SWAAFI (Social Workers Against Acronyms, for Irony)

17 06 2011

In high school, my friends and I went through the early motions of starting an official group called, “SAA: Students Against Acronyms.” We thought we were smart and funny. I’d say we were half right, but it seems like a bit too much credit. We were also lazy, so it never got off the ground.

Little did I know that my future would be AF. That’s acronym filled, for those of you not in the know.

Social workers, or SWs, as I refer to them in my progress notes, simply adore acronyms. We use them in the referral process, in writing up intakes, assessments, and service plans. That all makes sense. Condense everything as much as possible, because we’ve got enough to talk about.

Family was referred by ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) following a CPS (Child Protective Services) investigation. BM (Biological Mother, not Bowel Movement, though it always makes me giggle) reports a history of DV (Domestic Violence) with BF (Biological Father.) MGM (Maternal Grandmother) took custody when children were placed in FC (foster care.) BM (tee hee) denies a history of MH (Mental Health) and SA (Substance Abuse.) Contact information for the children’s GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) is included.

Oh dear. So much work to be done. I’ll have to include it all in my FASP (Family Assessment Service Plan.) What if BM (sorry, it’s still funny) wants to pursue a PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) warrant on the oldest teen? Is the family receiving PA (Public Assistance)? BM (OK, I’m done) is attending a BTW (Back To Work) program, but she missed a few days because her ACD (I honestly don’t even know) child care voucher didn’t come through. If they’re sanctioned, she might need an EVR (Eligibility Verification Review) and that’s a huge pain in the ass. Are they asking for a PE (Psychiatric Evaluation) for any family members? Did we talk to the CM (Case Manager)? Or was it the CW (Case Worker)?

Do any of the children identify as LGBT? Is the family going home to DR for the summer? Do the kids know their ABCs? Are they posting on FB? Do I have time to stop for cash at the ATM? What did I get on my SAT?

After a while, you start to go a bit mad. (We all go a little mad sometimes.)

Using these acronyms says something. It says, hey, I’m busy and important! I have things to say, and very limited time in which to say them. It also might say that you’re well-versed in the world of Twitter.

The acronyms say more than that, though. As I’ve said, social workers are insecure and annoying. Speaking in jargon lets people know that we know the system. I am a professional, dammit! I know what I’m talking about. Oh, you have to ask what PINS or CASAC means? I’ll explain it. And you will recognize that I know more than you.

This sends a message, and often not the message we want to send. I’ve seen workers, social workers and protective workers, or psychiatrists and case managers, or any other variation of well-intentioned helpers, talk in circles in front of their clients. Most of the clients we work with know public assistance lingo. They often know some child protection speak, as well. Odds are, they aren’t familiar with all of it, though. Public assistance, child protection, mental health…it’s a lot of language to be up to speed on.

I felt incredibly out of place when I first started in this field. I thought I sounded like an idiot when I had to ask what one of these things meant. I try to keep that in mind, before I drop initials on a client. I can’t stand when doctors prattle on in medical terminology about…whatever it is they do (I don’t often go to doctors, but I did watch ER) and act like a patient who never saw the inside of a medical school should know exactly what they mean.

I think it does us all well to remember what it’s like to feel like the newbie, like the dumbest person in the room. Some of us feel like that more often than others, but that’s not the point. There are reasons we sound like this sometimes. Sometimes it becomes second nature, sometimes we want to sound like we know the drill, sometimes we try to make ourselves look better than an obnoxious worker, or someone talking down to us.

But sometimes, being so comfortable with the jargon shows how comfortable we are on the inside track, which makes others feel that they’re on the outside. Sometimes making ourselves look better makes someone else look worse.

SA, DV, MH and the rest aren’t technical terms, but they are confusing when you’re the new guy, as a worker or a client. And to be honest, since we’re all friends here–they’re kind of obnoxious. Occasionally, they make us sound like a bunch of douches.

So please, join me in fighting back. Talke back entire words along with me. I’ll be emailing out an invite to SWAAFI later today. Let me know if you want me to CC you.

“Social workers suck.” That about sums it up.

4 11 2010

The term “social worker” doesn’t arouse warm and fuzzy feelings in most people. The search terms that direct people to this blog are a pretty good indication: “bad social workers,” “social workers suck,” “social workers don’t know anything,” and “what to do about a bad social worker?” are some of my favorites. (Aside from “black guy from Yo Gabba Gabba” and “elderly tracksuits,” but those are really off topic.)

I blame the damn media. (This is where my similarities to Sarah Palin begin and end.)

We get it in news reports. The death of a child at the hands of an abusive caretaker is horrifying, infuriating, and also rare. It rightly causes outrage, and finger-pointing.

Without delving too much into what is no doubt a very complex issue, there is a lot of failure that goes into a child being so horribly abused. Parents, schools, the bureaucratic child welfare system as a whole, and child welfare workers–that includes caseworkers, social workers, and supervisors.

Listening to commentators on the subject (I think we all know that there’s no better way to drive yourself to tear your hair out than to listen to opinions on talk radio) the only people who need to be held accountable are those lazy, disinterested social workers. You know, the ones who take children from good parents, and leave kids to rot in abusive foster homes? Somehow they always get it wrong.

Where does this stereotype come from?

I remember watching ER in college. My roommate was a nursing major, and she couldn’t get enough of it. It almost started growing on me, until the first social worker appeared.

She coldly insisted that a child with a couple of bruises be removed from his loving parents’ home, while the dashing Dr. Carter begged for her to see reason. She explained, still with no emotion, that she “had no choice.”

You see, social workers get caught up in red tape. Interns in public emergency rooms? They just follow their hearts.

Then there are the movies.

I Am Sam? Poor Sean Penn Sam just wanted to win an Oscar raise his daughter with no reliable assistance even though he was ill equipped. Then that evil social worker shows up. And let’s face it, all social workers know that child removals simply don’t count unless they are done at said child’s birthday party. It just wouldn’t be as fun, otherwise. Thank goodness for lawyers! They show us the way back to our humanity.

Cartoons aren’t even exempt. Lilo & Stitch? OK, so Cobra Bubbles is a badass name for a social worker, but he is also rigid and judgmental. Apparently he comes around at the end, but he’s not really a shining example.

There are a lot fewer positive examples of social workers in the media. There are almost none that do anything other than remove children from their homes. My personal favorite was Detective Lacey Tyne Daly on Judging Amy. A flawed character on a flawed series, but she portrayed a social worker who loved children and consistently went above and beyond for them. It was always comforting for me to be able to see that, to remind myself of why I was working to become a social worker.

There aren’t many places I get that now. I was intrigued to see Maryann on season two of True Blood described as a social worker, and honestly, she’s my current favorite. Sure, she’s manipulative, dishonest, supernatural, and she caused a nice small town to erupt into spontaneous orgies.

But who hasn’t?