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…


Talking About Burnout

July 28, 2008

Now that I am a few months into my job, I feel like I can answer the question, “how’s the job?” a little bit better.  This is a question that I have been getting a lot and especially from my family.  The honest answer is I am much more afraid about burning out.  Not that I didn’t think it was a risk, I am just realizing that it is a much greater risk and I am nervous about how to deal with it.

So I have been telling people – again, mostly my family – this response.  Now, the only thing that I am really looking for is some validation:  “Wow, that must be scary.”  “That sounds tough.” etc.  However, what I have been getting has been (mostly from my mother): “Well, what did you expect?” “You knew this going in.” “This is what you wanted.”  and “Yep, social workers burn out fast.”  Is this an indication of understanding that I can expect from the people around me???

Samantha Power Commencement Address

July 7, 2008

I have a confession to make. I have a total crush on Samantha Power. I have both a professional/academic crush on her and a regular old, she makes me weak-in-the-knees crush. Sigh. She is smart, she is funny, she likes sports, she has her own style, and has that gravelly voice. She is absolutely brilliant (minus a recent little political misstep) and I feel like I always have so much to learn from her.

She was the commencement speaker at Pitzer College recently and thanks to the wonders of technology, it is online. So of course, I watched it, expecting some political stuff about human rights violations and when to intervene, and about her most recent book about Sergio Vieira de Mello, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who was killed in Iraq and all the good stuff he did. But I was pleasantly surprised that there was more – more day-to-day living stuff.

You should really watch it yourself, it is not that long, but her 5 points to the graduates were to :

  1. “As you figure out your path in life, try to follow your nose” and essentially said, that we don’t usually do things we planned on doing at 22, but rather we stumble into what we are meant to do
  2. “Be sure to create quiet time so you maximize the chances you will be able to hear your gut when it speaks to you” which was essentially, don’t lose your own voice in all of the distractions (technology) that we have at our disposal.
  3. “By far the most important quality one needs in life is not in fact talent; is it resiliency” which I don’t think social workers need explained, just reminded.
  4. “Find friends who have your back” and she used an example of thinking about who you would want to be a refugee with – who would have your back (and mutual trust) in that situation – and that is who you should surround yourself with because friends are one of the most important choices we have in life.
  5. “Be a good ancestor” – again not necessary to really explain.

So the taking the time to hear your gut was something that really spoke to me and something that I really started thinking about while going on a bike ride this weekend. For me, that (and the shower) are my thinking times and I really need to make sure that it is part of my life. Which can be tough, because it usually sounds more appealing to watch tv and eat ice cream then climb a hill on my bike. But oh, how I enjoy the time on the bike once I get on it. But if Samantha Power is telling me to do it, well….

Burn Out

June 16, 2008

Some may say that it might be a little early for me to be writing about burn out, seeing that I am only a month and a half into this job, but recent experiences seem to say otherwise. Today, I transported Blue’s 4 year old to her visit and while waiting for her to show (she was over 10 minutes late again) the foster dads of her other 2 children were chatting about the other caseworker on the case. And essentially one of them, one who has been a foster parent for 27 years, said that there are two basic types of caseworkers: good and burnt out. Yikes.

The other catalyst for my thinking about burn out was a member of my unit had her last day on Friday. This is not a good sign as a major draw for me to this particular office was its consistency. And if this is consistency, uh oh. The worker that left our unit, was, in my opinion, very good at her job. The benefit of my shadowing people lately, has been that I have been able to not only learn from them (and their successes and mistakes), but I have also been able to size them up. This worker seemed to have a good rapport with clients – she was compassionate, but also honest and didn’t get pushed around by them. She was organized and seemed to care about her kids and coworkers. She wasn’t super forthright with me about why she left (probably because she didn’t want to scare me off), but just said that the unit she was transferring to (adoption homestudies – no angry people) was one that she originally wanted to work for. She first did investigations (1.5 years) and then our ongoing unit (6 months) and so lasted a year in the trench work. Will that be my lifespan as well?

Blue is also burning me out. I have started to say no to her and she is not happy about it. I have started to hear some barbs as a result of it. So on Thursday, she asked me to move the location of her visits. On Friday, after speaking to all of the parties, I agreed to move it to a library that has a park adjacent to it. I inform Blue of this and she is still angry and can’t understand why we can’t have it at the mall. Her argument: essentially the library and park are boring and she wants to buy things for her kids. She again accuses me of not listening to her or caring about her concerns. I remind her that she asked me to change the location and I am doing that, to a location she actually had said previously was fine. Anyway, logic does not exist for her and I just have to tell her that I am not changing my mind in the short term, but she is welcome to provide me with a list of suggestions for the future. There were other things she was of course upset with as well on Friday evening and while I was attempting to be patient and just “experience” another conversation with her, I had to push my way off of the phone and then did after 83 minutes.

And I was thinking, if I had a full caseload, which I will soon, there is no way that I could sit there and give any person that kind of time. One of my coworkers then informed me, this is why we don’t return some phone calls. I understand.