that we are child protection specialists, that we are referring families out for counseling services because we’re just case managers, and other things that simply aren’t true. Given what a disorganized, defensive mess these people are, I have a very hard time believing that this is the conscious implementation of a strategy.

20 01 2013
Going to Klown Kollege

Ah, now I see why we are taught that in Police Academy 4!
No bites on a new job, SJ?

20 01 2013
socialjerk

I decided it would make more sense to get my LCSW first, once I calmed down from hating everyone 🙂 Thanks for asking, we’ll see what happens.

21 01 2013
SK

Do you have hidden cameras down south? It’s been three months you say? Lets completely reorganize this place and make it even less likely a client will get to speak with their worker today, despite wasting bus tokens and walking a half mile in freezing temps to come down to our office. Don’t they all have government phones anyway? Why can’t they just call? *headdesk*

22 01 2013
carolynsocialworker

Just wait. The pendulum will then swing back the other way and the original methods will once again become the intervention de jour!

27 01 2013
SK

Lol!!! That’s what all the veterans are saying. Didn’t we try this in the 90s???

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