11 Volumes

May 27, 2008

One of my tasks today was going through a case file – 11 volumes in all (each volume is a large 3-ring binder) and searching for information so I can synthesize it into a report for adoptive parents to have. Not something that I want to do daily, but a good way for me to learn more about how a case is filed, what different documents look like, and a basic sense of how a case went.

Of course, while going through this file, I have lots of thoughts about it. And the big question that I came away from this case was, when does a child’s right to have a stable, permanent home trump a parent’s right to parent their own children? Or simply, how many chances do parents get?

In this case, mother had a long, intense substance abuse history. This lead to chronic neglect of the kids, whether it was putting them in precarious situations (around dealers or locked in a car in a parking lot) or not meeting their basic needs of hygiene and food (never mind, emotional and intellectual stimulation). There were numerous filings made on this mom, leading to her having the kids removed from her care. But some how, she would get it back together enough to convince the court that she was ready to parent again. And it appeared that she did often, but only for a limited time, and then she would relapse and the kids would be taken back into care.

So studies say that kids do better with their biological families, except in extreme situations. But where do you draw the line? I don’t think many would argue that parents should have their parental rights terminated after having one bout of substance abuse and not having a chance of cleaning themselves up. But do they also get 2 chances? 5? 10? 25? 100? This case certainly did not have 100 filings on it, it did not get to that point, but again, where do you draw that line?

I don’t know the answer, but I do think that this is going to be an issue that I will be revisiting often. I can see myself getting very upset when I think that we are on one side of the line and someone with more power than me (supervisors or the court) disagrees with me and wins the argument. I can see myself feeling frustrated that I will not be able to stop or prevent an injustice from occurring. But maybe it is better that I realize this now, so I expect the frustration. Maybe it will lessen the blow, but I doubt it.

But again, the job is trying to figure out what will be best for kids in the long term. And unlike the “hard sciences” there is no sure way of knowing, making this “soft science” much more difficult.


Developmental disabilities

May 26, 2008

We as social workers are supposed to be versatile, knowing about lots of different issues and circumstances. I believe the term we learned in Intro to Social Work is that we are “generalists”. For the most part, I think this is a good thing. For me, I have not known exactly what I want to do or who I want to work with. Granted, over time I have narrowed it down – trauma and foster kids – but, also struggled. I enjoy (and dislike) different elements of latency aged kids and adolescents.

With all that said, there has been one population of kids that I have always known that I do not want to work with and am not good at working with: kids with severe disabilities. I know that I should not, but I usually find myself feeling uncomfortable and awkward, not knowing what to do. Not a good way to be professional. Anyway, I was reminded of this on Friday. I helped transport a 10 year-old with severe cerebral palsy. And immediately, I was a fish out of water.

And this is an interesting reminder of doing child welfare. We don’t choose our clients. We work with everyone. So what do I do? I don’t know. I guess read up and try to be better.

Someone Stole My Chair!

May 21, 2008

Some thoughts:

  1. Someone stole my chair over the weekend. On Monday morning, I sat down in my chair and it felt different. I looked down and indeed it was different. I could not believe it. Oh, and the thief(ves) also left a dolly in my cubicle. Strange.
  2. Bad news. So I need to go to the state-wide training before I can officially have my own cases (and feel like a real social worker, instead of an intern). I thought that was what I was going to be doing on Day 1. Nope. So then I thought I was going to be doing it in the beginning of June. Well, nope. So I am signed up to start in July. That is so long away. I am glad that I have to do this training and I am glad it is mandatory, but I wish it was more accessible. At this point, I would like to do it as an Independent Study.
  3. The drug and alcohol treatment facility for mothers that are pregnant or have small children that I supervise a visit at is very depressing. It looks like it is a petri dish of neglect. Very cute kids, but there are some very clueless (distracted/incompetent/overwhelmed/struggling) mothers there. I am curious what some of the numbers of how the program does are. But I do not like going there.

Finally, I went to a meeting today – a brown-bag open dialogue – between Dept. social workers and members of the judicial bench to foster communication. There is a new commissioner (same as a judge, but appointed instead of elected) and many social workers have had some issues with her. So they had this meeting and for the 1st 45 minutes they addressed written questions that they had received from the head of the region (which supposedly received them from office heads who gathered them from social workers). Anyway, at that point some social workers told them that they didn’t have issues with the procedures, but mostly had issues with the way they were being treated and the tone used by the new commissioner. Essentially, they felt degraded, disrespected, condescended to, and insulted in court. Not good.

So aside from all of the immediate and practical implications this has, I got to thinking about some of the larger systemic issues that might be at play here. One is the major hierarchy of power here. Judges rule. In the courtroom, they make the decisions and in a lot of ways, do what they want. Social workers are way down low on the totem pole in that setting (although do most of the work). In a sense the courtroom is a microcosim of society. Another is some of the miscommunication issues and where they stemmed from. Who and where were social workers’ issues filtered from the court? Interesting.

But the big thing that I have been thinking about is sexism. Now I don’t want to let this new commissioner off the hook here – she should be treating everyone with respect. But does the fact that she is a woman play into this at all? She is the only female that I have seen on the bench (granted I have seen only a handful). But perhaps she is feeling the need to establish her authority early and is fearful of not being taken seriously (or as seriously) because she is a woman. Perhaps people are viewing her comments as harsher than they would from a man because she breaking the expectation that women are nurturing. I don’t know if these play into it at all, but I do think they probably are at least a little bit and have the potential of being huge factors. That being said, treat people with respect, and don’t steal their chairs!

