Why can’t I just write “SJ=Awesome” and call it a day?

6 03 2012

This past January, I embarked on the exciting experience of filling out my third self evaluation as a proud employee of Anonymous Agency. In the interest of full disclosure, I actually got it done on January 31st. I can’t help it. Normally I have everything done early, weeks before the due date, so I can review and edit, because I’m a giant loser. I struggle, really struggle, with self evaluations, though. My supervisor wants to know why I have such a hard time giving myself credit. I attribute it to Catholic guilt.

Not to mention, I feel like I’m not saying anything substantial. It’s all about trying to make yourself look as good as possible, in order to secure a raise not get fired. Would anyone looking at my evaluation really get to know the real SocialJerk, as a social worker?

I’ve talked about honest progress notes, how about honest evaluations?


  • Sarcasm. Perhaps I should list that as “humor” but it’s important.
  • Writing. Not just snarky blog posts. I’ve seen the notes some other people hand in. You supervisors should be happy to have me. Allow me to demonstrate. “You’re standing over there, holding your dog. They’re standing over here, holding their dogs.” See what happened?
  • Not throttling teenagers.
  • Politely not running out of houses when animals relieve themselves in the living room, or it’s made known that there are bed bugs present.
  • Righteous indignation/rage. It keeps me going.
  • Baking. Are these all supposed to be work related?

Areas for development:

One, I love your phrasing. “Areas for development” is so much better than “stuff you suck at.” Now let’s see, stuff I suck at.

  • I need to stop feeling personally responsible when a family gets evicted, a child gets shot, or a kid skips school. I’m not omnipotent or omniscient, so I need to get the hell over it.
  • I buy candy at the bodega way too much. They know me and it’s getting embarrassing.
  • Maybe I don’t have to do all the work by myself. Or something.
  • Excessive tweeting at work.
  • I could work on my game face. Actually, I need to develop a game face. Apparently I’m quite expressive. Meaning, when I think someone is full of shit, it’s clear. In a field in which people are often full of shit, this isn’t always an asset.
  • Even if I think another worker is an idiot, I need to be able to work with him or her.
  • I make fun of my boss on the internet. This might not be productive.
  • Making excuses for people’s bullshit is not doing them any favors, it just enables their shitty behavior.
  • Not everyone has to like me.
  • Leaving on time is not leaving early. I say this but I don’t know it.
  • Similarly, getting in on time is not getting in late.

Goals for professional growth:

  • Get my LCSW. I know I’m within a few hundred hours of my needed two thousand, but counting them up is time consuming and scary and I don’t wanna. But I will. Also I have a love/hate relationship with standardized tests. I’m a good student, I LOVE being graded. However, part of why I’m a good student is that I freak myself out and convince myself I’m going to fail if I don’t study.
  • Stop rambling.

Of course, we’re not done. I don’t only need to evaluate myself. I need to evaluate Anonymous Agency, as a place to work.

Staff satisfaction survey:

1. Can you see yourself building a career here?

Well, that’s hard to say. I’ll be honest, it’s a little scary. I mean, I’m almost 30. My career should probably be building. Is it? At what point have I learned all that I can from this position? This was my first job out of graduate school. Will someone tell me when it’s time to leave the nest? Am I going to live in New York for the rest of my life? Will I have kids? Will I want to keep them if I have them? Is there someone in HR I can talk to about all of this? Was I just supposed to click “yes” or “no?”

2. Are you satisfied with your benefits?

Yes, I am. But if someone could actually make a dental appointment for me, I’d bump this up to very satisfied. I just can’t stop procrastinating! If they would spring for full sedation so I don’t feel the buzzy teeth cleaning, you guys would get a gold star.

3. Do you feel your salary is competitive with other similar agencies in the field?

Oh, you guys are good. Am I satisfied with my salary–fuck no. But is it competitive for social work? Sure is!

4. What is the best part of working here?

I have learned a lot from my great work experience and my amazing supervisor. There is opportunity for growth and this is a well run agency. I get tons of blog fodder. I love working with people at all different stages of deveopment, and with families as a whole rather than just as individuals.

5. What is the worst part of working here?

New Director led a two and a half hour staff meeting last week, and the only thing I remember is the 45 minute debate over what order progress notes should go into the files. Chronological, or most recent note on top. This was the worst part of everything that has ever happened to me.

Well, the results are already in. But there’s always next year.

I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your social worker

5 09 2011

I haven’t wasted any time in complaining about Anonymous Agency’s new director. I have to say, as time goes on…I stand by those complaints. It’s unfortunate. She has a lot of good experience, and some really good ideas to bring to our work. But there are two problems.

