‘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.

Big Decisions

August 21, 2008

Fortunately for me, it is now policy that big decisions (like returning a kid home) are the shared responsibility of many different people.  One person is not supposed to shoulder the burden.  I have been facing a big decision this week.  One of my kids, who is just over a year old, has a court hearing tomorrow morning.  His mother, who is currently in inpatient substance abuse treatment for an addiction to heroin, has been looking to agree to dependency and hoping that she can go to Family Treatment Court, which is a special program exclusively for parents for whom substance abuse is the primary concern where the the atmosphere is more intimate, but there there is more accountability.  It is a great program.  The father, who apparently does not have a substance abuse problem, is not wanting to agree to dependency.  So we had to decide if we wanted to fight for dependency and take it to a trial.

So I did what all good (and new) social workers do – I staffed it with my supervisor.  My supervisor was concerned (as was I) that dad was unaware that his girlfriend had relapsed and was actively using heroin.  She was also concerned about criminal activity that he had been linked to (although not charged).  So we are going forward.  Today, I spent trying to get my attorney all the evidence and information he needed in order to get a strong case built to hopefully show dad’s attorney that we have a decent case and will agree to settling.

Tomorrow, I have been warned, the defense attorneys may try to trick me and get me to say something that they can use against me.  I am not thrilled about this prospect.  Plus, this feels like a very strange way for me to be working as a social worker.  I want to be helpful and work with my clients, yet today I had to spend lots of time attempting to build a case against them.  And I know that my primary client is the kid, but I do feel like the parents are too.  But I do think that there is still risk with this dad in regards to this kid’s safety.  He appears to minimize problems quite a bit and I am concerned that he had no idea that his girlfriend was actively using heroin.

And it was interesting gathering the information.  I learned today that we have U.S. Postal Inspectors that investigate mail fraud, postal burglaries, identity theft, and related things.  I had no idea.  The inspector was very nice and helpful and so interesting to get a totally different perspective on clients.  I do think that I want to do some investigative CPS work in the future.

So I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  A colleague suggested to do very little talking, let the lawyers hash it all out, and try to just listen to people.  We’ll see how that goes.  I just hope that I can keep my composure and not screw things up.

11 Volumes

May 27, 2008

One of my tasks today was going through a case file – 11 volumes in all (each volume is a large 3-ring binder) and searching for information so I can synthesize it into a report for adoptive parents to have. Not something that I want to do daily, but a good way for me to learn more about how a case is filed, what different documents look like, and a basic sense of how a case went.

Of course, while going through this file, I have lots of thoughts about it. And the big question that I came away from this case was, when does a child’s right to have a stable, permanent home trump a parent’s right to parent their own children? Or simply, how many chances do parents get?

In this case, mother had a long, intense substance abuse history. This lead to chronic neglect of the kids, whether it was putting them in precarious situations (around dealers or locked in a car in a parking lot) or not meeting their basic needs of hygiene and food (never mind, emotional and intellectual stimulation). There were numerous filings made on this mom, leading to her having the kids removed from her care. But some how, she would get it back together enough to convince the court that she was ready to parent again. And it appeared that she did often, but only for a limited time, and then she would relapse and the kids would be taken back into care.

So studies say that kids do better with their biological families, except in extreme situations. But where do you draw the line? I don’t think many would argue that parents should have their parental rights terminated after having one bout of substance abuse and not having a chance of cleaning themselves up. But do they also get 2 chances? 5? 10? 25? 100? This case certainly did not have 100 filings on it, it did not get to that point, but again, where do you draw that line?

I don’t know the answer, but I do think that this is going to be an issue that I will be revisiting often. I can see myself getting very upset when I think that we are on one side of the line and someone with more power than me (supervisors or the court) disagrees with me and wins the argument. I can see myself feeling frustrated that I will not be able to stop or prevent an injustice from occurring. But maybe it is better that I realize this now, so I expect the frustration. Maybe it will lessen the blow, but I doubt it.

But again, the job is trying to figure out what will be best for kids in the long term. And unlike the “hard sciences” there is no sure way of knowing, making this “soft science” much more difficult.

Emotional neglect

May 14, 2008

Today I was supervising a visit between a mother, her 1 year old son and her 6 year old daughter at her drug treatment facility. I first pick up the daughter from school who is quiet as we walk to the car, then is a chatterbox for 20 minutes, before falling asleep to pick up her (half) brother at his foster home. And it is so clear that this foster mother just adores this little boy and is sad that he goes on these visits (because she would love Mom to be out of the picture so that she can adopt him).

