“Take my kids, please!” “For the last time, NO!”

5 01 2012

The baby-snatcher is one of the most enduring social worker stereotypes. The assumption that we steal children away first, ask questions later, is one that most of us confront fairly regularly. Some social workers are able to explain that they don’t even work with kids. Some, like me, try to make people understand that, although we work with families, we’re not authorized to remove children, and this would be kidnapping, whether or not we used a van. Still others have to explain that, while removal might be a part of their job, it’s a bit more nuanced than people tend to think.

You would think that hearing, “I’m not here to take your kids!” would be a comfort to everyone, especially the parents. And it often is. But then there are the parents of teenagers.

I most often get this from mothers of teen girls, but it happens with boys at times as well. These parents come in, sometimes self-referred due to struggling with their teenager in the home, or referred by ACS for “educational neglect.” (This term, when applied to young children, means that the parent is being negligent in getting the child to school. When applied to teens, it means the kid is truant due to 1) unmet special needs 2) problems in the home or 3) being a lazy jerk. These are all technical terms, do try to keep up.)

A lot of parents come in and are fed up. I think we all get that. Teens are exhausting. I work with them, and I was one. Sometimes I wonder why my parents still talk to me. I’ve also had a couple…let’s say, free-spirited youngsters, in my family. So it’s not that I don’t understand how someone could feel like they’re at the end of their rope.

That’s not to say I agree with the desperate “take my kids, please!”

Parents regularly come to us, wanting their teenagers removed from the home. Not forever, mind you. They want them to come home fixed.

I blame Sally Jesse Raphael. Remember that show? Overwhelmed mothers would bring their out of control, swearing, skanky teens on the show. The audience would boo them, get sassy with the teens in question (“Yo momma brought you into this world, she can take you out!” Really? Murder?) and then a “drill sergeant” (sorry, putting on fatigues doesn’t make you a drill sergeant) would yell and make them run through tires. They would cry and hug their moms, happy to be home after a harrowing afternoon. Problem solved.

I sincerely doubt that this works. But hey, television is a powerful medium. People very often believe what they see, especially when they’re feeling desperate.

People who really want help don’t seek it on TV. If you genuinely want to meet someone to spend your life with, or find out who the father of your child is, you don’t do it on The Bachelor or Maury. Unless you are seeking attention, or a complete idiot.

Mom: “She’s out of control. Can’t you send her to one of those boot camps?”
SJ: “What boot camp? You want her to enlist?”
Mom: “No, those programs for bad kids, like on the talk shows.”
SJ: “I think those are rather expensive.”
Mom: “Well, the city can pay for it!”
SJ: “The city doesn’t do that.”
Mom: “Why not?”
SJ: “I don’t know. We can write a letter. This isn’t helping right now.”

Get this kid out of my house, she can come back when she’s ready to listen. (Note: I don’t want to be the one to make her listen.)

I’m not talking about the parents of children with mental illness, looking for residential treatment. I’m talking about parents who have, for lack of a better term, let their kids run wild. Little kids “acting bad” is generally regarded as cute. They swear, they get sassy, and everyone laughs. Then they’re teenagers, bigger than their parents, and it isn’t so cute anymore.

The common thread here is wanting the kids sent away. Wanting someone else to come in and fix things. These are most often the parents who send their kid in for counseling, but refuse to participate themselves, saying they’re not the ones who have the problem. They are genuinely shocked and appalled that they are expected to do some hard work and make changes. “Why won’t you whisk him away to the Good Teen Factory?!”

Like I said, I get it. I understand being overwhelmed, being depressed, or not having supports to turn to. I understand feeling undermined as a parent by systems that you don’t want in your life. But I don’t understand feeling like your child is someone else’s responsibility.

I was raised with a pretty strict, “You made this mess, you clean it up.” If Rudy Huxtable was responsible for cleaning the kitchen when she tried to make jelly in the blender (so cute) then you can at the very least participate in getting your teenager’s life back on track.

I’m always being told by these parents that they have reached out for help, so if we don’t “fix” the child in question, and that child gets arrested or hurt, they’re going to sue.