One, she seems to think that all of our problems can be solved with more paperwork. Contacts were low this month? Everyone now fill out a form listing how many times you saw your families this week. Purpose of your sessions unclear? All workers will now write in a separate note, detailing the plan for your session. Lunch not as delicious as it could be? Let’s all write up our various snack options to maximize its potential

Two, she loves staff meetings. She whispers sweet nothings into staff meeting’s ear. Staff meeting days are circled in her calendar and decorated with gold stars, and she cries when they’re over. She would marry staff meeting and have half social worker/ half meeting babies if she could.

I can’t effing stand staff meetings. I can count on one frostbitten hand the amount of times I’ve actually gotten anything out of them. Now we’re having bimonthly all-staff meetings and weekly unit meetings, in addition to weekly supervision.

Good thing I don’t have to see clients or anything.

Staff meetings are especially difficult for me because I’m bored, have a captive audience, and people tend to say ridiculous things.

It’s a perfect storm for SocialJerk smartassery. I have a very hard time keeping my sarcastic comments to myself. If I didn’t have such an innocent, young looking face, and if my comic timing was less than flawless, I’m pretty sure I would have been history long ago. (Brilliant social working notwithstanding.)

Maybe if I can get it all out here, it won’t be such  a problem.

First, everybody sign in. Write your full name and title. There are ten of us here now, it will be chaos without this step.

Now, let’s go over the agenda. We start with a welcome. Perhaps not strictly necessary, considering that with all the new workers and no new space, we’ve been sitting on each other’s laps, but it’s nice all the same.  Also there are refreshments. That’s what were calling those seven dead grapes that the budget allowed.

Next we’ll take a moment to acknowledge what we’ve done well this month. We’re invited to share our little successes. How fun. Berating everyone, and telling us that no matter what you do, it isn’t quite enough, is erased by this action. Social work/parenting principal number one. I would like to share that my hoodie matches my Chucks today, and that one of my twelve year olds referred to me as “her girl.” That made me feel hip. Oh, that’s not what you meant. All right, I got all my notes in on time. Right answer?


OK, now on to progress notes. We’ve all been doing these for years, but apparently we’ve been doing them entirely wrong. So we’re going to look at this sample progress note, flawlessly executed by our new fearless leader. She’s talking.

“Everyone just follow along. We start with who was present. Always include yourself. So we’ve got social worker, biological mother, and the children: Darryl, Jenna, and Stacy.”

When we do these fake examples, why don’t they at least make us laugh with the names? I would go with DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle. Something like that.

“All right. The purpose of this meeting was to address Darryl’s truancy and to follow up on…”

Is she…is she reading this out loud to us? Word for word? What the fuck is going on here? This is evil. Ma’am, we all have Master’s degrees, we can read what is in front of us.

“The interventions utilized were brief solutions focused therapy and active listening. SW engaged the family in…”

Active listening. That’s a funny term. I always feel like I should be doing an 80s Jazzercise video when I say that. “Run in place for twenty! Notice how I’m listening, but also staying active! It’s the social work fitness plan! Toe touches–one and two and–you were saying about your mother’s boyfriend molesting you?”

“The family responded well to this intervention. SW was able to assess…”

Funny how we always share an intervention that went well. Next time I’m called upon to do something like this I’m going to talk about the time the two teenage sisters I was sitting between started punching each other, and I had to yell, “If I get hit right now I’m going to be pissed, and then no one will be happy!” Is “use of mom voice” considered a clinical intervention?

“In our upcoming session, SW will follow up with the family on the tasks that were left to them and…”

When the hell was this ceiling last painted? Either there’s a dead body rotting upstairs or we’ve got some plumbing issues. How am I the only one who notices these things? Ooh, reggaeton blasting outside! No one will notice if I dance subtly, to myself, right?

Why is everyone looking at me expectantly? Oh shit, I was asked a question, wasn’t I.

What do I think? I think that a majority of the shit you’re telling us could be sent out in an email. I think that breaking things down to such minute detail is incredibly patronizing, and makes your staff feel that you have very little trust in them. I think addressing every mistake that anyone has made in the past month in this meeting embarrasses people, makes them feel unappreciated, and makes people feel that there’s no room for error and that they aren’t allowed to be human. I think you should listen to your staff and give them the opportunity to tell you what works.

You were just asking me to pass the grapes, weren’t you?

“Who would like to share with the class?” This jerk.

