Be half that you can be

2 04 2012

I can’t speak for all social workers (never mind, I will) but my job is very cyclical. When I started, I inherited about six cases from another worker. In an inappropriately short period of time, I had signed another six. As a result, a lot of my cases are on a similar time frame. And for some reason that can never be known, everyone falls into crisis at the same time. Oh, you’ve been evicted? That means someone else is going to be hospitalized, someone is going to have a new CPS case called in, and I’m going to hear from a school that one of my kids is setting fires.

This month, four of my cases are ready to close. We say “ready.” The city gives us a twelve month window to work with families. When I started as an intern, we had up to two years. Following this logic, you’ll want to stay tuned for the development of our social work time machine, in which we go into the past to prevent the problems from ever happening, saving the government millions.

Of course, a case being open for a year is not an acceptable reason to close. A family isn’t sent on their merry way on their one year anniversary with Anonymous Agency. We can keep cases open longer, and we do, we just get penalized for it. Never mind that it’s very hard to do meaningful work with resistant, unmotivated families in less than a year. So sometimes, we take what we can get.

I’m really happy about two of these cases that are closing. “Really happy” might not be exactly the right term. I’m sad because I love these families and I’ll miss them, but I’m thrilled that they’ve made so much progress and done so much work that they are really, genuinely, ready to move on from having services.

Two out of four. Fifty percent. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of elated with those numbers. Doing it right half the time is really only a moment for celebration in New York Mets baseball, and social work. If your dentist told you that half of the time he doesn’t pull out healthy teeth, or your mechanic bragged that 50% of the oil changes she performed didn’t result in the car catching fire, you’d probably be looking for another professional. In social work, though, there are so many variables (new crises, family’s involvement, personalities of everyone involved, other helpful services in the family’s life…) in addition to the fact that we’re dealing with things as fluid, unpredictable, and subjective as mental health, family relationships, and parenting skills.

One family that is having their case closed was referred by ACS, due to excessive corporal punishment. The case was called in by the school, and while the parents didn’t totally agree with the call, they wholeheartedly accepted the help. “No one wants to hear that someone is worried about them being a good parent, and you get defensive. But then we thought, yeah, maybe we are hitting and yelling too much, and things can be better.”

I love them. Don’t take them from me.

This family is my crowning achievement. Except they’re not, of course. They’re awesome, but they’re not my creation. They did the word, because they wanted to and they wanted better for their kids. That meant that I could really do my job. We worked together beautifully. If only I could produce a video of us all holding hands and skipping into a meadow. (I should probably ask my friends where they’re all taking their engagement photos they keep putting on Facebook.)

The next family that is closing and actually ready for it came in of their own volition. They had been referred by ACS in the past, but returned voluntarily when the oldest daughter turned 13 and the family members thought she might be possessed by demonic beings.

This family is in the unfortunately common position of sliding back a bit into old habits, particularly acting out behaviors for the now 14 year old hellspawn daughter, just as the case is closing. They’re hesitant, but they can recognize that they’ve done a lot of work. The teenager who wasn’t doing a thing around the house now gets her baby sister ready in the morning and walks the dog twice a day. The mother who could barely look at her child without speaking cruelly, now laughs with her and plans activities for the two of them.

Another family is moving on to foster care services. This is often considered our greatest possible failure, as we are in the business of prevention, but this scenario is a bit different. The children are moving into their grandmother’s care, the person they stayed with almost exclusively as it was, and still have their mother in their life regularly. Foster care was something that needed to happen. But it doesn’t create much of a change for these two young girls. It does give their grandmother, who I would like to submit to the Vatican for sainthood (that’s how it works, right?) or at least send flowers, a bit of money and a major headache. Grandma asked if I could remain with the family, as she’s not connecting well with her foster care worker and she and I had a good working relationship. (Note: this is due to the fact that the family is delightful.) She needs some support, especially now that her daughter is pregnant with a third child, and is still mentally ill and on drugs. Bureaucratically speaking, though, this can’t happen. So we’re done.