Seriously. People say this. Constantly.

First of all, if your kid is hurt, dead, or in jail, and your first thought is, “Who is paying me for this?!” just go fuck yourself. This is not a social worky, strengths based statement, but I do think it’s accurate.

Second of all, fine. Bring all the law suits you want. But this kid is your responsibility. First and last. I will never understand a mindset that contradicts this.

I don’t like lamenting a lack of personal responsibility. It makes me feel like a Republican, which isn’t good, because I can’t shower at work. But I need to be honest.

Challenging this mindset is a huge part of my job. And complaining about it on the internet seems to be a huge part of keeping me at it.

SocialJerk Scrooge

13 10 2011

It’s no secret that we have no money. Not just here at Anonymous Agency. I mean everywhere. Donations have dried up faster than…I can’t think of a PG way to finish that sentence, but you know what I mean. We’re short on money because the city is short on money. Programs that used to provide furniture, clothing, books, food, housing subsidies, and Christmas gifts, have shut down or drastically restricted their services.

“Is this for a left handed boy named Lou with an incarcerated parent? Oh, I’m sorry, in that case we don’t have any toddler beds available.”

Many of the families we work with have been in the system, in one form or another, for most of their lives. Many of them remember the good old days, when there was more to go around. When we were handing out clothing and furniture like candy. And you should have seen the way we gave out candy! Some people also confuse programs. ACS might have been able to give you things that we can’t, and no matter how many times we tell some people, they don’t really believe that we aren’t ACS.

This means that people have some expectations that we can’t meet. “You’re supposed to help me. I need food. Help me with that. My mother’s worker used to take her food shopping. And my aunt got a housing subsidy through you guys!” Apparently, a list of food pantries is not “help.” They need their back rent paid off, or their children need new school clothes. Unless one of the workers convinces someone to make a private donation (we do what we can, but you’ll be surprised to know that most of us don’t run with a particularly wealthy crowd) we usually can’t meet these needs.

It’s understandable that people want this kind of help. Who wouldn’t? But there are times when it seems like it’s expected. And that’s when we all start to get kind of pissed.

One family I have is constantly in need. I understand why. The sheer number of appointments and programs that the mother has to attend due to her court case meant that she needed to take a leave of absence from her job. Her public assistance case was sanctioned, and she’s having trouble providing the basics for her family. So the agency was kind enough to approve me buying them soap and detergent.

The kids are now demanding to know what they’ll be getting for their birthdays. I’m sorry, but there are six of you. I know you’re only nine, but it’s time you learned the phrase, “not in the budget.” (With or without a coupon.) Especially when the request is for red Jordans. If you’re that desperate, you’re not allowed to be that picky. That’s how this works.

All of the families we work with are in need, but some are needier than others. Some really tug at your heartstrings (I have those too) and make you want to help. One young mother I worked with upon first coming here had a serious cockroach problem in her apartment. Unfortunately, I’ve been there. (When I’m a rich and famous social worker, I’ll reveal my landlord’s name on The View and ruin her. But not yet.) This woman’s management company was not responsive, and complaints to 311 did nothing. The mother was desperately trying to find work, but having no luck, and couldn’t afford to deal with the problem herself.

So I didn’t really mind spending $15 of my own money on bug bombs, when the agency said there was nothing they could do. Mom was grateful, we all moved on. The same thing happened when I had two high school students who didn’t have bus fare for the first day of school. As much as I wanted to hang on to my laundry quarters, I can deal in order to get them to their first day of ninth grade. They were also almost embarrassingly thankful.

Sometimes it doesn’t go this way. There’s nothing like feeling like you’ve made a connection with a family, only to be told, “You haven’t done anything for me! I need clothes for the baby and school books, and you haven’t gotten me anything!”

Every so often, we do get donations. At the beginning of the school year, we’ll get a few bookbags. Around Christmas, we’ll get some toys or movie passes. Once in a while a worker with connections can get a department store to give us some new clothes for kids.

