Cases! Court! Yikes!

June 25, 2008

So because our unit keeps on getting new cases transferring to us and because my colleagues in my unit are getting closer to their respective breaking points, my supervisor decided that it would be a good idea to give me and the other new person in our unit some cases. She got one with 3 kids and I got 2 cases with one kid each.

Both of my cases are with single moms who are about 20 years old and both have extensive maltreatment experiences themselves. For both, this is their first kid and for both they went through a variety of other routes before getting to me – voluntary services, etc. One is a physical abuse case (first boyfriend beat the 2 year old, and then a month or 2 later, mom did too). The other is a neglect case – kid was found watching tv while mom slept and the tub running with water flooded the apartment and caused significant damage to the downstairs apartment.

Getting cases is a good thing. Mostly. I was kinda enjoying not having a ton of responsibility, kinda, and I think very quickly I am going to miss not having multiple major things to be responsible for. And I don’t know if I am ready to go to court tomorrow. It is one thing to go and observe and figure out what is going on; it is an entirely different thing to have to sit at the table and possibly have to answer questions (which I probably don’t know that answer to!). Fortunately, court should be pretty uneventful tomorrow – sign here, meet the mom (spoke to her on the phone, but haven’t met her yet), and check in with the AG (attorney general – essentially my lawyer, representing the Dept).

So I am a caseworker. I am the go-to. Oh, and I forgot. So I was assigned these cases on Tuesday, mid-day, and in the later afternoon I am informed that there was a new referral for child abuse on one of the cases. So I went out with the investigator the next day to check on the kid (she had already gone out Tuesday while I was doing a home visit) and neither of us were concerned about the marks on the child. I was more concerned about the friend/day care provider who made the report. I wonder what is going on with her because it seems like there might have been other motivation for the report. Or not. I guess that is something I am going to have to look into a little more in the future.


Addendum: Angering Parents

June 19, 2008

Looking back on my previous post, I realized that I excluded a big piece of that interaction.  Not only did I piss off Blue, but I predicted that most of what would happen would happen.  And that knowledge was very anxiety-provoking for me.  I am not a confrontational person (to a fault) and was raised by two of the most avoidant, passive (also to a fault) people I have ever met.  So knowing that I was going to go in there and confront this parent (who can be intimidating) and know that she was not going to take it well, definitely got my blood pressure up.

I grew up playing sports and like to approach lots of things in life like I have in sports.  One technique, which was always difficult for me to comprehend as a kid, but I think is really helpful is visualization.  So I took my time, gathered my thoughts and went through what I thought her response would be to different ways I approached the topic.  This was helpful because it helped me figure out how I could convey what I needed to within the limitations she would provide.

The other thing I did was get some ideas from my coworkers.  Dealing with angry parents is nothing new for them so they really had some great language ideas for me to use.  Ones that again conveyed the message but also did so in a way that she could grasp.  One thing that I have been really lucky with is how open the other members of my unit are.  Not only have they been welcoming to me so far, but they are also willing to explain things or offer advice, as in this one.  This is, of course, when they are around!  🙂

So the other social worker on this case and I are going to have a home visit with Blue.  One of the original concerns the state had with her was the conditions of her house (police report stated that the smell of urine was overwhelming upon entry).  I am curious if she will have it ready to put on a good show for us or if it will still be questionable.

The other thing is we are planning on confronting her on a number of levels.  One is we are have a strict list of guidelines for visits, including a late/no-show policy.  She claims that she is never late and always on time, which we have numerous documented reports, as well as personal experience that says otherwise.  Then there are her dirty UAs, the psychological evaluation she needs to do, her financial statements, and all of the other court ordered services that she needs to complete before we begin to consider to return the kids home.  Oh, and discuss with her the fact that there is the possibility that some, maybe all, of her kids will live with their fathers, who at the moment appear to be appropriate, willing resources (although, currently need to finalize their legal paternities).  What a lovely Friday morning it will be.  I just hope we are not there all day because that increases my chance of snapping.  And it is way too early in my career to be doing that!

Angering Parents

June 17, 2008

I have officially angered a parent. I have the voicemail to prove it. Blue was angry with me today because I denied her request to take her visit outside of the building. I think I had good reasons to do so:

  1. This was the first time the visitation supervisor had met the child and the mother.
  2. The child, a four year-old, is very active and prior supervisors reported that he can be a lot to handle.
  3. The intersection outside of our office is very busy.
  4. Blue has difficulty taking “no” for an answer.

