I think we can continue being polite, and start getting real

24 01 2013

We have reached a point in society where everyone is entitled (or required, I’m not sure) to be featured on a reality television show. Groups of rednecks, guidos, wealthy men’s girlfriends,angry chefs, and spoiled rich children are given a lot of money to let cameras follow them around while they embarrass their mothers. For some reason, they are able to parlay this into getting paid to go to clubs and creating signature fragrances. Most painfully for frustrated writers, they get listed as “New York Times bestelling authors” thanks to their ghostwritten books.

I’m not one of those people who doesn’t watch reality television because I’m so smart and better than that. “What? I’ve never even heard of that show. I don’t have cable, I just watch Downton Abbey.” (Side note: stop saying you don’t have a television set. You have a laptop, the internet is TV now. It’s like Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall saying he quit wearing a watch when he moved to Hawaii. Because there’s a clock on his cell phone.) I enjoy some reality shows. Where else can you watch a grizzled backwoods septuagenarian tell a class of horrified third graders about his experience in Vietnam? Or gain empathy for what meter maids in west Philadelphia go through in the course of a day’s work?

I would never describe myself as a “reality TV junkie.” I lose interest fairly quickly and can never remember anyone’s name, and I generally prefer to watch Kathy Griffin make fun of people instead of watching them myself. But it’s good to keep up on these things. I would have been completely lost in my last girls’ group if I didn’t know what “The Bad Girls Club” was, or who the characters on “The Jersey Shore” are assaulting these days. It allowed for some teachable moments. I also worked with a boy who updated me on “Basketball Wives” weekly. Whatever, I was starting where my client was.

Everyone now thinks that their family, social circle, or workplace are wacky enough to earn them a spot on Bravo. Most of them are wrong. You’re rarely quite as funny, fucked up, interesting, or original as you think you are.

Except for social work agencies. If it weren’t for that stupid, stupid confidentiality, we would probably have our own network.

The Real World (back when it was interesting and not a cry for help) taught us that there are specific types of “real people” that go into making compelling reality television. Sheltered Christian, Politically Engaged (otherwise known as Angry) Black, The Feminist, The Women Who Enjoys Sex (otherwise known as The Slut), The Gay, and The One Trying to Launch a Rap/Comedy/DJ Career.

It’s a little different in social work, but the archetypes are still there. We wouldn’t even have to involve the clients.

The Veteran

This person has been in the field for decades and has seen a whole lot of changes. They often call the local child welfare agency by the acronym they haven’t gone by since the 70s. They alternate between feisty attempts to change the system and (probably) napping in their office. That office is so dusty it makes SJ itchy, by the way.
Catchphrase: “I’ve been doing this since before you were born!”

The Secretly Sassy One

This person is a hardworking professional. They grew up near the community based organization where they now work, and occasionally allude, in a cryptic manner, to their high school days of brawling in the streets. This person invokes the tough guy/gal persona only as needed.
Catchphrase: “She hung up on me? If this was 1992 I woulda told her…you know what, let me stop.”

The Shit Stirrer.

I never thought about how gross that phrase was until just now. Anyway, this is the one who always has some gossip. Often an administrative assistant. They’re the first to know when someone is getting fired, going on maternity leave, making the higher-ups unhappy, or feeling that their group co-leader isn’t pulling their weight. They don’t want to cause trouble, they just mention what they’ve heard.
Catchphrase: “Pfft, I don’t know anything, I’m just telling you what she said.”

The Secret Client

This is the worker who is straight scary, and is often assumed to be in the office because he or she is seeking services. She talks about threatening to come at ten year old bipolar children and thinks that some clients just need to get their asses whooped.
Catchphrase: “You don’t know me!”

The Twenty Three Year Old

This worker is fresh out of school and is ready to implement all of their lessons. They’re here to listen, to join, to be where the client is, and generally change the world. They’re politically engaged. The Secretly Sassy One sometimes wants to punch her perkiness in the face.
Catchphrase: “This reminds me of something my public policy professor said.”

