Social Work Topics: Perspective

This week’s DPchallenge asks us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to tell a story.  When training perspective foster/adoptive parents I encourage my students to do the same.  How do they think the birth parents are feeling? What might the birth parents’ side of the story be?  Here’s one story from the perspective of a birth mother (names are of course changed):

“You know, Gizah, I was sitting in court wondering what the hell had happened.  One minute we’re having fun and the next my baby is being ripped away from my arms.  Where did we go so wrong?”  I had asked the social worker this question more than once during our foster care experience.  I knew the answer of course.  Chris and I fell in love, like really in love, several years ago.  I mean we haven’t been together forever, but we do love each other.  And we love our little Toby very much.  He’s such a bright little guy.  I guess it all started a couple of years ago.

We had some friends who liked to party.  At the time I was pregnant and didn’t do any of the drugs and I didn’t drink either.  I was so excited to be having a baby!  After Toby was born I still didn’t do the drugs.  Sometimes I drank though.  Chris liked to drink and snort cocaine sometimes.  After about a year I started doing cocaine too.  I mean, we all smoked pot, but that’s just pot.  Who the hell cares about pot, right?  Wrong.  The state cares about pot.  Anyway, one day Chris came home with a new drug, something neither of us had done.  It was called bath salts.  I heard nasty stuff about it.  I told Chris that we shouldn’t do it.  I heard it was worse than meth.  But, Chris didn’t listen.  He did the bath salts.  I’ve never seen anyone freak out like that before.

A few days later the neighbors got upset with us over something.  Their kids had been in foster care for several months already and I don’t know. Maybe they were mad because they knew we sometimes did drugs but still had Toby.  The thing is, we took care of Toby.  He was just two years old and almost potty trained!  He could walk and talk better than any baby I’d known.  The neighbors though?  They’re hoarders and she prostitutes herself.  They wouldn’t feed the kids.  The baby was always crying.  They were always filthy.  Half the time the oldest kid didn’t go to school.  Or if he did he never had a jacket on.  Their two year old was a handful, too.  Always causing problems.  Those kids were obviously not taken care of.  And then one night an ambulance came and took the two year old away because he’d been beat so bad he almost died.

I’m not that kind of mother.  My baby is my world.  After the neighbor’s kids got taken Chris and I didn’t do much partying.  Then Chris brought those bath salts home.  That’s when CPS showed up.  Chris was having a fit at the time, thought there were bugs crawling around the couch and on him.  There weren’t though.  I keep my house clean.  We don’t have roaches or anything.  I think the neighbor called us in.

I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.  My Toby was gone.  I didn’t know where he was.  I didn’t know if he was crying.  I didn’t know if he was safe!  I called and called and called my state worker to figure out when I could see Toby.  A week after he was taken we got a visit.  We’d taken drug tests and had a meeting with our lawyers and the state worker. We knew this wasn’t going to be an overnight fix, but we were ready to fight for our Toby.  We’d do anything for him.

When I saw Toby at that first visit I just held him close.  Chris and me and Toby just held each other.  The visit was only an hour long.  I didn’t think that was fair.  But I wasn’t going to cause a scene.  I just wanted to do everything to get him home.

The next week we had a meeting with everyone involved with our case.  I got to meet the foster parents.  They seem really nice.  They said that we could call Toby at night to say goodnight to him.  That made me tear up.  Everything seemed to make me want to cry.  The foster parents had a lot of questions like if he was allergic to anything or if there were any discipline techniques that we’d like them to use.  I thought foster parents just did what they wanted so they could get a paycheck.  I didn’t know they were so involved and wanted so much of our input.  That made me feel a little better.  I mean I was jealous that they got to be Toby’s parents for a while and not me, but I could tell they were good people.

Each week we got visits.  After a while the visits got longer and more frequent.  Chris and I went through drug treatment and counseling.  We also took parenting classes.  The foster parents were wonderful.  They’d send pictures of Toby to the visits and also pictures he had drawn for us.

