Objective: to get the hell out of here.

24 09 2012

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, and aren’t sexy spambots (which sound much more interesting than they actually are) will know that I haven’t been thrilled to pieces at work lately.

I was supposed to get my first intern this month, and simultaneously start the class that teaches and qualifies one to supervise. (In social work, we learn as we go, and not a minute before!) This was supposed to happen in September. As you might have noticed, September is drawing to a close, and I’m not freaking out about a grad student being smarter than me or complaining about this class being useless. Something must have gone wrong.

My director, the boss of my fabulous supervisor and underling of my fabulous regional director, came to me to say, “You’re not getting an intern. I sent the paperwork in late. We can try again next year.” That is a direct quote. She then shrugged and walked away.

Here’s a tip: if you’re telling someone that you couldn’t be bothered, for no apparent reason aside from laziness, to do a very simple thing that would be very important for their career, do not end with a shrug.

Let’s just say she’s lucky there were no leftover water balloons from the agency picnic.

It was only one thing. A big thing, granted, as it pushes me back a year in something that’s important and necessary for my future in this field. It also delays my coworker, who was supposed to be the one getting an intern next year. (We only have room for one at a time. I have to respect Anonymous Agency for not pulling the old “we’ll figure it out when they get here, no one mention that this was a broom closet!” trick.)

But it’s kind of pushed me over the edge. Not in the sense of spinning in my chair making barnyard animal sounds on the job, but in feeling pushed out the door, and getting my resume together. Seriously, this time.

What makes our jobs bearable?

For the most part, Anonymous Agency is a good place to work. Benefits and vacation time are good, the place is well regarded, I’m comfortable there, and I have a lot of respect for most people who work above me.

The fact that one person can counteract all that kind of drives me crazy. But feeling like someone doesn’t give you a second thought, and has no respect for your ideas, goals, and schedule, goes a long way.

Now, what does this remind me of?

I’m always telling myself that I have to bear in mind that I’m up against every negative experience a client has ever had with a social worker. Or case worker. Or psychiatrist. Or anyone else who was supposed to help.

We’re different. We’re not like those workers. We care about our clients, and treat them with respect. We know it, and we’ll show it.

Sometimes things come up. Sometimes the bus makes us late, we have to call in sick, a school visit goes way too long and it takes us a while to return a call. Sometimes, for all our efforts, we can’t get a kid a mental health appointment for months. Even worse, sometimes we make mistakes, or forget things.

It seems unfair that this makes all the good fly out the window. Why can no one focus on the positive?!

Especially when someone is coming off of a string of bad experiences, the negative just weighs more. We have to remember that, even when it’s not fair. It takes a lot of good to make up for mistakes.

As my dear director taught me, owning and apologizing goes a long way. If she had said, “I dropped the ball, I’m really sorry,” I still would have been upset. Objectively, some damage had been done. But I wouldn’t have felt the betrayal and disregard for me as a person. If this had been an anomaly in her behavior, I would be able to move on. It wasn’t, so she needs to be ready to lose her most dedicated blogger worker.

We’re going to make mistakes in our work, as social workers and as supervisors. We can get over them if we recognize what’s going on. If we’re too busy being defensive and thinking about ourselves, we won’t.

More importantly, is anyone hiring?

“Take Time for Yourself!” WHEN?!?!

29 09 2010

For as long as I’ve been preparing to be a social worker, people have been preparing me for burnout. Back when I was an undergrad, I would mention that I wanted to work in child welfare. “How long do you think you can do that for?” people would ask.

The implication was always that this is not work that one can do for long. I’ve listed the reasons once or twice: bureaucracy, long hours, low pay, large caseloads, depressing situations, excessive amounts of giraffes…

Sorry, just wanted to be sure you were paying attention.

They talk about it throughout Psycho Beach Party social work school. If you’re at a halfway decent agency, they’ll also talk about it once you begin work. The phrase of the day is “self-care,” which is not nearly as dirty as it sounds.

Though I suppose it could be.

The idea is to take time for yourself. Do things to ensure that you aren’t taking your work home with you. Relax. Take a vacation.