12 05 2011

I’ve always been a strong believer in volunteerism. The world isn’t going to change unless we get up and go! I also can’t stand awkward silences. When someone asks a question, I will be the one to respond when no one else will. In ninth grade biology, I was the only one who would admit to knowing the words “penis” and “vagina” and how to say them out loud.

Also, I can’t resist an audience.

These factors combined are what led to me offering to present a particularly difficult case during the agency’s monthly director’s meeting. Just me, standing in front of nine grown-ups people who make more money than me big bosses, explaining what I’m struggling with.

Shouldn’t I keep that to myself? I mean, should I be sharing with all of these people, some of whom could fire me, what parts of my job are really super hard?

But my supervisor asked, and no one said anything. Which led to my, “Oh. Well, I’ll do it. No problem.”

Famous last words? I think so, if Disney Adventures taught me anything.

We’re a fairly small agency, so I know most of the directors. We have also had some recent shake-ups, though, so there were two that I was meeting for the first time. One was a woman in her 40s who had a bedazzled shirt on and bore a striking resemblance to Tina Yothers. I love her. I hope that we can become best friends. The other was a man in his 50s, who I definitely did not catch looking down my shirt. No. That would be gross.

Then there was my direct supervisor, also wonderful. My director was there, redefining adequate as always. My director’s boss was running the meeting, and I’m pretty sure I remind her of her kids. So we’re cool. There’s the intake coordinator, who was my interim supervisor for a little while when the agency was between hires. She’s a Harry Potter nerd. So we’re extremely cool.

There are also the assorted others who are not interesting enough to warrant personal descriptions. They’re social workers, so they certainly have their quirks, but you can all use your imaginations.

Naturally, I broke out the therapeutic toys (that’s right, these guys) to represent the different family members. Like I said, I can’t resist an audience.

My supervisor asked me to present a very complex, closed-system, multi-problem family. Or, if we’re focusing on strengths, a large, close-knit, colorful bunch.

Nine kids, one grandchild, drug abuse, drug sales, truancy, sexual abuse, court involvement, a severely disabled child…a lot to get into. Whenever mom is asked what she wants, she responds with, “I want ACS out of my fuckin’ life.”

Seriously. She would not leave an ACS meeting until the worker included that on the service plan.

They’re very overwhelming, but I also love them. The kids are sweet, and love any individual attention they can get. They dote on the child with cerebral palsy. Mom, for all her anger, is pretty damn funny.

I don’t know if my affection for the family came through my nerves over speaking to all these directors. I always worry about this, with the bosses. Talking to my director makes me think that not doing direct service anymore can really shut a person down to the joys of social work, and being a part of someone’s life like this. There was never an appropriate moment to talk about watching a thugged out 19 year old ex-con carry his disabled sister off her school bus and up the stairs, all the while cooing at her and making her laugh. But that’s also an important part of who this family is.

Overall, yes, we focused on concerns. There was not as much time for strengths, though they were asked about, and discussed meaningfully. But I was impressed with the higher-ups. (Not the boob-looker, but the rest.) It would seem that, some evidence aside, not every here has just failed upwards. They knew what they were talking about, and offered some solid ideas. For concrete services, and approaches to therapy.

So maybe it’s possible to maintain your social work integrity and street cred as a supervisor. Realistically, I’ll be in that position some day. I’ve got the education and license, I guess I’m probably capable, and I need to do that if I ever want to live with fewer than three roommates. It’s nice to see that moving up in the world doesn’t have to mean being disconnected from casework, or forgetting where you came from.

Still–I am never volunteering again.

Moving on up! (But staying in the exact same place)

10 03 2011

I don’t know if you all heard the news, but I think it’s time to share. Here at Anonymous Agency, we’re expecting! That’s right. 150 new families, 13 new case planners, three new supervisors, and a new director.

At a time when a lot of social service agency are hemmorhaging workers, and losing funding to serve clients, we’re getting more. Why, you must be asking, could that be?

For one, we’re very, very good. I say that facetiously, but it’s true. We do good work. This place is less crazy than most agencies.

For another, our proposal promised to do a lot with a little. More than possible, some would say. (I mean, I wouldn’t say that. That would be termination worthy incorrect.)

We had a meeting the other day to discuss, what else, doing more with less. It’s been the topic of pretty much every staff meeting we’ve had since our old director who made us do group-building yoga exercises left.

The main problem is space. We’re getting a lot of new people. And we don’t have anywhere to put them. We’ll be able to use a large room down the hall, but that’s all we’re adding on, in terms of office, cubicle, and counseling space.