The last family has been a roller coaster, and not the fun kind. They’re a great family, but the violent boyfriend is still in the home. He’s on his best behavior for the moment and has never hit the children, so all of the people who have any power in this situation (I’ll take ‘people that aren’t SocialJerk for $500,’ Alex!) have decided that it’s fine for him to stay. Because domestic violence is a total mindfuck, mom doesn’t want to leave him, even though she’s afraid he’ll go back to his old ways as soon as the case is closed. We can’t keep it open to babysit forever. That’s just not how anything works. All I can do is safety play, safety plan, safety plan with mom and the kids, talk with mom about the importance of continuing her individual counseling, and make sure that they know that they can always come back if they need to.

Fifty percent success this month. Maybe a bit more or a bit less, depending on how you look at it. Some months are better, and some months are worse. Realizing that you can’t help everyone, and that some families will leave your life the same way they came in, or maybe even worse, is a frustratingly important thing to understand about social work. We are in the business of helping people, and, at the risk absolute certainty of sounding painfully cliché, helping them to help themselves. As much as we want to, we can’t fix people. I can’t stay with that 14 year old and her mother until things are perfect, because I don’t know if I’ll be at this job until 2026. I can’t move in with another mother to protect her and her children from a potentially violent man. I can only care about my families as much as I can, and work as hard and as well as I can to make sure that they get the best I can give. If that’s fifty percent, then that’s what it is.

At least I’m still better than the Mets.





Unforgiven: Social Work edition

13 02 2012

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (thank you, as my self esteem is directly proportional to my number of followers) will know that I was a little upset about the Grammys last night. It’s surprising, because I didn’t even watch them.

Was Chris Brown at the Grammys before? I think maybe he was…ah yes, three years ago! He was going to perform, but the night before he punched Rihanna, his girlfriend at the time, leaving her face a bloody and bruised mess.

I’ve already talked about the damage Chris Brown has done. Not only to Rihanna, but to young people across the country, for whom he further normalized violence as a part of romantic relationships. So I’m not going to go into that again. (Though he did. He did a lot of damage, on a problem that was already bad enough.)

Chris Brown is right at the top of SocialJerk’s Shit List. I assure you, it’s an unpleasant place to be.

But he’s not alone. He has the company of Ben Roethlisberger and Roman Polanksi, to name a couple. Michael Vick had set up residence, but he’s done some work in getting himself removed.

A dinner party you’d never want to attend, amiriteladies? These are people that my friends and family members know not to mention in my presence. If they don’t want me to turn red, and them to not have a chance to speak for the next twenty minutes.

Just so we’re clear–Michael Vick, the one who killed and mistreated dogs, got the harshest sentence (a fine and a suspended prion sentence) and has done the most to make up for his crimes (through seemingly heartfelt apologies, and by lobbying for harsher penalties for animal fighting.) He’s also, arguably, the most vilified. He’s the one who mistreated and killed dogs. The others exploited, raped, or beat women and children. In case you weren’t feeling my rage.

I can’t see any of these individuals ever getting off said shitlist. I just can’t.

Chris Brown and Roman Polanksi in particular have acted like and been treated like victims. They have whined like petulant children about how unfairly they’ve been treated. None of these men have made a real, meaningful apology. They’ve all been defended relentlessly in the press.

What do I want from them? So glad you asked. I want this:

“Wow, I appreciate you all caring about me, but I’m a total piece of shit. I hope that by taking some time out of the public eye, I can do a lot of work on myself, and be deserving of your respect. But until then, remember–I’m a real asshole, a danger to society, and I’m just not worthy of it.”

Then, after some time off, they either shut up and stay that way, or, preferably, get out there and educate people as to why they were wrong.