But it’s never enough for everyone. So choices have to be made.

As much as we all try to deny it (or not) we all have favorites. There are some families who are just more pleasant to work with than others. They make our jobs easier, they’re more polite, their kids are cute. They also tend not to be demanding.

That’s not to say that they don’t need services. But they don’t show up to the office and tell you that they’d like you to make them a fresh pot of coffee (oh yes, this has happened) or have their kids go to you requesting new school clothes. As much as we all try not to be, we are all human. There are families that make you want to go above and beyond, lay your own money out, call in favors. And there are families that don’t. We don’t want to let these kinds of personal preferences interfere with our assessment of who needs those rare, precious handouts the most. At the same time, we’re not perfect. It’s something to be aware of.

But we also don’t want to foster unrealistic expectations, or dependency. I don’t believe that this is human nature. I do think people want to provide for their own families, rather than rely on the public, whenever possible. But we have seen that people can be made dependent on a system. The flawed way public assistance works is a good example of this. When people grow up understanding that this is where and how you get what you want and need, it’s hard to blame them for seeming entitled and pissing off their social worker. Especially when the system has changed.

I understand, as a social worker, that people have needs. Not just for counseling, but for food, shelter, clothing, and even for toys. I would love to be able to give every kid I work with birthday and Christmas gifts, and to pay for families to go on outings together. Unfortunately, it’s not possible. I understand why people are looking for those things, but sometimes it feels like people misread “social worker” as “Santa Claus.”

And no one even bothers to leave me cookies.

I don’t even think I have bootstraps

29 09 2011

I was a sociology major as an undergrad. It made sense to me, as I knew I was going into social work. I stand by that major, though I’ve heard many people disparage it as an easy way to get through college. Hint: everything’s easy if you don’t do any work.

Learning about society and how we function together as a unit to avoid killing and eating each other (it’s possible I just read Hunger Games) has been very helpful to me as a social worker. One professor in particular made a major impression on me, and made me think about some things that inform my practice in a different way.

This professor was old. Really old. He told us stories about growing up during the Depression. And of course, he had way more energy than any of the 20 year olds in the room. He talked about how people should work long past 65 now, because we live so much longer. He told us about his trips to South America, climbing mountains and hiking in rainforests with native people.

You’d think a tough guy like this would be pretty into that whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. (I don’t really know what that means. My boots have a fashionable and convenient side zipper.)

But he was the first person I heard say, “Some people are born on third base and grow up thinking they hit a triple.” Lots of those people were in the room, so it was a pretty cool moment.

I think we’re all familiar with this attitude when it comes to financial issues. People who think they’ve worked so hard to get where they are, and maybe they have, but who fail to recognize how lucky they were. To have parents who supported them, to have been able to go to college, to not have had to drop out to care for a sick relative.

My professor was fascinated with what he described as the American ideal–pushing through adversity. Not admitting weakness. Not admitting defeat. He told us a story about a time he almost died giving a lecture, because he decided to ignore severe abdominal pain until his appendix ruptured. The man running the event he was speaking at talked to my professor’s wife, after he had been rushed to the hospital. “Your husband’s quite a guy,” he said with admiration.

“You think so?” said his wife. “Well, I think he’s an asshole.”

I want to be friends with her.

I have to deal with this attitude from parents, teachers, and other workers all the time. Many parents have told me that they understand that their child has a mental illness. However, that is no excuse for poor behavior!

Well, it kind of is. Not that we should let it go. But you have to adjust your expectations. If we’re not going to do that, then what does a diagnosis even mean? You have ADHD, you have bipolar disorder, you have PTSD, but we’re going to act like you don’t. Hmm…

These parents always tell me that their children know right from wrong. I’m sure that they do. But the voices in their head don’t seem to. And when your brain is rushing so fast that you don’t have a minute to slow down and take in and process new information, you’re bound to make some bad decisions. We have kids evaluated and diagnosed when they’re struggling with these things so they can get treatment, so adults in their lives can be a little more patient, and so those same adults can learn what’s effective with this child’s unique ways of thinking and behaving. And yet it’s so hard to let go of the idea that clinging to those same expectations, and resisting medication and other treatments, is somehow superior.

