Big Decisions

August 21, 2008

Fortunately for me, it is now policy that big decisions (like returning a kid home) are the shared responsibility of many different people.  One person is not supposed to shoulder the burden.  I have been facing a big decision this week.  One of my kids, who is just over a year old, has a court hearing tomorrow morning.  His mother, who is currently in inpatient substance abuse treatment for an addiction to heroin, has been looking to agree to dependency and hoping that she can go to Family Treatment Court, which is a special program exclusively for parents for whom substance abuse is the primary concern where the the atmosphere is more intimate, but there there is more accountability.  It is a great program.  The father, who apparently does not have a substance abuse problem, is not wanting to agree to dependency.  So we had to decide if we wanted to fight for dependency and take it to a trial.

So I did what all good (and new) social workers do – I staffed it with my supervisor.  My supervisor was concerned (as was I) that dad was unaware that his girlfriend had relapsed and was actively using heroin.  She was also concerned about criminal activity that he had been linked to (although not charged).  So we are going forward.  Today, I spent trying to get my attorney all the evidence and information he needed in order to get a strong case built to hopefully show dad’s attorney that we have a decent case and will agree to settling.

Tomorrow, I have been warned, the defense attorneys may try to trick me and get me to say something that they can use against me.  I am not thrilled about this prospect.  Plus, this feels like a very strange way for me to be working as a social worker.  I want to be helpful and work with my clients, yet today I had to spend lots of time attempting to build a case against them.  And I know that my primary client is the kid, but I do feel like the parents are too.  But I do think that there is still risk with this dad in regards to this kid’s safety.  He appears to minimize problems quite a bit and I am concerned that he had no idea that his girlfriend was actively using heroin.

And it was interesting gathering the information.  I learned today that we have U.S. Postal Inspectors that investigate mail fraud, postal burglaries, identity theft, and related things.  I had no idea.  The inspector was very nice and helpful and so interesting to get a totally different perspective on clients.  I do think that I want to do some investigative CPS work in the future.

So I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  A colleague suggested to do very little talking, let the lawyers hash it all out, and try to just listen to people.  We’ll see how that goes.  I just hope that I can keep my composure and not screw things up.


Gay Parents

August 14, 2008

I found a great site recently – – which brings you legit, full episodes of television and movies with minimal commercials. It is a bit dangerous as it definitely encourages some hard-core procrastination. But it also provides access to some really quality content.

An example is an episode of 30 Days on same sex parents. For those of you remember the brilliant documentary Supersize Me, this is creator Morgan Spurlock‘s television show takes that concept and fits it into an hour. It takes pretty open-minded, yet passionate and dedicated people and has them live the lifestyle that is the complete opposite of what they believe in or are used to, such as a gun control advocate living in a house where guns are a big part of their daily life, and a great episode where Spurlock and his girlfriend attempt to live solely on minimum wage jobs.

In this episode, a woman who passionately believes that kids need a mother and a father as parents and that gays should not be parents lives with a gay couple and their 4 adopted sons for 30 days. And for me, and this woman, the most powerful part of her experience is when she goes and speaks with kids who have aged out of the foster care system. The kids talk about how awful it was to live in group homes because there are not enough foster homes for kids, arguing that prohibiting gay people from fostering and adopting children is harming kids. And it appeared that having this mom live with this family showed her that these parents were just like most other parents – loving, dedicated, and raising wonderful children, although she still clung to the idea that, in theory, she still opposes gays parenting.

It is extremely frustrating to me that people still have these perceptions on professional and personal levels. Professionally, it has become quite clear to me quite quickly, that we desperately need foster parents and the fact that many places (luckily not in my state) deny people from caring for needy children based on who they love is absolutely ridiculous. Not only are gays just as capable to parent as straight people, but we are also in a crisis and desperately need as many qualified people as we can get (it is interesting to me to note how this also seems similar to gays in the military).

On a personal level, as a gay person, I find it extremely offensive that people automatically discount me as someone who can parent based on who I am attracted to. And I know, that even though I live in a fairly welcoming area, that I am still at risk at being accused of false allegations and people protesting against my parenting children. I feel that I am even at risk of this type of complaints just as a social worker working with children. It angers me that no matter how academically qualified, passionate, and dedicated I am to my job, ridiculous charges can still be slung at me. I just hope that this changes quickly.

