Social Workers on Film

4 09 2012

Everyone’s favorite foster care blogger, Fosterhood, talked way back in the day (what, I have a long memory) about how inappropriate the movie “Heidi” turned out to be for children in foster care. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. You have fond memories of a something from your childhood, show it to the children in your life, then realize how bizarre it was for you to have ever  enjoyed this.

Like when my mother read “The Velveteen Rabbit” to my brother and me, and had two sobbing children on her hands. (We were only three and five, but that book is sad.) Or when my aunt thought the 1970s version of The Poseiden Adventure would make for a great family night, for the kids too young to go see Terminator 2. Her eight year old daughter cried for hours, and swore off nautical adventures for a lifetime. And I haven’t showed it to a kid yet, but I watched Labyrinth a whole lot as a child. That movie’s alternate title is “”David Bowie’s Balls. Also Puppets!”

It’s even more complicated when you have children who are in foster care, or in some other sort of shitty familial situation. You don’t always know how they’ll react. When one of my girls was in a psychiatric hospital, the book Precious started going around, and eventually they did a movie night. Yes, some girls related, but it was also traumatizing and offensive to others. Sorry, but no one wants to hear, “Precious? That movie totally reminded me of you!”

Movies are tricky. Stories geared towards children have a profound fascination with horrible lives for children. Harsh orphanages, evil stepparents, and more dead mothers than you can shake a stick at. Plus tons of young women who see a man as their savior. I mean, come on Cinderella. You could have made bank if you worked with the mice to start your own fashion line, instead of chasing after a prince you hardly know.

On the subject of Disney, my goodness do they deserve credit for getting better. Mulan, Tiana…I can think of way worse role models.

I’m trying to determine which are good, which are maybe all right, and which should be avoided at all costs.

Big Daddy

I’m putting this in the avoid like the plague column, and not because it’s Adam Sandler. Though I do think we kind of said all we need to say right around Happy Gilmore. I saw this movie in theaters with my aunt and two cousins, both of whom are adopted. Everyone was just a little uncomfortable. The kid getting dropped off at the door, about to be snatched away until a biological parent (genes trump all!) shows up out of nowhere. It was a weird message.


I’m listing this one as “OK.” In the negative column, kids should not be expecting a bald millionare to swoop in and rescue them. There’s also a lot of talk about unwanted orphans and them being used for cheap labor. On the other hand, it’s a period piece. Things were shitty in the 1930s, and now they’re shitty in a totally different way! Annie doesn’t magically find a way to be happy by discovering a living relative (like in that unforgiveable Shirley Temple version of A Little Princess) but she makes it work. And you can totally convince your kids to clean your house until it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building, because they’re “playing” Annie! Trust me on that last one. I was so foolish.


No no no no no no no. One of the mothers I work with was planning to become a foster parent. Her eight year old biological daughter saw this movie, and became convinced that any foster child that came to them would be a murderous dwarf.

Despicable Me

This one does feature the orphan warehouse trope that I don’t care for, and kids being brought back from whence they came, so it’s questionable. But overall, I think it’s ok. We wind up with a non-traditional, imperfect, happy family. And SocialJerk kids love those minions.

Problem Child

I watched this a LOT. I borderline aspired to be like it. Whatever, it was the 90s. But the message that your parents will “return you” if you’re bad is not one anyone needs. There should be a secure attachment test in order to see it.

Lilo & Stitch

This might be my strongest yes. Not just because this movie is freakin awesome and hilarious. Not even because it features a social worker named “Cobra Bubbles.” (Though it does. It really, awesomely does.) The story is about a (non-white) little girl in kinship care. Of course there’s still the reopening of the scary social worker coming to check on them and maybe take the kid away, but at least for once she isn’t in an old school orphanage that more closely resembles a modern animal shelter. And the fact that the social worker is genuinely trying to help, while being a total badass comes across nicely. It also ends with the line, “This is my family. I found them all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.”

I mean, come ON!

Country Bears

Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen this movie. You know, because it’s based on a Disney ride and isn’t the first Pirates of the Caribbean. I just remember the commercial, in which a bear asked his human family, “Mom? Am I adopted?” To which she replied, “What? Of course not!” I think I remember it so well because of the tear my aunt went on about the idea of denying that your kids are adopted like it’s something bad. So no.

Hunger Games

This movie is not about kids in foster care, for once, but it is about a couple of kids with a profoundly shitty situation. I can think of a whole bunch of parentified children who can relate to an absent dad and mentally ill mom, fight to the death notwithstanding. It’s relatable, but also clearly fantasy, so it’s not too much. And girls can totally kick ass and shoot arrows.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I love Lemony Snicket. So does just about every kid I know. It’s exactly what it sounds like. These kids’ lives are unpleasant. But the real theme of the move (and the books) I think, can be summed up in the following quote: “And that might seem to be a series of unfortunate events, may, in fact, be the first steps of a journey.” Yes. Things are rough, but we’re moving forward.

Of course, whenever in doubt, just stick with everyone’s favorite magic orphan.

Nobody worry, I’m back! Please hold the confetti.