Chris Brown tells young women that real men won’t hit them, and tells young men that he was an idiot for ever putting his hands on Rihanna. Roman Polanksi will explain that it doesn’t matter if that 13 year old got herself wasted and ran around naked begging for him to anally penetrate her (which people seem to believe), he was the adult and should have acted like it. Ben Roethlisberger will tell men the world over that, even if you’re a big star, more physically powerful than women, and a women is drunk, she can still say no to any sexual encounter with you.

The social work connection, and there is one, is forgiveness. Forgiving the unforgivable, excusing the inexcusable.

Not all of the people we work with are exclusively victims. Some of us work with men who abuse women, women who abuse children, people who abuse animals, and many variations thereof.

People who are abused, very often, want to go back to the person who violated them. They want the abuse to stop, of course, but they don’t want that person out of their life. Children love their parents. People love their partners. Teenage girls at least feel like they love their boyfriends, and maybe they do. They want to forgive their abuser. It’s normal. It takes a domestic violence victim an average of seven times to leave an abusive partner, before leaving for good. And the time that victim is most at risk to be killed is when she’s attempting to leave, and right after.

Remember that next time someone offers Rihanna talking to Chris Brown as evidence that we should all get over it.

Many of the women I work with have suffered through domestic violence. This means that their children have as well. One of those women lived with the man who beat her horribly for thirteen years and had five children with him. Just recently, she left him for good. When she says she hopes she never sees him again, I believe her. She made her kids deactivate their Facebook pages so their father couldn’t find them–these days, that’s the ultimate in putting your foot down.

Another woman is, sadly, just at the beginning of this process. She left her abusive partner once, and has considered leaving him many more times. She has one very young child with him, and three older children who are completely fed up with their mother’s relationship.

She keeps bringing this man, who hits and intimidates her, back into her home. This woman forgives this man, for some reason. Her children are in the position of trying to forgive her, because she’e their mother. And I’m doing my home visits, trying not to narrow my eyes and spit every time this dick man looks in my direction.

She’s made her decision. I can make sure that the children are safe, and that this family has somewhere to go when he inevitably does it again, and I can try to help her to understand that what he’s doing is inexcusable and that it follows a pattern. But I can’t make her decide that it’s unforgivable.

She can forgive this man. It doesn’t mean I have to. Rihanna can forgive and Tweet at Chris Brown. That doesn’t mean we should forget what he did and applaud him at award shows. Samantha Geimer can say she’s over what Roman Polanski did to her. Of course she wants it all to go away. It doesn’t make him any less of a sick bastard, and a fugitive from the law.

Don’t let anyone tell you different. Victims can forgive if they feel they need to. We have an obligation to remind them that they deserve better.

I need to figure out a way to work with them all. (My client’s abusive boyfriend, not Brown and Polanski.) Ignoring him and feeling self-righteously angry about the fact that I hate this guy doesn’t move us forward. It makes mom feel like she needs to lie to me about her feelings for him, or her intentions to leave.

I heard a man speak once about telling his friends that street harassment is, for lack of a better term, a dick move. He admitted that it was a while before they took him seriously, because he used to shout sexual comments at strange women right along with them. A friend of mine just stopped using the “f” word (no, the other “f” word) because he realized, “I’m offending an entire group of people that I actually don’t have a problem with when I do that.”

Both of these guys used to do something stupid and offensive. We’ve all made mistakes. Many things can be forgiven. People can learn. And, I think, they can change. We can agree to disagree, but that’s the basis of the profession, and if I didn’t believe that I’d quit and work at Starbucks.

I don’t want to go out for a drink with anyone on my shitlist. They’re bad people, and some of them would probably assault me. But I do honestly believe that they can improve themselves. Michael Vick, even if you still choose to hate him, has taken some steps. Many of us have people in our lives who did as well. Whether we want to deal in forgiveness or not, the reality is that we have to work with it.

And please, if you’re as angry as I am, consider making a donation to SafeHorizon, a wonderful organization that helps  victims of domestic violence. (I swear, I did!) Tell them the Grammy’s sent you.





Did you know the word “gullible” is not in the dictionary?

8 12 2011

Really. Look it up.