Kids Count – State Report Cards

August 13, 2008

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has put out a great report comparing kids’ well-being on a state-by-state basis. Topics include poverty, education, health, and risk factors. It is a great collection of pertinent data of how kids are doing in our country. Check it out:

Update on “Elephant”

August 9, 2008

So I wrote earlier on the raid at the Texas ranch and hundreds of children were removed. This week, Newsweek published a fascinating story about a new development in the story. Officials are now investigating and suspect that the original call that triggered CPS to remove the children was actually made by a woman with a trauma history in Colorado. In fact, this woman has been accused of making false accusations previously.

So how does this affect child welfare as a whole? I would suspect that there are critics out there that may argue that CPS may have been a bit reckless in their reaction to the phone call. That CPS should have more hard evidence before they interfere in families’ lives. And I think this would make sense if we were out there prosecuting parents for maltreatment. However, that is not our primary focus. Our primary goal is to keep kids safe.

But this example does show that CPS is susceptible to false allegations. A fundamental aspect of CPS is good faith – that people report based on good faith, that social workers act in good faith. That all involved are wanting and acting for the same goal – that kids are kept safe. But here we see that sometimes someone who is not acting in good faith, in this case most likely impaired by mental illness, can throw a wrench into the system.  Again, I recommend reading the article.

Social Worker Death

August 7, 2008

I found this link to an article buried on the internet over the weekend. A social worker in West Virginia was sexually assaulted and killed and the arrested suspects are her clients. The current thought is that she was doing a home visit and then something went awry and she ended up dead.  This reminds me of the death of a seasoned social worker in Massachusetts and is just another reminder that our job is dangerous.

My dad is a firefighter so I am used to having a family member doing a dangerous job – it was a known possibility that he could be killed in a fire.  But it doesn’t seem that social work has that same “understanding”.  Heck, we are taught to be “strengths-based” (which I wholly believe in).  At our core, we are looking for the good in our clients, not focusing on potential dangerous spots, as firefighters do.  So does this make us more susceptible to attacks?

Personally, it is good to be reminded of these incidents and for me to know that getting attacked is always a possibility.  So I must take all of the natural precautions, such as trusting my gut, knowing where the exits are, who is in the house, and getting a good read on people.  But it is still scary to think that while I am trying to do good in the world, I am also (sometimes) putting my own safety on the line.

Badgered by Lawyers

August 2, 2008

Yesterday I was at court all morning where it was very busy.  I personally had three hearings for my cases.  They were more “check-in” hearings where nothing big happened, we just touched base with all of the players.

A coworker also had to go in for an emergency hearing after she had to pull kids from their mother’s home after she was being pretty neglectful.  So they had to have a hearing to get permission to place the kids somewhere.  On Thursday night, they had a 3 hour meeting about it (which I sat in) and then they were at court until mid-afternoon.  So it was stressful and contentious and not very fun for anyone.  Well, the end result was the judge gave the social worker the authority to place the kids in foster care, with suitable adults (family friends), and to return home to the mother when it is appropriate.  After the hearing, apparently the mother’s attorney accosted the social worker saying that she should just return the kids to the mom and not go through trying to figure out another place for the kids to go.  Apparently they were pretty aggressive and the social worker got a bit overwhelmed and began crying.

So I was thinking to myself, how would I react and what would I say.  This is hard.  I am not someone who is very good or experienced with confrontation.  Especially when compared to lawyers who are trained and seem to thrive on it.  While supervising these kids in the office until 8 pm on Friday I was thinking about this and finally came to an answer as I was driving home late for the second night in a row, exhausted.

The reason that my colleague wouldn’t do it and why I wouldn’t is because is it my ass on the line.  If something happens, the blame sits on the social worker’s shoulders.  The attorney doesn’t bare responsibility – and would probably shirk it as soon as possible.  We have to make harsh decisions sometimes and trust our guts because it is our responsibility to make those determinations.  Is this safe or not for kids?  Unfortunately, this puts us in situations where we are bullied, disliked, and even threatened.

So I need to embrace and cement this mentality more and more.  Which is tough.  I feel like in social work school we are taught to trust clients and take their word as true.  And while there is an element of that in child welfare, we are also analyzing situations.  And this pisses people off.  I am just not looking forward to the time where a lawyer attempts to bully me.