March 11, 2009

It is hard to write about court because I have such mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, I think it is very necessary to have this as part of the checks and balances of the system.  I also think it is fascinating and am quickly finding that I really enjoy interacting with my attorneys and see some potential for personal relationships (I hope!) forming.  And it can be a great source of accountability.  I rarely have concerns about the job that I am doing, but it is nice to have a powerful, neutral party telling some of my parents the same thing that I have been telling them – get your stuff together – now!

Yet there are some horrible things about court.  My biggest complaint is that it is a time sucker.  This week and last week, I have had 3 court hearings during the week.  If there is a morning hearing, I am there at 8 am and usually leave around noon.  There is 4 hours that is not effectively used.  A huge frustration and typical cause of this is that defense attorneys do no contact their clients until we are at court, so I get to hang around as they finally talk to their clients.  Ugh.  And then, the courts are just congested and I typically just spend tons of time just sitting and waiting for my hearing.

Another frustration is the variability of the bench.  Rulings vary dramatically depending on who the hearing is in front of.  That doesn’t seem right.  And then, to really get me hot, sometimes the person on the bench has no clue about social work and services, but still orders ridiculous things to happen that are often not possible, and worse, not appropriate to the situation.  It is frustrating to be ordered to do something in my field by someone who is not experienced or trained in it.  It would be nice to be treated with some respect that would acknowledge that I may have more insight into a situation because it is my area of expertise – just like I would not tell a lawyer what would be the most appropriate legal action to take, because I am not a lawyer.  This seems to be more of a social issue, where society does not value the field of social work and somehow thinks that lay folks know as much or more than the professionals.  This is insulting.

Finally, most of the defense attorneys, I recognize are doing their job for similar reasons that I am: wanting to represent and protect the vulnerable.  Therefore, they are level-headed, respectful, and fair.  While I may not agree with them all of the time, I believe they are doing what they are because they have a basic foundation for social justice.  But there are some for which this is not the case.  They are bullies and they are greedy.  I am currently working with one of the few private attorneys (who has an awful reputation for bankrupting her clients – and I think it will happen in this case too) and I don’t know if I have met a more disrespectful person in my life.  I understand that attorneys need to present a strong case for their clients, but writing condescending emails and purposefully avoiding eye contact is unnecessary.  (BTW, being disrespectful to me is one of the quickest ways to getting on my sh*t list and my standards of “respect” are not necessarily that high).  I wonder if she knows what her reputation is and if and how that feeds into her demeanor.

Oh, and one final thing about court.  I have to dress up for court – nicer than if I was just in the office or doing home visits, and I am starting to run out of outfits.  I know this should indicate that I can go shopping, but I hate going shopping.  I just wish that I didn’t have that worry about what to wear so frequently!


Choosing a Forever Home

March 4, 2009

A big part of our job is to achieve permanency for our kids – which is especially important as I am in a “little kids” unit.  In recent years, there have been laws passed which has mandated that kids have a permanent plan in place within a certain time frame.  So this means that there is a big clock that starts ticking with parents and they need to get there stuff together before the time is up or I have petition for the parents’ rights to be terminated.

I have an 18 month year old whose mom has not been getting her stuff together and while he has been in a very good foster home, they are not willing or able to care for him for the next 16.5 years of his life.  So because I am going to have to have a petition filed to terminate the mom’s rights, I need to get this little guy into a home that can be permanent for him.

About 2 weeks ago, I contacted the placement desk asking for foster-to-adopt homes interested in an 18 month year old boy that may be a good fit.  I was flooded with home studies of lots of great families that are looking for and wanting to have a kid just like him join their family.  So somehow, I read all of the home studies and narrowed it down to my top choices that I thought would be a good fit for him.  I spoke to their social workers and gave them more information (including some scaring off by the amount of legal risk involved with this case).  This, and other reasons, narrowed down the choices to three.  My supervisor and I met with all three of the families so that we got a better sense of them and they got a better sense of this kid.

And now we have to choose a family.  This is ridiculously hard.  All three of the families are fantastic.  They are loving, stable, understand the risks and challenges ahead, and would be wonderful for this child.  And all really would love to have him.  And somehow, I am have to pick one.  There are differences between the families – kids vs no kids, etc – which I think makes them different not better or worse.  I can easily make the argument for why this child would be better off as the only child in the home (at least for awhile) vs. it would be great for him to have a sibling in the home.  Yet, a choice has to be made and I am wanting to make it sooner or later.  I know wherever he goes, he will do great, but that, unfortunately, is not making this process any easier for me.

