Badgered by Lawyers

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.

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3 Responses to Badgered by Lawyers

  1. it’s true. As a social work student we’re taught to have “unconditional positive regard” for our clients. We’re supposed to be on their side, we’re supposed to fight for them etc… I guess the question becomes then, who is the client? And in this case, I would say that the client is the kids…

  2. Reas says:

    Man in my state what the judge says goes–attorneys and social workers merely have the power to put forth an argument. A lawyer trying to get the social workers to go against a judge could get in some serious trouble (not to mention the social worker!) Obviously that isn’t the case where you live.

  3. bluejeansocialwork says:

    I’m glad you’ve made the commitment you’ve made not to be bullied. It’s key. Stick to your guns. After working in family prevention for a while now, I’ve got to share that I’ve observed a very troubling pattern with protective services and lawyers. In almost every case, the client who can afford a quality attorney gets protective services to back off immediately. While the social workers do risk liability for allowing children to stay in good homes, and you are very wise to remember that, clients with good attorneys pose a risk of suing the agency for infringement of various freedoms and parental rights. Maybe the protective services workers in my region are just wimps, but getting an attorney to do a little bullying works almost every time.

    The sad part is that true discrimination results. The poor, disempowered families don’t have access to the same advocacy, and sometimes they really do get pushed around by protective services. I’m an attorney and a social worker, and yet I’ve always said if I ever had protective services in my own life, the first thing I would do is hire an attorney to try to intimidate my way out of a case. There’s no reason an attorney needs to be a jerk, but a client pays an advocate to come on strong. Would I want to have to deal with that bullying as a protective service worker? Never–it’s obnoxious. But if I were a parent, I would still hire the biggest, baddest, junk yard dog of an attorney I could find.

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