Emotional neglect

May 14, 2008

Today I was supervising a visit between a mother, her 1 year old son and her 6 year old daughter at her drug treatment facility. I first pick up the daughter from school who is quiet as we walk to the car, then is a chatterbox for 20 minutes, before falling asleep to pick up her (half) brother at his foster home. And it is so clear that this foster mother just adores this little boy and is sad that he goes on these visits (because she would love Mom to be out of the picture so that she can adopt him).

Anyway, Mom is happy and prepared for the visit, greeting us at the front desk and bringing toys and a diaper bag. We go and sit in a room, which yes, is awkward, because I am just there watching, what should be (and probably is) a very intimate experience for this family. But, I am needed (as evident later in the visit when Mom was not paying attention to the baby and he attempted to eat rocks, prompting me to intervene). For the most part, Mom is very appropriate in many ways. She sits on the floor, she has appropriate toys, she is attentive to his dirty diapers. My problem is I believe she is emotionally neglectful (and therefore, maybe abusive?) to her daughter. Repeatedly, the daughter attempts to engage Mom. (Today it was asking Mom twice to help her build a sand castle – first time she was ignored, second time Mom pointed out an unrelated item). Yet, Mom is solely focused on her son. And yes, a 1 year old needs more attention than a 6 year old, but she is so different at the visits. She hardly speaks at all, save attempts at engaging her mother by asking questions or making comments about the brother. Then when we get back into the car to go back home, she is a chatterbox again, making comments about everything and asking numerous questions.

I wonder what the long-term effects of this will be. I can imagine that there is a large amount of resentment building within her. It makes sense that she is never excited when we pick him up from his foster home. But it also makes me wonder what is going to happen when Mom has her next baby (she is 7 months pregnant). Will both children be neglected in favor of the baby. Out with the old, in with the new?

And what does this all mean from a child protection point of view? While this is obviously harmful to the children, should it prevent Mom from parenting them? Where is the line? And who decides? Of course, this case is not limited to just Mom emotionally neglecting her daughter – her long-term substance abuse is of prime concern. But where does this emotional neglect fall? And how can it be addressed, if at all?

NYTimes article on Millennials

May 14, 2008

Interesting column by one of the NYTimes more populist writers, Bob Herbert, who consistently takes a stand for the poor and oppressed.

Why “Millennial”?

May 8, 2008

Some of you* may have thought to yourselves, why is this called “millennial social worker”? I can’t even spell millennial (think double “L”, double “N”)! Well, I will shed some light on this mystery.

* please allow some artistic freedom here in assuming that 1. people are reading this and 2. said readers may be plural.

I not only fall into the category of the millennial generation (or Gen Y), but I identify with it too. One of the hallmark characteristics, of course, is our reliance and savvy with computers and technology. And this relates to my job because today I was issued my blackberry. Yep. This is a huge step up from my last job where my phone and desk were on the other side of the building of a computer that I shared with the other 10 clinicians in the office. Grrr. But we are in happier times now where I have a blackberry, which is a handheld device that works as a phone, can check my email, and surf the internet. Not quite as cool as an iPhone (full disclosure: I love Apple), but I am happy. Additionally, to make my life and job easier, I have a laptop that I can take with me as I sit for hours waiting for my court hearing to happen.

I guess the other thing that I have to say about being a Millennial is that a job is not a paycheck for me and I expect it to be more than just that. I want to think that my 8-10 hours a day have made a difference; I expect benefits from work beyond just financial (ideally, Google-like) like discount gym membership, bus pass, etc; and I want to feel like I am part of a cohesive team and that I am always learning.

So I have now worked a full week and I feel good about where things are going. But I am sure there will be some bumps in the road…


May 7, 2008

This is something that I am going to have to grapple with constantly with this job, yet it was part of the reason I took it. Power. The lack of it really bothered me in my last job. I felt that I was in a very good position to make decisions, but the most that I could do was make recommendations. And those, well, were mostly ignored. But in this job, I am smack dab in the middle of the decision-making and power.

Example: Today a baby came into our CPS (child protection services) unit*** after the mother abandoned it at the hospital through the Safe Haven law. Many states have a similar law – in essence, a parent can leave a baby at a designated location (hospital, police station) which is meant to prevent a baby from being left in a dumpster. The caveat in Washington is that the law only protects the parent from prosecution, so we will be interviewing the mother tomorrow to gather more information (and check on the welfare of her other child). So we need to place this child and we have the opportunity to look at families that are possible pre-adoptive homes. Therefore, a group of 5 of us looked at 5 adoption/foster family home studies and picked a first choice and a second choice homes for this baby. And just so we are clear, the 5 of us in a room, potentially decided who this baby’s lifelong family will be and which of these families that have been waiting a long time for a child, will finally get one (and a healthy newborn at that!) Fortunately, I feel like I am up to the responsibility of this kind of power.

I also experienced a little bit of the downside of having said power – not everyone is thrilled at those that have it. In the afternoon, I supervised a visit with a mother who has a extensive drug addiction problem with her two children, aged 5 and 14 months. Understandably, the mother was not thrilled at having me hang around for 2 hours and it was interesting to sit with that animosity.

Again, I am sure I get to deal with all of this much more in the future!

*** We have different kinds of units. CPS (child protective services) do the short-term, investigative work. CWS (Child welfare services), which I am a part of, does more of the ongoing work with children who are taken into state custody. Voluntary services work with parents on a voluntary basis, as the name implies. And there are other, more specialized units that I will learn more about later….