End of the Month

February 26, 2009

It is the end of the month, which often incites some “oh sh*t” moments – mostly, oh, sh*t I haven’t done a home visit with one of my kids. So I end up going out and seeing lots of my kids, which, is actually really nice. I have lots of little kids – babies and toddlers – so it is amazing to go out and see the amazing progress they are making.  And, I believe, that this has made me much happier about my job.  The distance between all my kids is awful – I have a kid 50 miles north of my office and another 50 miles south (and I am in an urban area) – but ultimately, it is great to get out of court and the office and just make funny faces with little kids.  I guess it is getting back to the basics and what this job is really about.  And it is nice to be reminded of that.

The 3 Guarantees of Social Work

February 23, 2009

Back when I was in undergrad, a few of us social work majors joked that there were three guarantees in social work:

  1. You would not be appreciated.
  2. You would be underpaid.
  3. You would burn out.

Now further into my career, with a bit of experience under my belt, I still think that these guarantees are correct. However, I don’t think that I understood the gravity of them back in college. I knew that they would be hard, but I did not understand or feel how bad they are.

Appreciation: I have to say that it is really tough to not only have really hard work go unnoticed, but it is even more infuriating to be falsely accused of not doing the job, or worse, doing something because of some alternative agenda, where I am just out to get someone. Now I am not someone who needs to be told how great I am and then publicly receive some award, a la the Oscars. But to be told that I am doing the opposite of what I feel that I am setting out to do is frustrating and disheartening. Intellectually, I know that this is usually coming from a place of desperation and frustration, but it cuts deep into my feelings. I can see how this may really start to wear on me.

Compensation: Now I am not under some illusion that we live in a meritocracy, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be frustrated that we aren’t. It is frustrating to be told by people “wow, that is really hard work,” etc. to my face, but then for society as a whole to show the profession disrespect through poor wages. As the economy is shaky and I am swimming in student loan debt, I wonder if I made the right decision in going into social work. I could have easily gone into something less stressful and more lucrative and been both financially and professionally successful.

Burnout: This one is scaring me more and more. Not just because I am feeling it being more inevitable and closer than I thought it would be, but when I think of burn out happening and my having to move on to something else, it makes me concerned that I will have wasted time and energy in building a career that didn’t take me far. And then what? Will I even be left with any skills that can transfer over to anything else?

Writing all of this makes me realize how dismal my state of mind is, but I guess that is where I am at.


February 22, 2009

I am completely overwhelmed by work at the moment – and not by the emotional stuff – I think I am handling that.  But I just have way too much to do and not enough time to do it.  I have been thinking lately that my level of work right now is not sustainable, so much so that I have started for the first time to ask myself, how long can I really do this job realistically?  And I am not sure that just lowering my work output works for me because I don’t think I can be ok with doing a half-assed effort.

It has gotten so bad that it has begun to affect my sleep.  Regularly (almost every night) I am either waking up in the middle of the night, or waking up before my wakeup time, going over the number of things that I really need to do.  Calling someone, making a referral, checking in on someone.  My to-do list is haunting me and I don’t know if it will ever be manageable.  And it is wreaking havoc on my personal life.  I am chronically late to meeting up with the friends I am able to even schedule things with.  I am out of touch with the rest.  I cannot even imagine having to time to do something like go on a date.  And I am too tired to go on some of my cycling team’s rides or go to the gym.

I was talking to my neighbor yesterday who is a teacher and very interested in my job for some reason.  He was encouraging telling me that he disliked teaching more than 50% of the time for the first 5 years.  But, after he got through that, things got easier and he now very much enjoys teaching.  He related some of it to becoming more efficient with the job.  My concern is that I can already feel myself getting frustrated by the inherent unpleasantries of the job: being falsely accused of not doing my job by parents, being jerked around by lawyers, wading through unnecessary bureaucracy, and being told I am choosing to traumatize children.  But maybe the efficiency factor will help all of this.

Hopefully this is a stage of the job that I have to go through and will fade out soon – like the horrible homesickness freshmen go through after the novelty of starting college fades.  I want to do my job and I want to do it well.  But I also don’t want to lose myself in the process.

Unexpected Placement of a Toddler

February 9, 2009

Today I was the backup worker of my unit.  Each month, we all sign up for a few days a month where we are going to be in the office where we can cover each other cases in case there is an emergency.  Best case scenario, it is a day to catch up on paperwork and get some office work done.  Worst case scenario, you get stuck covering something crappy of a co-workers.  Today was much closer to the latter than the former.