Being skeptical is an important part of our jobs. We can’t take things at face value.

Gullible Social Worker: “So, anyone beating the children here?”
Suave Child: “Nope. None of that.”
GSW: “Great! What’s up with that bruise?”
SC: “Um, I fell.”
GSW: “On your eye?”
SC: “I mean I crashed my skateboard into an eye-level table.”
GSW: “Ooh, bad luck. Well, good bye!”

I think we can all see why that doesn’t work.

At the same time, we need to have faith in our participants. Without faith and hope (and charity, why not) we wouldn’t be able to do this work. We would start to think that, because not everything gets better, nothing gets better. We should just give up, remove all the kids from all the parents, and close up shop.

That’s the danger–when necessary skepticism turns into unhelpful cynicism.

You can usually tell when someone has been doing this job for too long, or when they have gone way too long without a fake sick day mental health day. Some of my coworkers seem to really assume the worst in people.

A young girl was once talking about her mother taking in a foster child with a disability. A coworker instantly said, “Oh, she wants the money?” This girl seemed surprised, saying no, her mother loved kids. Coworker clearly wasn’t buying it.

Another coworker told me about a mother who was excited about the romantic relationship she had just begun. My coworker told her that this unkown guy was probably only interested in her to gain access to the client’s teenage daughter.

I’ve been accused of being cynical. Honestly. I don’t know why, but it’s happened. I’m not cynical. I’m sarcastic, I get angry, and sometimes I do a convincing impression of Eeyore, but I’m no cynic. I genuinely care about my participants and believe in their desire to improve their lives and the lives of their children.

Sometimes I’m wrong.

Recently, a family I’ve been working with for nearly a year came to see me. The mother, who had been more and more distant when speaking about her boyfriend, told me that she planned to ask him to leave the home.

I was ecstatic. I could barely contain my victory whoops. The boyfriend was, in technical terms, an abusive asshole. There was a long history of domestic violence, which the mother and children claimed hadn’t been a problem since we started working together. (My presence is magic, you see.)

The family missed their next office session, and I got a little worried. So I went to see the teenage girls at school. The fifteen year old, who I will hereby refer to as “Mom Jr.” showed me a picture on her cell phone.

Of the gigantic purple bruise on her mother’s arm.

“She said she fell down the stairs. But there’s no way. She does this all the time, saying she’s going to leave him. He hasn’t changed in six years, why is he going to change now? I told her: he goes, or we go. I talked to my grandma, she said we can stay with her. I don’t need my brother and sister thinking this is normal.”

Oh. OK. Looks like you’ve got it.

I’m torn between crying for this girl, who has less faith in her mother and the outside world than the most seasoned, cynical, social worker, and applauding her for having the strength, determination, and intelligence that she somehow does.

I’m also torn between wanting to hug her mother for all that she’s been through, and wanting to scream at her, for subjecting herself and her children to this.

Don’t even ask what I want done to the boyfriend. It’s shocking, even for the internet.

I also can’t help feeling kind of stupid. I know that it takes an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. I know that the period of time when a victim is attempting to leave is usually the most dangerous time. I know that victims cover up what goes on in the home. But it still feels like I should have known that this wasn’t going to be a real change. Like I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up quite so much.

We recently had to have a little conference with one of the girls in my group, and her worker, due to this girl talking about her mother’s boyfriend being in the home and making her uncomfortable. Of course it turns out that this is the very guy who molested her, and has supposedly had no contact with the family for two years.

The girl immediately started back peddling when we told her we were concerned for her safety and needed to talk to her worker. “Oh, he’s not in the house. My mom was just talking about him.” “But last week you said he grabbed your waist and you didn’t like it.” “Yeah…no never mind. My mom doesn’t want another case.”

It’s easy to become cynical. It’s easy to get pissed off at mothers who don’t protect their children, and grown men who prey on them, and forget that there is good in the world and more good to be done.