27 03 2012

I’m sure this past week you all sat at your computers, despondent and tearing your hair out due to lack of SocialJerk updates.

No? Maybe a little? I’m being told you were actually all fine. Well, all right then.

Point is, I was gone. For a week. Vacation is important for people in stressful jobs. Unfortunately, “social worker” didn’t make it onto Tina Fey’s work related stress level chart, but I think we’re somewhere between “business guys who do stuff with money” and “managing a Chili’s on a Friday night.” We need to vacate every so often, in order to maintain our sanity.

So the boyfriend and I packed it up for a few days in Orlando. That’s right, Disney, Universal Studios, Pirate’s Cove mini golf, and lots of churros. It’s not what you would necessarily call a relaxing vacation, of course. First of all, the girl who wrote this went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I saw Hagrid’s hut, drank pumpkin juice, toured Hogwart’s, and pretty much turned into Kristen Bell meeting a sloth.

Plus there are crowds, heat, lines, and children. Some moments make you think, “aw, doing this with kids would be so fun!” But more make you think, “thank Jesus we’re the weird adults waiting way too long for the Peter Pan ride.”

You see a lot of sweet family moments, and a lot of nominees for the Terrible Parenting Hall of Fame. (It’s located in Cleveland.) Your two year old is having a tantrum after spending a fourteen hour day in direct sunlight with no nap? Why, that’s practically unheard of! You’re encouraging your seven year old to stomp on adult’s feet to cut to the front of the line at the Haunted Mansion? I can’t identify a single bad lesson there, good work!

But through all the exhaustion, all of the instances of wishing people wouldn’t try to sneak their kids onto rides they’re too little for, there’s one think you have to love–kids are enthusiastic. Whether it was the nine year old next to me on the Test Track at Epcot, yelling, “Now that’s what I call a roller coaster!” or the six year old next to me on the Tower of Terror gleefully informing me that she didn’t scream at all (I could not say the same) kids enjoy things to the fullest and let you know what they’ve achieved. They’re not worried about looking dumb.

It stops at some point. They become cool. Or at least, they want to be. And there’s nothing worse than a child trying to be cool. At one point, in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, I looked to my left and saw a four year old dressed in a full Buzz Lightyear costume. He was in heaven and thought he looked amazing. Directly in front of me were three overindulged pre-teens, saying to their father, “Oh my God, this is just birds talking? Can we go? Whose idea was this?”

Yeah, it’s birds talking. It’s awesome, kid, and you’ll do better to enjoy it.

Because taking a vacation from thinking about work would actually make my brain explode, of course I had to relate it back. This probably most accurately sums up what I love about working with children, before they get prematurely interested in dating and therefore way too concerned about looking cool. They just think they’re good at everything. We always talk about what a person’s strengths are in social work. Ask an eight year old what they’re good at. I hope you have a while. All five year olds are good at drawing. Maybe two of my friends will say they are. Singing, dancing, acting, playing the kazoo, training dogs, doing imitations of cartoon voices? All viable career options for the under ten year olds I work with, based on their stunning talents.

Then I ask my teenagers. As much as I love them, the answers of what they’re good at are decidedly different. (Unless they’re trying to be brash and obnoxious, but you can tell they don’t really mean it.) “Um, I don’t know. What do you mean, what am I good at?” “Nothing, not really.” “I guess I do well in school?”

So, some of my favorites, in no particular order.

1.) Back at Anonymous Youth Center, I had the five to nine year olds out on the playground. A seven year old boy came up to me, unprovoked, to let me know, “I’m really good at running backwards. See, like this.”

He then proceeded to run. Backwards. I’ll be honest, it was mediocre. Because no one is good at running backwards. But he was thrilled to pieces and way proud of himself.

2.) More recently, at Anonymous Agency, one of my eight year old girls started talking about her dreams from the future after a counseling session. “Do you want to hear me sing? I want to be professional. Like, on The Voice.”

As we walked through the office, back to the waiting room where her mom was, past all of my coworkers whom she had never met, she sang something I now unfortunately know to be “Baby” by Justin Bieber. (I’m not linking to it. You’re welcome.) This kid sang with one finger on her ear, because that’s how Christina Aguilera does it.

3.) A six year old girl, when I was an intern, told me, “I think I want to be an archaeologist and a chef and a ballet dancer. But also, I should be an artist, because I’m the best at drawing.”

She owed it to the world.

4.) A nine year old boy insisted on reciting his times tables to me, because he was the only one who had memorized all the way up to twelve. It took a long time, but I was pretty damn impressed.

5.) “Breakdancing? I’m really good at breakdancing!” A ten year old boy, who of course got down on the ground to dance in the waiting room. He was undeterred by the fact that no one had mentioned breakdancing.

My social work advice for the week? If you’re feeling down and bored, try for a minute to look at the world and yourself through the eyes of a latency age child. There’s probably something to get excited about.

If not, find a child to laugh at. That should work too.

It’s Harry Freakin’ Potter!

14 07 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Potter is no exception.

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

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

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

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

On to our favorite wizards and witches.

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

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

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

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