Except you have to work those long hours, and you don’t get paid enough to take much of a vacation. (Though that Barbie kiddie pool on my roof served me rather well during the dog days of summer, thank you very much.) A day at the spa is kind of a tall order when you’re budgeting to pay off student loans so much that Wheat Thins seem like an outlandish luxury.

But still we try.

When I was an intern, I attended what was possibly the most hilarious training on sexual abuse that has ever occurred. That’s right, I said it. And I stand by that statement.

This training was run by a well-meaning lunatic who had established herself as somewhat of an expert in treating girls who had been sexually abused. It was actually a series of trainings, and this particular session was dedicated to, you guessed it, self care.

Working with someone who has gone through or is going through something like that can be very draining. It affects everyone, and if you don’t address it, you’re going to break down and quit sometime soon.

This woman thought it would be helpful if we all shouted out ways we have of “de-stressing.” Soon, the designated note-taker’s hand was flying.

“Go shopping.”
“Call my mom.”
“Listen to music.”
“Dip bread in oil.”
“Get a mani-pedi.”

Ah yes, because nothing takes the edge off incest like a mani-pedi. Seriously? Yes, these stupid things can help us to relax. But I don’t think I need to sit around and share these earth-shattering notions with my coworkers. Hell, during that hour (yes, sixty full minutes) that we spent creating this list, we could have gone out for a shot of Jack walk.

It was even more helpful when we each got a copy of that list, typed up and placed in our mailboxes. Trees died for this.

Our supervisors tell us that they’re concerned about our welfare, and don’t want us to burn out. I believe them. I know that they don’t want to replace staff, and I believe that, for the most part, they care about their workers as people. But I’ll believe it even more when they do something about it.

Rather than email out a list of fifteen new requirements, including extra assessment tools to be completed, more required home visits, and larger caseloads, ending with the sentence, “And remember, our jobs are difficult. Take time to take care of yourself.”

What do social workers and apples have in common?

17 08 2010

Turnover! Get it? OK, I apologize for that one. I was reaching.

Social work has all of the job characteristics that make people run for the hills. (In this instance, “the hills” means “private practice in Westchester.”) The pay is low. The hours are long. The work can be dangerous. It is emotionally and psychologically draining. Clients are difficult. Co-workers are usually twice as crazy.

It’s a tale all too familiar with social workers. You show up your first day. You meet your office mates, the people you’ll be sharing cubicle space with for forty sixty hours a week. You’re shy, hesitant at first. But eventually you let your guard down, perhaps over a yogurt in the counseling space that doubles as a break room. Friend requests are sent and accepted. You begin mocking poking gentle fun at your boss and nuttier coworkers.

And then one day it’s over. That person is leaving for the greener pastures of mental health services, public schools, or whatever it may be. After having your work-heart broken so many times, you stop opening up.

For some reason, though, this only happens with the people you like. The people you can’t stand seem to defy all of the conventional rules and norms, and remain in the same agency for eternity.

It’s not only hard on the workers, of course. The clients are the ones who really have to deal with this.

“OK, here’s your new worker. Get to know her, share your life story and trauma with her. Oh, wait, she got offered another position. No, I can’t tell you where. She’s gone. This is your new, new worker. Why yes, she is six months pregnant. Oh look, there’s the baby. Here’s your interim worker. Why are you looking at me like that? You’ll be fine.”

I remember reading stories about things like this. A social worker being such a part of a person’s life, and then leaving when the worker is still needed. People writing their memoirs of their tough inner-city upbringing and eventual triumph into sports/music/business usually have one or two of these tales to share.

I always said I would never do that. But what choices do we have? Sometimes, it’s time to move on. We can’t wrap up every case before that time comes. We can’t hold on to clients forever, and we shouldn’t want to. There will always be people we could have helped more, or at least wish we could have. Maybe that’s what those workers who stay in the same position forever are thinking. Maybe this is what they’re trying to avoid.

I just hope that whoever has been taking my granola bars out of the fridge moves on damn soon.