Engaging clients is a never ending process that begins the moment they first hear your voice and ends…never. (Never ending, remember?) It’s important to remember that. We put a lot of pressure on those first phone calls and first meetings. And they are important. But you have time to make up for missteps and mistakes, and to show who you are as a worker and a person. That’s the good part about that ongoing, torturous engagement process.
You still want to make a good initial impression. It’s important that clients know from the beginning that you’re competent and there to help, and only crazy in the good way.
Really, it all starts with intake.
At Anonymous Agency, we are fortunate enough to have an intake worker. This is the person who takes the phone calls, gets the extremely basic initial information (you know, name, date of birth, if anyone has a restraining order, the essentials) and assigns them to whoever has space on their caseload. For that last reason, she’s very popular. I send her presents periodically, always signed, “Love, SJ (the one with the long hair and the full caseload.”)
I appreciate that doing a good intake is difficult. But some of the referrals I’ve gotten…well, I’m not sure I know what anyone was thinking.
One thing you want to know is why the hell these people are here.
“Reason for referral: family is in need of services. ”
Well that is stellar. You truly paint a picture with your words. Oprah called, she would like to speak to you about sharing your teachings.
“Child threatened to blow up the school. Mother specified that he did not actually do this.”
Yes, well, I hope I would have heard about that.
“Date of birth: unknown.”
Wild idea, but did you try fucking asking? You can call back if you forget, I swear. It’s a little embarrassing, but people are generally forgiving.
“Child’s age: 16. Grade: 7th. (Child may have been held back.)”
Whoa now, let’s not jump to conclusions.
I shouldn’t complain though, really. I suppose not having some information is better than having a lot of the wrong information.
SJ: “So you see your dad on the weekends?”
Mom: “His dad’s in prison. For trying to kill us.”
All right. That has been noted, and we will be moving on.
SJ: “And you guys just moved from North Carolina?”
Mom: “Puerto Rico.”
SJ: “I always confuse those two.”
There’s nothing quite as special, though, as arriving at a five floor walk up, looking for apartment A, only to discover that there is no apartment A. What’s one to do? You start at the bottom and work your way up. Apartment 1. “Mr. Gonzalez? No? I’m sorry.” Apartment 2. “Mr. Gonzalez? No? I apologize?” Apartment 3…and on and on to apartment 8. “Mr. Gonzalez? Oh thank god! Ooooh, 8, A, I get it!”
We don’t always have the best info, and sometimes it makes us look like idiots. (That’s not just me, right?) But what better way to show a new family that you can laugh at yourself, and that you’re not perfect?
Sometimes it’s good to set the bar low.