I remember talking with a fellow student back in college, who had an IEP in high school and was entitled to extra test time. However, he was embarrassed and always refused to take it. The other girl we were talking to said, “I’m proud of you for not taking the extra time!”

1. You’re not his mom.
2. Why? Because he jeopardized his academic career for the sake of appearances? Because failing in the face of unfair standards is better than passing, if it means admitting you need help?
3. Why are you still talking. She doesn’t even go here! (Anyone? Come on.)

“If we admit that something is wrong, then we’re coddling him!” You’re right. You there, in the wheelchair! Up, now! If we give in to this desire to be pushed around everywhere, she’s never going to get up and walk.

Of course that’s ridiculous. But we say things like that all the time. To people with disabilities we can’t see, to people with histories we don’t know. They’re doing this incredibly destructive, unproductive thing. Why don’t they just stop it? I don’t know. Why don’t we work together? Simply saying, “Stop. Get yourself together. Do things this way” doesn’t make you a purveyor of tough love.

It makes you, in the words of my dear professor’s wife, an asshole.

When Good Social Workers Go Bad 2: Revenge of the Wrath

28 04 2011

Working with people always has potential to be frustrating. Especially when those people have mental health issues, developmental disabilities, substance abuse problems, histories of abuse and neglect, two tons of general chaos in their lives, or all of the above. As social workers, we understand where people are coming from.


I had a particularly difficult case to work with for a brief period of time. A single mother and her five year old son had voluntarily come to the agency due to the five year old’s severe behavior issues. They were assigned a worker, with whom they worked for about six months.

Well, I say “worked.” Mom missed almost all of her appointments. She only showed up at the office when there was a crisis. Most often, when it was too late for anything to be done.

Like I said, this family volunteered for services, and then didn’t show up for them. Somehow, their case wasn’t closed. Their worker left, and guess which lucky jerk they got transferred to?

Ah, yes. Because if the family didn’t engage with their original worker for months, surely they’ll go along with a new worker, in a new office, who is under strict instructions to refer the five year old for mental health services and close immediately, before they bring our numbers down any further.

Somehow, things got done. I had to ambush the family at school and at their apartment (my camoflauge gear is second to none) but I got what I needed. They were referred out. Mom came in for a closing conference, and signed off in agreement to having her case closed.

Then the calls started.

While I was away on vacation, my supervisor received a call from this woman, psychotically politely demanding to know why her fucking case had been closed.

Because that is how we get what we want.

My supervisor reminded her that she had attended a closing conference. No, the mom insisted. She wanted the case to stay open until her son received a formal diagnosis.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon. There are a lot of people who refuse to meet our requirements or engage meaningfully in services, but hate the idea of their case being closed. Essentially, they want a social worker on retainer. Someone they can run to when they have an emergency, but not have the obligations of weekly meetings and regular home visits. Oh, and this should also be free.

My supervisor explained, to this irate, swearing woman, how to go about reopening her case, if that was what she wanted, or how to file a complaint.

The issue was regarded as resolved. Until the next week. When I came in to a voicemail, explaining that our services suck, she had the wrong date for her son’s mental health evaluation, and I am responsible for every bad thing to ever happen, from the Holocaust to jeggings.

Despite showing up on the wrong day for her child’s appointment, the psychiatrist did see the family. (Not a moment to soon…sorry, now I’m just being snarky.) So I thought we were done.

Until next week. Another voicemail, explaining that she had been trying to get in touch with me for two weeks, and I’ve been giving her the runaround. She also reiterated that our agency, and our services, suck.

I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were expecting a call back. Apparently, “y’all suck, y’all should get shut down” in fact translated to, “Please return this message at your earliest convenience.”

I passed it off to my director, as my supervisor was out on vacation.

