When life gives you lemons, take its comments out of context and mock it on the internet.

15 05 2012

Most of my job is spent trying to meet my clients where they are. However, there are times when things get a little chaotic, crises occur, or a court date is coming up, and we need to meet where no one wants to be–the ACS office.

This office is a thrifty property flippers dream. If there are swamplands in the Bronx, picture them, and that’s where we are. Scenic, and far, far away from that pesky civilization. Inside, the place is rather cheery. Nicely spruced up with grey paint that all social service agencies buy in bulk, as well as many a plastic ficus.

There’s also the playroom, which is separated from the waiting room by plexiglass. It gives me flashbacks to watching the baby chimpanzees at the zoo. Look at him stacking the blocks! He thinks he’s people! Of course, instead of a tire swing, there’s a heavy metal file cabinet.

Kids love those.

I can’t judge, of course (well, I can, I’m really good at it, but I’ll try not to.) Our playroom is just to the left of atrocious. It’s hard. Kids destroy things, and everyone is short on cash.Most social service agencies leave something to be desired in terms of interior design. Anonymous Agency could use a visit from Ty Pennington. No, wait, he blows things up and his hair annoys me. Is that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy dude up to anything? Maybe him.

I get so familiar with the asthetics at this office because most of my time there is spent waiting. Clients often don’t show up. So we wait. We give them time. We’ll give them an hour if we can. I once got a phone call that my client had arrived three hours late, when  was back in the office, and was rather miffed that I hadn’t waited. After all, she had traveled all that way.


Waiting can be frustrating. It means your entire day can be thrown off. It might mean that you don’t get to see a family that is really in crisis, or get in a contact with them that you really need.

However, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things than waiting. Technology certainly makes it easier. Having a smart phone means you don’t get to complain nearly as much. There are crossword puzzles to do, somethings to draw, and fruits to ninja. Oh, we can also type up notes, I guess. I also have a Kindle in my bag, meaning I can laugh inappropriately at Tina Fey if I’m feeling down, or if I just want those around me to think I’m strange. The city is also kind enough to have kids’ movies (like Despicable Me. HEAVEN) playing in the waiting room. Of course, I did once see the shadow of a man’s head, presumably going on a popcorn run, during one of those DVDs. That’s right. They’re a bunch of bootleggers.

There are lots of ways to pass the time. My number one favorite, though, is eavesdropping.

Overheard in the ACS waiting/playroom:

“Elmo, you don’t shape up, Imma punch you in the face.” – 3 y/o to a stuffed animal.
It’s almost like this kid is trying to tell me something. I mean, Elmo can be annoying…

“No, I don’t have to deal with you. We don’t have to talk. This does NOT go beyond today. Good bye!” – Receptionist to Chinese food delivery guy.
That was weird.

“I wear breakaway pants to these things now, so they can check my legs easy!” – 12 year old on the bruise-checking procedure.
Young man, you are depressingly savvy.

“Look! Look! I tied the Barbie’s legs to the bed!” – A random 9 year old, eager to show off his handiwork.
1. So glad you’re not mine.
2. We need to find who is responsible for you.

“I don’t care where we are, I’ll beat your ass.” – A mom I fortunately don’t work with to her five year old.
Come on, I’m sitting right here. Don’t do that.

“But I have to go now. I really do. Can I piss in the cup here and then take it over there?”
“We are taking the bus. What the hell is wrong with you? Wanting to get on public transportation with a cup full of pee. I’m about to let them have you.” – 15 year old and his mother debating the logistics of getting over to the urine drug testing facility.
I’m just going to say that you both have valid points.

“They have me in here like I’m smoking crack. I’m not smoking crack! I’m not a crackhead. At least I’m not smoking crack.” -A mother apparently feeling she was being treated unfairly.
I get this excuse all the time. Most often from people doing cocaine.

There we have it. We’ve got to wait, there’s just no way around it. We’re busy, and we need to scheduled things back to back, but at times we just have to let go and let clients. As long as there are conversations to eavesdrop on, I’ll be all right.