Night time was hardest.  Not being able to sing him songs or read books to him.

After the longest six months of our lives we finally got to bring Toby home.  I was so happy!  I thanked my social worker, Gizah, because without her I wouldn’t have gotten my baby home as soon as I had.  She fought for us.  That’s her job though I guess.

So, where did everything go wrong? Drugs.  Don’t do drugs.  Keep a clean nose, do your bit to help those around you, too.  Love your family and do everything you can to cherish each other.  I know one thing for sure.  I will never lose Toby like that ever again.

Hazards of Social Work: Directionally Challenged People.

After landing my first social work position after graduation with a nonprofit foster care/adoption agency, I quickly learned the streets, back roads, and details of several towns throughout the many counties we covered.  I’m a quick study and am a good navigator.

Since moving to the other part of the state I’ve had to learn new streets, back roads, and details of several towns throughout the many counties we cover.  Thankfully I’m still a good navigator.  The same cannot be said for everyone though.

Yesterday I got word from a foster parent that the three kiddos that had their weekend visit with their birth mom who lives two hours from the foster home was unable to bring the children back at the scheduled time due to unforseen bad weather.  Ok, no problem.  Whatever.  I called a million and a half people and made arrangements for a foster care aide from the county in which the birth mom resides to bring the kids to the foster home.  Birth mom was to drop the kids at the office at noon.  No biggie.

Foster care aide calls me at 1020am today and says, “the weather is dropping really fast.  The sooner we can get the kids back the better.  Can you call birth mom and see if she can come to the office now?”  So I called another thousand or two people and birth mom was like, “Sure.”  1145am I get another call from foster care aide saying birth mom isn’t there yet.  Worried that she and the kids are in a ditch but just hoping she uncharacteristically blew off her responsibilities, I called another three hundred people and ascertained that yes, she’s on her way and that everyone else was also worried about the ditch scenario.

At this time foster care aide requested that I meet her halfway.  I asked which direction she was going.  If she took the back road she may end up not making it to her half of halfway.  I said she should take the interstate.  Being a rural state, lots of people who were born and raised in the state distrust the interstate.  So was apprehensive but said she’d meet me at the gas station I suggested.  I gave her verbal directions and then emailed her MapQuest directions that were correct (I know because I checked to make sure before sending them).

Birth mom made it to the office just after noon.  Roads were terrible apparently.  So, foster care aide and kids left the office and headed my way around 1220pm.  I arrived at the gas station at 115pm, filled up on gas, and waited.  And waited and waited and waited.  Finally foster care aide called me saying she was lost.  I told her to get back on the interstate and get off at a certain exit.  There was one gas station there and that is all.  I’d meet her there.

So, we exchanged kids for diapers.  (Not really.  I had diapers that needed to go to foster care aide’s office.  And I needed the kids.)  And I headed to my office.  I wondered quite indignantly how she could not follow the step-by-step directions I had given her.  Then I remembered that not everyone is so navigationally blessed as I am.

Directional challenges are just one of those hazards of social work.

Social Work Topics: Uncertainty.

A child’s time in foster care is like being in a cryogenic freezer.  Time stops. Development slows down. Uncertainty encompasses every aspect of the child’s life.  PRIDE teaches that permanency needs to be established according to the Child’s Clock.  Do you remember how you felt when you’re 6th birthday was coming up?  How did time feel?  Time felt sooooo   s   l       o               w.  Nothing could make your birthday come fast enough.  Could you imagine how you would feel if you had been placed in a stranger’s home and you were waiting to find out when you could go home or if you could even go home at all?  What if a worker came to your foster home and said you can’t ever go home?  Beyond the devastation you’d probably be wondering where the hell you would be living.  Will my foster parents let me live here? Would I have to go live with new strangers? Would I be put in a children’s shelter?  What’s going to happen?

Because children spend so much time worrying about themselves, their birth parents, siblings, extended family, friends from home, and former teachers, coaches, etc., I often see very small children.  Eleven year olds that look like eight year olds, four year olds who have too much shit going on to even begin to contemplate potty training, 17 year olds that can’t read.

