My First Trial

February 1, 2009

I knew this was going to happen, but I was still dreading it.  One of my cases going to trial.  Essentially cases go to trial when we (the Dept. and the parents) cannot come to an agreement on a legal proceeding, usually for dependency or termination of parental rights.  In this case, the parents of my shaken baby are not agreeing to dependency on their newest child that we removed at birth.

The Dept. (and I) are of the opinion that these parents seriously injured a child, have not admitted to it or the gravity of her injuries, and have not participated in the services they agreed to to address their “parental deficiencies”.  So we are going to trial.  This is a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  My lawyer has been prepping everything for the trial and calling the past social workers, who of course come to me and ask what is going on.  They are all going to be called as witnesses, as will I.  So I have been going over all of my case records and remembering what I did on the case over time (which is really hard!) and trying to mentally prepare myself to be cross-examined.  It is hard not to have pictures of Law & Order or A Few Good Men go through your head and not wonder how you will do or if they will break you.  I hope not!

And scheduling is a huge pain, because I have to be at the trial the entire time, which means I cannot do anything on my other cases, so I am trying to get colleagues to cover my other hearings and trying to make sure that I have nothing majorly pressing on my other cases.

So I was originally told that trial was to start on Monday, 1/26, but wouldn’t know for sure until after the case scheduling conference that happened the Thursday afternoon before.  I then learned that it would happen downtown in a different courthouse and start on Tuesday.  So I am all prepped for Tuesday until one of the parent’s attorneys asks for a one-day continuance due to illness, which everyone agrees to (although he still works and is in hearings for other cases – whatever).  So I dry clean my one suit and haul the case files on a bus and go downtown Wed. morning.  Most of us are ready but the parents are 30 minutes late, which is typical of them.  Unfortunately, so is one of our translators, and we cannot proceed without her.  I am in charge of scheduling translators (yep, along with everything else) and I would have been worried about not doing something correctly, if it wasn’t that I spoke to her personally on Monday to inform her about Tuesday’s continuance.  I call, no answer.  We all wait and wait and wait.  I am pissed because this makes me look bad.  She finally arrives 2 hours late! because she had double-booked.  Fortunately, the judge lays into her a bit, so I do not have to.  And we start trial.

Except we don’t.  The parents’ attorneys ask for a continuance because we just received a psych report on the dad and they want more time to review it.  The lawyers (all three!) have the most long-winded arguments I have ever heard.  Why isn’t there a time limit on them?  Seriously, they need to get more concise!

The judge grants their motion and we are delayed for about a month (although with some meetings in between).  And it was probably the right decision, as they probably do need time to review the report.  And it was nice for me to go back to the office and be able to work on stuff without anything scheduled.  And maybe this will increase our chances of having the case settle, which would just be so much easier.  But what a stressful process!


Why I Haven’t Posted…

January 28, 2009

…or cleaned my apartment or done my laundry or slept or gone grocery shopping or any of the basic things that one should be doing.  The answer is simple: I have been slammed at work.  Basically from the time I returned from Christmas vacation – the Monday after Christmas – I have been extremely busy, almost in daily crisis mode, where I am only able (and barely) to do the emergent things on my to-do list.

I had three kids who were with their parents who I had to remove from their parents (first time I have done that).  The mom relapsed on meth and the two youngest kids (14 mo. and 2.5) lost weight within a month of each other and they were already underweight.  Essentially, the family was in a downward spiral and I had to go to court to ask for the authority to remove the kids, which I got.  I then went to the parents’ home, with the cops, and pulled the kids, and placed them in foster care.  It was a jam-packed crazy day that probably went as well as it could have gone.  The dad was cooperative when I arrive to pick up the kids (he had already gone off on me previously) and we were able to place all three kids together!  We got really lucky and I think it made it so much easier on the kids.

Recently, I have been prepping for my first trial, which is a little anxiety provoking, as well as keeping all of my other cases on track, including new cases I have just been assigned.  I have been concerned that if things keep on going the way they have been, I am not only going to be able to do what I need to, but I am going to burn out and I will have no shot at having a personal life.  Here’s to hoping things slow down a bit.

‘Tis The Season…

December 17, 2008

…for kids to come into care, apparently.  My unit, which gets kids once they are removed from their parents and the courts are involved, has been flooded with cases transferring to us.  Last week, I got 4 new kids and I am a little overwhelmed with the new cases.  There is a lot to learn and get caught up on, all while trying to do everything else on my other cases.

The four kids are on two different cases – both cases came from Voluntary Services and the parents have substance abuse issues.  Cases essentially go to Voluntary Services when there are concerns about the family but there is a belief that it may be possible to avoid the court process.  Families work with Voluntary Services workers and address the concerns within a short amount of time.  If the parents are not able to make progress, then the court gets involved.  In both of my cases, the mothers agreed to engage in intensive substance abuse treatment.  And both failed to comply with the agreements they made and did not follow through with treatment.  Thus, the court was involved and they come to me.

I wonder why there has been such a spike in cases.  Is it because it is the holidays?  Is something up with the other units?  Another theory is that kids have been in school for awhile and schools start becoming concerned about kids after they have been there for awhile.  I wonder if there is data somewhere that shows when and if there are consistent trends.