And to make it worse, my colleague knew that she was going to have to place a kid today and still called out sick.  Worse yet, she did this within a few months to another coworker.  So I was a little annoyed today when I found out that I needed to move a 20 month old from one foster family to another, about 45 minutes away.  I was also annoyed because I had been banking on the fact that I was going to get some paperwork (service letters to parents) done today.  Alas, I had to move the kid.

And it would not have been so bad if the new foster parents didn’t have scheduling conflicts that prohibited me from dropping off the child at 7:30.  Fortunately, I found a way around it and dropped her off at her new daycare.  So I was driving to pick her up – mind you, I have never met this child, barely know her name, and really know nothing about her case, not even why she is changing placement – and I can tell that I am just super annoyed that I am having to do this at all.  But I am a team player and I get to her house and meet the foster parent, who is super nice and load all of her stuff up in the van.

And then it hits me.  This is a big deal.  This 20 month old little girl is getting packed up by probably the one caregiver that she has known recently and put into a car with a total stranger and going somewhere that she doesn’t know.  She is never going to see this foster parent again.  Suddenly I was struck by what must (or at least, might) be going on in this little kid’s head.  And as I am thinking all of this as the foster mother is putting on her coat after giving me this organized folder of all her pertinent information, I realize that the foster mother, despite her best efforts, is really struggling with this too.  She doesn’t ever break, but she is pretty close to tears.  And I am by no means an outwardly emotional person (I cannot recall the last time I cried), but I could feel myself getting emotional as well.  The foster mother and I both manage to keep ourselves together and we take off on our journey.

After a pretty non-eventful 45 minute journey, we arrive at her new daycare and this little girl is just curious and comfortable.  I continue to be struck by how resilient kids are!  I attempt to get the paperwork in order and find a place for all of her stuff in the front office.  I am surprised by how nonchalant the daycare staff is about a totally random little girl showing up with practically no information.  She continues to be curious and well-behaved and doesn’t really show any emotion until we reach her classroom, which is a little loud, and she begins to cry.  In a way, I am relieved, because this little kid still has some fight in her, but she is soothed by her new teacher and the interesting distractions of the classroom.

I drive back to the office feeling guilty about not being aware of the kid’s feelings from the onset.  About being selfish in my frustration toward my colleague.  And I vow to never do something similar to a colleague and clients, but wonder if my co-worker also once made the same promise.  And when I arrive back at the office and learn of my getting a new case with two school-aged girls and a strong suspicion of sexual abuse, I wish for more time to contemplate and reflect on the experiences of my clients before I have to act.

“Blue” is Back

February 8, 2009

The first case I worked on when starting this job was with Blue.  She is a mom with mental health (personality disorders) issues and three kids.  I was not the social worker for the case, I just started out helping out with visits, etc.  Well, my coworker that had the case transferred and because I knew the case the best, I inherited the case.  The other worker had the oldest child move with his dad out of state and the middle child live with father in town.  So I have stepped in as we have been trying to figure out permanency for the youngest (now 18 months).

We had been trying with great effort to figure out if this little guy could live with relatives.  There were some great logistical issues we were contending with adn just when it seemed that we had figured out a plan, the father backed out and stated that he (and his family) would be unable to take him.

We (me, the CASA, my supervisor, previous workers, and the courts) do not see Blue as a viable option for this little guy, so I am now charged with finding him a home.  At the end of the week and this weekend, I have been reading home studies of families that are interested in fostering, then adopting kids.  A home study is a lengthy document written by a social worker that makes sure that a family is suitable to foster or adopt kids.  I am reading about 20 that have been sent to me in search of one that I think will be a good match.  I am currently narrowing it down and then will ask for some assistance from my coworkers to pick a family.

How crazy is that?!?  I am making huge life-changing decisions for a number of people here.  I am taking comfort in knowing that this kid will probably do well in whatever home he goes to.  But it still is a little strange and I don’t know if it will really sink in until I meet with some families or transition him to his new home.

And then, of course, is Blue.  In court on Tuesday, it will become official that we are changing the permanent plan to adoption.  And I will need to make a referral to my attorney’s office file a petition to terminate her rights (dad is willing to relinquish).  I imagine that she will be very upset and will fight the termination very hard.  I am not looking for a lengthy trial.