The Gay

Sometimes the Real World gets it right.
Catchphrase: “Another mom tried to set my up with her niece.”

Open casting starts next week.

Teens are fad-ulous.

26 04 2012

I was fourteen years old when Bill Clinton was impeached. It was a changing moment in every young woman’s life. Well, that’s what I was told by the elderly nun who taught my global studies class. I just thought the world had gone crazy.

On a day home sick in 9th grade, I indulged in that grand sick day tradition–day time television. It’s offensive, it’s terrible, it’s an overall delight. The ladies of The View were yammering on and talking over each other about the negative effects that the impeachment was having on our society’s youth. Yes, like me having to hear Sister Marie talk about the sanctity of the Oval Office being desecrated by “the oral sex?”

No. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Kids are blowing each other left and right.


I also heard this on an episode of Boston Public. (Anyone else remember that? I had the misfortune of watching it with my parents. That was awesome.) In the episode, a couple of students were busted while engaging in the oral sex. They explained that they weren’t doing anything intimate, and one of the kids was running for class president, so it was cool, y’know?

The kind of dialogue written by someone who last spoke to a teenager when they were one. And even then, the conversation was brief.

All of a sudden, everyone was hysterical about how every kid my age couldn’t go a day without going down on a casual acquaintance. I was confused, because I was a kid my age. I wasn’t doing any of these things, and neither were any of my friends. Some people were, but they seemed to be pretty quiet about it, and I doubt their behaviors would have changed if Sister Marie had been president. Certainly, no one I knew had talked to Barbara Walters about any of it.

When I got older, I heard new stories about trends started by this new, terrifying generation.

Law & Order informed me that every child on my caseload had at least attended, if not hosted, a “rainbow party.” That’s when all of the girls wear a different shade of lipstick, perform oral sex on a boy, leaving a rainbow behind. (The logistics of this make no sense and I can’t believe it was ever featured on network television.) Though they might have been too busy at a pill party, when they cleaned out their parents medicine cabinets, dumped the pills in a bowl, and passed it around like Karen Walker party mix. All while wearing bracelets that indicate what sexual activities they’ve engaged in recently (probably sexting), which gained them entrance into their morning after pill based sex cult.

None of this applies to my children’s lives.

One, because most of these panic trends are about upper middle class white kids. Because then it’s shocking, news-worthy, and something must be done. Recently there was talk of kids somehow extracting alcohol from hand sanitizer in order to get drunk. My coworker said that this was old news. The teens she worked with in prison used to do it, ultimately causing them to eliminate Purel altogether. No one gave a shit when it was those kids, but if there’s a possibility that it’s spreading, then it’s interesting.

Two, because they’re mostly made up and stupid. If there is a ridiculous thing on the planet, someone has done it. That doesn’t make it a trend. Of course there are weird trends that catch on for no reason. Back in the day, people used to attempt to cram everyone on their block into a phone booth. Now, I believe people are inhaling cinnamon on the internet. But whatever, it’s a fad. They are fads because they come and go quickly.

The parents I work with so often freak out about trends. The hysteria they hear about. The mother of an acting out, extremely hyperactive eight year old didn’t want to accept that her son might have ADHD. She was, however, concerned that he would be a serial killer, because she read an article in Time magazine that listed bedwetting as a surefire symptom. All of my parents now worry about bullying, which is good if that’s what their kid is dealing with. But most of them aren’t. A lot of their kids are fighting, or jumping other kids. “So, it’s not bullying? All right.”

There are actual problems that our kids are getting into. They might not be new or remarkably creative. A lot of my teens are having sex. Some of them are having unprotected sex. It’s not some new-fangled colorful dick-in-her-ear sex, it’s just the same old pre-marital, maybe-we-have-a-condom, quick-before-my-parents-get-home sex that kids have been having for generations. It shouldn’t have to be something we’ve never heard of to get our attention. We shouldn’t be relieved by the fact that they’re just doing the stuff that can lead to pregnancy and STIs.