So Blue actually wanted to discuss this all with me during her visit. I told her (repeatedly) that it was not appropriate to talk about it at that time (in front of her 4 year-old). She had difficulty hearing this and I left. Later, my co-worker received a voicemail, actually 2 voicemails (because one was not enough), saying that I was rude to her (which I was not), lied to her (which I did not), and ripped me for my lack of experience.

The thing that gets me is that she does not appear to think (or acknowledge) that I am in constant contact with my co-worker. She is trying to pit us against each other and, really, today, she slandered me to my coworker. I set a limit with her, or I didn’t tell her what she wanted, and she got angry.

But while I try to rationalize what her motivation is, I keep coming back to that she is displaying features of Borderline Personality Disorder. The main characteristic has been her intense swinging between idealizing social workers (she told my coworker today that she was blessed to have such a great, dedicated worker) to demonizing workers (she has essentially characterized her previous worker as the devil). Of course, borderline clients were the ones I said that I never wanted to work with. But the beauty of this job is that we don’t get to choose our clients.

So what am I currently doing about all of this?  Documenting, documenting, and more documenting.  So when I am called to testify and am getting grilled by Blue’s attorney (gulp), I can have as much documentation to back me up as possible.  I can’t say that I am looking forward to that day.

Burn Out

June 16, 2008

Some may say that it might be a little early for me to be writing about burn out, seeing that I am only a month and a half into this job, but recent experiences seem to say otherwise. Today, I transported Blue’s 4 year old to her visit and while waiting for her to show (she was over 10 minutes late again) the foster dads of her other 2 children were chatting about the other caseworker on the case. And essentially one of them, one who has been a foster parent for 27 years, said that there are two basic types of caseworkers: good and burnt out. Yikes.

The other catalyst for my thinking about burn out was a member of my unit had her last day on Friday. This is not a good sign as a major draw for me to this particular office was its consistency. And if this is consistency, uh oh. The worker that left our unit, was, in my opinion, very good at her job. The benefit of my shadowing people lately, has been that I have been able to not only learn from them (and their successes and mistakes), but I have also been able to size them up. This worker seemed to have a good rapport with clients – she was compassionate, but also honest and didn’t get pushed around by them. She was organized and seemed to care about her kids and coworkers. She wasn’t super forthright with me about why she left (probably because she didn’t want to scare me off), but just said that the unit she was transferring to (adoption homestudies – no angry people) was one that she originally wanted to work for. She first did investigations (1.5 years) and then our ongoing unit (6 months) and so lasted a year in the trench work. Will that be my lifespan as well?

Blue is also burning me out. I have started to say no to her and she is not happy about it. I have started to hear some barbs as a result of it. So on Thursday, she asked me to move the location of her visits. On Friday, after speaking to all of the parties, I agreed to move it to a library that has a park adjacent to it. I inform Blue of this and she is still angry and can’t understand why we can’t have it at the mall. Her argument: essentially the library and park are boring and she wants to buy things for her kids. She again accuses me of not listening to her or caring about her concerns. I remind her that she asked me to change the location and I am doing that, to a location she actually had said previously was fine. Anyway, logic does not exist for her and I just have to tell her that I am not changing my mind in the short term, but she is welcome to provide me with a list of suggestions for the future. There were other things she was of course upset with as well on Friday evening and while I was attempting to be patient and just “experience” another conversation with her, I had to push my way off of the phone and then did after 83 minutes.

And I was thinking, if I had a full caseload, which I will soon, there is no way that I could sit there and give any person that kind of time. One of my coworkers then informed me, this is why we don’t return some phone calls. I understand.

Conflict, but not at court

June 12, 2008

So apparently sometimes I worry too much about things. Or, just about the wrong things. I went to court today and it was no big deal. Actually it was kind of boring, except for maybe the attorneys, who at times seem to start stuff to just start stuff, like middle schoolers do. The Mom was actually excited to see me. We chatted a bit and then it was back to the office.

One of my big tasks recently has been organizing visits for a new case to our unit. Three kids in three different placements with a mother that has almost 2 dozen aliases, numerous cons (for thousands and thousands of dollars), and severely medically (and educational and ‘regular’) neglect. This Mom (I need aliases for these parents don’t I? So we’ll call her Blue) is quite a charmer and we already know that this is going to be very contentious in court. So I have been trying to juggle the schedules of the kids, the foster parents, Blue, and our contracted supervisors. And then once I get those down, then it is trying to find a place for the visit to happen. This has not been an easy task and I know people are frustrated. Unfortunately they are directing it at me, but I feel like I am doing the best that I can and trying to make it as simple as possible. Of course, that is not so easy.

