Personal Attacks

October 19, 2008

So we had the meeting with the family I spoke about in the last post in which the grandmother lied to me about the whereabouts of the child.  Overall the meeting went well, although the mother and grandmother showed up almost an hour late (and we purposed had the meeting across the street from their house so it would be convenient for them).  I wanted to move the child to his paternal side of the family and we were able to all agree to that.  In coming to that decision, however, the mom found some opportunities to attack me personally (which were all completely unrelated to the issue, I may add).  And I found my responses to this interesting.

First, I my physical and immediate reaction, was to just sit there and take it.  I am a professional and I need to act like one.  And we had meeting facilitators to be there to redirect mom back onto the actual topic – not me, but if she agreed with moving the child to the paternal grandmother.  (Mom’s lawyer was also there to try to keep her on task too, which was interesting, because I do not think that she was recognizing what he was trying to do for her.)

So I am sitting in this meeting and listening to these jabs she is throwing at me, and in my mind, I am also like, what the heck?  I don’t deserve this kind of treatment.  I am working my butt off to try to do what is right and help you and your son, and your response is to just take pot shots at me?  But then I think about it, and have to realize that this isn’t really about me, this is about her.  She is frustrated and sad and angry that she does not have custody of her son right now, who she loves.  And let’s be honest, I am a really good and easy scapegoat to take this out on.  So when I look at it that way, it doesn’t surprise me.

I am realizing that I am going to need to develop a thicker skin.  But is that also how social workers get jaded?  I guess there is a balance somewhere there where one is able to take some punches, but is also not devoid of feelings and emotions.  This seems to be a tough balance to strike.  And I am realizing how this job just cannot be done for 30 years.  Not child welfare as a whole, because there are lots of different jobs that one can do in the field, but this front line work can just really take a toll.  It is just not sustainable.  It makes me kinda sad to say that, but I think it is a reality.  I wonder if there are ways to try to fix that and I guess maybe I should try to look at some of the literature on it.  If only I had the time…


Caught in a Lie

October 14, 2008

A few weeks ago, I decided that because I had worked more hours than I am paid for, that I would flex some of my time and take 2 days off to go see a friend out of state. Great. So the afternoon before I get on a plane, I go do one of my monthly visits of one of my kids living with a relative. I expected the visit to take not more than 30 minutes, as I have been in contact with the family and not a lot had changed. Of course, I was wrong.

Essentially, I get there and the child is not. Grandma tells me he is at daycare, but when I go there to see him after my visit with grandma, he is not there. I make some phone calls, and even find out that grandma asked another relative to tell me that the kid was with her, even though he was not. Uh oh.

Now this is the grandma that I recently had a “difficult conversation” with. I know she doesn’t like the Dept. being involved and doesn’t see the original problems that got us involved. I also knew that she wasn’t always being upfront with me about things. So I called my supervisor who suggested that I have an in-person conversation with grandma about her lying to me. A million thoughts go through my head while I am driving back to the house. How will she react? Will she get violent? Why would she lie to me? Where is the kid? Am I going to miss my plane? Will I have to move this kid today?

I get there and mom and kid are at home with grandma. After I ask only 2 or 3 times, grandma admits that she let mom take kid with her, which is a violation of the court order that stated mom is only to have supervised contact. Now that truth is out there, then come the excuses/reasons/dismissals of my concern:

  • The Dept. shouldn’t be involved at all
  • The kid is fine – she didn’t hurt him
  • She loves him
  • You don’t know what you are talking about because you don’t have kids
  • Why don’t we have a social worker from the closer office
  • The child needs to be with his mom

I probably should not have been, but was a little surprised by the personal attacks that came at me. But I stayed remarkably calm. I again emphasize that while they may not agree with the court order, they must follow it, and more importantly, grandma agreed to follow it. I talked with my supervisor some more who also talks with our attorney, and they decide to have grandma sign a safety plan that states she will prevent mom from having any contact with child until we have a court hearing or meeting. Neither want to agree to that, and I really didn’t know what to do with that. Basically, they were telling me that they didn’t want to agree at all and I wanted to snap back at them and say, so you want me to just take him now? They are playing hardball with me but I don’t think they realize the consequences. As I am trying to figure out how to deal with that curveball, my supervisor asks if I want her to talk with grandma. Now my supervisor usually comes across as a very nice, sweet lady. But she can intimidate the crap out of some people and knows what language to use to convince people that she means business. Fortunately, it worked once again and grandma agreed.

So now we have a meeting where we are going to hash everything out and I am going to seek to have the child placed with another relative. And I did make my plane, although, I did not pack very well and I was not very relaxed. And I did have to do a little bit of work, writing a report and speaking to other parties, while out of town. Unfortunately, it is going to make me wonder about going out of town again because I am swamped, not just with this case, but also with my other cases that seemed to just be waiting for me to try to relax.

Returning Kids

October 1, 2008

I returned my first kid to his mom recently.  He came into care because mom was using drugs pretty heavily and not properly taking care of him.  Kid was removed and mom got into an inpatient treatment program.  I really think that having him taken away was very painful for mom and it really motivated her to get committed to getting clean.  And she has been doing great in treatment.

Fortunately for me, returning a kid to a parent is not just me deciding at some point that I want to do it.  When that is something we are recommending, we present the case to a team of community members – professionals in the child and family mental health/welfare field, but not employees of the Dept. – and they make recommendations that we follow 99.99% of the time.  So I brought this case to them and they agreed with my recommendation to start a transition home that would occur over a month.  And so we transitioned him home, gradually increasing the time to allow both the kid and Mom to adjust to each other.  And there are no issues.

So the kid is now full-time with mom, which is mostly great.  I just still have that little bit of worry – that little place in the back of my mind that wonders, “what if?”  Some of those ‘what ifs’ include: what if I have been played by mom?  What if mom really isn’t able to care for him full-time?  What if mom relapses?  What if mom takes off from treatment and take the kid with her?  What if my judgment was off?

Intellectually, fundamentally, I do think I have been right.  I do think this mom is on the right path, is committed to treatment, and will not do anything to jeopardize the placement of her son.  And, at the moment, I have to trust myself.  I guess I just also have to feel comfortable with that self-doubt.  I suppose that it is healthy.  But it is just another reminder of the dangers of this job.