It’s Harry Freakin’ Potter!

14 07 2011

Tomorrow, Friday, July 15th is a rare, glorious day–I’ll be taking a vacation day. Why you ask? Long weekend, a little beach trip, perhaps?

I’ve mentioned that I’m a geek, right? I’m sure of it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 comes out at midnight. As a result, I will be too emotionally and physically exhausted to come to work after that three hour movie, that I will definitely cry at. I don’t make a habit of this. I came to work the morning after Part 1 came out. I was crashing a bit by the afternoon, but I made it through the day.

But this is different. This is final. The last one ever. And the books and movies that have been a part of my life since I was 14 will be done with.

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. (Until tomorrow.)

Why am I rambling on about this? Ever since becoming a social worker (and maybe a little before then) I have been unable to separate work from entertainment. When I see movies like Precious or White Oleander, I think about what I would do if I were the social worker in the story. When I read classics like Little Women or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I consider how different life would have been if they had a caring professional to provide them with counseling services and social programs. When I watch Glee, I imagine being a singing school social worker. (I think I can make that one happen.)

Harry Potter is no exception.

First order of business as social worker at Hogwarts–sex ed. I’m sorry, but that Room of Requirement seems a little too willing to help. I don’t know if it’s the potion rather than the pill, or something unholy with wands, but those kids need to know. James and Lilly were rather young parents, after all. And witches and wizards are not immune to herpes. (Pansy Parkinson, I’m looking in your direction.)

Next, anti-bullying programs. Is anyone even paying attention when those Slytherins are abusing everyone else? And turning kids into bouncy ferrets, while amusing, is not going to solve the problem, Mad-Eye. If that is your real name.

We also need to work on self esteem. Not for everyone, just for the Hufflepuffs. I mean really, what do they do? Gryffindors get to be brave and valiant, Ravenclaws are a bunch of smarties, Slytherins are working the evil vibe. Hufflepuffs are…nice? Good friends? We might as well be telling them, “oh, but you’ve got a pretty face.” A little strengths based group work would go a long way.

Speaking of groups, how about a Hogwarts GSA? There’s no way Dumbledore was the only one. (Luna Lovegood, my gaze has fallen to you.)

On to our favorite wizards and witches.

Hermione Jean Granger. Smart girl, but unpopular, and looking for validation from boys. We’ve all seen it a million times. Plus she’s the victim of constant prejudice. No wonder she’s always trying to dazzle everyone with her knowledge. We’ll need to brainstorm some ways to get her to see that she doesn’t have to be the best at everything. (I mean, at least she’s not a Hufflepuff!)

Ron Weasley. Kid really gets lost in the shuffle, doesn’t he? And the only one who seems to notice is Voldemort! I think some family counseling is in order. While we’re at it, can we get the Weasleys to the Department of Magical Public Assistance? Food stamps might not cover Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, but it should help.

Of course, we’ve got the man of the hour. Harry Potter. He was abused, neglected, and everyone he loves dies. He might be wanting an individual session or two. That will have to include a home visit. I’m sorry, I get that his mother’s family offered magical protection, but was this really the best the magical child welfare workers could do? At least get him involved in a mentoring program. Something that would help him to embrace his wizard culture, rather than having it be denied.

Enjoy the movie, everyone. I’ll be waiting for my owl.





Social Workers Like Us

26 05 2011

It’s three a.m., and I am blogging. This is not how I planned out my evening.

Dr. Mom attended The New York Women’s Foundation “Celebrating Women Breakfast” this past weekend. She gave me a book that she got there: “Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself.” It was written by Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, who founded Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS.)

It would seem that this book affected me emotionally. By that I mean it ripped my heart out, stomped all over it, and showed it to me while I was still alive. Did I mention it left me wanting more?

So I decided to watch a movie, Very Young Girls (available on Netflix Instant Watch), which is a documentary about the girls GEMS works with, and the work that they do. Guess what? Sleep continues to evade me.