The 13 Hour Day

December 10, 2008

Today I worked for 13 hours, but the crazy thing is it doesn’t feel as exhausting as I think a 13 hour day sounds. But it was a jam-packed day, so a quick recap of my day:

  • court review hearing on an abandoned baby. Fortunately, they realize that I will be quick and put us in first and I am only there for an hour – not the usual 3 hours.
  • I had planned a home visit near the court house, but it is canceled due to a relative being gravely ill. Head back to the office.
  • Read emails and check in a co-worker who is doing homestudies on some of relative placements.
  • Call parent with phone interpreter to set up final psych eval appointment with parenting observation component. Call psychologist to confirm.
  • Get call from a TANF social worker requesting info about a mom who is applying for benefits and saying her son is with her. He is not, but taking this call reminds me…
  • …to fax substance abuse eval to TANF worker on another case that I didn’t get to yesterday.
  • Chat with unit members about a colleague leaving, a new worker in the unit, and the overall status of the unit (very important!)
  • Try calling client, but phone “temporarily out of service” which I now know means that they are out of minutes.
  • Quick lunch with a colleague. (Whole Foods has the best salad bar! So expensive, yet so yummy!)
  • Drive across town to go to a seminar about evidenced based practices for parents involved in child welfare. I try not to get offended by the obvious digs at social workers.
  • Drive to do home visit, which takes me more than an hour and a half to get there! Grrr. This is with my shaken baby and her baby brother. They look cute and are progressing, but she still has so many developmental issues. Foster parents are great, and a little chatty.
  • Drive an hour to do another home visit/meeting – stupid rush hour traffic and not transferring cases even when everyone moves out of region. This is the second referral that has come in the last 2 months on three little kids with their parents that got them back in the summer. After lots of discussions yesterday, it my opinion (and, really, decision) that we didn’t need to move the kids immediately. The parents had missed another doctor’s appointment and haven’t been taking the appointments seriously enough. However, they have been doing well in lots of other realms – drug treatment, UAs, working with in-home providers. A bunch of us are there, and I let them know that I had to convince others yesterday not to move the kids, but if they miss another appointment, we will have to. I try to be clear and straightforward, so they understand the gravity of the situation; yet, I also want to be supportive and identify strengths, because this family does have some. (Also, I have to deal with some posturing from a worker from the region that the family is in who insinuates that I am not doing my job and is frankly, a bit old-fashioned. Overall, I think I handle it well, but I wonder if he (or someone else) contacts my supervisor to check in about all of this).
  • Drive the 45 minutes home – fortunately there is no longer traffic – and arrive just after 9 pm and around 140 total miles.

Budget Cuts

December 3, 2008

So our state, like so many others is facing a huge budget crisis and we are starting to feel the effects.  Rumors have been flying around the office and today it really came to a head.  There were numerous conversations about what may or may not be happening and then in the afternoon there was a secret, impromptu supervisors meeting that really got things riled up.  Just as everyone was speculating about what the meeting was about, we got an email stating that we would no longer be able to get email on our blackberries.  This is a huge blow to how I do my work.  I (and many others) do tons of work on our blackberries.  It is the one thing that keeps me sane in court as I am wasting the time away as I am waiting for my hearing.  Being able to read and respond to emails while doing something else is something that really keeps the workload kinda manageable.  I am fearful of what is going to happen now.

The other big concern has been the loss of jobs and services.  We know that lots of our services are going to be cut, but I don’t think that until it actually happens it will sink in.  And then there are the jobs.  I *think* that I am safe because I have a permanent position, am carrying cases, my boss likes me, and there are people under me.  But, in reality, I have only been there for 7 months and we just don’t know how deep the cuts will be.  The story of 30-some temporary employees being laid off in another office was circulating and igniting some anxiety.  So being laid off is something that I have to think is a possibility, albeit a small possibility.  It sure is not fun to be hanging in the air.

This cannot be good for our morale or our work with clients.  We are all distracted and very soon our jobs are going to get harder and we are going to have less services to offer families.  It was speculated aloud today about whether we are going to start to feel pressure to place fewer kids – essentially adjusting the level at which kids are deemed “in imminent harm”.  I hope not, but I think things are going to get really interesting quickly.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Parents

November 18, 2008

I have a shaken baby on my caseload who is doing quite well in her foster home, although she has severe delays and will endure long-standing effects from the violent shaking she suffered at the hands of her parent(s) at 6 weeks old.  She was in the hospital for quite a while and has been in a foster home since.  There has been a criminal investigation, although it has stalled because they cannot pinpoint which parent did it and neither are admitting anything happened.

So now it is months later and I have two parents who want to parent this kid, yet I have all of this risk that I have to take into consideration.  And I am supposed to offer them services.  Yet, there are no services for parents of shaken babies.  I looked at the research that has been done and really there is just the labeling of what SBS is and guides on how to prevent it.  I am supposed to offer services to these parents to eliminate their parental deficiencies, but they do not exist.  But I also don’t feel comfortable sending home a young child with sever disabilities that are the result of the severe physical abuse by at least one of the parents.

I am frustrated.  I am in a position where I could see that these parents could possibly be good parents to this child.  However, at this point, my job is to look at the risk factors and they tell me that I cannot let the child go home.  But do I have enough to prove in a court?  My colleague has reminded me to let the court decide and have that decision be on them.  I am just frustrated because there are no services and I feel like may get the blame for that.  And it is easy to see how good things are going now – reports from the visitation are good and the parents are presenting as committed.  I just have to remind myself of what a violent act they committed and the long-term effects this young child is going to have – developmental delays, learning disabilities, and vision problems.  What an awful case.

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…