We get our hopes up every time it seems like someone is going to make a meaningful change or improvement. Most often, it doesn’t happen. And it hurts, both us and the participants. But sometimes, people surprise us, and they do make those changes. It’s not easy to keep going back for more, when it starts to seem like we get shot further down every day.

But it’s just one more part of the job.





You gotta give ’em hope

22 09 2011

I hate people.

I know a lot of my sarcastic contemporaries who hide behind internet anonymity (see you all at the next meeting, guys) revel in their misanthropy, but I try not to. I really do.

On some days, it’s hard.

I had to walk a few blocks out of my way in order to get to the office the other morning. This was because there was a shootout on the street in the middle of the night, and the block was still roped off by the police.

Apparently, this is what it takes to have a meaningful police presence in the neighborhood.

Often, because of where these types of things take place, they get ignored. If it was Midtown Manhattan, it would be a big deal, but it’s the Bronx. It’s the ghetto. A bunch of gang members want to kill each other? Let them.

Except that in this city, in the past month, we’ve had three children under five (that I’ve heard about) accidentally shot on the street. What the hell kind of human thinks that their ridiculous beef with some other dude in the neighborhood is worth the accidental death of a child?

Earlier, I noticed a candlelight memorial outside a client’s building. Apparently it was for a three year old girl. The parents claimed her death was accidental, but upon further examination, she had been horribly abused for some time. The mother of the family I was visiting showed me pictures of her daughter and this poor girl together at a recent birthday party, while she asked what kind of person could do that to a child? She was just glad that her daughter was young enough to not really understand.

We didn’t discuss the fact that, though we were quite a bit older, we certainly didn’t understand either.

Then I got a call about one of my families. A big, chaotic family, with lots of kids who fight like cats and dogs, and who make me laugh on every visit. Apparently they’ve been removed with no warning, and, as far as I can tell, no real reason. The children’s lawyer called me, mystified, saying she thought everything was improving. That’s what I had thought as well. They were waiting for placement in a domestic violence shelter, because the dad is now out of jail and has been coming by to beat the shit out of mom as often as he can.

By all means, traumatize everyone further. That’ll show them.

There’s a lot of disgust to go around in this case. The city, for refusing to move the family to a new location before the father was released from prison, and again for having an underfunded shelter system, and again for punishing a family for having been victimized. Of course, the “father,” who feels justified in beating the mother of his children in front of those children, pulling a knife, trying to set mother and children on fire.  (Fun fact–you only get a year in jail for that!) An ACS worker, who seems to be primarily focused on how inconvenient this all is for her.

These are the people we’re sharing a planet with.

People are always asking how I manage to do my job, how it doesn’t get me down, how I work with people who do terrible things.

Barely, it does, and I don’t know.

All I know is that if I don’t believe in the people I work with, I can’t do my job. And while my job might not be changing the world, it’s something. If I write everyone off as “bad parents” and “juvenile delinquents” things don’t get better. They stay the same if we’re lucky, they get worse if we’re realistic.

Days like this I can’t do it. Bureacracy, disappointment, inconsiderate people, I can deal with. I have to. On a daily basis. I can get snarky, use my impressive vocabulary and quick wit to get a one-liner in that will make me feel better, and move on. I’ll be annoyed, but I move on.

Today I have to half lie to myself, and say that, despite the tragedy and the people we can’t help, things do get better. As much as I want to quit right now, I can’t imagine doing or being anything else.

Because there are those moments. Moments that make you feel good, like a teen telling you she likes that you listen to her, or a grandma bringing you cough drops because your voice sounded scratchy on the phone. And moments that actually make a difference, like a kid walking away from a fight for the first time, or a parent recognizing that a child’s behavior is developmentally appropriate, and not worthy of punishment.

It really beats the alternative.





I’ll be banging my head against a wall, if anyone needs me

20 06 2011

Domestic violence is a difficult topic to work with. It’s one of those situations in which we all know the right answer–leave. Do whatever you have to in order to survive, then run and never look back.