My heart breaks for my kids.

Today was one of the first times that I could identify with that sense of uncertainty.  And when I say identify, I mean that I’m in an uncertain situation, but I know that I’m going to be okay.  My uncertainly barely scratches these kids’ uncertainty.

I am currently renting the lower level of a townhouse.  In my area (and a lot of city areas) this is a fairly common occurrence.  I’m a social worker for a nonprofit foster care/adoption agency.  I don’t make much money.  I can’t afford much rent.  So I moved into this place on November 1st.  The lady living here has 2 children and she rents the place from a realtor.  She decided that she could no longer afford the place and asked the landlord to find someone to take over the lease.  He told her that by tomorrow at noon he will know if he has somone to rent the place by the 1st. Of FEBRUARY!  That’s next Saturday!  My roomy and her kids are moving into her boyfriend’s house (probably).  I’m fucked.

I have no idea where I’m living as of next Saturday.  No. Fucking. Idea.  **sigh**  I have been so stressed out about this that I cried while looking at places on Craigslist.  I did manage to set up two showings.  My big issue will be coming up with first month’s rent AND deposit at the same time.  I’ve never understood why the deposit has to be the same amount as a month of rent.  Who has that kind of money laying around?  If rent is $600 and you agree to pay that, then you can afford $600, not freaking $1200!!  Just saying.

So, while my living situation is crazy uncertain, my uncertainty will be aleviated in no time.  My kids, not so much.  I feel for them.

Social Work Topics: Physical Abuse.

When I am doing PRIDE Training or talking to people regarding my job, I seem to always be asked, “How can you do your job knowing the children’s past?”

  1. I don’t judge, or do my very best not to.
  2. I don’t ask “why,” or do my very best not to.

Here’s the thing: most of the kids I work with have been neglected and ‘neglect’ covers a wide variety of situations which will be discussed in a different post.  I do not understand why people do the things they do to their children.

I have this conversation all the time:

“The kids are in care for physical abuse.  Did you see the pictures?  I can’t believe they did that to a 2 and 3 year old.  What on earth could a 2 or 3 year old have done to cause an adult to strike out and abuse them like this?!  I don’t get it!  The parents are the adults!  If a child pushes you to the point that you want to hit them then fucking walk away!”

And then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I will get nowhere with the case if I can’t keep my head on straight.  According to my experience (not statistics put out by social services) about 50% of children who enter foster care end up in need of adopion services.  That means only 1/2 (from what *I* have experienced) return home.  And children return home when the parents can admit what went wrong, when they complete an improvement period with flying colors, and when the judge feels they have made significant enough progress to ensure the children’s safety and well-being in the birth home.

All of that said, I think that only about 25% of children who have experienced physical abuse have returned home (again, from *my* experience).

Side note: spanking is NOT abuse.  Spanking and beating are different.  Spanking is a form of discipline (guidance tool) where as beating is an unreasonable act of anger.  Spanking can turn into abuse if the spanker is not in control of his/her emotions.  In general, if no mark is left by a spanking, abuse has most likely not happened.

In my opinion, all children who enter foster care have been neglected.  Not all children have been abused.  But those that have been abused have also been neglected.  By physically hurting your children you aren’t meeting their needs, which is neglect.  One resource states that 18.3% of children who enter care have been physcially abused.

Of the children who enter care, 18.3% of them have felt the wrath of a caregiver.  These are just the ones who enter care.  What about all the other children who never receive help for one reason or another?

All types of child maltreatment break my heart.  When I see the pictures and talk to the children of child physcial abuse victims, I just want to cry.  And I usually do when I’m at home.