Junk food + TV – abuse=I leave you alone

11 11 2010

When I started working at my current agency, I inherited a case from a worker who was running away and leaving a social worker shaped hole in our front door offered a position at an agency closer to her home. I worked with the family for about a year. The kids were living with their grandmother, because their mother’s dedication for crack made everyday parenting tasks, like bringing the kids to school, rather difficult to accomplish.

Grandma’s house wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly adequate. The kids were traumatized, but they were getting mental health services. So I filed the necessary paper work, and stepped out. As far as I concerned, this particular family’s case had been closed.

Through the magic of bureaucratic databases, I was proven wrong.

The case was still considered open, because CPS refused to step out. (Because they were involved initially, they get final say. Bastards.)

I can hear it now. “Surely, SocialJerk, if a child protective specialist refused to step out, there must have been some serious safety concerns! That grandmother must have been at least borderline unfit.”

Um, how dare you doubt me. Have I ever steered you wrong?

When we finally got a phone call through to the the supervisor’s supervisor’s  supervisor (the next stop was Obama. Michelle, not Barack) we were told that there were, indeed, outstanding issues that needed to be addressed.

For one thing, the oldest girl needed new glasses. She had broken her old ones, and they had not been replaced.

As far as I know, this child had not been wandering off into the middle of the street, or putting herself at risk by running into stationary objects. But this was considered serious enough to warrant involvement by CPS and a preventive social worker.

It didn’t end there. The younger boy needed more dental work.

I had seen this child weekly. His grandmother had given me notes, documenting many dental appointments. I believe I mentioned elsewhere that I am not, in fact, a dentist. The kids teeth looked fine to me, and the dentist said the same thing. But CPS wasn’t satisfied. Perhaps eight year old boys not having porcelain veneers constitutes neglect?

Here’s the thing–grandma knew how to get these kids the glasses and dental work they needed. The kids had Medicaid, the girl even had a voucher for new glasses. But the grandmother had a lot to take care of, and these two things weren’t terribly high on her list. Ideal? No. But what the hell was I supposed to do about it? I don’t even have a car. I suppose I could sit on the bus with the family for a trip to Lenscrafters, but that doesn’t seem like the best use of anybody’s time.

I’m a social worker. I’m not a babysitter. If this woman didn’t do these things under pressure from ACS and family court, she wasn’t going to do them because I kept up with my weekly home visits. (Honestly, I’m a pleasant houseguest, she really would not have minded.)

There’s also the fact that glasses and teeth are important, but neither of these things compromised the children’s safety. They were otherwise healthy, they went to school, they were happy to be living with their grandmother. They got therapy weekly. If a kid breaking their glasses and going without for a while was reason enough to warrant CPS intervention, I think they’d be even more overwhelmed (and less effective) than they are now.

We see things like this all the time. People raise their kids in ways that we wouldn’t. Does that mean we have the right to step in? It doesn’t fill my black heart with delight to watch a mother feed her three year old Doritos and Windex-blue “juice” for breakfast. I don’t agree with allowing your boyfriend of the week to meet your kids. Watching TV while doing homework makes my skin crawl.

But frankly, those things are none of my business. If something is compromising the kids’ safety, I intervene as appropriate. If some behavior, like not allowing your teenage girl to leave the house unaccompanied, is contributing to the problems that brought a family in for services, I’ll address it.

But it’s not my place to say, “Well, this is how I would raise my imaginary kids! Why aren’t you breastfeeding, ma’am? You owe me an explanation!”

No family is perfect. Including mine. (Mom: just kidding!) Including all families of all social workers. We all have our bad moments, the things we wish we didn’t say, and the things we let our kids get away with. If we had a CPS worker or a social worker observing that, we would probably expect a little lee-way and understanding.

If we wait for perfection, we are going to find those caseloads expanding even more, and length of service growing and growing.

Then again. What the hell do I know?

What was his name-o, again?

10 08 2010

That’s right, we’re talking bingo today. It’s not just for stereotypical old people anymore.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, we spend a lot of time out in the field. Being “out in the field” sounds much nicer than it is. It actually means that we’re walking the streets of the Bronx, not romping in a meadow. All that walking gives a social worker time to think, plan, and get sweaty on the way to a visit. It also gives us all time to notice certain patterns in our beloved Bronx.