Yes, I opted not to return the call myself. I just couldn’t see the point. For all I listen to and get blamed for on a daily basis, my job description does not actually include the term “punching bag.” This woman was being irrational and aggressive. As I told my director, unfortunately, I do not get paid enough to sit and listen to a diatribe on why I suck.

Apparently, he does. He called her back, since, you know, it’s kind of his role. He then checked in with me, explaining that we have to bear in mind “the kind of people we work with” and that she “just wants to be heard.” Which is why he invited her in, to berate him in person.

That’s his call, if he wants to listen to that. But I really wanted to explain to him–I know “the kind of people we work with.” Because I work with them, while he is in his office filling out reviews and signing off on service plans. (Necessary work? Absolutely. But he’s not out in the trenches anymore, and hasn’t been for some time.) I am understanding for a living. But I’m also human. I have limits. In this case, I reached it.

Oh, and she doesn’t “want to be heard.” She wants to make a scene. There is a difference. Venting is not always productive. What would come from this powwow? I don’t think we do people any favors when we give them the idea that if they yell and swear loudly enough, the rules will be bent for them.

As I predicted, she never showed up, and we haven’t heard from her since. I wish things could have gone differently, and better, but they didn’t. We can’t win them all, and we can’t beat ourselves up over that.

And maybe it’s ok to give ourselves permission to run out of patience, once every few years.

Moving on up! (But staying in the exact same place)

10 03 2011

I don’t know if you all heard the news, but I think it’s time to share. Here at Anonymous Agency, we’re expecting! That’s right. 150 new families, 13 new case planners, three new supervisors, and a new director.

At a time when a lot of social service agency are hemmorhaging workers, and losing funding to serve clients, we’re getting more. Why, you must be asking, could that be?

For one, we’re very, very good. I say that facetiously, but it’s true. We do good work. This place is less crazy than most agencies.

For another, our proposal promised to do a lot with a little. More than possible, some would say. (I mean, I wouldn’t say that. That would be termination worthy incorrect.)

We had a meeting the other day to discuss, what else, doing more with less. It’s been the topic of pretty much every staff meeting we’ve had since our old director who made us do group-building yoga exercises left.

The main problem is space. We’re getting a lot of new people. And we don’t have anywhere to put them. We’ll be able to use a large room down the hall, but that’s all we’re adding on, in terms of office, cubicle, and counseling space.

Let's try a helpful visual aid.

This is the office as we currently have it. Those smiley faces are workers. The smiley face with the long hair and eyebrow ring is your very own SocialJerk. The one with glasses that make him look like a ninja turtle is my desk mate.

These little diagrams were passed out a staff meeting, which the Big Boss attended. She frightens me. And when I’m nervous, I get extra sarcastic and try to be funny. It’s not the best defense mechanism, I admit.

She came in and told us that we would have to rework our floor plan. The large room down the hall will be divided in half, so one half can be used for groups, and the other can be used for case planners.

In the space we currently use, we would have to figure out how to cram in some extra cubicles, give the new supervisors the private offices that they so richly deserve, and not sacrifice all of our counseling space.

Now, if you ask me, the priority is counseling space. Yes, we need a place to do our paper work, and a spot to keep our files, but without counseling space, what’s the point?

Obviously, I’m an idiot.

“”Can the supervisors share offices?”
“Well, that would make supervision difficult.”
“But they’re not supervising all the time. Maybe they can work on sharing the space, come up with an arrangement.”
“I’m not sure that would work.”

I took “that won’t work” to mean, “We want our own damn offices, Snood isn’t going to beat itself.” I might have just been in a bad mood.

Then one of my coworkers suggested using a potential counseling room as a storage area. I’m sorry, are we running a big box store on the side? I understand that we have a lot of junk here, but let’s try to clear it out and keep what we need in actual closets.

How about our enormous filing cabinets? What if we attached a shelf over everyone’s desk, so they could lock and keep their files there?

“But where will be put the cabinets?”

It was the strangest descent into office life I’d ever experienced. It was as though I’d stumbled upon a primitive culture, who had no idea of the advances going on in the world around them. “That is the rock. The rock has always been there. We cannot move it.” For a moment, I comtemplated taking out my smart phone and convincing them to worship me as a goddess.