So yesterday I had called Blue in the early afternoon offering her a makeup visit for today (10-12) because I thought I had figured out a schedule for the one of her kids that lives far from the others (today I found out that it won’t work out at all because of vacations. Grrr). I asked her to call me back either way to let me know so we could organize it. She didn’t call me yesterday – I checked my messages at 8 pm. She didn’t call me this morning – I checked my messages at 9:15 while at court and therefore canceled with my scheduled supervisor. I do get a message at 1:45 saying that she had called me the day before (she had not) and was confused about the times and requested that I call her back. So I do and offer to have a visit tomorrow (we need to make up lots of visits because of schedules) which she agrees to.

But then it is this big thing about she is not happy with the current location of the visit. Previously the visits were at a large mall. First, I don’t think that a mall is the site where a quality visit can occur. There are many distractions when the focus should be on the kids and interacting with their parent. Plus, she has three kids (1, 4, and 9) so it is hard to keep track of them in a loud, crowded mall. Finally, there is the issue of supervision. There have been previous reports of Blue saying inappropriate things to her kids, especially the 9 year old. A mall is just too difficult for a supervisor to monitor everything. Well, Blue wants the visits to go back to the mall – does she not like the intense supervision she gets at the new contained location? I tell her that while I hear her concerns – there are many that she tells me repeatedly – I am not going to change the location of the visits at this time. I do tell her that I will look into alternative locations. Blue again tells me how great the mall is – even though she agreed to change the location when we did it in the first place – but cannot take no for an answer. She really goes on about this for about 20 minutes. She talks about how bad the department is and how slow we are to getting her answers and how we don’t put her kids first and how we ignore her and on and on. I repeatedly tell her that I am hearing her concerns, that I will look into and consider a different location, but at this time I am not going to make that decision. Finally, I say that I am not going to argue with her over this. Well, she backs down about this and reassures me that she is not going after me (right) and that she is not trying to argue with me (sure). And after another 5 minutes are finally able to wrap up the conversation. 35 minutes to confirm a time and location for a visit. Whew.

Afterwards, some of my colleagues (who heard the conversation and knew immediately who I was talking to) congratulated me for surviving my first argument with a client. It was really different from anything that I had done before. I really had to stand my ground and be firm with her. I really felt like she was trying to push me around so that she could get what she wanted. And I think that I did ok, but this is something that I am going to have to get a lot better at. People are going to try to push me around and I have to be firm and make sure that I am doing what is best for the kids and not just what the parents want me to do.

Tomorrow: Potential Conflict in Court

June 11, 2008

So I am going to court tomorrow for a hearing for a case that I have been supervising the visits for at Mom’s treatment facility. I (and others) have had some concerns about this Mom; mostly that she seems to struggle parenting more than one child at a time (I supervise visits with a 6 year old and 1 year old). Most frequently, she is focusing all of her attention on the 1 year old and does not engage much with the 6 year old (although the last 2 visits have been better). This concern is further exacerbated by the fact that Mom is 8.5 months pregnant. Will she ignore the 1 year old as well once there is a new baby in the picture?

So there is potential for concerns, particularly this one, to come up tomorrow at court, which I am planning on attending. Now, I will not be the one saying any of this in court, but I could see this being brought up, Mom not being pleased at all, and then her confronting me about the concern. Then what? Do I defend my position? This does not seem to be a good idea: I have no desire to argue something that has no potential of resolution. But Mom does have a right to voice her opinion. So I guess I will try to acknowledge her disagreement, but stand firm that it is a concern that I have in some of the behaviors I have seen. And then try to leave it at that. We’ll see how that goes. And my guess is this will also have an effect on future visits, which will also be interesting.

I just don’t like conflict – I am the product of two very skilled conflict avoiders. But I know that I am now smak-dab in the middle of conflict all the time, so I guess this is a good time to get into it. Sigh.

Coworkers: To Hang or Not to Hang

June 11, 2008

So I have been thinking and trying to figure out if coworkers are people that I want to be socializing with outside of work. Historically, I have done this minimally. I have always wanted to keep my professional and personal lives very separate and a quick way of doing this has been to not hang out with colleagues outside of work. I have believed that this has assisted me in trying to leave work at work and not be worrying about it all the time.

But, I have been wondering if this is the best course of action. Teacher friends of mine are very close with their colleagues. And this weekend I was visiting with a friend who lives out of town but is also a social worker for the state and I met her friend and colleague. Meeting her, it was like we had an instant connection because we both were social workers. We talked shop a little bit, but there was just a basic understanding with each other that (I assume) is based on the fact that we do the same thing professionally.

So am I missing out on important relationships and connections because of my strict boundaries? I am going to have to mull this over…