Difficult Conversations (aka Making Moms Cry)

September 19, 2008

My job has gotten a bit harder lately as I have had to have some tough conversations with caregivers. I made a Mom cry the other day having one of these conversations. Her case has recently been transfered to me and her 11 month old daughter is in foster care because she was shaken causing her to have seizures, brain hemorrhages, and hospitalized for days. Neither parents could explain the injuries and mom admitted that dad was alone with her right before she began seizing. Both parents have been inconsistent with services and mother is still living with dad, despite the Dept.’s concerns. And mom is pregnant again. So I got to have the conversation with her telling her that if she is still living with him, the Dept. has strong concerns for the safety of the new baby. She cried. But I had to let her know what the reality was.

So same case, I then had to speak with mom’s doctor (she signed a release of information). I first asked the doctor lots of questions about mom – any concerns, if she has been compliant with prenatal care, etc. Everything seemed fine from the doctor’s end. Then I got to have a similar conversation with the doctor. Turns out the doctor is a resident and has never dealt with anything like this. She sounded kinda freaked out so I was explaining the process to her. Then she asked me for advice for what to do (what a nice switch of power for once). I think she understood it all by the end of the talk, but she was still pretty freaked out.

And then I had to have a tough conversation with a relative caregiver. She is a grandmother of a two year old who was removed from his mother first for medical neglect and then overall neglect. Grandmother has consistently minimized the issues of mom and the little guy and is pretty pissed that we are involved in the first place. So I get to have the conversation with her that she essentially needs to cooperate with the Dept. and be honest with me or we will have to look for another placement for him. She can definitely be pushy and I have probably been a bit intimidated by her. But today I had to be very clear with her that she needed to be open and honest with me if she wanted to remain a placement. Not sure if she will change her ways.

So I was definitely nervous before all of these conversations. Being confrontational is not really a key tenant taught in social work school. But being honest and direct is so I just need to get more used to being the bad guy and bearing some tough news to clients. And hopefully it will get a little easier and less anxiety provoking.


Relative vs. Foster Placements

September 14, 2008

A few people have asked me to elaborate on my thoughts on the differences between relative and foster placements for kids. So I have thought a bit more about my comment and come up with this imperfect analysis:

Relative placements are, in most cases, best for kids. It is with someone they (usually) already know and trust, in a home they are familiar with, and with people with whom they (should) have an unconditional bond with.

So what’s the problem? In my (limited) experience, patterns of problems have come up. One, is that parents misdirect their frustration/anger/sadness/resentment of not having their child with them onto the relative caregiver. This can naturally lead to lots of problems, including the erosion of the relationship between the caregiver and the parent. This can also be harder to control because communication is not usually restricted as it is with foster placements.

Another problem is relative placements usually don’t have a good understanding of the process and expectations of being involved with the child welfare system. This, usually, reflects a failure of social workers of making sure the relatives understand what is going on.  It seems that sometimes we social workers just forget that they don’t know or are just too caught up in making sure that this kid has a placement at 9 pm.

And related to that, is that I am finding that relatives are often minimizing the problems and issues going on with the family. It is very typical/understandable for relatives to want to keep the issues within the family and not have these strangers involved in their lives.  I think this can be very dangerous and can ultimately delay kids and parents getting the services that they need. (And to be honest, it is also annoying and makes my job more difficult.)

Foster placements, on the other hand, are usually quite seasoned and often have more experience with the system than the social worker. They often approach the placements with professionalism, which is enjoyable. The week when I was doing all of my home visits, I found foster families making themselves available very quickly and found them even eager to speak with me about the kids. Some relative caregivers seem to either want me to be their personal social worker telling me their life story or want nothing to do with me ever.

Some foster parents do, sometimes, seem to be a little overzealous about the kids, however, and you can almost feel the hope they have to adopt the kid. This is tough (for them, obviously, because they love the kid) but also for the social worker because we have to tight rope our way through conversations. They are entitled to some information, but not all. And we want to know that folks are long-term resources, but we don’t want to get their hopes up. I am still not sure how well I am doing at balancing all this.

And then on the other end, I guess there is always the issue that foster placements may see the placement as too much as a job and therefore be able to leave it (the job and therefore the kid) a little too quickly.

So, there you go. My very rough, unpolished, early assessment on the differences between relative and foster placements. Now if you asked me if I would prefer to have a case with a relative or foster placement, I think I would have to say, it depends. Like most things in life, there are good and bad relative and foster placements. I have seen examples of all. And this is also just a social worker perspective. I know I am an outsider and not seeing everything. But I am noticing some trends, which I find interesting. I wonder if they will remain consistent.

How to mess with a Millennial…

September 11, 2008

So a quick way to mess with a Millennial and just get them totally mixed up and off their game is to take away their internet access.  This is what has happened to me over the last 1.5 to 2 weeks and it has really thrown me off.  And now, I feel like I am just catching up and getting back on track.  Which is a bummer, because there was lots of stuff going on at work that I really wanted to talk about.  Such as:

  • My attempting to place a child in protective custody with another colleague but ended up just sitting in a car waiting for cops to show up for hours.
  • Half the day I spent thinking I was going to have to remove one of my kids from his grandma because she wasn’t providing adequate supervision.  His mother was arrested for driving without a license and without a child restraint, but it turned out that it happened before he came into grandma’s care and not during.
  • My (somewhat) successfully and coherently explaining the court and legal process of child welfare to a relative caregiver.
  • Taking a 30 lb 7 month old downtown to get her paternity testing.
  • Negotiating and tight rope walking to get to an agreed dependency on a case that was very close to going to trial.
  • Doing a slew of homevisits and noting the differences between relative caregivers and foster parents.
  • Trying to get a family basic things such as their rent and electricity bills paid.
  • Talking with the TANF and food stamps workers and trying to figure out their system so my clients can access those benefits.

And probably something that was pretty big was the father of Blue’s oldest son came to visit.  I had the lovely job of informing Blue of this (she did not get as angry as I thought she was going to) and that her visits with the kid might be altered as a result.  And then I was there when the son and father met for the first time in years (they had been speaking on the phone and writing letters recently).  Blue did decide that she wanted a paternity test during the few days that he was here.  He was not required to do so as he is the legal father (he is on the birth certificate) but agreed anyway.  Well, despite her swearing that he was not, results showed that he is and now they are looking to send that child to live with his dad.  Very interesting.

So an eventful few weeks.  But I am starting to feel more comfortable in my job and feel like I am asking fewer questions.  I am feeling more confident when speaking to clients and what to say to them.  That being said, it is becoming more clear to me that my supervisor definitely gave me “easier” – more straight-forward – cases, which is nice as it helps ease me into the job.  I wonder how long it will take for her to give me a crazier one.  And I still haven’t had to speak in court.  So I am kinda looking forward to getting that out of the way so I am not so anxious about it.  But that will happen soon.

I have also found that I much prefer to have a case from the beginning.  However, I am also finding that I am having to fill in a lot of gaps that the investigative social workers are missing.  They aren’t asking questions, they aren’t running background checks, they are missing important forms.  So I am not thrilled at that because it puts me into a position where I almost have a dual role – social worker trying to help get families services, but still having that investigative hat on where I am actively still searching for evidence to use to get dependency.  Sigh.  But the important thing is: I still like my job!