I have a four and nine year old who came into care due to general neglect and physical abuse of the four year old.  The birth mom had a protection order against her boyfriend.  She was seeing the boyfriend anyway.  I’m not sure who called the abuse in, but when the state workers and police arrived at the home and they questioned mom as to the boyfriend’s whereabouts, she said she didn’t know where he was.  He was found hiding under mom’s bed.  The four year old was immediately taken to the ER.  She had two black eyes, bruises all over, and various cuts.  She had also lost most of her hair due to the stress.  This child’s father had 50% custody.  Later the state worker discovered that dad’s wife also hit the four year old.  Because birth mom and the boyfriend would not admit to harming this precious girl and because they refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong in their home, the judge terminated birth mom’s rights to her two kids and the boyfriend’s rights to his three kids (different case – same shit).  Birth dad and his wife have an improvement period for the four and nine year old in addition to the other three kids they have together.  They at least admit that they were wrong.  I’m praying they lose their rights, too.

Maybe I shouldn’t be that way.  The birth dad and his wife are nice people.  They have no clue how to parent or how to keep their kids safe.  They don’t understand why they need stable income or why they need stable, safe housing.

At the beginning of a case I want to get all of my facts together before coming to a conclusion about a person’s character or ability to change.  Sometimes a parent’s inability to parent is very clear.  This is one of those cases.

This four year old has been in her current foster home since October.  She always brings a smile to my face when I see her.  Her joyfulness is contagious.

Kids are resilient.  That doesn’t give anyone a free pass to hurt their children.  Before you react and hit a child, walk away.  Be the adult.

Hazards of Social Work: Flat Tires

In February 2012 I went to a home visit in the middle of nowhere.  Most of my families live in the middle of nowhere.  This particular nowhere required a lot of manuevering around potholes, taking sharp curves, and watching out for random, large animals meandering in the streets.  Again, that describes much of this area.

Anyway, I arrived at the home and the foster father warned me that the child was being very defiant.  I asked what he meant by defiant.  Foster father said that the child cussing and throwing things.  I asked if anything could have triggered the behaviors.  He didn’t know.

I entered the home and could immediately sense the tension.  He was angry.  I asked him what was wrong.  He said he didn’t know how to spell his spelling words.  I asked him which word he needed to spell first.  He said “work”.  I asked, “How do you think ‘work’ is spelled?”  “W-O-R-C.”  I told him he almost had it.  I asked if he knew a word that sounded like work.  He said, “Yeah. Fuck.”  “Okay,” I said, “those both end with the same letter.  They don’t really rhyme though.  How about fork?  They don’t rhyme but they’re spelled almost the same.  Do you know how to spell ‘fork’?”  “F-O-R-K.”  “Right, I said.  Now since you know that work and fork are spelled almost the same way, can you spell ‘work’ for me?”  “W-O-R-C.”  **deep sigh**  “How about we try a different word and come back to that one?”  “Dad said I have to finish this before I can play x-box,” he cried.  “Well learning is very important.  And doing homework comes before playing,” I said gently.  At that point he screamed.  He just opened his mouth and belted out a loud yell.  He lifted both of his arms onto the table and side-swiped his books and papers onto the floor.

He got up and retrieved his shoes.  “Where are you going,” someone asked.  “For a walk,” he replied.  We let him go into the yard and for a long time he just walked around kicking the ground.  I discussed his behaviors with the foster parents.  I told them that I needed to call my supervisor and let him know what was happening.  I had, unfortunately, left my cell phone at home.  I borrowed one from the foster parents.

As I was on the phone with my supervisor the child decided he was going to run away.  He walked down the hill and onto the road.  He had a large branch in his hands.  The state worker was just arriving at the home.  She saw the child walking down the road and stopped to ask him where he was going (I assume that’s what she asked.  I couldn’t really hear the conversation).  He took the branch and started hitting the vehicle.  He suddenly dropped the brach and ran back up to the house.

His face was wet with tears and snot.  He went to the bathroom.  When he came into the kitchen no one said a word.  He stated crying again saying that he was sorry and to please, please not send him away.  Because of our concern for his mental health we decided to take him to the emergency room for a psychological evaluation.  The state worker took him in her vehicle and I followed.