Every suggestion that was made, some Debbie Downer, or Negative Ned, I don’t care which one, piped in with why it was terrible. If we use partitions they won’t be soundproof, if we give away the donated clothes we won’t have them when we need them, turning cubicles that way might be a fire hazard, bunk desks are a dangerous and stupid idea, SocialJerk, stop suggesting that.

Somehow we developed impossibly higher standards for our new space. Even higher than the standards we currently have. (To be fair, you’ve seen pictures, our standards are pretty low.)

But changes are coming, whether we like it or not. One thing I’ve always loved about social work is that it allows me to creative and flexible in my practice.

So I’m still holding out for top desk.

Social workers who need a social worker*

31 01 2011

 I recently came to a conclusion–I shouldn’t really talk about my job with the non social work public.

Yes, I realize that I am writing this on the internet. Decidedly public. But bear with me.

People enjoy the funny stories about wacky kids and sassy teenagers. They also like to hear the horror stories. About how rough the job is, how awful some people can be.

I don’t know, it’s like misery porn. Think of how many Oscars “Precious” was nominated for.

Quite often, I need to talk about it. I can’t take it all with me. There are times that I see things that make me angry, but more often they make me want to cry.

The other day, I stopped by to do a home visit with a family that I was having trouble seeing all month. When I rang the bell, I heard the dog yipping and the girls shrieking. I was so happy to have finally caught them at home.

Then things got a little strange.

I realized that it was the four year old asking me who was at the door. She knows me well enough at this point, and tried to open the door, yelling, “I can’t do the lock!”

I asked who was home with her. “My sister!”

Ah, the two year old. And to think, I had been worried.

She managed to get the door open. I confirmed that they were, in fact, home alone. The three of us stood together in the doorway, played dolls and sang ABCs (OK, that part was fun) and waited for the police.

Mom, the cops, and the babysitter with whom mom had left the kids all arrived at the same time.

So yes, mom made a mistake. She, clearly, did not choose the best person to leave her kids with. The babysitter, clearly, was an idiot.

But is this woman a bad mother? Does she deserve to lose her kids?

No. There’s no ambiguity, even. She’s a good mom. She was horrified that the girls were home alone, and her first priority was making sure that they were all right. She wasn’t upset that they police had been called. In fact, she was relieved that I had found her daughters.

I don’t even want to know what went down between her and that baby sitter after I left.

This was the end of my Friday. I dragged myself home, wanting to collapse into hot chocolate Glee marathon bed.

I also kind of wanted to talk about it. But I realized something pretty quickly.

Other people weren’t sad about it. They were pissed.

In a superficial, righteous kind of way.

“I wouldn’t leave my kids home alone until they were 12! What kind of an idiot does that?”
“What was so important that she was running out to do, huh? I can imagine…”
“I hope those kids get taken away.”

Yes, foster care will truly do them a world of good.

It made me think of all of the other comments I’ve gotten. I can categorize them at this point.

The person who doesn’t do anything, thanks to their heart of gold.
“Oh, I could never do what you do. It would just devastate me, I would care too much.”

The hard ass who makes the tough decisions you soft social workers can’t.
“I wouldn’t have let them leave until those kids were removed!”

The asshole willing to write off entire segments of society.
“Just admit, most of those people you work with shouldn’t even have kids.”

These people all have one thing in common: they’re not social workers. They don’t work with families. They don’t understand the nuances and complexities of family systems, of those relationships, of parenting. Even if they have families, and are parents. They don’t understand that, in most cases, removal wouldn’t fix things. That foster care is not a solution. It saves lives, it’s necessary, absolutely, but it also creates a whole new set of problems to be addressed.

I’ve never been a fan of, “You’re not (fill in the blank), you wouldn’t understand.” But I guess there are times that it applies. The fact of the matter is, the only people who knew what I was talking about were my fellow social workers.

The funny stories, the tragedies, and the inspiring victories have a universal appeal. But like I am always telling my clients–there are times that you just need a social worker.