But I still highly recommend both, especially to my fellow social workers. Unless you work for an organization like GEMS, where the mission is specifically geared towards working with this population, you might forget what a serious problem it is. And the fact that it likely affects people we work with.

It’s so easy to make light of this situation. I’ve been guilty of it myself.

What’s that, you say? No one would mock exploited children. What the hell is wrong with you, SocialJerk? The thing is, we do it all the time.

People like victims. Nice, neat, wrapped up in a bow, no blame could conceivably be placed on their shoulders victims. If a suburban girl is kidnapped, beaten, raped, forced to do drugs, and sold against her will, then clearly, she is a victim. If a woman living under an opppressive, totalitarian government is promised a better life in America, and then sold into slavery, we can agree that she’s been victimized. We can all feel like good guys by writing letters to the editor, saying that the thugs that did this (they were black, right?) should be creatively killed in public (I’m the only one with the guts to say it!) and we should take up a collection to help this girl (hey, it’s the thought that counts.)

Actual scenarios are usually much messier. Was she taken and held against her will? Yes. Physically? Not always. Does she do drugs? Does she swear a lot? Does she seem like she doesn’t even want help? Does she keep running back to her pimp?

It’s harder to feel sympathy for girls who, though they’re only 13, don’t look 13. They certainly don’t act like it, y’knowwhatimsayin’? They’re prostitutes. OK, their lives were tough, but things were tough for a lot of people, and they don’t sell themselves on a street corner. Plus pimps wear those hilarious clothes! And I like rap music!

I worked with one girl, back when I was an intern, who broke my heart on a regular basis. Her mother was a drug addict and had a pimp. That man owned her mother. So when my girl was born, the pimp wound up on the birth certificate, though no one seemed to think he was really the father.

The mother drifted in and out of this girl’s life, until she was eventually murdered. My girl spent the majority of her life being raised by her grandmother.

But her mother’s pimp? His name on the birth certificate gave him legal rights. So he took this girl to visit him from the age of five, which is when he started selling her for sex. It was a long time before her grandmother could prove to the courts that seeing this piece of shit (I’m going to let that one ride) was not in this child’s best interests.

This girl wanted nothing more than to please others. She would bring ice cream for the other girls in group. She accompanied one girl to a doctor’s appointment when the father wasn’t willing to go. Once she came in with a good report card, smiling from ear to ear. Her grandmother certainly loved her, but she had a very difficult time showing it. When she brought that report card home, grandma had patted this 15 year old on the arm, and told her she was proud.

When this girl was 12, she began to realize that she had developed into a rather beautiful young girl, with a body that made her look about 16. Guys who had known her mother showed an interest in her. She had never experienced healthy love from a man, never had any kind of father figure. So when guys wanted to spend time with her, which turned into them wanting sex, she went along with it.

When one man, who had always looked out for her, told her that he would bring her to a party, she was thrilled. Then he asked if she would dance, make some money for them both, so she did it. She wanted the money, but she really wanted to please this guy. There were more parties, more dancing, and the line of what she wouldn’t do kept getting blurred, until she ended up having sex for money.

What would you have done, if you were her? How would you have avoided it?

She wasn’t the only one. Two of the eight girls in that group had been sexually exploited at some point. Angelica, who I wrote about a while back, saw prostitution as her only viable source of income, and planned to enter the life when she got out of the hospital. Other girls in group considered it. They all talked about “zoning out,” playing a song in their heads–dissociating, to those of us in the know.

It’s a bleak picture. But Girls Like Us and Very Young Girls gives us exactly what we need as social workers, or at least, what I need. Ebony, who is hilarious and talented, but can’t seem to stay out of the life. She knows what she wants, and what she needs to do to get it, but she’s just not ready. Girls like Carolina and Kim, who are on the road to improving their lives.

And then there is Dominique, who is adorable and wears her heart on her sleeve. You hear her story, which is more than any child should have to deal with, and get to see what she’s up to now–marrying a guy she describes as “beautiful inside and out,” realizing she deserves to be loved, working at GEMS and raising her daughter, conscious that she wants a different life for her child.