While on the way to the hospital I hit a humongous pothole.  And I hit it so hard that I busted both tires on the passenger side.  The road was dark and narrow.  I couldn’t just stop there and put one spare on my car.  Now my turn to cry had come.  I slowly drove my vehicle another two miles to the parking lot of the hospital.  I had to pull myself together before going inside.  I scrounged around for change knowing I’d need to use the pay phone (if they had one).

I got inside and met the state worker to discuss the next step regarding the child.  She presumed that he would need to return to the psychological hospital from which he had come prior to being placed with this foster family.  I agreed.  This little guy needed specialized care.  The state worker went back to be with the child during the evaluation.

I headed to the pay phone (my heart filled with thanks that a pay phone was available).  I called my boyfriend, crying.  I had to take several deep breaths to calm down so that he could understand that I needed him to come get me from the hospital and that we’d have to figure this shit out tomorrow.  At this point it was 10pm.  No car store was open.  I didn’t have AAA.  My parents would’ve been asleep.

He came and got me and the next day we returned.  He replaced one tire with the spare and we took it to get replaced.  We returned to the vehicle and put the new tire on and replaced the other flat with the spare.  Unfortunately the second tire’s rim was bent.  I was very glad that only was rim was bent.  I called my dad and told him the story.  He told me that he would buy me a new rim.  A couple days passed before the new rim came so I had to drive around on a spare.

Because I was working when the flat tires incident occurred I was hoping that I would be compensated.  Nope.  Not their problem.  That was a very costly work trip.

Recommendation: have road side assistance of some kind available for such incidents.

Joys of Foster Care: Making a Difference

Generally when people find out that I work in Foster Care I get one of two responses or a combination of the two:

  1. Oh my!  That must be really hard work!
  2. Oh my! That must be really rewarding work!

Truth be told, those who understand that foster care is both hard work and rewarding should receive a gold star.  Working in foster care is certainly hard work, but the rewards definitely outweigh the hardships.

Everyday that I am working I am making a positive difference in the lives of children.  Being a positive role in a child’s life is the highest and best achievement anyone can have.  My heart is at this very moment all aflutter with the knowledge that I (along with many, many others) are trying our best to ensure that the children under our care are – oh, my gosh.  To explain what we do in detail is difficult.  How about I describe my day?

I arrived to my office around 815am.  I went upstairs and had three emails waiting for me.  Two were unimportant and one was very important.  Because of the nature of foster care, I work with a huge team of people.  I work with lawyers, state workers, other foster care agencies, birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, siblings, doctors, teachers, therapists, CASA workers, and others.  The email of upmost importance in my inbox this morning was from an adoptive parent through a different agency.  I had to call their worker last night due to some unkind things said by these parents about a sibling of the children they recently adopted.  This adoptive mom had told his current foster parents how bad of a child he was and how he was the reason that he wasn’t with his siblings.  As soon as I found out, I called Harry (not his real name) to let him know so that he could run interference.  Harry immediately emailed the adoptive parents and simply said (paraphrased), “I understand how giving negative information regarding this child would be easy, however you need to keep your narrative regarding this child positive so that a family can love and cherish this child for who he is now and not for his history.”  The adoptive mom’s response was (paraphrased), “I will keep that in mind.  I just thought they should know what happened because they are so out of the loop.”  Anyway, I am thankful for Harry and his diplomacy in addressing this matter with his family.  I felt relieved that the family got the message and am hopeful they will not speak of their positive experiences with him and will perhaps try to avoid negative talk.

My next task was calling a state worker in a county that is 5 hours or so away.  This case needs transferred to the adoption unit and I have been given nearly no information about the case.  I certainly am out-of-the-loop with this case.  Being that these kids’ case originated so far from where they are placed, communication has been lacking.  So, I called the worker and she assured me that she would email or call me when the staffing meeting has been scheduled.  These kids have been in care since March (?).  They have had a hell of a life and I can’t wait for the adoption hearing!