Of course, we all know it’s not that easy. The victim, or survivor, whatever terminology you prefer, in these situations, has reasons that prevent him or her from leaving and staying away. (All of the domestic violence situations I work with are men being abusive towards women, so that’s what I’ll be referring to here. But I am well aware that women can be the aggressors, and that violence occurs in same sex couples as well. Equal opportunity, yeah!)

There are reasons that the women I work with stay in these relationships. Some are concrete–they are financially dependent on this man, they live in his apartment, they’re worried about custody of the children. Some are a bit harder to understand, but no less real–they grew up in an abusive home, and view the situation as normal, they grew up without a father and are looking for love and acceptance.

We understand why these situations exist, and how the cycle perpetuates itself. Things get better for a while, the “honeymoon phase.” It’s not so much a “honeymoon” as it is “how your partner should treat you as a person,” but there you go. The victim, who has bene through so much already, wants to believe that things are really better.

Domestic violence is so frustrating to work with because it is a cycle. You can predict, with great certainty, what’s coming next. Things will get bad again. Especially when the abuser has decided that he’ll “just stop.” No treatment, no time away from the home. He’s just not going to hit the woman he supposedly loves anymore. It was pointed out to him that this was a bad thing to do, and he’ll knock it off.

Right. My hopes are high. (And so is he, if he thinks I believe that.)

Like almost every other situation we deal with, we can’t give our clients the answer. We can plan for safety, discuss the risks, talk about what this is doing to them and their children, but we can’t make anyone leave.

A family I’m currently working with had this situation come up. The case was called in due to some domestic violence that the children had witnessed. The father of the youngest child (but not the three older children) agreed to leave. Nothing legally binding, but he did sign a contract, along with the ACS worker, oldest kids, and mother, saying he would leave the home.

About a month later, I found out he was back. Several weeks later, I found out he never really left.

It wasn’t the mother’s choice, so it didn’t work. She wasn’t ready to cut ties with him. She wanted him in her son’s life, and didn’t feel that she had the right to prevent this man from seeing his child. There’s no restraining order, and he hasn’t hit the children. So it is her decision.

If it were up to me, I would chase him out of the apartment myself while beating him with a shoe and shouting emasculating insults. But I’m told that I can’t do that.

Then there are restraining orders. Often, these feel more like restraining suggestions, because they don’t seem to carry a lot of weight. People get them, then continue to see the person they’re not supposed to be seeing. Many people don’t pursue them at all, until the court steps in. “How is a piece of paper supposed to help me?” I know the right answer, that they can help, but someone in that situation, who knows what their abuser is capable of, can’t be convinced. They’re usually right.

A lot of women I work with seem to keep restraining orders in their back pocket. I’ve been told many times, “Well, I went over there, but I reminded him that I have the restraining order.” “I let him move back in, but I still have the restraining order, so I can kick him out if I want to.” I didn’t think it would be so hard to explain that this isn’t exactly how these are supposed to work.

At times, though, they work. If someone is really ready to move on and cut ties, and is really ready to call the police whenever this guy shows up, or calls (and the police are ready to take it seriously) they can work. One of the young mothers I work with has spoken so regularly with her ex-boyfriend’s parole office, I think they’re going to start trading casserole recipes. She is very serious about keeping this guy away from the family.

Another woman, and her seven children, have a restraining order against the father. “Well, my oldest was home when he threw boiling oil at me, he tried to get her too.” Charming man.

Mom is done with the guy, according to her. He just got released from prison, so time will tell. Fortunately, she is taking the restraining order seriously. As much as she wants to let the kids see their father (and who wouldn’t?) they are all old sadly overly informed enough to understand what the order means. They don’t want their father going back to jail. So for the time being, they’re staying away. I hope that this gives us enough time to work with mom and the kids on the trauma they’ve been through, so that when this guy inevitably comes knocking on their door, they’ll be able to call the cops.