She’s only 20, but she seems to be one of those rare success stories that keeps us all going.

You start to feel bad for people who don’t get to see how lovable these girls are. Gossiping about mutual acquaintances, hamming it up and dancing for the camera, talking about their little sisters, doing each other’s hair. To look at them and see broken, used children, teen prostitutes, too far gone to be helped…it really is the loss of everyone who doesn’t give these girls a chance.





All times of the year have been evaluated, and the results are in–this is the most wonderful

22 12 2010

Looking for a last minute gift for that special social worker in your life? For shame, there’s only three days to go! And if this is a Jewish social worker, you’ve missed the boat entirely.

Oh well. If you hurry, you make use of these recommendations. (In case you’re wondering, I barely even get paid to do my actual job, so I am definitely not making money here.)

SocialJerk Book Club (I’ve always thought that Oprah and I have a lot in common.)

  • Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
    Work in the Bronx? Love the Bronx? Wish you were cool like the Bronx? This is the book for you! It’s also an incredible, true story of one family going through the cycle of poverty. Not entirely original, but the love and respect with which this story is told unique.
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle
    Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. But it’s an amazing look into welfare reform, and how it affected actual people. Not just those welfare queens in their cadillacs that we always hear about.
  • Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care by Nina Bernstein
    Warning: This one isn’t what you’d call uplifting. A teenager is part of a class action law suit, claiming that the NYC foster care system is discriminatory and unconstitutional. While all this is going on, she has her own son, whom she relinquishes to care. Many things have changed for the better, but so much of what I read in this book reminds me of what drives me crazy today. But it is an amazing analysis of foster care, at least in New York, and the changes that have been made and what still needs to be done.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Not exactly a social work book, but it is the most stunning book about teenage depression I’ve ever read. I read it in one day when I got it for Christmas, at age 15. I felt like I was reading the story of my life and someone finally understood me. (Whatever, 15 year olds are supposed to be dramatic.) I’d recommend it to anyone who works with teens. Or who likes awesome books with fabulous mid 90s references.

Practical Necessities

  • Mace
    Don’t worry–only for emergencies, never for unruly children. I swear.
  • Comfy sneakers
    It’s fine, Letterman made professional dress matched with sneakers cool and acceptable. Necessary, because we do a lot of walking. Often in bad neighborhoods. Which means sometimes we have to do some running.
  • Glee Christmas Album
    Do you need any more reason, other than “it’s awesome?” OK. Sometimes, the job is hard, holidays aren’t happy for everyone, and the Christmas spirit gets dangerously low. (And we all know that’s what powers Santa’s sleigh.) Nothing lifts my mood like Glee. If it doesn’t do the same for you…well I just don’t know if we have anything to say to each other.
    Aside from that, nothing makes me happy like inclusivity and a lack of heteronormativity. A couple of cute teenage boys chasing each other around while singing a love song, on national television like it’s no big thang? Love it for my teens.
  • Spanish-English dictionary
    Avoid sounding like an idiot. A former co-worker was constantly asking kids how many anuses they have, instead of how old they are, and saying, “I love you?” instead of asking if they wanted a snack. Seriously. Don’t be that crazy person.
  • Subway/bus map
    You’re going to be on public transit, and you’re going to get lost. Prepare for it now.
  • Silly Bandz, slap bracelets, whatever the latest trend is.
    Nothing gets you in good with a reluctant kid like nonchalantly flashing proof that you follow the latest fads.
  • Play Doh
    Because everyone loves it. You’re never too old. I have my own set that I don’t even let the kids play with. (What, they always mix up the colors. I hate that.)
  • Pens
    I believe we’ve gone over this.

Well, I hope I was able to help. (It’s kind of why I got into this profession.) And if your own budget is a little too tight, maybe you can hug a social worker this holiday season. We like that sort of thing.