Let's try a helpful visual aid.

This is the office as we currently have it. Those smiley faces are workers. The smiley face with the long hair and eyebrow ring is your very own SocialJerk. The one with glasses that make him look like a ninja turtle is my desk mate.

These little diagrams were passed out a staff meeting, which the Big Boss attended. She frightens me. And when I’m nervous, I get extra sarcastic and try to be funny. It’s not the best defense mechanism, I admit.

She came in and told us that we would have to rework our floor plan. The large room down the hall will be divided in half, so one half can be used for groups, and the other can be used for case planners.

In the space we currently use, we would have to figure out how to cram in some extra cubicles, give the new supervisors the private offices that they so richly deserve, and not sacrifice all of our counseling space.

Now, if you ask me, the priority is counseling space. Yes, we need a place to do our paper work, and a spot to keep our files, but without counseling space, what’s the point?

Obviously, I’m an idiot.

“”Can the supervisors share offices?”
“Well, that would make supervision difficult.”
“But they’re not supervising all the time. Maybe they can work on sharing the space, come up with an arrangement.”
“I’m not sure that would work.”

I took “that won’t work” to mean, “We want our own damn offices, Snood isn’t going to beat itself.” I might have just been in a bad mood.

Then one of my coworkers suggested using a potential counseling room as a storage area. I’m sorry, are we running a big box store on the side? I understand that we have a lot of junk here, but let’s try to clear it out and keep what we need in actual closets.

How about our enormous filing cabinets? What if we attached a shelf over everyone’s desk, so they could lock and keep their files there?

“But where will be put the cabinets?”

It was the strangest descent into office life I’d ever experienced. It was as though I’d stumbled upon a primitive culture, who had no idea of the advances going on in the world around them. “That is the rock. The rock has always been there. We cannot move it.” For a moment, I comtemplated taking out my smart phone and convincing them to worship me as a goddess.

Every suggestion that was made, some Debbie Downer, or Negative Ned, I don’t care which one, piped in with why it was terrible. If we use partitions they won’t be soundproof, if we give away the donated clothes we won’t have them when we need them, turning cubicles that way might be a fire hazard, bunk desks are a dangerous and stupid idea, SocialJerk, stop suggesting that.

Somehow we developed impossibly higher standards for our new space. Even higher than the standards we currently have. (To be fair, you’ve seen pictures, our standards are pretty low.)

But changes are coming, whether we like it or not. One thing I’ve always loved about social work is that it allows me to creative and flexible in my practice.

So I’m still holding out for top desk.

“Have a blessed day.” “Maybe we could just shake on it.”

24 01 2011

I was raised Catholic. went through periods of time when I was angry with the Church, and wouldn’t go for a while, but I always found my way back.

It’s been a few years since that. I’m now pretty comfortable identifying as an atheist.

I try not to be an asshole about it. Let’s face it, a lot of people are. I hate constantly having to hear about how sunshine is actually the smile of Jesus upon us, but it’s equally annoying to have to listen to a diatribe about how the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t include “under God” until 1954 and our nation is being brainwashed.

Um, that’s nice, SocialJerk, but what does this have to do with social work?

Thank you for keeping me on topic.

Religion comes up a lot. It’s what The View would call a hot topic. Sometimes, it comes up more often than I think it should.

We always want to start where the client is. We want to work with what’s important to them, identify their natural support systems, and help them to help themselves.

For some people, religion is a big part of this. I worked with one woman whose church prevented her from being evicted by loaning her the money to pay off her rental arrears. Her son made a lot of friends in Sunday School after moving from Ghana. It gave them a community.

So we used that, as much as we could. I felt much better closing her case and stepping out of her children’s lives knowing that her religious community was there.

My director loved this. Because he loves him some Jesus.

There are bibles, theology books, crosses, and bible quotes decorating his office. It makes me a little uncomfortable, because it seems kind of strange for a secular agency. I know that it would throw me off  if I went there for counseling.

But I don’t say anything, because 1.) He signs my paychecks and 2.) I try not to be an asshole.

My director isn’t all that uncommon. People go into this field to help people. A lot of people are inspired by their religion to help. It’s what got me into a lot of volunteering and assorted other do-gooder-ness (that is definitely a word) when I was younger.

But when it comes to being where our clients are, we have to check it at the door. For reasons of self-determination, and not losing that sweet sweet city funding. Your journey to accepting the Lord was beautiful, I’m sure, but how is that helping this woman to enroll in a GED program?