Things change, of course. But I don’t think people do. Parent now talk to me about how different things were “when we were kids.” Young people weren’t perfect, but they didn’t dress/talk/act/dance like kids these days! Except we did. I heard that I was a new breed of awful and a part of the most self-centered and reckless generation the world had ever seen. Now I’m supposed to look back on what I was a part of as the last era of childhood with any respect. It goes on and on. Watch Rebel Without A Cause. 1955–they’re juvenile delinquents! Their parents can’t control them! Eek!

Like I said, things change. There are more guns, so fights are more dangerous, and there is more technology, so the urge to take a naked photo of your hot teenage form won’t be impeded by the notion of having to get it developed at your local Walgreens. Overall, though, teens are teens. They experiment because they’re supposed to. If they’re testing boundaries and doing dangerous things, they’re right on schedule. We don’t need to be so concerned that they’re reinventing the sexy, drunk wheel. Think of what interested you as a teen, and what you were doing that you didn’t want your parents to know about. Apply it to the kids you know. Repeat.

Kids know buzzwords and parental hysteria when they hear it. It makes them realize that you’re talking to them as part of an age group that you learned about on TV, rather than as a person. It’s our jobs as the adults in their lives to be aware and talk to them about these things.

Whether or not what they’re doing has ever inspired a Lifetime movie.

The Education of SocialJerk

21 11 2011

I think people know by now that I, like many of my colleagues, never fully remove my social work hat. At best, I wear it jauntily askew. My profession colors how I see most things.

Most people also know by now that I, like my colleagues with taste, am a stark raving Gleek. (I assure you, this is relevant.)

Social work is full of surprises. You discover hidden talents–how else would I learn that I am awesome at assembling cribs? And you learn that you might be passionate about things you didn’t know mattered to you so much.

This is how I fell into sex education. I discovered my love for working with teen girls, a social work surprise I’ve discussed elsewhere. This work also led me to being horrified by the topic of sexuality coming up.

Not because I’m bothered by talking about it. More often, people request I stop. It’s because their attitudes and knowledge were kind of appalling. It’s scary, it’s bad, it’s something that you end up doing, but dammit if they could figure out why. (“Boys want you to” was deemed not a good reason.)

The girls always know the “right” answer. They’re supposed to wait. Wait until marriage, preferrably, but if not, at least until they’re adults. Twenty, thirty if they can.

And yet, very few of them achieve this goal. This is why I’m so obsessed with providing them with safe sex information. Pregnancy prevention, avoiding STIs, knowing where your local Planned Parenthood is, and getting regular check ups at the gynecologist.

I don’t feel awkward doing this. Biological terms don’t make me uncomfortable. So really, this is the easy part.

The difficult part is why. Why have sex? Why wait?

I’ve had debates here and there with people who believe that our ultimate message to young people, particularly girls (for some reason) should be to wait. To wait for as long as possible. That’s why, when pressed, a lot of parents admit they tell their kids to wait for marriage. They know that’s not realistic for most people. (The only people I know who have actually done that were very religious, and got married when they were about 20. Guess why?) But maybe that idea will at least get them to hold off on their first time.

I get it. Sex, and sexual relationships, are not something that people can possibly be ready for until they reach a certain age and maturity level.

But is being older always better? I was asked once “Is there any benefit to not waiting?” My first thought was, sure. You get to have sex. I realize that wasn’t exactly the “right” answer, but it kind of is. It should be enjoyable. That is a perfectly acceptable reason to have sex. It’s a reason that this teacher discusses at length with his students, in what sounds like a very well-planned, effective, and innovative sex ed curriculum.

There’s more to it, of course. I trust teenagers enough, and remember enough about myself way back in the late 90s/early 00s, to recognize that they do, at times, understand their feelings. It’s possible for them to be in love. Is it better to wait until age 21, when you realize you haven’t met anyone particularly special, and just get it over with when you find someone decent? Or would it have been better to have that first time with your first love, even if you were 16?

This nice first time isn’t an option for everyone, I realize that. But I don’t think it should be painted as something automatically negative.

I’ve always been vehemently against abstinence education. When I first heard about it, when I was in high school, I thought it sounded ridiculous. Who needs to be taught to be abstinent? Will there also be lessons on not jumping rope and failing to read books? Seems unnecessary.