It’s infuriating, though. Everything is on the victims, as so often happens. They have to be the one to leave, they have to be the one to make the call. When they decide it’s time to go, they’re the ones who have to leave their support system, home, job, and schools behind to go into a shelter that’s a safe distance away. I don’t know what the better way to do it would be, exactly.

But I think a little pressure could be taken off these women. Who wants to have to share details of their abuse with a stranger, in order to be approved for a housing transfer?  Shouldn’t a police report be enough? Who needs to be berated by a judge or protective worker for staying with an abusive partner, and be told that the children are being put at risk? As if this mother didn’t know her own situation. Maybe men who do things like hit women or throw boiling oil at children should get the jail time they deserve. Maybe they should be the ones who have to move and give up their lives and comfort zone.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people prefer the term survivor. It’s empowering, I get that. But we also need to remember that these people, most often women and children, have been victimized, and need someone to fight for them until they are able to fight for themselves.

And in the meantime, we need to cope with our own frustrations to ensure we don’t tell people what they’ve always been told–it’s kind of your fault you’re in this situation, why don’t you just leave, you’re being a bad mother. Because we know that doesn’t work. So we need to do whatever works–walk, drink, talk, howl at the moon, start a snarky, angry blog, whatever.

I promise, that last one helps.





There are some things even awesome dance moves can’t excuse

5 04 2011

If you keep up on important current (not terribly current, as SocialJerk went Hawaiian and had no WiFi to post this last week) events, you’ll know that there’s a lot to be concerned about in this country. Number one on everyone’s mind, naturally, is this: Chris Brown is at it again.

A young, spoiled celebrity throwing a temper tantrum? Stop the presses, send in the social workers!

To be fair, this one applies. In recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more about domestic violence being a problem in young people’s romantic relationships. It’s not just for married people. And it’s not just physical. Teens are often jealous and possessive in their relationships, but professionals are being directed more and more to look closer, for the early signs of verbal and physical abuse.

It’s a topic that’s important to talk about, especially with teenage girls.

I was told once that I stereotype along gender lines. So let me put it out here right now–chill out I recognize that men can be the victims of domestic violence. I recognize that domestic violence happens in same sex relationships. But what I work with? Is women who have been beaten and otherwise abused by men. I also specialize in group work with teen girls, because 1) I like to laugh and 2) I am a glutton for punishment.

When the story first broke, just over two years ago, that 19 year old Chris Brown had punched and bitten his girlfriend Rihanna, my coworker and I saw it as an opportunity. We had a concrete way to talk about this important issue with our girls. And hey, they loved Rihanna! This should be easy.

We started with the infamous picture.

“I love Chris Brown, he mad sexy. And his music’s good.”
Yes, he’s a fine dancer as well, and I really enjoyed his version of “This Christmas.” It’s possible that Gaddafi is a fine painter and likes kittens, it doesn’t mean we should excuse what he’s done.

“Miss, I wouldn’t be surprised if she made those bruises look worse. Like, to get him in trouble.”
True. It’s everyone 21 year old woman’s dream to have her image plastered all over the internet, bloody and bruised.

“We’re not hearing about what she did. Like what she said, or if she hit him too.”
No, we don’t know if she hit him too. (“Hit him too” often translates to “covered her head to ward off the blows.) But we do know that there are photos of her injuries, while photos of Chris Brown’s are conspicuously absent. And, I’m sorry, but what exactly could she have done to have this coming?

“You don’t want a guy that’s gonna like, beat you, but you don’t want a guy that’s a pussy! You need someone who will push you around a little.”
That’s a quote from a 14 year old girl. Burned in my mind, I can never unhear it. Your only options are a guy that will hit you, or a weak man-child who will let you walk all over him. Choose wisely, everyone.

I’d always thought of abusive relationships as something that creeps up on people. Things start out well, you fall in love, then things get tense, someone gets jealous, then gets controlling, someone gets hit, someone apologizes, and the cycle starts again.

I might have gotten some of this from Lifetime movies starring Candace Cameron. Not the point.