Anyway, Mom is happy and prepared for the visit, greeting us at the front desk and bringing toys and a diaper bag. We go and sit in a room, which yes, is awkward, because I am just there watching, what should be (and probably is) a very intimate experience for this family. But, I am needed (as evident later in the visit when Mom was not paying attention to the baby and he attempted to eat rocks, prompting me to intervene). For the most part, Mom is very appropriate in many ways. She sits on the floor, she has appropriate toys, she is attentive to his dirty diapers. My problem is I believe she is emotionally neglectful (and therefore, maybe abusive?) to her daughter. Repeatedly, the daughter attempts to engage Mom. (Today it was asking Mom twice to help her build a sand castle – first time she was ignored, second time Mom pointed out an unrelated item). Yet, Mom is solely focused on her son. And yes, a 1 year old needs more attention than a 6 year old, but she is so different at the visits. She hardly speaks at all, save attempts at engaging her mother by asking questions or making comments about the brother. Then when we get back into the car to go back home, she is a chatterbox again, making comments about everything and asking numerous questions.

I wonder what the long-term effects of this will be. I can imagine that there is a large amount of resentment building within her. It makes sense that she is never excited when we pick him up from his foster home. But it also makes me wonder what is going to happen when Mom has her next baby (she is 7 months pregnant). Will both children be neglected in favor of the baby. Out with the old, in with the new?

And what does this all mean from a child protection point of view? While this is obviously harmful to the children, should it prevent Mom from parenting them? Where is the line? And who decides? Of course, this case is not limited to just Mom emotionally neglecting her daughter – her long-term substance abuse is of prime concern. But where does this emotional neglect fall? And how can it be addressed, if at all?

Day One

May 2, 2008

So I finished my first day. I arrived on time, despite leaving later than I wanted. When I arrived and asked for my supervisor from behind the glass, I was informed that she was not there. Uh oh. Not a good sign. Fortunately, a woman from my unit was there, Sarah, who was actually asked to show me around in the morning. Better. Sarah was very nice and showed me around the office and gave me lots (but not too much) insider information about the office and job. I then worked on some personnel paperwork and was welcomed by my supervisor who was off to meetings. She asked me to sit on one later in the day and to meet with the personnel lady later. Not too bad. And before I knew it, Sarah was back telling me she had been instructed to take me out to an early lunch, so she and Troy took me to a favorite joint.

We got back, after they gave me loads more insight, and I joined a CPT (Child Protection Team, I think) meeting. This is a meeting that the SW and supervisor have with representatives from the community to get recommendations on how to proceed with a case. I don’t think that Massachusetts did anything like this. Oregon had something similar, but that seemed to be the community keeping tabs on the Department as opposed to the Dept. asking the community for input. Anyways, I sat in on two of these meetings. The first had to do with a 7 month old with a mysterious spiral fracture. Experience tells me that this often indicates physical abuse, especially when the explanation from the parents changes and is unclear, as in this case. I was a little surprised, however, that the “guests” of the CPT were not so concerned about this. So much so that I thought about speaking up, but that really did not seem to be how the meeting functioned. I will have to figure that out as I go on.

I also think it is interesting how dv people (domestic violence) are so obvious about what their specialty is. Just as there are lesbians that are 100 footers, I think that many dv advocates are 10 worders – Within 10 words you know that they are dv advocates. Their focus is just so apparent. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing – although it makes me concerned that because they are so concentrated on domestic violence that they have blinders on to other issues.

The second case involved drugs, neglect, and the mom showed up. It reminded me how that really changes a case when you meet the family. It really humanizes it. There is also so much more data from a personal encounter, which I think is important. The other interesting thing I noticed from discussing family was how my mindset has changed as I have switched roles. Previously, I was a clinician and my main concern was the mental health of the client, meeting them where they were at, and really, just listening. Now, my role is more complex. There is an element of clinician that is still there, wanting to understand and hear the client. But there is also a bit of detective in there as well as analyst/evaluator. I need to hear what the client is saying, but I can’t stop there. I need to delve deeper and figure out what is really going on and analyze the rest of the data because I have to make really important decisions about the safety of the child. It was amazing for me to realize how this shift in my thinking had happened, in really just one day. I am now on the other side of the fence. And it is interesting.

The rest of the day was more orientation, personnel paperwork, and a little bit of reading case files. I have to learn a whole new set of terms and acronyms, which is always challenging. It is so close, but yet, different enough that if I mixed them up, it would take others some time to figure out what I was talking about. But, I do think that I am getting faster at it. Hopefully, it won’t take me too long.

So final verdict: a good day. I still think I would have preferred to have had the state-wide training, but there was still enough structure and support that it was helpful. I wasn’t put into a cubicle with a large, out-of-date binder of policies and told to read it all day (which happened at my last job). People were very eager to talk with me and have me shadow (also not the case last time). So I will be accompanying Sarah tomorrow to court, which should be fascinating…