As I got older, I found only more reasons to dislike it. For one, it’s entirely ineffective. It leaves kids unprepared while not achieving its goals. Not only that, but I noticed something about hearing the abstinence lessons, or being around people who really subscribed to those ideas. I felt defensive. I felt judged. I couldn’t always put into words the why of it, though.

That’s where Glee comes in. I was watching a recent episode, laughing and crying loudly on the elliptical at the gym, as I so often do. (I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until I’m asked to leave.) The episode was called ‘The First Time,” and guess what it was about.

Speaking of which, I don’t think I’m that old, but a couple of high school boyfriends in bed talking about masturbation? Wouldn’t have happened when I was in high school. We have made some strides, prime time television.

Tina, a character who has been in a relationship for well over a year, gives some advice to a girl who is considering sleeping with her boyfriend for the first time. This comes in the midst of a chorus of girls urging her to wait by sharing negative experiences, from getting pregnant, to not really wanting to do it, to not really enjoying it.

“Losing my virginity was a great experience for me. Because I was with someone I loved… And when that moment came, we just knew. It was right. It wasn’t rushed, it was amazing. He’s my first love. And I’ll always look back on that moment as absolutely perfect. No regrets.”

There’s no “it’s OK because we’re going to end up married” or “it had to happen sooner or later.” Just a young girl who had a lovely experience with a boy she regards as her first love, a boy with whom she’s always had a positive, respectful relationship. They communicated with one another, they felt ready, even though they probably won’t be together forever. Provided they’re safe (which was covered elsewhere in the episode, thank you) is this really such a bad thing? As someone who had a similar experience to Tina, and who has had years to consider it, I think it’s just fine.

Not surprisingly, not everyone shared my warm and fuzzy feelings about Glee. This CNN article lamented that it’s television’s fault that kids want to have sex, because television makes those stupid kids think that “everyone’s doing it!”

Once again, I think this article, and these ideas, are what sends the wrong message. Sex is bad, it’s scary, it’s very very serious and we need to stop making people feel otherwise! Until they’re adults. Because once you’re eighteen, or married, you are instantly ready for such heady concepts.

I’m not a fan of the concept of virginity or purity. “Purity” I just find to be offensive. Being pure means not having sex, so having sex means you’re…impure? Dirty? Sullied for life? That’s really not a helpful message. It’s chock full of judgment, and comes from a value system not everyone subscribes to.

Virginity is supposedly more straightforward, but it’s not. What counts as “sex” is so unclear. So, someone can have oral or anal sex with a hundred different partners, and their virginity is intact. Vaginal sex once, and forget it, you just gave it up. What about gay kids? What about a plethora of other sexual activities?  And when we’re talking about such technicalities, does it really matter anymore?

Aside from technical issues, talking about “losing one’s virginity” just doesn’t send the right message to young people, in my opinion. (It’s my blog, it’s all my opinion.) I don’t think it needs to be seen as a loss, something you give up, something you can never get back. We’re always much more interested in girls, not boys, remaining virgins, if we’re honest with ourselves. This whole concept sets them up as gatekeepers. When girls and mothers talk about the importance of hanging on to virginity, I can’t help but get a mental image of vikings attempting to storm a fort.

I’m pretty sure that this isn’t how we should be educating kids about sex. Especially since they also get the message that once they’re married, it’s fine to go to town. Do everything you can think of. That thing that would have killed you and made you dirty? Now it’s an expression of love and babymaking.

That same article talks about kids feeling embarrassed to be virgins, but we don’t talk about being sensitive to kids who have decided to have sex, and who don’t regret that decision. I didn’t tell my best friend for almost a year, because I knew she’d judge me as she was always talking about waiting for marriage. (Spoiler alert: there was some judgment, but she didn’t wait til marriage.) This was something I experienced repeatedly in college. I have had girls in group start talking about how they haven’t had sex because they’re waiting for it to be special, they’re not going to get caught up in a moment and let it ruin their lives, they’re not that stupid, they have respect for themselves, etc.