I never thought of them as something that people see as inevitable. Call me naive, but I genuinely thought that my tough, sassy, take-no-BS-from-anyone girls would tell me just what they would do to a guy who laid a hand on them. Even if I didn’t have faith that they’d really leave right then, or hit him back until he begged for mercy. I was surprised that they didn’t even pretend.

They saw domestic violence as a part of life. Something that happens. Chris Brown’s statement after this was all made public played into this as well.

“Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired.”

Not, “I am sorry for what I did.” It transpired. It happened. The world spins, grass grows, SocialJerk is sarcastic. So it goes.

When someone sees a certain future as a certainty, it’s hard to dissuade them from that. It’s such a central part of our jobs, letting people know that they have options, and control over their lives. But it’s so hard to do. Especially in an hour a week, for three months, in group.

Maybe they pick up the idea, at least, that it’s not necessary, that there are relationships that exist without violence, and there are people who think that they deserve this.





Social Work Ruins Everything

12 10 2010

There, I said it. You know you were all thinking it.

I had a day off for Columbus Day yesterday. We don’t get paid terribly well, but the agency is pretty good about giving us meaningless holidays. (Or holidays that celebrate the slaughter of a people, if you want to get technical.)

I decided to finally watch “Gone With The Wind.” Somehow, I’ve never been able to sit through the four hour epic. I have family members who raved about it all my life, so I finally decided to see what the fuss was all about.

But social work ruined it.

I spent half of the movie wishing Scarlett would get into counseling. The domestic violence was shocking. Scarlett slaps everyone who will hold still long enough, and then puts up with Rhett knocking some sense into her through marital rape. (Ah, romance.)

Speaking of Scarlett and Rhett, can we say substance abuse? Those two liked their brandy, and they liked to drink alone. Not to mention the inadequate supervision that led to the death of their child. (Personally, I think naming a child “Bonnie Blue” should be grounds for terminating parental rights.)

Throw in a healthy smattering of sexism, (life is meaningless without a husband!) racism, (come on, those slaves were happy!) and the fact that I’m pretty sure Scarlett has a borderline personality, and there you have it. A social worker’s nightmare.

But it’s not just “Gone With The Wind.” Pop culture has gotten much more difficult to enjoy since getting my LMSW.

I felt left out upon noticing that my friends’ Facebook statuses were all about “Jersey Shore,” so I decided to check it out.

Big mistake. And not just due to my taking offense on behalf of the English language, and the entire east coast.

Sammi, you need DV counseling more than Scarlett. Let me call the hotline for you, they’ll pick you up and bring you to an undisclosed location. Ronnie will be upset, but he’ll get over it once he starts a new cycle of ‘roids cheats on you gets distracted by his own reflection gets into his individual counseling.

The Situation has a classic narcissistic personality disorder, and the entire house has fallen into a dangerous pattern of alcohol abuse. A visit to an open AA meeting could do these guys a world of good.

OK, so TV and movies are out. I mentioned my friends being on Facebook. That’s fun, right? Once I get beyond worrying that Mark Zuckerberg has Asperger’s, and if he could have benefitted from group therapy as a child?

No, because then my mind turns to cyber bullying. Facebook comes up a lot in sessions these days. Especially with young moms. Their baby daddy’s new girlfriend is always sending threatening messages, after my clients post incendiary photos or statuses.

My knowledge of Facebook privacy settings–limit their ability to view your profile! Block their status updates! Defriend! Defriend!–has become very important to my work.

Let’s try music. How about a concert?

Oh boy.

There are teenagers everywhere. Do we honestly think I can be surrounded by teens and avoid social working? They must all be in such conflict with their parents. Oh, identity vs identity diffusion! I hope their parents know where they are. Do any of these kids have PINS warrants? I bet some of them do. I’ll call my friend in family court, just to be safe. Hey, hey, hey, are you sexting, young lady?

This doesn’t leave much. At least the holidays are approaching, so I can spend some time with my extended family.

Shouldn’t be any opportunities for off-the-clock social working there.