I usually try to hold my tongue. Recently, at our staff holiday party (note my position in the “War on Christmas”) I felt like things went a little too far. I was told that we were waiting to serve the food until our director came in to lead us in prayer and a blessing.

I’m sorry, am I back at Girl Scout camp?

I had to register my discomfort. A couple of my workers looked mystified. Why would anyone object to a nice Christian prayer before a meal?

Why indeed. Once I said something, another person mumbled that, he “doesn’t do that,” and a sane Christian colleague informed them that a lot of people don’t pray, so if you want to, why not just do it to yourself?

I was looked at like the Grinch Who Stole Baby Jesus’ Birthday Party, but we were able to move on.

As happens so often, My So-Called Life accurately sums up my feelings on the matter. Angela Chase once questioned cheerleaders, saying, “Can’t people just like, cheer quietly? To themselves?”

During group supervision, it became an issue again.

A coworker was sharing a particularly tricky case. We were all throwing out possibilities for helping this family. Finally, Helpy McGee piped in with, “Just tell her to go to church!”

Being an expert passable social worker, I tried to reframe this.

“You mean, ask if she goes to church? If she can get some support there?”
“Yeah, and if she doesn’t go tell her to go. They’ll do a lot for them there.”

Holy government funding, Batman!

“Or you could tell her to become a lesbian. The LGBT community is so supportive!”

Even if this wasn’t against agency policy, and even if I didn’t find proselytizing to be distasteful, it’s bad social work practice. Nothing would make me run for the hills more than a suggestion that I “just go to church.” I don’t know if a worker who suggested that could ever do anything to make me feel that they understood me.

What works for you does not necessarily work for me. I am a social worker because I believe that people have a responsibility to care for one another, and that our government has a responsibility to its people. I believe in human dignity, and that no one (except maybe the cast of the Jersey Shore) is beyond help.

God doesn’t factor in for me. And I’m fine with that.

I hope that my colleagues are as well.

It’s like I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is staff meeting

10 12 2010

Social workers love communication. We tell our clients to do more of it with their families, their friends, and we’re probably even a pain in the ass about it with our own social circles. (Not me, but you get the idea.) We can solve anything if we just talk it out. This even applies to our office issues.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for a damn fine staff meeting.

We have them around here about once a month or so. For two hours we gather in the largest session room, that is normally reserved for group, and really hash things out. Then a coworker presents a family for group supervision, and we clear out.

Or we sit cramped together, complaining about the fact that pastries are no longer provided due to budget cuts, while our director voices our complaints and explains why nothing can be done about them. Then we listen while someone else talks about their impossible case, offer feeble suggestions, and leave feeling more overwhelmed and defeated than when we walked in.

We just had one of these meetings today. Allow me to walk you through our agenda.

  1. Cultural assessment in service plans– We need more, because this is what was cited in our last audit. Let me clarify–I recently submitted a service plan with a family assessment that included the family’s ethnicity, language, religion, and how they spend the holidays. Apparently if we’re not listing what traditional dances are done in their country of origin, we are lacking.
  2. Security in the office. This is a big one, since we’ve had two break-ins in the past two months. I was actually told to stop coming in early, so I wouldn’t be alone in the office, because things have been heating up.
    A little background–we are located in the “Little Italy” section of the Bronx, which is actually incredibly culturally diverse now. Not to mention a pretty rough area. It’s also where “A Bronx Tale” was set. So in addition to the regular street violence, there’s something a bit more…organized going on around here. (If you didn’t guess, I am, in fact, winking.)
    Our director tells us that we should feel safe, because we work upstairs from the “Italian Social Club.” Those guys are known to provide protection. (Apparently we’re ignoring the break-ins, for the moment.) He tells us that they’ve known for years what goes on around here. Surely we all remember when that man got out of a limo, went into the murder Social Club, and left with a bag of money? Oh, and the man was wearing a cape.
    I’ll let you mull that one over for a moment.
  3. Mundane office issues- There was a slew of these that I won’t bore you with, even though I had to suffer through them. Get more groups going, plan the Christmas parties, make more contacts…basically, everyone do more work. (I think I’ll have to remind him he told me not to come in early.)
  4. Finally, we got to group supervision. Which essentially means that we are all now worrying about a woman who has six kids, four of whom are in foster care, while the other two have severe mental health and behavioral issues. I guess it’s fair, though. Our director told me that I depressed the entire office the last time I presented a difficult case.

OK. I think you can see that this certainly was helpful, yes? Let’s get out there and help some people. On three…break!