And I can’t imagine that it makes the girls who did feel that they were ready for sex feel too good, or comfortable sharing. I know how it made me feel at that age. It can really shut the conversation down for kids who have questions, are grappling with whether or not to have sex, or who have decided to have sex already. When one student is being praised for their declaration of caring enough about themselves to wait, who is going to raise their hand to say, “This is why I didn’t?”

We need to think realistically about what kids need to know about sex. What we wish we knew, what we wish we had heard. Not just about biology and how to be safe, though that is, of course, crucial. We need to help young people determine what is actually important to them. I have friends who waited until they were in their 20s, finally choosing to have sex because they felt that waiting was no longer meaningful, and was holding them back in relationships. I have friends who thought they would wait until marriage, and didn’t, but were still grateful for a foundation in that value. I have friends who regretted the first time they had sex, and many others who did not.

There is not one right answer for everyone, is what I’ve learned. I don’t think kids who choose to remain abstinent should be judged, but I think fear of judgment by peers or family is a pretty bad reason to decide to have sex, or to decide to wait. Empowering young people to know what they want and figure out their own morals on this subject is not only necessary, it’s possible.

And if we can sprinkle in some musical numbers, even better.

I refuse to believe that TV rots my brian

18 04 2011

Home visits, as we’ve learned from this blog and others, are full of opportunity. Opportunity to learn how the family functions in their natural habitat, to see how they interact when not in a stuffy office, and to get a better sense of how they live.

They are also an opportunity for social workers to embarrass themselves, fail at counseling, and suffer awkward moments.

Often, television is a part of this.

I’m not one of those people who claims to not watch television, or thinks all TV is mind-numbing. Some of it is (that’s the point) but some of it is great. Dexter? Modern Family? Glee? 

Sexy serial killers, blended families, high school rejects who sing…we’re not going to analyze my choices today.

Point is, I’ve always liked TV. I wish I had time to watch more of it. Home visits often give me occasion to do this. Personally, I would find it to be socially awkward if someone came to visit me and my imaginary children, perhaps with a prepared list of topics to discuss, and I couldn’t be bothered to turn the TV off.

I once had a woman turn the volume up. I kind of had to respect that.

Never one to let an opportunity for assessment slip by, I try to take what I can from what people choose to do, in terms of television viewing, when I’m visiting. If they leave it on and only focus on me during commercials, I assume I’m not high on their list of priorities. If they’re so absorbed in Snookie’s latest drama that they don’t notice their two year old trying to cook pasta, it might be time to place a phone call to the hotline.

What they choose to watch is also, always interesting. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love children’s television. And the number one show is always Yo Gabba Gabba. One of my young moms often has it on when I visit, to distract her two toddlers so we can talk.

But what keeps us from getting distracted?

“OK, so you received the eviction notice…is that Jack Black?”
“Yes, I think I can get emergency housing because of the DV history…oh, wait SocialJerk, I love when the kids do, ‘I like to dance!'”
“Right, so we’ve got a back up plan, and…I’m sorry, the orange guy makes me nervous.”

Another time, I was visiting a single mother and her teenage son. Naturally, the Tyra Banks Show was on.

The topic? “Women with two vaginas!”

That’s right. Not only is this a thing, but a former model, who now hosts a reality show in which skinny girls fight one another in a house wallpapered with photos of said former model, was able to assemble an entire panel. An entire panel of women with two vaginas. An entire panel of women with two vaginas willing to discuss this on daytime television.

No wonder that woman won an Emmy.

“So your son’s attendance has improved.”
“Yeah, he’s doing well, but…women with two vaginas? That’s what they’re talking about?!”
“Yeah, that’s interesting. Back to your son…”
“Oh no, we missed it! You need to Google this when you get back to the office! Unbelievable.”
“I don’t think I should Google ‘two vaginas Tyra Banks’ from my work computer.”

At least those scenarios were brief.

A few months back, I did an emergency visit at 7:30 at night. A mother I work with had just been reported for neglect. I went to the apartment she was staying in with her sister, to meet with her and the new ACS worker.