*Dedicated with much love and gratitude to my tweeting social workers who got me through a mild breakdown 🙂

“Have a blessed day.” “Maybe we could just shake on it.”

24 01 2011

I was raised Catholic. went through periods of time when I was angry with the Church, and wouldn’t go for a while, but I always found my way back.

It’s been a few years since that. I’m now pretty comfortable identifying as an atheist.

I try not to be an asshole about it. Let’s face it, a lot of people are. I hate constantly having to hear about how sunshine is actually the smile of Jesus upon us, but it’s equally annoying to have to listen to a diatribe about how the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t include “under God” until 1954 and our nation is being brainwashed.

Um, that’s nice, SocialJerk, but what does this have to do with social work?

Thank you for keeping me on topic.

Religion comes up a lot. It’s what The View would call a hot topic. Sometimes, it comes up more often than I think it should.

We always want to start where the client is. We want to work with what’s important to them, identify their natural support systems, and help them to help themselves.

For some people, religion is a big part of this. I worked with one woman whose church prevented her from being evicted by loaning her the money to pay off her rental arrears. Her son made a lot of friends in Sunday School after moving from Ghana. It gave them a community.

So we used that, as much as we could. I felt much better closing her case and stepping out of her children’s lives knowing that her religious community was there.

My director loved this. Because he loves him some Jesus.

There are bibles, theology books, crosses, and bible quotes decorating his office. It makes me a little uncomfortable, because it seems kind of strange for a secular agency. I know that it would throw me off  if I went there for counseling.

But I don’t say anything, because 1.) He signs my paychecks and 2.) I try not to be an asshole.

My director isn’t all that uncommon. People go into this field to help people. A lot of people are inspired by their religion to help. It’s what got me into a lot of volunteering and assorted other do-gooder-ness (that is definitely a word) when I was younger.

But when it comes to being where our clients are, we have to check it at the door. For reasons of self-determination, and not losing that sweet sweet city funding. Your journey to accepting the Lord was beautiful, I’m sure, but how is that helping this woman to enroll in a GED program?

I usually try to hold my tongue. Recently, at our staff holiday party (note my position in the “War on Christmas”) I felt like things went a little too far. I was told that we were waiting to serve the food until our director came in to lead us in prayer and a blessing.

I’m sorry, am I back at Girl Scout camp?

I had to register my discomfort. A couple of my workers looked mystified. Why would anyone object to a nice Christian prayer before a meal?

Why indeed. Once I said something, another person mumbled that, he “doesn’t do that,” and a sane Christian colleague informed them that a lot of people don’t pray, so if you want to, why not just do it to yourself?

I was looked at like the Grinch Who Stole Baby Jesus’ Birthday Party, but we were able to move on.

As happens so often, My So-Called Life accurately sums up my feelings on the matter. Angela Chase once questioned cheerleaders, saying, “Can’t people just like, cheer quietly? To themselves?”

During group supervision, it became an issue again.

A coworker was sharing a particularly tricky case. We were all throwing out possibilities for helping this family. Finally, Helpy McGee piped in with, “Just tell her to go to church!”

Being an expert passable social worker, I tried to reframe this.

“You mean, ask if she goes to church? If she can get some support there?”
“Yeah, and if she doesn’t go tell her to go. They’ll do a lot for them there.”

Holy government funding, Batman!

“Or you could tell her to become a lesbian. The LGBT community is so supportive!”

Even if this wasn’t against agency policy, and even if I didn’t find proselytizing to be distasteful, it’s bad social work practice. Nothing would make me run for the hills more than a suggestion that I “just go to church.” I don’t know if a worker who suggested that could ever do anything to make me feel that they understood me.

What works for you does not necessarily work for me. I am a social worker because I believe that people have a responsibility to care for one another, and that our government has a responsibility to its people. I believe in human dignity, and that no one (except maybe the cast of the Jersey Shore) is beyond help.

God doesn’t factor in for me. And I’m fine with that.

I hope that my colleagues are as well.