This brings us to “Ghetto Bingo.” It works just like regular bingo- get a full line across, up and down, or diagonal checked off, and you win!

But this is a special edition. No “B6” for us. Instead, we at the office compiled a list of things you’re likely to see in the neighborhood, that will earn you a square.

Get honked at by a gypsy cab? That’s one space. A painfully obvious drug deal going on between a guy on the corner and a stopped car? That’s another one. You can also mark down that open fire hydrant, but only once. Checking it off on every block just wouldn’t be fair.

A pit bull on a chain is another available square. A pit bull off a chain means you should start running. (Another option is to push a friend in the path of the oncoming dog. I was once the one being pushed, so I assure you it really does work, though it won’t earn you any good karma.)

Of course, any kind of sexual harrassment is also worth a square. We’re considering a rule that would make it worth two for men. Getting stuck in an elevator in a NYCHA building will not only give you time to mark down everything you’ve seen, but is also a space on your bingo card.

Spotting anyone drinking a 40 before noon is a space. (When I first started working here, there were so many people lined up outside of one store at 7:30 am, I thought that Apple had released a new product. Turns out they were waiting for the liquor store to open. I have since nicknamed them “The Fanboys of 40 oz.”)

The daytime hooker, the rarest of all the prostitute breeds (popularized by “My Name is Earl”) has her own, richly deserved, square on our bingo cards. Lost, frightened tourists desperately seeking out the Bronx Zoo also get a space. Gang fights have their own as well, but have a similar clause to the pit bull square- when gun shots are heard, it’s time to run.

Disclaimer: Bingo cards available by emailing SocialJerk. Play “Ghetto Bingo” at your own risk. Please maintain a sense of humor during play, remembering that this game was developed by people with a deep love and respect for this neighborhood. Also, wear comfortable shoes.

The art of inter-floor travel

30 07 2010

Getting to the upper floors of a building has always been fairly straight forward in my life. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve pretty much mastered both stairs AND elevators.

Social work has made even this difficult.

A lot of my clients live in NYCHA apartments, better known as the projects. I’m sure their reputation precedes them.

The elevators in these places are notorious. I’ve been in crowded elevators that residents were convinced were going to get stuck between floors, because we broke the sacred “six people at a time” rule. (Little known fact—elevators can count.) They were planning who would crawl out of the ceiling to pry the doors open and go for help.

There is also the fact that these elevators are not places you would want to bottle perfume. Like I said, they get stuck, and when you gotta go…

Terrible elevators shouldn’t be a problem for fat Americans, right? Get a little exercise, tubby. The problem is, lots of these places are over 20 stories high.  If you’re on the top floor and don’t happen to be Lance Armstrong, you probably aren’t going to make it.

If you don’t go into cardiac arrest, there’s another problem—people hang out in the stairwells.  People you don’t want to run into in a poorly lit area with few options for escape (such as, say, a stairwell.) They’re a favorite of drug dealers and other people I try not to associate with.

I was visiting a family on the second floor of one such building a while back. I took the elevator anyway, for all the aforementioned reasons. On the way back out, I found that there was a crack dealer and a crackhead customer standing in front of the elevator. The dealer was standing by the window, counting his money out for all to see. The crackhead was, predictably, mumbling and scratching herself.

I decided to risk the stairs. I opened the door, and was immediately hit in the face with smoke.  This made me think of two things: 1) I hate the smell of crack. 2) Why do I know what crack smells like?

Realizing I was stuck between a crack rock and a hard place (I apologize for that one, I really do) I headed back for the elevator. As I waited for it, I realized that the dealer was trying to get my attention.  I turned to find him smiling and waving, looking up from his drug money to ask how my day was going.

I’ve found that the only way to act in these situations is something I call, “pretty and dumb.” “I’m fine, how are you? Look at all that money you’ve got! You must have won some sort of a sweepstakes.”

Luckily the elevator was working, and I was able to beat a hasty retreat. I’ll soon be investing in a parachute, for any similar situations in the future.