My client said she was on her way home with her children. She called a couple of times to confirm. This is why we waited.

Me, an ACS worker I had never met, and a client’s angry sister. For an hour.

My client’s angry sister allowed us to wait in the apartment. She had a right to be angry. Her sister’s vindictive ex had called in an unnecessary case against her as well. So while she was nice enough to allow us to wait, she wasn’t going to chat with us.

OK. That’s fine. So she turned on the TV.

To Gigli.

Has anyone else ever seen that? Some probably feel like they have, after hearing about it being the worst film of all time so much. That movie destroyed lives and careers. But I don’t think many people are actually familiar with it.

First of all, it’s pretty deserving of its reputation. It’s a giant pile of shit. Jennifer Lopez plays a lesbian who ends up sleeping with Ben Affleck. Hey, Ben Affleck, maybe do one movie where lesbians can resist you, OK?

There’s something about them kidnapping an autistic kid, and the mafia, and blah blah mind-numbing blah.

But the real emotional weight of the film is carried by J.Lo, when she does yoga and tells Ben Affleck why she loves vagina so darn much.

That’s almost a direct quote. She goes into detail. And she uses the word “pussy” quite liberally.

Did I mention that I was sitting with an ACS worker and a client’s sister, two virtual strangers? For an hour? The only thing that broke the awkward silence was my occasional, “Well, perhaps we should try calling your sister again. Wherever could she be?”

I talk like a grandma when I’m nervous. “Heavens to Betsy, let’s move along before this former Fly Girl recites another ode to oral pleasure!”

So yeah. TV is fun. It’s good in moderation, and when it’s thoughtful and well-done. But there is a time and a place for everything.

Except for Gigli. Never Gigli.

Hooray for Social Work! (or Hollywood.)

28 02 2011

I am an Oscar junkie. I can’t help it. Even when I know the hosts are going to be terrible (being pretty and having acting talent doesn’t excuse everything, Mr. Franco) I’m still excited for weeks. The fashion doesn’t hold my interest, but being a movie snob does. Nothing gives me greater joy than being able to get righteously angry for whoever got snubbed.

I should probably social work myself over that one. Later.

I make it a point to see as many nominated movies as I can. This year I made a spreadsheet to make this more achievable. (Note: if you do this, don’t show it to anyone. I assure you, people don’t understand.)

We all know that being a social worker colors your view of the world. It changes how you see things. The Oscars are no different.

We started with the red carpet. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban just had a baby through a surrogate, and Sandra Bullock was talking about her son. So much going on. I wonder who facilitates these things. If you work in private adoption and Sandy strolls into your office, is it cool to ask her what she really thought doing “Speed 2” was going to accomplish? I think it’s relevant.

Some of those young actresses are looking awfully thin. Self esteem seminar, perhaps? Who are they maintaining this look for?

Kirk Douglas–does he have a case manager? He’s entitled to services, I hope he’s getting them.

James Franco…all right, kid. I love you dearly, but what are you on? I don’t know if an intervention is necessary at this point, but if this starts to affect your career and relationships, you give me a call. (Or you know, even if it doesn’t start to affect anything, you could still give me a call. I mean, whatever.)

Onto the movies!

Black Swan, a social worker’s dream nightmare something. There’s almost too much to discuss. Enmeshed family systems, diffuse boundaries, eating disorders, self-harm, sexual confusion…imagine a family session with Nina and her mom. If you haven’t run screaming, congratulations. You’ve got what it takes.

The Social Network. Just because you’re making tons of money and invented crack Facebook doesn’t mean you’re exempt from social norms. I hope Mark Zuckerberg has taken a good look at himself. Who are your real friends, sir? Where’s the support system?

The King’s Speech. What a delight. Social workers need a triumphant story every now and then. (As do speech therapists.) I think this film makes a really good case for the need for early intervention, though.

Inception. Oh come on. Are you kidding? All I can say is, I wouldn’t mind getting in Christopher Nolan’s head for a little while. But how would I know if I was really even there?