Tomorrow I am teaching PRIDE (Parents’ Resource for Information, Development, and Education) which is designed to be a 9-week, 27-hour class.  I’m teaching the first four sessions TOMORROW!  I gathered the materials from the main office (2 hour drive from my office) yesterday.  Today I realized that whoever copied the book did so incorrectly and that I needed to recopy everything.  (Sidenote: I’m so thankful for my intern!)  I still have one more section to copy and hole punch and put in binders tomorrow morning.  This class is required for people to become foster/adoptive parents.  PRIDE is designed to give people an understanding of foster care and adoption and help them make an informed decision as to whether or not they should provide foster care, adoption, both, or neither.

We ran out of paper.  Wal-Mart run!  While I was picking up the PRIDE materials yesterday I asked about getting a bookshelf for the office.   That request was approved.  While at Wal-Mart my intern and I picked up a box of paper, a bookshelf, Great Value goldfish, Great Value cookies, coffee creamer, styrofoam cups, and 1″ binders.  We then high-tailed our happy selves back to the office to start copying.  My intern left at 2pm.  I needed to leave no later than 315pm.

While she was copying, I was writing progress notes for the kids I saw yesterday.  After that was completed, I took over the copying since my intern left.  At 325pm I asked another co-worker (not a foster care worker) to just put the papers that were still coming out of the machine on my desk and I’d handle them in the morning.

I jumped in an agency vehicle and rushed to a home visit.  My two kids in that home are doing wonderfully.  They have a very messed up history, but all things considered, they’re doing well.  The boy didn’t sleep last night.  He has major anxiety.  When I asked him why he didn’t sleep he said he needed to lock the front door.  I asked, “And that took all night long?”  He then added that he needed to clean up a mess the dog made.  I again asked, “And that took the rest of the night?”  “Yep,” he said.  God love him.  The little girl chattered on and on about Veggie Tales and bubbles and her cat costume.  🙂  My heart smiles when I think of these two precious children.

We have a meeting coming up.  I’m recommending that the birth parents’ improvement period be terminted because they are not complying with the terms of the plan.

On my way home I arranged a visit between a boy and a prospective adoptive home.  And I called a foster parent to let her know that she and her husband were approved to take the kids on a skiing trip.

I love my job (most days).  I have the opportunity to ensure that my kids are getting everything they need, when they need it.  I get to make children’s lives happy, safe, and healthy.  Nothing is greater than this.

Welcome to social work.

Welcome to Social Work.

A few months ago I told my (now ex) boyfriend that I was going to write a book and call said book “Welcome to Social Work.”  He said, “Go for it,” in that I-could-give-two-shits-about-what-you-do-but-if-you-want-to-do-that-then-awesome tone of voice.  This is my jumping point for the book I hope to one day publish about the life experiences one has as a social worker.

As I stated in my previous post, I am a social worker and I work in the child welfare field.  At least once a week I state, “Welcome to social work.”  For example, I just received a call from an Otolaryngology (ENT) office.  The lady said, “Your client has BlueCross BlueShield and Medicaid.  We have to bill BCBS before Medicaid, but I need to know the guarantor.”  I said, “All of my clients have Medicaid because they’re wards of the state.  As far as I know none of them have BCBS.”  She said, “Well I called the BCBS number and they said that this client has been a member since January 2006.”  Me, “Ooookay.  I have never had a client with BCBS.  Welcome to social work, though.”

Listed here are situations that elicit a “Welcome to social work” from me:

  • Working late
  • Working early
  • Receiving a referral at 3am
  • Being on-call 24/7
  • Going through a ream of paper in one day
  • Driving 300+ miles in one day
  • Needing an oil change every month
  • Having a 9am court hearing that isn’t called until 1pm
  • Showing up to work in jeans and then having an emergency MDT (multi-disciplinary team) meeting
  • Lice
  • Billing
  • Paperwork
  • Interns
  • Flex time

This list could go on and on and on… hence this blog/hopefully future book.

So sit back and relax, cry, and/or laugh along with me as I tell my tales.  I hope you enjoy my compilations!

P.S. I promise these blogs will get more interesting.  😉