February 22, 2009

I am completely overwhelmed by work at the moment – and not by the emotional stuff – I think I am handling that.  But I just have way too much to do and not enough time to do it.  I have been thinking lately that my level of work right now is not sustainable, so much so that I have started for the first time to ask myself, how long can I really do this job realistically?  And I am not sure that just lowering my work output works for me because I don’t think I can be ok with doing a half-assed effort.

It has gotten so bad that it has begun to affect my sleep.  Regularly (almost every night) I am either waking up in the middle of the night, or waking up before my wakeup time, going over the number of things that I really need to do.  Calling someone, making a referral, checking in on someone.  My to-do list is haunting me and I don’t know if it will ever be manageable.  And it is wreaking havoc on my personal life.  I am chronically late to meeting up with the friends I am able to even schedule things with.  I am out of touch with the rest.  I cannot even imagine having to time to do something like go on a date.  And I am too tired to go on some of my cycling team’s rides or go to the gym.

I was talking to my neighbor yesterday who is a teacher and very interested in my job for some reason.  He was encouraging telling me that he disliked teaching more than 50% of the time for the first 5 years.  But, after he got through that, things got easier and he now very much enjoys teaching.  He related some of it to becoming more efficient with the job.  My concern is that I can already feel myself getting frustrated by the inherent unpleasantries of the job: being falsely accused of not doing my job by parents, being jerked around by lawyers, wading through unnecessary bureaucracy, and being told I am choosing to traumatize children.  But maybe the efficiency factor will help all of this.

Hopefully this is a stage of the job that I have to go through and will fade out soon – like the horrible homesickness freshmen go through after the novelty of starting college fades.  I want to do my job and I want to do it well.  But I also don’t want to lose myself in the process.

Someone Stole My Chair!

May 21, 2008

Some thoughts:

  1. Someone stole my chair over the weekend. On Monday morning, I sat down in my chair and it felt different. I looked down and indeed it was different. I could not believe it. Oh, and the thief(ves) also left a dolly in my cubicle. Strange.
  2. Bad news. So I need to go to the state-wide training before I can officially have my own cases (and feel like a real social worker, instead of an intern). I thought that was what I was going to be doing on Day 1. Nope. So then I thought I was going to be doing it in the beginning of June. Well, nope. So I am signed up to start in July. That is so long away. I am glad that I have to do this training and I am glad it is mandatory, but I wish it was more accessible. At this point, I would like to do it as an Independent Study.
  3. The drug and alcohol treatment facility for mothers that are pregnant or have small children that I supervise a visit at is very depressing. It looks like it is a petri dish of neglect. Very cute kids, but there are some very clueless (distracted/incompetent/overwhelmed/struggling) mothers there. I am curious what some of the numbers of how the program does are. But I do not like going there.

Finally, I went to a meeting today – a brown-bag open dialogue – between Dept. social workers and members of the judicial bench to foster communication. There is a new commissioner (same as a judge, but appointed instead of elected) and many social workers have had some issues with her. So they had this meeting and for the 1st 45 minutes they addressed written questions that they had received from the head of the region (which supposedly received them from office heads who gathered them from social workers). Anyway, at that point some social workers told them that they didn’t have issues with the procedures, but mostly had issues with the way they were being treated and the tone used by the new commissioner. Essentially, they felt degraded, disrespected, condescended to, and insulted in court. Not good.

So aside from all of the immediate and practical implications this has, I got to thinking about some of the larger systemic issues that might be at play here. One is the major hierarchy of power here. Judges rule. In the courtroom, they make the decisions and in a lot of ways, do what they want. Social workers are way down low on the totem pole in that setting (although do most of the work). In a sense the courtroom is a microcosim of society. Another is some of the miscommunication issues and where they stemmed from. Who and where were social workers’ issues filtered from the court? Interesting.

But the big thing that I have been thinking about is sexism. Now I don’t want to let this new commissioner off the hook here – she should be treating everyone with respect. But does the fact that she is a woman play into this at all? She is the only female that I have seen on the bench (granted I have seen only a handful). But perhaps she is feeling the need to establish her authority early and is fearful of not being taken seriously (or as seriously) because she is a woman. Perhaps people are viewing her comments as harsher than they would from a man because she breaking the expectation that women are nurturing. I don’t know if these play into it at all, but I do think they probably are at least a little bit and have the potential of being huge factors. That being said, treat people with respect, and don’t steal their chairs!

Why “Millennial”?

May 8, 2008

Some of you* may have thought to yourselves, why is this called “millennial social worker”? I can’t even spell millennial (think double “L”, double “N”)! Well, I will shed some light on this mystery.

* please allow some artistic freedom here in assuming that 1. people are reading this and 2. said readers may be plural.

I not only fall into the category of the millennial generation (or Gen Y), but I identify with it too. One of the hallmark characteristics, of course, is our reliance and savvy with computers and technology. And this relates to my job because today I was issued my blackberry. Yep. This is a huge step up from my last job where my phone and desk were on the other side of the building of a computer that I shared with the other 10 clinicians in the office. Grrr. But we are in happier times now where I have a blackberry, which is a handheld device that works as a phone, can check my email, and surf the internet. Not quite as cool as an iPhone (full disclosure: I love Apple), but I am happy. Additionally, to make my life and job easier, I have a laptop that I can take with me as I sit for hours waiting for my court hearing to happen.

I guess the other thing that I have to say about being a Millennial is that a job is not a paycheck for me and I expect it to be more than just that. I want to think that my 8-10 hours a day have made a difference; I expect benefits from work beyond just financial (ideally, Google-like) like discount gym membership, bus pass, etc; and I want to feel like I am part of a cohesive team and that I am always learning.

So I have now worked a full week and I feel good about where things are going. But I am sure there will be some bumps in the road…

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…


May 1, 2008

Tomorrow is my first day working for the state doing child welfare social work. I am not sure what to expect, but I want to document my experiences in this blog. We’ll see how I do.

A couple of introductory things about this new venture:

  • I have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and all of my education has focused on children and families, including an internship working for another state doing similar work. I love foster kids. They are so damn resilient, they restore my faith in humanity. Anyway, while I have studied lots about this population, I have not worked for the state before.
  • I have moved to this state within the last week so I am unfamiliar with the systems and resources and standards they have here. I am curious to see how different it is here and what surprises me.
  • I just left my first post-master’s degree job, which I had for 6 months. I worked for a non-profit in an inner-city and got exposed to lots of interesting clients, cases, and collaterals. I was, however, glad to leave that job because of what I viewed as being poor (maybe even incompetent?) management. I am hopeful that my supervisor this time will be better (so far she has impressed me).

I go into the office tomorrow, which is not what I was expecting. My understanding after my interview was that I would start out doing 2 weeks of state-wide, classroom training. I thought this was great for two reasons. One, it would allow me to ease into returning to work by learning in a classroom with scenarios instead of actual cases. Second, I think it would have made me a better social worker by giving me a solid knowledge base to work from instead of guessing and learning as I go. So I am disappointed by that, but am trying to look at the benefits, such as getting to know my colleagues better sooner.

So will my orientation tomorrow be me sitting at a desk reading case files and trying to figure out what to do (this was my orientation at my last job)? Or will there be some structure to it and people be eager to show me around and get me involved? I hope it is the latter, but time will tell.