127 Hours. I loved this movie. It was probably my favorite of the year. But all I could think of was, 1) If I was part of the family who found Aron Ralston wandering the desert with an arm hacked off, I probably would have fled before helping, and 2) What if you were the person that guy came to for counseling? What is the precedent, really? “Ah yes, the old trapped for days in a canyon, drinking your own urine before sawing your hand off. I remember studying this in Ringling Bros. social work school.”

True Grit. First of all, Hailee Steinfeld should have won. (No offense to Melissa Leo. A working class tough gal from Boston with a heavy accent? Never been done.) Second of all, can we put a little more pressure on our 14 year olds? But Mattie avenged her father, survived a snake bite, and never let a man hold her down. (Also got spanked by Matt Damon, but that’s an entirely different discussion.) When I say “parentified,” you say “resiliency!”

Toy Story 3. Oh, life cycle changes. This one doesn’t make me think of social work, so much as it makes me cry. (Although I would kill to have Andy’s toys for use in a counseling session.)

Join SocialJerk next year, for the movie reviews you won’t get anywhere else! (And if someone could get Richard Roeper to return my calls, it would be much appreciated.)

“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?

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.

Let’s count–one! One cranky social worker!

20 09 2010

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television time for children under two.  They prattle on about the need for actual human interaction, developing social skills, and attention spans. (I mean, I watched tons of TV as a kid, and it didn’t affect me…ooh look, a bird!)

This message does not seem to have reached the Bronx. Or if it has, it’s gone excusively to families that I don’t work with.

Do these “pediatricians” even have kids? They’re annoying. They ask questions constantly, and they always want to run around and play. The TV is hypnotic. Turn it on, and they’re zoned out enough to allow for some sweet, sweet Mommy time.

Seriously, it’s hard for a young, single parent to avoid falling into the TV-as-babysitter trap. For one thing, when your first child is a surprise when you’re 16 years old, you don’t usually spend a lot of time googling studies about child development. Your social worker comes in a few years later to do that with you. Also, you’re on your own. You need that break to maintain your own sanity, and sometimes there’s no person available to provide a few hours of structured, robust, educational play.

But we could all do with being a bit more selective.

I have seen my fair share of “Jerry Springer” episodes playing in the background of home visits with a young mother and her four year old. The most distressing part is usually when I am the only one to flinch when Jerry asks, “Were you surprised to find out that your husband had been leading a secret double life as a fluffer?”

Not that I don’t see the appeal. There are times when I stretch out a visit for a bit longer, just to hear Maury tell some deadbeat, “You ARE the father!” And to watch that poor, rejected woman do her classy victory dance.

Then there are parents who limit ther kids’ intake to children’s television. Surely this is better, right?

I will never forget my first visit with the mother of a two and four year old. Their 128 inch flat screen was blaring, when all of a sudden the two year old dove behind me, under the couch cushions, yelling, “No Gabba! No Gabba!”

Apparently, her older sister’s greatest love was this child’s greatest fear. Yo Gabba Gabba.

I can’t imagine where the fear came from. Nope, this looks delightful.

Children’s television has gotten weird. The Yo Gabba Gabba monsters are pretty cute, I’ll give them that. But TV now seems to have gotten away from the idea of providing something for parents and kids to enjoy together. Instead, they’re addictive to kids, and frightening/irritating parents right out of the room.

And what message are they sending, anyway? At least twice a week, I have Dora barking at me during a visit to look for where she left her map. Maybe turn around and put in an effort yourself, Dora. I’m not the one who lost it. A little personal responsibility goes a long way, and it’s time we impart that wisdom on our nation’s pre-schoolers.

But, people tell me, kids love her! And she teaches them to say “feliz cumpleaños!”

Huh. So kids like adorable puppets who teach fun songs and are also bilingual…

Oh right. It’s been done before. Except these guys are doing it right, and have been for over 40 years. Maybe it’s because it’s what I grew up with, but I can’t imagine why anyone else even tries with children’s television. Will anything else ever be that good?

Before you answer, please watch.

It really holds up.